Home > Aging, Hospitalization, Medical issues > Emergency Rooms for the Aging?

Emergency Rooms for the Aging?

(Note:  I wrote this story about a year ago, for another site.  Unfortunately, the news article I got most of my information no longer exists.  I will have to put this topic on my list of things to research further, as I still think it a very exciting prospect to consider.)

I was very pleased to read about a new trend in this country, with regards to emergency medicine.  A few hospitals have started opening separate emergency rooms for the aging population, possibly taking a cue from the pediatric ERs that have been showing some very good results.  As the numbers of “senior citizens” increases, this is a trend that very well may become more and more necessary with coming years.

Think about your average emergency room.  You’ll probably picture a place that is full of hustle and bustle, loud noises and flashing lights, and lots of people rushing here and there.  And then consider that the geriatric population often exhibits different symptoms than younger folks, and respond differently to many medications.  Many times, urinary tract infections or blood-sugar imbalances, among other things, can produce symptoms that can be misinterpreted as dementia when seen in the elderly.

17 million ER visits this year will be made by seniors.  It is estimated that, by the year 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65 years of age.

St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J., started a 14-bed Senior Emergency Center 2 years ago.  According to the head of emergency medicine, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, plans are under way to enlarge it later this year.  There are at least a dozen other similar facilities around the country.

One model has a triage nurse in the main ER to assess incoming patients.  If they have an immediately life-threatening issue, they stay in the main part of the ER.  But other seniors are given the option of going to another place, which is designed especially to meet their unique needs.

Patients are taken to rooms with doors instead of curtains, to limit anxiety, confusion, and difficulty communicating due to poor hearing and other problems.  Nurses carry small personal amplifiers so they don’t have to shout at patients.  Mattresses are thicker, and patients who are medically able can opt for comfortable reclining chairs.  Nonskid floors help to prevent falls.  Forms are printed in larger type.  Pharmacists routinely check to see if the patients’ home medications may have harmful interactions.  A geriatric social worker is available as needed.

Staff in these facilities undergo additional training in how to approach and communicate with the geriatric population.  Patients are screened for signs of depression, delirium, and dementia — whether as the primary reason for their visit, or as a factor that can influence their current problem or how they should be treated.

One example that was given in the story was that of a woman who was treated for low  blood sugar in the regular ER.  A few weeks later she was back, but this time staff in the new senior ER determined that her dementia was making it difficult for her to self-administer her insulin, and so her plan of treatment was changed accordingly.

Gosh, I wonder if there is one of these wonderful places in my area?

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