For Elder Health, Trips To The ER Are Often A Tipping Point

An older person’s trip to the ER often signals a serious health challenge and should serve as a wake-up call for caregivers and relatives.  Research published last year in the Annals of Emergency Medicine underscores the risks. Six months after visiting the ER, seniors were 14 percent more likely to have acquired a disability — an inability to independently bathe, dress, climb down a flight of stairs, shop, manage finances or carry a package, for instance — than older adults of the same age, with a similar illness, who didn’t end up in the ER.  These older adults weren’t admitted to the hospital from the ER; they returned home after their visits, as do about two-thirds of seniors who go to ERs, nationally.  The takeaway: Illnesses or injuries that lead to ER visits can initiate “a fairly vulnerable period of time for older persons” and “we should consider new initiatives to address patients’ care needs and challenges after such visits,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Thomas Gill, a professor of medicine (geriatrics), epidemiology and investigative medicine at Yale University.  Research by Dr. Cynthia Brown, a professor and division director of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, confirms this vulnerability. In a 2016 report, she found sharp declines in older adults’ “life-space mobility” (the extent to which they get up and about and out of the house) after an emergency.  Other research suggests that seniors who are struggling with self-care (bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring from the bed to a chair) or with activities such as cooking, cleaning and managing medications are especially vulnerable to the aftereffects of an ER visit.


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