Almost a quarter of all seniors visited the emergency room in 2010. What brings older adults into the emergency room? You might be surprised.
Strokes, heart attacks, falls—these are the conditions we usually think of as landing older adults in the emergency room. But seniors visit the ER for a lot of other reasons that may be just as critical, such as adverse drug effects, infections and COPD. Caregivers should be aware of the symptoms that are most likely to lead to a serious diagnosis in seniors.
Ten Conditions That Land Seniors in the ER
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 24% of seniors aged 65 and older made at least one visit to the emergency room in 2010. In fact, enough seniors are visiting the ER that some hospitals are opening specialized emergency departments to cater specifically to elderly patients, focusing on the conditions most likely to send them to the hospital in the first place. If you have seniors under your care, this is a list you’ll want to pay attention to.
1. Injuries and Accidents
2. Heart disease
Some of the most common symptoms reported by seniors in emergency room visits are chest pain and shortness of breath, both potential indicators of heart disease, which is still the leading cause of death in the U.S. (Source: CDC, Discovery Health)
3. Chest pain
As mentioned above, chest pain can be a symptom of heart disease; it can also be caused by other problems such as heart attacks, injuries, blood clots, respiratory infections, or even gastrointestinal issues. (Source: CDC, WebMD)
4. Adverse effects and complications of medical treatment
Adverse drug reactions are a shockingly common cause of emergency room visits in the elderly, including unexpected side effects, interactions with other drugs, or inappropriate self-medication. (Source: CDC, NIH)
5. Abdominal pain
Digestive disease, food poisoning, and infection can all cause abdominal pain or nausea; so can kidney stones, which may result from malnutrition, dehydration or other medical conditions. (Source: CDC, Discovery Health)
6. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
According to the CDC, COPD covers a number of conditions including bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic airway obstruction. Fatigue, coughing, and shortness of breath are some possible symptoms. (Source: CDC, WebMD)
Pneumonia is one of the most common upper respiratory infections to land seniors in the ER. Signs may be milder in older adults, and can include shortness of breath, coughing, and confusion or delirium. (Source: CDC, WebMD)
8. Urinary tract infection
This is yet another reason why seniors should make sure they’re getting enough fluids—31% of seniors are chronically dehydrated, and one of the best ways to prevent UTIs is to drink plenty of water. (Source: CDC, A Place for Mom)
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. It has a distinct pattern of symptoms, which means a vigilant caregiver can often prevent long-term damage if the patient is treated quickly enough. (Source: CDC, A Place for Mom)
10. Spinal disorders
Back pain is another symptom that commonly brings seniors to the ER, whether the pain is due to an injury to the back or neck, a vertebral disc disorder, or an inflammatory condition such as arthritis. (Source: CDC, A Place for Mom)
If you’re a family member or caregiver of an older adult, be sure to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of these common emergency medical issues, and you’ll be better prepared to deal with them if they should arise.
Top 10 Reasons Seniors End Up in the ER by Dana Larsen