elopement in nursing homes

“Elopement” is when a nursing home resident (typically someone with cognitive loss, like dementia) leaves the premises unsupervised. Elopement can be intentional or unintentional, but whatever the situation, it’s extremely dangerous for an elderly person with dementia to leave a secure premises unattended and unaccounted for. Worse, elopement is often a main indicator that the elderly person is being abused.

When you trust a nursing home with the safety of a loved one, you expect that they will be taken care of. Unfortunately, sometimes negligent nursing homes allow bad things to happen to the people under their care. 

Let’s talk about why and how elopement happens, and some of the signs you can watch for to protect your loved one.

Why do some residents elope?

There are several reasons that nursing home residents elope, but it always starts with wandering. Wandering can be aimless, purposeful, or reminiscent. 

Aimless wandering is when someone walks around because they are bored, uncomfortable, stressed, or have nothing else going on.

Purposeful wandering is when a resident is trying to go somewhere or find something or something. This could be because they are trying to find a nurse or make it back to their room, but perhaps they got lost. 

Reminiscent wandering can be the most dangerous because it’s when a resident is confused, disoriented, or unsure of where they are or where they’re going.

Wandering turns to elopement when the resident is unsupervised and finds a way to leave the facility, either purposefully or by accident. The circumstances that lead a resident to wander and then elope vary, but several are common:

Alzheimer’s Disease 

Alzheimer’s Disease is an illness that involves the death of brain cells and the loss of major mental functioning, especially memory. 

Alzheimer’s is a very common and aggressive illness that worsens over time. Many people with this disease go to live in nursing homes because they are no longer able to care for themselves. It is common for these residents to get confused by where they are and why they are there, and this confusion may lead to wandering. 


Dementia is a collection of several different types of conditions that are characterized by the loss of memory and other important brain functions. Alzheimer’s Disease is one type of dementia, but there are several more. 

All of them can cause confusion and memory loss, which is one reason residents with dementia can be prone to wandering that leads to elopement. 


Even if a resident does not have a form of dementia, they can still get confused about where they are simply due to their advanced age.

They may even start to walk somewhere with a purpose, but then forget where they were going or why they were going there. When wandering gets mixed with confusion, it can quickly lead to elopement if the resident is left unsupervised. 

Changes in Medication

If the caregivers at the nursing home are overmedicating a resident or changing their medication without proper observation, they can experience new side effects. The resident may present with confusion, pain, discomfort, or other symptoms that may cause them to wander, whether it is to look for someone or something to help, or just because they need to get up and move around. 

Unfortunately, overmedication is common in nursing homes as a way of keeping residents “under control.” This can lead to residents leaving the facility either on purpose or accidentally. 

Unmet Needs 

Residents can get lonely in nursing homes. They can also not get enough exercise, food, or attention. These unmet needs of neglected residents can cause them to wander and leave the premises.

Unfamiliar Environment 

New residents may be prone to elopement because their surroundings are unfamiliar to them. They may be wandering somewhere and get turned around or wander off the property and not be able to find their way back.

How does elopement even happen in nursing homes?

Around 35,000 patients wander or elope from their residence per year. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this is possible in nursing homes. 

Many nursing homes are understaffed.

Without adequate staffing, it’s difficult to provide supervision for all residents at all times. A confused resident wandering around could escalate to elopement if there’s not enough staff to notice their absence.

Understaffed nursing homes lead to inadequate security.

Without an appropriate ratio of staff members to residents, it is difficult to keep tabs on all the residents. If the staff watching the door goes to the restroom or grabs a coffee and there is no one else to watch the exit, a resident could slip out without being noticed. 

Understaffed nursing homes can also lead to resident neglect.

When there’s not enough staff for the number of residents, residents can be left without the full level of care that they need. 

If nurses are spread thin over a large caseload of residents, they may not notice that a resident is not adjusting well to their new medication, they haven’t been eating enough, or their hygiene has declined. 

Inadequate security and neglect often lead to elopement.

When residents are not taken care of properly and do not receive the attention they need, elopement is more likely. Neglected residents may want to leave the nursing home if they are not being cared for, and may purposefully elope. 

Alternatively, they may be confused as a result of a lack of proper care and may accidentally elope due to a lack of security. 

Why Elopement is Dangerous

Residents are typically living in nursing homes because they are no longer able to take care of themselves due to age or illness. Therefore, elopement is dangerous because someone who needs help is suddenly without it. 

Second, elopement is dangerous because the resident could get lost or hurt once they exit the nursing home premises. Depending on the surroundings, they could wander into a road and get hit by a car, get lost in a natural area, or simply be unable to find their way back. 

Many residents are on medications, so they are also risking their health by being lost without the things they need to stay healthy. Nursing home elopement can have serious negative effects on the resident and can even result in a tragic death. 

Suspect your loved one is suffering neglect in their nursing home? We can help.

If you think that your loved one might be suffering neglect in their nursing home, call Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath. Our Florida nursing home abuse lawyers are experienced in fighting for nursing home residents and their families when they have not been treated the way that they deserve. 

Call us at (561) 655-1990 today to schedule your free case consultation.