CareAcademy Blog

Senior Citizens & Emergency Situations: What To Do

Professional caregivers to senior citizens often need help understanding when and how to get assistance. In particular, when should you refer to a registered nurse? Or when do you call 911?

How to Handle Emergency Situations in Caregiving for Senior Citizens

It is always good to be prepared to handle an emergency situation. Even if you never need to use that knowledge.

How to Report an Emergency by Calling 911

If the older adult you care for suffers an emergency such as fall and is unable to get up on their own, it is better to call 911 right away, rather than moving them. The person may have a broken hip, for example, and moving injured senior citizens may cause them more harm. 911 is for emergencies only. If you are ever unsure if something is an emergency, it is better to call and let the 911 operator decide. Any physical or behavioral condition that comes on suddenly within 24 hours in an older adult is a medical emergency, and should be evaluated in an emergency room. Symptoms in older adults are often very nonspecific.

Examples of emergency situations for senior citizens, when you may want to call 911:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Sudden slurred speech
  • Unresponsive/unconscious
  • Severe allergic reaction with trouble breathing and/or dizziness
  • Sudden confusion or disorientation
  • Heat stroke
  • Stroke
  • Sudden blindness
  • Uncontrolled nosebleed
  • Vomiting blood
  • Sudden weakness
  • Bleeding that will not stop
  • Bleeding with weakness
  • Broken bones
  • Serious burns

What to Do If You Call 911

Do not move the older adult unless the person is in danger. Moving a person that is injured can seriously worsen their injury, such as if they’re experiencing paralysis.  You can place a blanket on the person and try to keep them as warm as possible, if that seems appropriate. Landline phones allow the dispatcher to “know” where you are calling from even if you cannot speak – for example, if you feel unsafe. Just dial 911 and leave the phone off the hook. Do not hang up.

Once you call 911, what do you do?

  • Let the operator speak mostly and do not interrupt
  • Follow all instructions
  • Be ready to answer the following questions:
    • What is your location?
    • Is the person awake?
    • Is the person breathing?
    • Is there an injury?
    • Is the person in a dangerous spot or position where further injury could occur?
    • Has the person experienced a recent major medical event?
    • Does the person have a chronic medical condition?

To save critical time after calling 911:

  • Put animals in another room
  • Turn on lights
  • Ensure that the house number can be seen easily
  • Unlock and open the front door
  • Clear a path to the older adult, both indoors and outdoors, and leave room for the ambulance in the driveway if possible.
Remember: remain as calm as possible during the situation. Handling an emergency situation with care and quick, calm action is the best way to help.

Senior Citizens & Non-Emergencies – What Should You Do?

Inform Someone Immediately in Non-Emergencies

If you are a non-medical care provider or family member caring for your elderly relative, there is always help available when you need it for non-emergency medical and health situations. If you notice any significant changes in the adult’s behavior that indicates a medical emergency or abuse situation, inform someone immediately. If you are a family caregiver, you need to call your loved one’s healthcare provider. If you are a professional caregiver, you need to call your supervisor. It is always better to report something than to risk endangering the person or yourself by not reporting it.

Seek Out Medical Care in Non-Emergencies

Some injuries don’t warrant an ambulance but require professional medical care, because they may lead to complications if not treated. Get same-day medical treatment from the older adult’s health care provider or walk-in clinic if:
  • The person has hit his or her head. Older adults are at higher risk for bleeding between the brain and the skull after a head trauma. A CT scan of the head is therefore wise after any head injury. This is critical and requires immediate medical attention if there’s also a worsening headache, nausea, vomiting, or a change in mental status or neurological abilities.
  • There’s been a cut that might require stitches or additional attention.
  • The person reports significant pain in any bones or joints, which could be signs of a broken bone or bleeding in a joint.
  • The person is no longer able to walk (but could before the fall).
  • The person has less mental or physical function than before the fall (for example, is more confused than usual or has a reduced range of motion).

Preparation Makes Handling Emergencies with Senior Citizens Easy

To make handing any emergency efficient, keep some critical information posted on the refrigerator at all times:
  • The senior citizen’s medical history
  • Emergency numbers, including doctor’s phone number(s), family members and close friends/neighbors
  • Your street address, apartment number, and closest cross street.
  • A call-back number to give emergency personnel and others who may have additional questions
 

Professional caregivers keep senior citizens safe and healthy everyday. Become certified in a CareAcademy online eldercare course.

 

Dr. Reddy is a specialist in Internal Medicine & Geriatric Medicine. She holds appointments at Harvard Medical School & Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, MA. She has seen the struggles that families and caregivers go through when caring for adults. Through CareAcademy, she intends to improve people's lives. Dr. Reddy's research is published as journal articles and book chapters. She has also authored a book for family caregivers.

Madhuri ReddySenior Citizens & Emergency Situations: What To Do

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