Cold Weather Risks For Dementia Patients

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Elopement Serves as Most Dangerous Type of Wandering During Winter Months

Several U.S. states either just encountered or are preparing for one of the most intense artic cold blasts in the last decade. Extreme weather events like this can greatly impact nursing home residents who are at risk of wandering outside of a care facility or eloping, a dangerous form of wandering. The Illinois Alzheimer’s Association says wandering represents one of many behavioral problems occurring in 6 out of 10 people living with Alzheimer’s across the state. These people tend to wander and aimlessly move about their environment without regard of their personal safety. During the cold weather seasons, nursing home administrators and care staff, as well as family members, should ensure these residents and loved ones stay safe and are prevented from wandering outdoors, especially when extreme temperature changes are present.

The National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners reports the most dangerous type of wandering, called elopement, occurs when a patient attempts to completely leave the nursing home and wander outside. This is a difficult type of wandering to confront, as patients may be unable to grasp the situation and understand the actual surroundings and environmental risks. Patients are often hurt or killed while eloping, especially during the cold weather months as they are not dressed to stay warm against freezing temperatures.

Elopement among people with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it starting with a trained, equipped, and fully staffed care department. These workers must pay close attention to door alarms, keeping exits to outdoor spaces closed off to residents, and a general sense of watchfulness on patients. It is common for residents that have attempted elopement to have several recurrences and unsafe exits from a home. They must be cared for in alternative ways than residents who do not present a known risk to wander. Likewise, care facilities should have a set of safety standards to follow that will identify patients at risk to wander and follow these extra cautionary steps when residents are required to stay inside during inclement weather events.

  • Watch patients closely when there is an environmental factor (a window that may display snow falling) that may trigger a desire to exit.
  • Allow a patient ampler time or means to exercise, explore, and interact to offset mental reasons that a patient will engage in winter wandering.

When confronted, eloping patients may respond aggressively towards staff, and be unwilling to cooperate or return to safe areas of the nursing home. If the issue is unresolved, recurring incidents of wandering may occur.

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Attorneys

Our Illinois nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at Levin & Perconti have handled numerous cases in which loved ones have wandered and found injured or deceased because of an elopement event. If you have a family member with dementia who was not looked after appropriately by nursing home staff, please contact our Chicago nursing home attorneys to discuss your situation and let us help you.

Our consultations are always free, confidential, and handled by one of our skilled attorneys. Click here to fill out an online request form or call us toll-free at 1-877-374-1417 or 312-332-2872.

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