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How Senior Citizens Can Prepare for a Trip to the ER

Monday , January 20 , 2020

How Senior Citizens Can Prepare for a Trip to the ER

For many older adults, the emergency room can be difficult to navigate – and unfortunately, these visits can happen all too often.

Many seniors are chronically ill and frail, resulting in regular trips to the ER. Whether it’s for an unavoidable accident, a serious health complication, or something else, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to help them be prepared.

Knowing what to expect in advance – and having everything you need ready to go – can make the process a lot less stressful.

Here are some important steps you can take to make sure your older adult gets the care they need and deserve (and they get home as quickly as possible):

  1. Keep a Current List of Medications and Medical Conditions

It is very important that the doctors and nurses caring for your loved one know what medications they are taking and what health issues they have. To help them provide the correct treatment and prescribe the right medications, you should be able to provide:

  • A list of current medications
  • The actual pill bottles, if possible
  • A list of health conditions your loved one is currently being treated for
  • Bring a copy of recent blood work, x-rays, MRIs, and other lab tests if they may be relevant
  1. Know Your Loved One’s Allergies

Just as important as knowing which medications your loved one is taking is knowing which medications they are allergic to. You should be able to tell hospital staff which medicines they have a reaction to, how they react (rash, breathing problems, etc.), and how it is usually treated.

  1. Have a List of Doctors and Specialists

In today’s world, it is highly unlikely that you will be seen by your primary care physician when you visit a hospital or urgent care. Because the emergency room staff will be unaware of your loved one’s medical history, they will likely want to talk to their regular doctor. Having a list of all of your older adult’s doctors and specialists, and their phone numbers, will make it easier for the ER staff to contact them if necessary.

  1. Keep Insurance Cards Handy 

If you show up at the hospital without an insurance card, it’s not the end of the world. You will still receive treatment and you typically don’t have to pay up front – but correcting the error down the road can be a giant headache. Make sure you keep your loved one’s insurance cards in an easy-to-find location so you can quickly grab them when needed.

Note: Most hospitals also require a photo id (driver’s license, passport, etc.), so make sure to bring that along!

  1. Advance Directives and POLST/MOST Forms

Although no one likes to think about a worst-case scenario, it’s best to be prepared. The fact is, many of the conditions that cause seniors to visit the ER (heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, etc.) can be deadly.

If your loved one has an end-of-life plan or healthcare wishes, you need to advocate for them if they are unable to advocate for themselves. That means being prepared with an advance care directive which describes the medical treatments they might want and appointing an appropriate representative (if it’s going to be someone other than yourself).

  1. Have a “Go Bag” Ready

In the event of an emergency, you’ll want to get out the door as quickly as possible. Many people find it helpful to have an emergency bag packed and waiting.

Unfortunately, ER trips can be very time-consuming. Even if your older loved one doesn’t get admitted, they may spend hours in the emergency room waiting to be seen. They may even have to sit in a room overnight while awaiting test results.

Having certain “comfort” items with them can help make the whole ordeal less trying. Things you should pack include:

  • Toiletry kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, brush/comb, etc.)
  • Glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and other necessary items
  • “Comfort” items, such as pajamas, slippers, cozy socks, and a favorite blanket
  • Phone charger
  • Books, crosswords, puzzles, or some other form of entertainment

Tip: Ask to stay with your loved one. Due to crowding issues, Emergency Departments often limit how many people can stay with a patient (if any). However, older adults often have extenuating circumstances such as dementia or confusion and can benefit from the company of a friend or loved one.

Final Thoughts

While this list contains many necessary items, it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. It is important to be aware of your older loved one’s particular situation so you can pack what is essential to them. Remember to keep everything together in one convenient location (such as a closet by the front door) so you know where it is when you need it!

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Trips to the ER Often Signify a Tipping Point for Older Adults

Monday , January 13 , 2020

Trips to the ER Often Signify a Tipping Point for Older Adults

Children of aging parents often dread receiving the call that Mom or Dad has ended up in the hospital. Something as simple as a trip or fall, or even the flu, can turn into a full-blown crisis.

In today’s healthcare environment, patients aged 65 and older represent 40 percent of hospitalized adults, with approximately 20% of them readmitted within two weeks of discharge.

For many, a trip to the emergency room can signify a quality-of-life tipping point, as their ability to live independently lessens after a hospitalization.

The key to maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle lies in preparation. While accidents and infections can happen at any time and often catch families off-guard, having a plan in place can help those involved make rational choices.

Keep reading to learn how you can help your older loved one navigate decisions during a hospital stay and prepare for longer-term solutions once they head home:

A Downward Spiral

Research recently published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine shows that seniors are 14 percent more likely to have acquired a disability six months after visiting the ER than adults of the same age who didn’t end up in the ER.

What’s that mean?

After heading to the emergency room, these adults were much more likely than their peers to lose the ability to independently bathe, dress, climb down a set of stairs, prepare meals, exercise, and more.

Oddly, these seniors weren’t admitted to the hospital. They were seen, treated, and sent home – not something that would typically be considered a life-altering event.

Poorer Quality of Life

Research by Dr. Cynthia Brown, professor and division director of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care at the University of Alabama, shows that many older adults experience a sharp decline in their ability to get up and move around for a full year after visiting the emergency room.

A decline of this sort can be associated with a lot of poor outcomes – poorer quality of life, placement in a nursing home, isolation and loneliness, and even sickness and death.

How Does a Trip to the Emergency Room Lead to Such Dire Circumstances?

For a younger adult, a trip to the ER is usually no big deal. When you get treated and sent home, it’s an indicator that you’re going to be ok.

Why is it so different for older adults?

Experts say that for seniors who are already struggling with day-to-day life, a trip to the emergency room might throw them over the edge. Emotionally, they may feel defeated and not want to try anymore. Physically, an injury or illness may put a strain on the already-limited resources they were working with.

Other possibilities may include seniors who become afraid of further illness or injury and limit their activities, or ER staff may miss underlying conditions which ultimately lead to bigger problems.

Family Members can Help Older Adults During and After a Visit to the ER

Older adults shouldn’t be left to navigate the often confusing and overwhelming Emergency Room environment alone.

If possible, a family member or loved one should stay by their side throughout the experience and help guide them through it.

Experts recommend the following:

  • Ask for a room: Sitting in the waiting room or in the hallway can be an overwhelming experience for older adults – especially those suffering from dementia or prone to delirium.
  • Supply a list of medications to staff: Make sure the hospital has an up-to-date list of ALL of the medications your loved one is currently taking to help avoid interactions and side effects.
  • Keep your loved one comfortable: Have a grab bag ready to go in case of an ER trip that includes everything they may need (eyeglasses, hearing aids, a comfy outfit, a favorite book or other activity)
  • Establish communication with hospital staff: Start by identifying your loved one’s primary ER doctor and the names of any specialists on their team. Request a meeting with the primary care, taking time to write down any questions and concerns beforehand. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your loved one if they are unable or uncomfortable speaking for themselves.
  • Learn about post-hospitalization care: Following a trip to the ER, your older loved one will need to have their health monitored by their primary care physician to avoid and further issues and rehospitalization. New prescription medications may be added to their daily routing with can interact with other meds, foods, or even alter their daily lifestyle. In addition, special medical equipment (like a walker or pressure mattress) may need to be purchased.
  • Determine where your loved one will live while they recover: Often, an older adult is able to go straight home and back to their normal routine after a trip to the Emergency Room. But on occasion, they may require a helping hand in the form of a hired caregiver or a loved one. Sometimes, the easiest solution is to move in with someone else (such as an adult child or other loved one) during the recovery process.

A trip to the ER doesn’t have to be a life-altering event for your older loved one. Knowing what to expect in advance and being prepared can make a huge difference.

Tell us – have you had an elderly friend or family member head to the ER? What was your experience?

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Common Reasons Seniors End Up In The ER

Monday , January 6 , 2020

Common Reasons Seniors End Up In The ER

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:

Fall-Related Injuries

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 Disease

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.

Bottom Line

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.

Posted in: Aging

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