MISSOURI— Emergency rooms are intimidating for people of all ages, but they can be even more daunting for patients over the age of 65.
Now innovative emergency departments around the country are taking the lead and offering specialized care to these elderly patients.
94-year-old Harry Shank is happy living on his own, even if it worries his son, Gary.
"When they get older, they get kinda stubborn," Gary said.
Harry has fallen several times with multiple trips to the E.D. The last time, he broke three ribs.
"As he gets older, it's more and more of a concern," Gary said. "So, it's a dilemma."
E.D. doctors are facing a dilemma of their own. By 2060, there will be more than 100 million people over the age of 65.
"The older adults often don't come with one problem and often the problem they come with is not the most life-threatening problem that's in front of them." said Christopher Carpenter, a doctor with Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.
Forward-thinking emergency departments around the nation are adopting new guidelines to get accredited as geriatric emergency departments. Missouri Baptist Medical Center is one of them.
Joseph Galkowski, an emergency physician with Missouri Baptist Medical Center, says they should be ready to help the growing population of senior citizens.
"We need to get prepared. And we want to be prepared to help those patients," Galkowski said.
Non-stick floors, large-faced clocks. dimmable lights. windows to orient patients to the time of day, specially trained staff, testing for dementia and fall risk, immediate follow-up care at home, all of these are steps that cater to the older population.
"I think the patients notice the difference when they are in a geriatric-friendly emergency department versus one that treats the geriatric patient like the pediatric patient." Carpenter said.
The comprehensive care Harry gets at the E.D. gives him and his son an extra layer of security.
"He's the greatest dad I could ask for," Gary said.
As of Sept. 2019, there are 85 hospitals across the United States with accredited geriatric emergency departments.
Early studies show elderly patients treated at geriatric E.D.s are less likely to be admitted to the hospital.
Doctors are hopeful the accreditation program will serve as a motivator for emergency departments across the country to adopt the guidelines and better care for our aging population.