Is Emergency Care Different For The Elderly?

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Elderly female hand holding hand of young caregiver at nursing home.Geriatric doctor or geriatrician concept. Doctor physician hand on happy elderly senior patient to comfort in hospital examination

Emergency care does not choose any patient because anybody can seek emergency medical treatment regardless of gender, race, or age. However, emergency care for the elderly would require special considerations, which will be discussed below. 

In this article, you will learn about emergency care for seniors and if they actually differ from providing care to other age groups.

What Is Aging?

Elderly people visit the emergency room for different reasons. While they expect to receive the same level of care as other patients, they also expect special considerations because of their condition, which is usually brought about by aging. 

Aging is a process of getting older, which is actually caused by different biological processes that occur in the body over time. These processes include normal cellular turnover, degeneration, genetic mutation, and radiation exposure.

Here are some good-to-know facts about aging:

  • DNA Structure Changes With Aging: The actual processes by which aging occurs are generally quite complex and not well understood. What is generally understood to be the human body, due to its DNA structure, tends to change over time. This is often the result of certain changes that occur in the DNA through natural selection processes.
  • Aging Body Processes: There are a number of processes by which your body ages: through changes in the level of collagen and elastin proteins, decrease in the levels of your body’s hyaluronic acid, decreased production of hormones in the pituitary gland, and so on. As you age, you will experience these changes on a regular basis and, over time, they will begin to slow down. 
  •  Factors That Contribute To Aging:  It’s known that a number of other factors can contribute to the rate that your body ages as well, including what you eat or poor nutrition, illness, smoking, and disease, and so on. 
  • Aging Is Inevitable: It’s important to remember that aging cannot be stopped completely because the body is changing its composition as well. You will be forced to accept the aging process as you go along, so it’s important to keep in mind that as you age, you need to stay healthy by keeping your metabolism up and exercising regularly.
  • Slowing Down Aging: There are a number of ways by which you can slow down the rate at which you age so you get to enjoy all of the benefits that aging brings. One such way is to try and avoid the development of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, and heart disease. By maintaining good nutrition, you can also help prevent the occurrence of some of these diseases. You may be surprised to learn that if you take good care of yourself, you can actually delay your aging process considerably.

Common Causes Of Elderly Emergency Room Visits

Now that you know what aging is all about and the processes involved with it, it’s time to know the common causes of why seniors visit the emergency room.

When most people think of the elderly, they often think of them in terms of illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory conditions. However, the reality is that elderly people are often faced with other health concerns as well. This is why it’s so important for senior patients to regularly visit their doctor.

But what are the common reasons why seniors get admitted to the emergency room? Let’s take a look:

  • Experiencing Sudden Symptoms: A common reason elderly people visit the emergency room is because they’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness. It’s true that many elderly people are not as healthy as they once were, but there are many instances where an elderly person may be experiencing symptoms that aren’t necessarily related to their age, such as high blood pressure.
  • Worsening Condition: Another common reason why elderly people get rushed to the emergency room is because of some type of physical ailment that has gotten worse over time. It may be that an elderly person suddenly finds themselves having trouble walking. It could also be that they find that they’re unable to move at all. If you suspect that your loved one has developed a condition that could be related to a serious medical issue, it’s important to get in touch with their doctor right away.
  • A Bad Fall: In addition to the above, the elderly also visit the emergency room because of a fall that left them with serious damage. This sort of injury can be incredibly painful and will have a negative impact on a patient’s daily activities. A fractured hip requires extensive treatment and often cannot be fixed at home without the assistance of a qualified doctor. A broken hip can also prevent the patient from doing certain types of physical activities. For instance, the patient may not be able to walk or even sit up on their own.

Why Emergency Care Is Different Among The Elderly

1Elderly People Have Restricted Mobility

Seniors are at high risk of getting into accidents because of their limited mobility. That’s why primary caregivers must learn the right first aid for seniors.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when caring for seniors in an emergency room setting:

  • While falls and slips may affect everyone, the elderly are still at the highest risk. Elderly people tend to fall more because of mobility and muscle problems. They’re also much more prone to being injured or even dying if they slip on hard surfaces or uneven flooring. 
  • While younger adults can be left for a moment while the healthcare worker is getting emergency equipment or preparing medications, a senior should never be left unattended because of their naturally weak condition and impaired mobility.
  • Elderly individuals are usually the first to suffer from limited mobility. These individuals tend to walk on their toes and have weak muscles that make it difficult for them to hold up their feet and balance. As they become older, their strength tends to decrease as well, making it even more difficult for them to prevent themselves from getting injured or falling.
  • Elderly people who are prone to slip-and-fall accidents may need special care or treatment just as with anyone else. There may be some instances when the elderly individual may need to use a stairlift to get from the stairs to a room on another floor. There are also cases where elderly people may need to ride a wheelchair to help them get around their home and the hospital.

2Seniors Tend To Have Vision Problems

The average senior citizen’s eyesight is not as good as it once was. Because of their age and the wear and tear that comes along with it, an elderly person’s vision is more likely to deteriorate over time. For this reason, seniors may have difficulty understanding emergency room procedures and appropriately respond to questions and instructions. 

3Seniors Tend To Become Anxious In The Emergency Room

Some elderly people may also feel scared or uncomfortable when going to an emergency room. In order to ensure this doesn’t occur, staff members should be able to properly orient seniors about the procedures that need to be done. 

Seniors tend to perceive emergency procedures as complicated, leaving them helpless, debilitated, and alone with days or weeks of hospitalization. That’s why it’s important for elders to realize that they’re not alone in their worries, and that they’re not the only elderly people visiting an emergency room. To put them at ease, assure them of the specialized care they will receive. 

4Seniors Suffer From Chronic Diseases

Special care is given to senior patients when visiting the emergency room because they usually have underlying conditions, such as the following:

  • Heart Disease: This is a condition that’s common to people over the age of 50, and is also something that affects many younger people. Heart disease is caused by a combination of various factors, such as an unhealthy lifestyle and genetic predisposition.
  • Arthritis: This is a very common condition among the elderly and it affects millions of people worldwide. Those suffering from arthritis may experience restricted movement due to intense pain.
  • Degenerative Diseases: Some examples of degenerative disease include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s Disease, and multiple sclerosis. Patients with these disorders need special care during emergency room treatment to avoid anxiety and their condition from getting worse.
  • Diabetes: This metabolic disorder impairs a person’s vision, skin integrity, and even cognition. Patients may appear restless and the signs and symptoms can be vague, making possible complications hard to diagnose.

5Seniors Have Weaker Immunity

Immune systems of elderly people deteriorate over time, which makes them more vulnerable to contracting diseases brought about by viruses and bacteria in the emergency room. With the emerging of coronavirus or COVID-19, seniors are one of the most vulnerable age groups, wherein mortality rates were high. For this reason, strict lockdowns and quarantines were enforced in nursing home facilities and assisted living facilities, where seniors reside. 

6Seniors Tend To Have Several Prescribed Medications

It’s crucial to obtain the full medical history of senior patients in the emergency room before giving any treatment. This is because seniors may have several prescribed medications they are taking, which can affect the treatment that will be provided in the emergency room.

Here are some examples of common drug prescriptions to seniors:

  • Anti-hypertensive drugs, like beta blockers (maintenance medicine for hypertension)
  • Anti-diabetic drugs, like Metformin
  • Pain relievers, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (for arthritis)
  • Anti-depressants, such as benzodiazepines

7Seniors Would Require Several Diagnostic Procedures

Because of the nature of their condition, senior citizens may need to undergo extensive diagnostic procedures to ensure that any emergency room treatment will provide a resolution instead of worsening any underlying medical condition.

Aside from routine X-ray or laboratory exams, elderly patients would require additional tests, such as the following:

  • ECG monitoring
  • Blood glucose exam
  • Neurologic exam
  • Ultrasound, MRI, or CT-scan depending on the signs and symptoms presented

As much as possible, it’s best for senior patients to be attended to by geriatric specialists before any emergency room procedure is performed. 

Why Do The Elderly Need Special Emergency Room Care?

Elderly people often need specialized emergency room care because of several factors. Emergency treatment for seniors is likely the same for any other medical patient who needs urgent medical attention, whether it’s for a serious illness or accident. However, special consideration is given to seniors in terms of how well they can follow instructions or participate in the treatment, as well as respond to the effects brought about by the medication or treatment provided.

As with any medical emergency, the first thing to do is to get help from a medical professional who can provide medical treatment. However, in case of an emergency in an elder’s home, it’s important to learn more about the services that are available to them in this kind of situation.

A visit to the hospital would not be a pleasant experience for an elderly person. Not only does it have a long wait time before they would even be seen by a doctor, there’s also the risk that the condition of the person would worsen or they may even die in the waiting room.  

Seniors need a strong support system, most especially if they need hospitalization. This is such an experience can be overwhelming and tedious for them. Healthcare professionals and the families of senior patients must work together to help them go through the journey to recovery as smoothly as possible.

Conclusion

Emergency care for seniors entails important considerations because they’re generally weaker compared to other patients in the younger age groups. Seniors tend to have impaired senses, mobility, and memory. Also, elderly people may suffer from chronic diseases, and have a higher risk of having a compromised immune system. 

Healthcare professionals and families of senior patients who need emergency room treatment should provide proper education to these patients to properly set their expectations and prevent anxiety from arising. With proper guidance, seniors are able to respond to treatment well and have peace of mind knowing that they’re in good hands.

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