Background: Adverse consequences following elopement among older people with dementia have been widely reported but the phenomenon of elopement has been under-researched. This study aimed to examine patterns of elopement incidents, search processes and subsequent prevention strategies and to explore factors that predict elopement among community-dwellers with dementia.
Methods: Twenty subjects with a recent history of elopement and 25 subjects without any history of elopement completed the study. Their cognitive status, dementia severity and behavioral manifestations were evaluated. Family informants were interviewed to gather data on demographic characteristics, clinical conditions, caring patterns, lifestyle, history of elopement, and information about any elopement incidents.
Results: Two-thirds of subjects had moderate severity of dementia (Clinical Dementia Rating ≥2). The elopers did not differ from the non-elopers in demographics, caring arrangements, clinical conditions or lifestyle patterns. Eighty percent of eloped subjects had a prior history of elopement. Logistic regression analyses suggested that manifestation of behavioral symptoms predicted elopement (OR = 1.410). Analysis of the 68 elopement incidents revealed that the vast majority of family caregivers failed to recognize any emotional/behavioral clues prior to elopement. Immediate and multiple search strategies were adopted, with eloped subjects mostly found near the point last seen. Yet, subsequent preventive strategies adopted were largely conventional.
Conclusion: Although elopement is difficult to predict, there is a need to enhance and sensitize caregivers’ understanding of elopement as related to dementia and more effective preventive strategies. Public education on dementia could also serve to engage lay people more effectively in the search process of eloped persons with dementia.