How to Support a Dementia Patient Who Tries to Escape from a Memory Care Facility

Published on February 21, 2024

Updated on February 18, 2024

Elopement is when a person with dementia leaves a safe area, like their home or care facility, without supervision. This can be intentional or unintentional, and it's important to address to ensure the safety of the patient. If your loved one is attempting to escape from a facility, there are steps you can take to support both them and the facility.

Recognize the Risk of Elopement

Elopement is a word that means leaving a safe place, like a home or a care facility. People with dementia may try to elope because they are confused, scared, or frustrated. They may think they need to go somewhere else, or they may not remember where they are. Elopement can be dangerous for the person and for others.

One of the reasons why people with dementia may elope is because they wander around a lot. Wandering is when someone moves from one place to another without knowing where they are going. Wandering can happen because of memory problems, confusion, or boredom. Wandering can lead to elopement if the person gets lost or goes somewhere unsafe.

Another reason why people with dementia may elope is because they want to drive a car. Driving a car can be fun and exciting for some people, but it can also be risky for people with dementia. Driving requires attention, coordination, and judgment. People with dementia may not have these skills anymore because of their disease. They may also forget how to drive safely or follow the rules of the road.

If you have someone with dementia who lives in a care facility, you should know how to prevent them from eloping and how to help them if they do. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the person's room is secure and comfortable. Lock the doors and windows, hide any items that could be used as tools for escape, and check the exits regularly.
  • Keep track of where the person goes and when they leave their room. Use cameras, alarms, or staff members to monitor their movements.
  • Talk to the person about why they want to leave and what they might find outside. Remind them that it is not safe or appropriate for them to go out alone.
  • Help the person find other ways to have fun and stay active in their room. Provide them with books, music, games, puzzles, or crafts that interest them.
  • If you notice that the person is planning to elope or has already done so, act quickly and calmly. Try to stop them from leaving by talking to them gently and firmly. If you cannot stop them physically, call for help from other staff members or family members.
  • If you find the person outside after an elopement incident, bring them back safely as soon as possible. Check if they are hurt or need medical attention.
  • Talk to your doctor about your concerns about driving safety in people with dementia. Ask if you need an evaluation by an occupational therapist or a doctor who specializes in driving assessment. This evaluation will test how well the person can drive safely and what steps you can take if their driving ability declines.

Enhance Facility Safety Measures

Sometimes, people with dementia may try to elope even if their room is secure and comfortable. They may find a way to unlock the doors or windows, or they may follow someone else who is leaving. To prevent this, some facilities use special safety measures that make it harder for people with dementia to elope.

One of these safety measures is using mats with wireless alerts. These are mats that have sensors inside them that can send a signal to a staff member when someone steps on them. The mats can be placed near the exits or in the hallways. When a person with dementia tries to walk on the mat, the staff member will get a notification on their phone or computer. Then, they can go and check on the person and stop them from eloping.

Another safety measure is installing locks that require complex maneuvers or keyless electronic locks. These are locks that are not easy to open by just turning a knob or pushing a button. They may need a code, a fingerprint, or a card to unlock them. Or they may need a combination of movements, like twisting and pulling at the same time. These locks can make it difficult for people with dementia to leave unsupervised, because they may not remember how to open them, or they may not have the right key or code.

These safety measures can help keep people with dementia safe and secure in their care facility. They can also give peace of mind to their family members and caregivers. However, they should not be used as a substitute for regular monitoring and communication. The best way to support a person with dementia is to understand their needs, feelings, and preferences, and to provide them with love, respect, and dignity.

Develop a Supportive Routine

People with dementia may feel restless or bored sometimes. They may want to do something different or exciting. They may also feel confused or anxious about what is happening around them. These feelings can make them want to elope and leave their care facility.

One way to help them feel better is to create a daily schedule and engaging activities for them. A daily schedule is a plan that tells them what they will do each day, such as when they will eat, sleep, exercise, or have fun. Engaging activities are things that they enjoy doing, such as listening to music, playing games, gardening, or painting.

A daily schedule and engaging activities can reduce and the urge to elope because they can:

  • Give the person a sense of purpose and meaning. They can feel like they have something to look forward to and something to accomplish each day.
  • Keep the person busy and entertained. They can have fun and learn new things while doing the activities. They can also interact with other people and make friends.
  • Match the person's abilities and preferences. They can do the activities that suit their level of skills and interests. They can also choose the activities that they like or want to try.

A calm, structured routine can help minimize confusion and that may lead to elopement because it can:

  • Provide the person with stability and familiarity. They can know what to expect and what to do each day. They can also recognize the people and places that are part of their routine.
  • Reduce the person's stress and frustration. They can avoid situations that are too noisy, crowded, or chaotic. They can also get help and support from their caregivers when they need it.
  • Enhance the person's memory and cognition. They can remember the events and tasks that are part of their routine. They can also exercise their brain and improve their thinking skills.

Communication and Monitoring

Sometimes, even with the best safety measures and routines, people with dementia may still elope from their care facility. This can be very scary and stressful for their family members and caregivers. To prevent this from happening, or to deal with it if it does, it is important to have good communication and monitoring.

Communication means talking to the people who are involved in your loved one's care. This includes the staff at the care facility, your family members, and your loved one. You should:

  • Maintain open communication with the care facility about your loved one's tendencies and triggers for elopement. Tell them about your loved one's personality, habits, hobbies, and preferences. Let them know what makes your loved one happy, calm, or upset. Share any tips or strategies that work for your loved one. Ask them to update you regularly on your loved one's condition and behavior.
  • Communicate with your family members about your loved one's situation. Tell them about the risks and signs of elopement. Ask them to help you visit your loved one often and keep them company. Support each other emotionally and practically.
  • Communicate with your loved one in a gentle and respectful way. Listen to their feelings and needs. Try to understand why they want to elope and what they are looking for. Reassure them that they are safe and loved. Remind them of the positive aspects of their life and their care facility.

Monitoring means keeping an eye on your loved one's location and activity. This can help you prevent them from eloping or find them quickly if they do. You can:

  • Utilize devices like GPS trackers to locate your loved one in case they do elope. These are devices that can be attached to your loved one's clothing, shoes, or accessories. They can send a signal to your phone or computer that shows where your loved one is. You can use them to track your loved one's movements and find them if they get lost.
  • Use other tools like cameras, alarms, or bracelets to monitor your loved one. These are tools that can help you see, hear, or identify your loved one. They can alert you if your loved one tries to leave or if they need help. They can also help others recognize your loved one if they find them outside.

Educate and Empower Caregivers

Caregivers are people who help and support someone with dementia. They can be family members, friends, or professionals. Caregivers play a vital role in the life of a person with dementia, but they also face many challenges and stress. To be effective and compassionate caregivers, they need to have the knowledge and skills to understand and care for their loved one.

One of the ways to educate and empower caregivers is to inform them about dementia and elopement risks. Dementia is a word that means a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, behavior, and daily life. People with dementia may have trouble remembering things, communicating, making decisions, or recognizing people and places. They may also act differently than before, such as being more confused, anxious, angry, or depressed.

Elopement is a word that means leaving a safe place without permission or supervision. People with dementia may elope because they are unhappy with their care facility, they want to go somewhere else, or they think they need to escape from something. Elopement can be dangerous for the person with dementia and for others.

Caregivers should learn about the signs and causes of dementia and elopement in their loved one. They should also learn how to prevent them from happening or how to deal with them if they do happen.

Another way to educate and empower caregivers is to train them on how to understand the behaviors and needs of people with dementia. People with dementia may have different reactions depending on their stage of the disease, their personality, their mood, their environment, or their medication. They may also have different preferences for how they want to be treated.

Caregivers should learn how to communicate effectively with people with dementia. They should use simple words and sentences that are easy to understand. They should speak slowly and clearly. They should avoid arguing or correcting them. They should listen attentively and show empathy.

Caregivers should also learn how to provide comfort and safety for people with dementia. They should respect their dignity and autonomy as much as possible. They should help them maintain their routines and activities that they enjoy. They should protect them from harm or injury by using locks, alarms, GPS trackers, or other devices. They should also seek help from other staff members or family members when needed.

By educating themselves about dementia and elopement risks, caregivers can become more confident and competent in caring for their loved one with dementia. This can improve the quality of life for both the person with dementia and the caregiver.

Create a Familiar Environment

People with dementia may forget where they are or who they are with. They may feel scared or lonely in a place that does not look or feel like home. They may want to leave and go somewhere else that they remember or love. This can make them try to elope from their care facility.

One way to help them feel more at home is to create a familiar environment for them. A familiar environment is a place that has things that they know and like. These things can remind them of who they are and what they enjoy. They can also make them feel calm and happy.

To create a familiar environment, you can personalize the living space with familiar items. These are items that belong to the person with dementia or that have a special meaning for them. For example, you can use:

  • Photos of their family, friends, pets, or places that they love
  • Paintings, posters, or wall hangings that they like or made themselves
  • Furniture, pillows, blankets, or rugs that they use or prefer
  • Books, magazines, newspapers, or music that they read or listen to
  • Clothes, jewelry, accessories, or hats that they wear or admire
  • Toys, games, puzzles, or crafts that they play or do
  • Flowers, plants, or candles that they enjoy or smell good

You can also ask the person with dementia what they want to have in their room. You can help them choose the items that they like or need. You can also arrange the items in a way that makes sense to them and that they can easily find.

A comforting environment can help alleviate and confusion. Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear. Confusion is a feeling of not knowing what is going on or what to do. People with dementia may have these feelings because they do not understand their situation or their surroundings. They may also have these feelings because they have trouble remembering things or making decisions.

A comforting environment can help reduce these feelings by:

  • Making the person feel safe and secure. They can see and touch the things that they know and trust. They can also lock their doors or windows if they want to.
  • Making the person feel relaxed and happy. They can look at and use the things that they like and enjoy. They can also have fun and be creative with the things that they have.
  • Making the person feel valued and respected. They can have their own space and things that reflect their personality and preferences. They can also express themselves and their feelings with the things that they have.

Conclusion: Providing Safety and Support

Dealing with a loved one's attempt to escape from a facility due to dementia can be challenging. However, by understanding the reasons behind elopement and taking proactive steps, you can create a safer environment and support system for your loved one and the care facility. Remember that communication, education, and empathy are key to addressing this complex issue.

Resources

Elopement in Dementia: Risks and Prevention

How Caregivers Can Manage Elopement

Elopement in Dementia, What Do I Do?

A Caregiver's Guide to Wandering and Elopement

Wandering Patients, Elopement Prevention and Response

“I Want to Go Home!” What Elopement and Wandering Mean for Individuals With Dementia

Reducing Fall and Elopement Risks in Memory Care

Products and Strategies for Managing Dementia Wandering

My Loved One with Dementia

Understanding Dementia (Alzheimer's & Vascular & Frontotemporal & Lewy Body Dementia) (Video)

How Do I Know Which Dementia I'm Looking At? (Video)

Dementia Training material (Free)

Promoting Meaningful Relationships with Dementia Patients through Validation Therapy

Unlocking the Power of Validation Therapy in Compassionate End-of-Life Care

Validation Therapy: A Valuable Tool for Families and Healthcare Teams

Best Practices for Approaching Combative Dementia Patients

The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

How Do I Know You? Dementia at the End of Life

The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders (Guides to Caregiving)

Sundown Dementia, Vascular Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia Explained

The Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Practical Advice for Caring for Yourself and Your Loved One (Caregiver's Guides)

Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

The Dementia Caregiver's Survival Guide: An 11-Step Plan to Understand the Disease and How To Cope with Financial Challenges, Patient Aggression, and Depression Without Guilt, Overwhelm, or Burnout

Dementia Care Companion: The Complete Handbook of Practical Care from Early to Late Stage

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease and Other Dementias

Dementia Home Care: How to Prepare Before, During, and After

The Dementia Caregiver's Survival Guide: An 11-Step Plan to Understand the Disease and How To Cope with Financial Challenges, Patient Aggression, and Depression Without Guilt, Overwhelm, or Burnout

Dementia Caregiving: A Self Help Book for Dementia Caregivers Offering Practical Coping Strategies and Support to Overcome Burnout, Increase Awareness, and Build Mental & Emotional Resilience

Navigating the Dementia Journey: A Compassionate Guide to Understanding, Supporting, and Living With Dementia

Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

Four Common Mistakes by Caregivers of loved ones with Dementia and what do differently (video)

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

My Aging Parent Needs Help!: 7 Step Guide to Caregiving with No Regrets, More Compassion, and Going from Overwhelmed to Organized [Includes Tips for Caregiver Burnout]

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver's Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm

The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself

Dear Caregiver, It's Your Life Too: 71 Self-Care Tips To Manage Stress, Avoid Burnout And Find Joy Again While Caring For A Loved One

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

The Art of Dying

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

Oh hi there 👋 It's nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive updates on new articles to your inbox.

The emails we will send you only deal with educational articles, not requests to buy a single thing! Read our privacy policy for more information.

Share your love