Seniors at risk for disability, possible death, after emergency room visits

Seniors who are rushed to a hospital emergency room for the treatment of an illness or injury risk becoming disabled for up to six months after the brief hospital visit, according to a study reported by Reuters.

Researchers looked at data on 754 elderly patients who went to the ER without being admitted to the hospital – as well as another 813 seniors who didn’t visit the ED.

The patients who went to the ER who ended up with a disability was 14 percent higher than those who did not, the report in the Annals of Emergency Medicine showed. The study spanned 14 years and included people who on average were 84 years old.

“The higher risk of disability following emergency department visits is likely related to the illness or injury that led these patients to seek care in the emergency department,” study co-author Dr. William Fleischman, an emergency medicine researcher at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, told Reuters. “This does not mean that these patients should have avoided the emergency department or that they should have been hospitalized,” Fleischman, who completed the study as a researcher at Yale University, added by email. “Rather, it suggests that older adults who are medically appropriate for discharge from the emergency department may benefit from the kind of discharge planning that often occurs in the inpatient setting.”

The scientists found that those who went to the ER were more than three times as likely as those who didn’t to be admitted to nursing homes within the next six months — and they were almost twice as likely to die.

People who were admitted to the hospital by emergency room physicians had even higher risk of disabilities, nursing home admissions or death, the study found.

“Older adults and their families can do their best to manage chronic health conditions in partnership with their doctors and ask for additional services such as home care or palliative care for symptom management in an attempt to avoid the need for ED visits when possible,”  Dr. Amy Kelley, a geriatrics researcher at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, told Reuters via email. She was not part of the study.

“After an ED visit, they can work with their healthcare providers to optimize physical function, add needed support at home and continuing discussions to ensure that the individual’s personal priorities are always the true focus of the health care plan,” she told the news organization.

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