Leaders in Law

Ensuring Safety in Elder Care: Legal Approaches to Preventing Wandering and Elopement

When caring for elderly patients, there can be an increased risk of injury or harm, including wandering and elopement. Medical facilities or care homes must understand and prevent this risk through adequate supervision and security procedures. If a facility’s breach of duty causes injuries or death due to elopement, there can be serious legal consequences. There are several ways a care facility and family can prevent elopement, including some legal procedures.

Wandering and Elopement

In a nursing home, when a patient wanders, they are typically leaving their assigned space to walk around. When supervised properly, this can be harmless, but unsupervised wandering can lead to patient conflicts and potential injuries. Wandering turns into elopement when an elderly patient leaves the entire nursing home facility with permission or supervision, putting themselves at risk of harm.

Risks and Dangers of Elopement

Nursing home elopement can be dangerous for several reasons. It’s likely a patient will have missed medication doses, which can exacerbate diseases, cause side effects, or even be fatal. They also risk serious injuries in dangerous situations such as crossing the street, operating motor vehicles, falling, or exposing themselves to harsh temperatures. In extreme cases, these risks can cause death.

Preventing Wandering and Elopement

Nursing home facilities and family members need to be aware of the dangers of unsupervised wandering or elopement and enforce strict policies, procedures, and legal measures to prevent this from occurring at all costs. There are several ways in which an elder care facility can significantly reduce the risk.

Supervised Wandering

Wandering can occur due to boredom or desire for a change of scenery, particularly the outdoors. It’s also likely in patients with memory conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Wandering can be harmless with a supervised staff member dedicated to each patient. Supervised wandering can help a patient travel and wander safely without falling, injury, or conflict.

Adequate Outdoor Spaces

Outdoor activities and spaces to relax can reduce the risk of elopement. Fresh air and sunshine can positively impact mood and mental health. These outdoor spaces should be properly secure, enclosed, and supervised at all times by an adequate number of staff members.

Automated Door Alarms and Locks

All doors in an elderly care facility or home should be equipped with automated alarms any time the door is opened unexpectedly. These doors should also have an automated locking feature for anyone without a proper key or identification. This way, elderly patients will not be able to leave without alarms to notify nearby staff members. Windows should also be properly equipped with locks and alarm features if necessary.

Security Staff

There should be dedicated staff members 24/7 for care facilities. Security staff should also be present at any entrances or exits to the facility, particularly at night. This can help patients in case of medical emergencies and prevent them from elopement.

Proper Staff Training and Supervision

Staff need to be properly trained to care for elderly patients, including ones with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other conditions. There should be proper training protocol in place for supervising and preventing elopement. There should be an adequate amount of staff members per patient in a facility to avoid issues from staff shortages.

Established Elopement Policies

A facility with established elopement policies can reduce the risk and harm of emergencies. Family members will know how elopement is prevented and managed. Staff will be trained for elopement. Legal consequences can be reduced if an elopement policy is established.

Resident Tracking Technology

Facilities can consider resident tracking technology such as wearable trackers, camera systems, bed trackers, and medical alert devices. This can alert staff and loved ones if a patient leaves a designated area or is experiencing an emergency.

Security Cameras

Security cameras should be in place in common areas and exits of a facility to keep track of anyone leaving or entering, particularly at night.

Proper Emergency Protocols

Proper emergency protocols should be in place for facilities to take swift and effective action if a resident or patient manages to elope. This can reduce the risk of injury or death with quicker action.

Personalized Care Procedures

Some patients are at a higher risk of elopement due to mental health conditions, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. Personalized care procedures can help staff properly plan and care for these patients to avoid elopement risks.

Legal Procedures

Legally, a family can take note of any elopement policies or liability documentation when it comes to their loved one. If a facility does not have elopement procedures or policies, it may be riskier to house an aging loved one there. If elopement occurs, proper reporting to facilities, law enforcement, and any nursing facility organizations can prevent future occurrences and tighten facility security. Hiring a wandering elopement lawyer is smart for any elopement case to determine eligibility and swift action. Leaving reviews can also inform future family members about inadequate policies.


Nursing home elopement is one of the most dangerous occurrences in elder care, and there are many ways to prevent it from occurring on a facility’s side. Family members can take legal precautions to prevent and manage the risks of elopement. Proper security, staff training, and care can be great factors in reducing the risk of elopement.