Unexplained absence resulting in deaths of nursing home residents in Australia-A 13-year retrospective study

Marta H. Woolford, Lyndal Bugeja, Carolina Weller, Marilyn Johnson, Derek Chong, Joseph E. Ibrahim

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Objectives: To examine deaths of Australian nursing home (NH) residents following an unexplained absence. Methods: Population based cross-sectional study was conducted using coronial data from the National Coronial Information System. Participants are residents of accredited NHs if death followed an unexplained absence and was reported to the Coroner between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 2013. Individual, organisational, environmental, and unexplained absence event factors were extracted from coronial records. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics. Results: Of 21 672 NH deaths, 24 (0.1%) followed an unexplained absence. This comprised 17 unintentional external (injury-related) causes and 7 natural cause deaths. Drowning was the most frequent external cause of death (59%, n = 10). Deaths occurred more frequently in males (83.3%, n = 20), and in the age group 85-94 years (37.5%, n = 9). The majority of NH residents, for whom data were available (n = 15), had a diagnosis of dementia (86.7%, n = 13). Most residents were found in waterways (41.7%, n = 10). Median distance travelled was 0.5 km (IQR: 0.25-2.4 km), with almost 70% of residents found within 1.0 km of their NH. Most residents left the NH by foot (88.2%, n = 15). Half of the residents were found within 6 hours of time last seen (median: 6 hours, 40 minutes; IQR: 6.0-11.45 hours). Conclusion: Unexplained absences in elderly NH residents are a relatively common event. This study provides valuable information for aged care providers, governments, and search and rescue teams, and should contribute to debates about balancing issues of safety with independence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1082-1089
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Absconding
  • Elopement
  • Injury prevention
  • Mortality
  • Residential aged care
  • Wandering

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