Help aging loved ones during ER visits

Families or close friends are often called upon to respond when an aging loved one is in the emergency room, and Wendy Johnstone offers some tips to help.

Even in a smaller hospital, the emergency room (ER) can be overwhelming, frightening and exhausting for families, and especially for seniors.

Coupled with a chaotic and strange environment, it’s no wonder aging loved ones (or anyone for that matter) seem confused!

Emergency room visits vary in length depending on the severity of a condition and overall busyness of the ER. The average length of time is about three hours.

Arriving at the ER, a nurse assesses the elder to start piecing together the medical concerns and determine urgency. This process determines the length of time before the aging person is seen and treated by the ER doctor.

Once admitted to the ER, the elder may be placed on a stretcher or gurney to help facilitate treatment and assessments done by the hospital personnel. Depending on the situation, several tests may be initiated including lab work, x-rays and other scans.

Based on what’s diagnosed, the elder may be treated and discharged or admitted as an in-patient and is transferred to a particular unit in hospital.

Put yourself in your aging loved one’s shoes — you are in pain or in discomfort, you are scared because you don’t know what’s happening and might have hearing or vision loss or a bit of memory loss.

Now imagine yourself trying to articulate to the ER doctor of nurse what’s wrong in a clear and concise fashion.

Families or close friends are often called upon to respond when an aging loved one is in the ER. Here are some ways to help:

Speak up when your aging loved one can’t. Share whatever key information you can with hospital staff. Introduce yourself to hospital staff, ask questions, ask for directions and let staff know you are available and want to help.

Don’t be afraid to ask who is who. There can be a lot of different hospital personnel helping your aging loved one. Jotting down someone’s name and what part of the elder’s care they are responsible for help with follow up and keeping track of tests and assessments.

Comfort is key. The ER can be cold, hot, bright and noisy! Little things can go a long with to provide comfort for aging loved ones including a blanket and pillow from home, extra clothing and socks, and with permission from the staff, provide favourite fluids such a coffee, tea, juices.

Don’t forget about yourself! Looking after an aging loved one in crisis can be all-consuming. Take frequent breaks and don’t feel bad about it.

It’s normal to be worried about leaving your loved one alone but how much good are you if you can’t keep your eyes open! Keep some of your own comfort items on hand such as water, snacks, a sweater, reading material, a small notepad and pen for writing information and change for the payphone (sometimes cell phones are not permitted in certain parts of the hospital).

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

 

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