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3 Reasons Older Adults End Up in the ER

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As your body ages, regular checkups can help keep you in control of your health. But sometimes, the unexpected occurs. As you grow older, so does your risk for a visit to the ER. Learn the top three reasons you or an older loved one may need emergency care — and how to reduce that risk.

Injuries and Accidents

We like to think of our homes as being safe. But most of us know what it’s like to trip on a step, bump into the coffee table or stub a toe in the dark. The more comfortable we are with our surroundings, the easier it is to overlook potential dangers that can lead to injury. And, as your age increases, so does your risk of serious injury as a result of a fall or accident. 

Use these tips to help safeguard yourself or your loved ones:

Ask Your Doctor to Evaluate Your Fall Risk

Your doctor can evaluate your risk for falls based on your:

  • Ability to balance
  • Use of certain prescribed medications
  • Vision

If you’re concerned about older loved ones, encourage them to talk to their doctor or better yet, go to the doctor with them to act as their advocate. Be proactive about your long-term health and wellness by working to prevent accidents before they happen. 

Safeguard Your Home

While you may think your home is safe, we encourage you to review it with fresh perspective. Most falls occur in your own home and are caused by hazards you often overlook. Inspect each room and make these simple fixes to ensure your (or your loved ones) home is as safe as possible:

  • Add railings on stairs
  • Clear furniture from your path and keep floors clear of clutter 
  • Don’t wear slippers or house shoes
  • Improve lighting (including night lights and a lamp near your bed)
  • Keep a step stool with a handle handy
  • Move items to lower shelves
  • Place non-slip rubber strips in shower/tub and install grab bars
  • Remove area rugs

To further ensure your safety, no matter where you are, you should also:

  • Exercise to improve your balance and strengthen your legs
  • Have a doctor review your medications
  • Update your prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses regularly
  • Wear shoes inside and outside

Heart Disease

We’d all like to be independent well into our old age. The truth is, as you age, you rely more and more on the support of family, friends and the medical community. Doing so ensures your increased safety and quality of life in your golden years. Sometimes, that change in independence happens suddenly as a result of heart disease that leads to a trip to the ER.

Heart disease is the most common condition among older adults. As you age, your heart and blood vessels begin to stiffen, causing strain on your heart and circulatory system. You may have other chronic (long-term) health conditions in addition to heart disease. High blood pressure can put you at increased risk for heart disease. Common conditions that fall under the umbrella term of heart disease include:

Heart Failure

The term “heart failure” makes it sound as if your heart is no longer working — but luckily, that’s not true! If you have heart failure, it simply means your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be. This is a serious condition that may result in the need for emergency medical care. If you have any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor right away:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Frequent dry, hacking cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • New or worsening dizziness, confusion
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Sudden weight gain of more than 2 or 3 pounds 
  • Swelling or increased discomfort in lower body
  • Trouble sleeping, cannot lie flat

Depending on your specific symptoms and their severity, your doctor may have you go directly to the emergency room, rather than scheduling an appointment.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Atrial fibrillation is a problem with the electrical signals that tell your heart muscle when to contract, affecting the rhythm of your heart. This condition is common in older adults and is often caused by another health issue. 

If you have AFib, you have an increased risk for stroke, the formation of clots and heart attack. 

Many people living with AFib don’t even know they have it, since it’s common not to experience any symptoms at all. But if you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor’s office:

  • Pounding or rapid heartbeat, or feeling that your heart is fluttering
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath or gasping for air
  • Weakness

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Coronary artery disease is a buildup of plaque in your heart’s arteries. This buildup limits blood flow to your heart and can lead to heart attack. 

You’re most at risk for CAD if you’re:

  • A man over the age of 45
  • A post-menopausal woman
  • A smoker
  • Diagnosed with high cholesterol or diabetes
  • Relatives have CAD
  • Obese

The good news is it’s preventable. CAD actually begins in childhood. The earlier in life you take steps to prevent it, the more chance you have of being successful at avoiding it. Even as an older adult, you can delay the progression of CAD by making positive changes to your lifestyle. Maintain a healthy weight, follow a heart-healthy diet and start a consistent exercise routine. As always, check with your doctor before changing your diet or starting any new physical activity. 

Arrhythmias 

Your heart beats in a normal pattern of electrical impulses. Sometimes that rhythm gets out of sequence causing it to beat too fast, too slow or erratically. That irregularity is known as arrhythmia. 

Risk factors include:

  • Age     
  • Congenital conditions
  • Exposure to chemical agents
  • Heart disease

Preventive Measures to Keep Your Heart Strong

Regardless of your specific heart condition, these healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way in keeping you or a loved one heart healthy:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Control your cholesterol
  • Get physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage your blood pressure
  • Stick to a heart-healthy diet

Stroke 

Strokes can happen slowly and over time, but you’re more likely to have one occur suddenly. 

If you believe you or a loved one are having a stroke, think F.A.S.T. Look for these signs:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech slurred
  • Time to call 9-1-1

Other symptoms may include sudden onset of:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Numbness
  • Severe headache
  • Vision problems

As with heart disease, committing to a healthy lifestyle can help prevent stroke. In addition to maintaining a healthy diet and weight, you should work closely with your doctor to detect and treat any issues that could contribute to your risk, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. 

We’re here for your family through every age and stage. To learn more about how to reduce your risk factors, find a geriatrician or cardiologist near you. 

If you or your loved one experiences an emergency, call 9-1-1 and ask to go to your nearest AdventHealth emergency room.

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