General Discussions

Geriatric Emergency Departments

By Lisa Schulmeister

I’ve noticed an increase in the number of hospital emergency departments that have, and are promoting, specialized services for the elderly. They’re modeled a lot like pediatric emergency departments, which provide emergency care to a very specialized patient population. Only of course, these emergency departments are providing care to patients on the other end of the age spectrum.

The geriatric emergency departments differ from traditional emergency departments in two major ways. First, most are environmentally designed or renovated to meet the needs of an older patient population, with more handrails, non-slip floors, sturdier furniture, and beds with safety features such bed alarms. There’s also easier access to equipment often needed to assess the elderly, such as oxygen, heart monitors, etc. The other main difference from non-specialized emergency departments is staff training and expertise. There is a growing subspecialty of emergency physicians and nurses who have received additional formal and informal education and training in geriatrics. It’s thought that these new practitioners will be able to more quickly, and more accurately determine an older patient’s need, particularly in emergency or urgent situations.

It’s well recognized that the number of people in the U.S. aged 65 and older will continue to grow for the next couple of decades, and that about 25% of the population will be age 65 or older 25 years from now. Medicare and other data document that the elderly typically have a number of comorbid conditions that impact vital organ systems and can make assessment and treatment of these conditions especially challenging. Making geriatric emergency care available appears to be a great way to meet these emerging needs.

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