ER visits may serve as turning point for elderly patients' health: 5 takeaways

An elderly patient's emergency room visit often signals a major health challenge and should communicate to care providers the patient may need additional care, according to a report in The Washington Post.

The nation's growing aging population accounts for over 20 million ER visits annually. As a result, the nation's traditional model of emergency medicine has to shift focus to include ERs that are specialized for seniors and guidelines for assessing seniors and educating medical staff in geriatric care, according to the report.

Here are five takeaways from the report.

1. A study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine found six months after visiting the ER, seniors were 14 percent more likely to have acquired a disability than adults of the same age who had a similar illness and had not been to the ER. The disabilities included inability to independently bathe, dress, climb down stairs, shop, manage finances or carry a package.

2. A report published in 2016 found significant declines in the "life-space mobility" of older adults after an ER visit. Life-space mobility indicates the extent to which older adults are able to be up, moving and out of the house. The declines in this mobility lasted for at least one year, without seeing full recovery.

3. Seniors face a decline in health when faced with an injury or exacerbation of a chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart failure. As a result, seniors may visit the ER more frequently because they require more care than what is available at home.

4. Older adults who fall, a leading cause of ER visits, may fear falling again and limit their activities. The fear of falling may therefore lead to seniors' health deterioration.

5. ER staff may neglect to address the underlying vulnerabilities that lead seniors to visit the ER, such as depression, dementia or delirium. If these conditions remain unaddressed by emergency room staff, older adults remain susceptible to long-term impact.

More articles on EDs: 
UCHealth invests in 'safe rooms' to improve ER care
Mercy Fort Smith opens seasonal flu clinic to keep ER visits down
Alcohol-related ED visits up despite low drinking per capita rate

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