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ER visits increase disability risk for seniors, says study

An elderly individual’s emergency room visit for an injury or illness could signal serious health problems, according to recent research. Adults aged 65 and older who make a trip to the ER are at a 14 percent higher risk of experiencing disability and physical decline up to six months after discharge than seniors who do not visit the ER.

The study said that seniors who were admitted to the ER were unable to independently carry out everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing, managing finances or shopping within six months of returning home. Seniors who were already having difficulty with daily activities prior to their ER visit are especially vulnerable during this period.

Experts believe there are several reasons that a trip to the ER can result in negative consequences for the elderly. Individuals who previously had no difficulty in coping with their health may suddenly feel they can no longer handle their injuries or the worsening of a chronic ailment like diabetes. For example, elderly individuals who fall and hurt themselves may limit their movement due to the fear of falling again. They may also require more in-home help.

Dr. Thomas Gill, study coauthor and Yale University professor of medicine, said trips to the ER can result in “a fairly vulnerable period of time for older persons.” He suggested considering “new initiatives to address patients’ care needs and challenges after such visits.”

Researchers said family members and caregivers should pay extra attention to the elderly individual in the first few days after their ER visit. They suggested checking in frequently on loved ones, following through with medical professionals and educating oneself about the tests and treatments that were administered in the ER. Taking such steps can help minimize the health challenges an elderly loved one may face in the future.