Heart attacks, strokes, broken hips: These are things we think of when a senior citizen heads to the ER.
But the fact is, older adults can end up in the emergency room for many different reasons – and even though dehydration or flu don’t sound as critical as heart failure, they can be just as dangerous.
Keep reading for some of the most common reasons seniors end up in the ER and some precautions you can take to help avoid accidents and injury:
Falling is the number one source of injury for older adults. According to the National Council on Aging, one in four adults aged 65+ will fall each year. Every 19 minutes, one of those fall victims dies.
Falls can cause everything from broken bones to head trauma – and when it comes to avoiding those (and more serious) injuries, prevention is key.
If you want to make falls less likely, experts recommend the following:
- Conduct a safety check in your home and remove tripping hazards such as loose wires, slippery rugs, and common household clutter
- Maintain proper lighting throughout your home
- Wear sturdy, non-slip shoes (both in the home and out)
- Have your hearing and vision checked regularly
- Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that can help you maintain the strength of your bones and muscles
- Be aware of the weather: Icy, slippery sidewalks and stairs can make falls more likely and hot, dry conditions can lead to dehydration and fainting
Heart-related emergencies result in 1.8 million trips by seniors to the ER every year. Common complaints include chest pains, shortness of breath, and exhaustion – symptoms which should not be ignored. Medicare Part B covers cardiovascular disease screening tests, so make sure you get checked regularly for condition which may lead to heart disease (like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels).
Note: Chest pain is not always an indicator of heart disease. There are many other conditions which can cause similar discomfort, including respiratory infections and gastrointestinal problems.
Stroke is often referred to as the “silent killer” because signs and symptoms – which can mimic dozens of other health issues – are often ignored. Strokes generally don’t cause any pain, but indicators may include confusion, dizziness, severe headache, trouble speaking, and more.
You can reduce your chances of stroke by maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, controlling your blood pressure, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco products.
One of the hallmarks of old age is a decreased sense of thirst. Because seniors don’t feel as parched as younger adults, they are more likely to suffer from dehydration and related illnesses – especially during the summer.
Though it may seem not-so-serious, dehydration can lead to several serious health problems, up to and including death. To help stay hydrated, drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat foods with high water content (such as fruits, vegetables, soups, and yogurts).
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 16 million people affected. The disorder isn’t just one disease, but actually a group of lung diseases which obstruct airflow. Shortness of breath, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis are often symptoms.
Smoking is the main cause of COPD, and stopping smoking can go a long way to preventing the disease. Medicare Part B covers up to eight face-to-face counseling sessions per year for people who want to stop smoking.
Note: It is also important to avoid situations in which you may be exposed to second hand smoke, which can be just as dangerous!
Influenza and Pneumonia
If you want to avoid ending up in the ER this winter, one of the BEST things you can do is to get your flu and pneumonia shots. Medicare Part B covers both and, though they don’t cover every possible strain of the viruses, they offer a great safety net.
It is important to note that seniors often have weaker immune systems than younger adults, so even if you have gotten your shots, you should still avoid people who are sick (and remember to wash your hands after you go out in public!).
Adverse Drug Reactions
Many seniors take more than one medication, which means that it may be difficult to manage the schedule, potential interactions, and side effects – but failing to stick to the proper schedule, or ignoring harmful side effects, can quickly land you in the emergency room.
Drug interactions and reactions are one of the leading causes of senior visits to the ER. To help prevent this problem, make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions, avoid self-medication, and refill your drugs before you run out. If you’re on several medications and unsure of how they may interact, you can ask the pharmacist if they’re safe to take together.
Many of the issues that land older adults in the ER are entirely avoidable. With a little care and precaution, you can easily avoid an unexpected trip to the hospital.