Specialized Emergency Rooms Minimize Trauma to Seniors

  • During my first years of caring for multiple elders I rode in countless ambulances to our local emergency room. That makes it sound like I was a pretty terrible caregiver, I suppose, but actually, I just cared for several very independently minded elders who stubbornly  – can’t say I blame them – stuck to their routines even when I would carefully plan safer ways for them to accomplish their goals.


    One by one, their health failed enough that they required nursing home care. Still, I continued to visit the ER with them. The only difference was that I had help with the routine. Nursing home staff would call me and I’d meet my elder at the ER. Generally, I’d have gotten the paperwork taken care of during the time it took the ambulance to bring them to the ER, so I could spend my time comforting my loved one throughout their ordeal.

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    Most of my elders’ ER runs were because of falls. While falling is one of the major risks for seniors, I do believe three of my seven elders would place in the top 10 if there were a contest aimed at world record holders for “elder falls.” Whatever the reason, a senior’s trip to the emergency room tends to be a traumatic experience.


    Let’s face it. ER visits aren’t a picnic for anyone. For a senior who may be suffering from dementia, or may be on the verge of tipping into territory that would be considered dementia, the confusing, noisy, cold, impersonal medical atmosphere can be extremely unsettling.


    A blog post on The New Old Age Blog at the New York Times website spotlights a new trend toward emergency rooms designed expressly for seniors. The post, titled Emergency Rooms Built With the Elderly in Mind, details the ER experiences of 81-year-old Harold Richards.


    Richards, of Ann Arbor, Mich., had been in the emergency room before. During his newest episode,  he expected the long wait he endured during past visits. He also expected a recurrence of, “The rush, the harsh lights, the white walls and bright floors — everything about the place seemed designed to confuse and frighten elderly patients like him.”


    Richard’s new experience at St. Joseph Mercy, Ann Arbor, was different. “Handrails line each wall, and a nonskid floor resembling hardwood reduces the risk of falls. Every bed has a thicker, pressure-reducing mattress… Room lighting is softer, and the clocks are larger.”


    Many readers ask me about their elders post-ER personality changes and wonder if they will “come out of it.” The “it” they are referring to is the confusion and even dementia-like behavior elders often exhibit after a hospital stay or an emergency room visit.


    Senior or geriatric emergency rooms are popping up in various parts of the country. According to the “Times” post, these specialized departments have opened in “Texas, New Jersey, Missouri and Kansas. By year’s end, Mount Sinai Medical Center plans to open Manhattan’s first such facility.”


    There’s hope for more progress as we inch along in appropriate senior care. Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE), an organization I admire, will meet April 6 through 8, in Las Vegas, Nev. Their focus is that they "share a common passion and purpose: to improve the caliber of care for hospitalized older adults."


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    I congratulate NICHE and other organizations such as the Pioneer Network, for their work in advancing senior care. Senior oriented emergency rooms are one big step forward. Reducing the trauma suffered by our elders when they do need ER treatment can have a long ranging effect on their overall health.


    For more on the NICHE organization visit http://nicheprogram.org. For more on the conference visit http://conference2011.nicheprogram.org.


    For more information about Carol go to www.mindingourelders.com orwww.mindingoureldersblogs.com.   



Published On: March 17, 2011