Emergency Room Visit Prevention

Guest Blog By Dr. Kari Williams, RMA (AMT), CPT (NHA), CET (NHA), BS, DC 

As listed on the eHealth Medicare site, reasons seniors commonly visit the Emergency Room can range from respiratory and cardiac symptoms to injuries associated with falls. Common reasons for ER visits among seniors and tips to reduce the risk, include:  

Slip and Fall Dangers for the Elderly

Injuries and Accidents: as we age, our risk of avoidable injuries (falls, car accidents, and heat-induced exhaustion) also increases. 

Risks in your home:  

  • Check your home for loose carpets and slippery rugs, dimly lit stairs, or lose handrails. Many towns and churches have volunteer programs to help fix these minor repairs for you.
  • Add some safety features, like grab bars in the bathroom (inside and outside the shower or near the toilet) and install handrails on both sides of the stairs. 
  • Organizations that could help add these safety items: 

Shoes:  

  • Wear comfortable shoes with rubber soles to support your feet. Avoid wearing flip-flops and bedroom slippers as they are unstable.  
  • Shoelaces can be dangerous and hard to tie. Try Lace locks.  

Exercises for better balance

  • Try some simple exercises to improve your balance and leg strength.  
  • Click here for some quick and easy videos for balance exercises and leg workouts. 

Medications

  • Overdoses are the leading cause of medication death. Seniors are at elevated risk due to memory decline. The inability to manage medications is also a common reason for admittance to a nursing facility. 
  • Review all your medicines with your doctor or pharmacist. Many medications can cause dizziness or sleepiness and cause a fall.  

Vision:  

  • Get your vision checked by an eye doctor every 1-2 years and update your glasses or contact lenses as needed. 

Adverse Drug Reactions: typically, the number of medications we take increases along with the number of candles on our birthday cake. Each medication has specific instructions for timing and dosage. This can be confusing for anyone who is taking more than 2 or 3 medications.  

National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse: Elderly 'Poisoned' By Too Many  Medications
  • Talk to your doctor or a pharmacist about each medication and make sure you understand why you are taking each pill.  
  • Follow the medication directions carefully. 
  • Stick to a schedule. Take medications at the same time every day or keep track on a calendar to avoid double dosing.  
  • Invest in a pill organizer.   
  • Set medication reminders. Your smartphone can vibrate or chime when it is time to take your medications.  
  • Speakers and clocks that offer medication reminders: 

Heart Disease: according to the Center for Disease Control, this is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Medicare Part B covers cardiovascular disease screening tests, so have those tests performed on a regular basis for early detection. If you are experiencing heart attack symptoms, go to the emergency room.  

Stroke: reduce your chances of a stroke by adopting healthy habits, including eating healthy, regular exercise, quit smoking, and reduce alcohol intake. Also, know how to identify the symptoms of a stroke with the mnemonic FAST (F-face, A-arm, S-speech, T-time). If you are experiencing these symptoms, go to the emergency room.  

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD):  Emphysema and bronchitis fall into this category. Smoking is the main cause of COPD, and stopping can help prevent these conditions. Medicare Part B covers up to eight face-to-face counseling sessions per year for those who want to stop smoking.  If you have COPD, there are a few simple changes to make and activities to avoid.  

  • Make sure to cook and shower with ventilation. Exposure to cooking fumes can irritate the lungs. Heat and humidity after a shower make it harder to breathe and may also lead to mold growth.  
  • Alcohol can cause you to breathe slower and shallower. Limit consumption and avoid at night.  
  • Wear a mask when dusting or working with materials that give off fumes.  

Back or Neck Pain: Spinal disorders and arthritis pain often result in visits to the ER. Here are a few steps that can help reduce symptoms or alleviate back or neck pain: 

How likely is a serious cause of back pain in older adults?
  • Ask your doctor to recommend an exercise program that targets the lower back, neck, or painful joints. 
  • Consider a visit to an alternative therapy provider such as a massage therapist, acupuncturist, or chiropractor.  
  • Try ice or heat application. Heat helps relax tight muscles and ice reduces inflammation. A good rule of thumb is to apply ice if the area of pain is hot and only keep the ice pack on for 20 minutes.  
  • Increase water intake to reduce inflammation 

Here are some simple yoga poses specifically targeting your back.  

Abdominal Pain:   This can be related to digestive problems (constipation or diarrhea), an infection, gall bladder issues, ulcers, appendicitis, or food poisoning.  Although vague abdominal pain might not seem serious, it should not be ignored. Talk to a medical professional about your symptoms.    

Woman drinking tap water

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI):  Dehydration is the primary cause of urinary tract infections among seniors. Symptoms include pain and burning during urination, having to urinate often, fever, pain in the lower pelvis or abdomen, confusion, and nausea. 

Water, water, and more water: A general guideline is 6-8 glasses of water a day. But this rule of thumb doesn’t take into consideration we are all different sizes and weights. A 90-pound person doesn’t have the same needs as someone weighing 250 pounds. So instead, try to drink half your body weight in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water. 

Water helps reduce inflammation which can help with the pain. 

  • Keep water nearby and easily accessible.
  • Eat your water. Many foods are a great source of water. Fruits like watermelon and apples, veggies like celery, and tomatoes. 
  • Download a water tracker app to help you track your water consumption and remind you to drink up.