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Five tips for older adults needing emergency care

Interior of a hospital floor

A visit to the emergency department can be intimidating, especially for older people during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one wants to plan a trip to the emergency department, but Sinai Health experts say it is important to prepare in the event of an urgent medical concern. Dr. Don Melady, emergency physician and Geriatric Lead at the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre and geriatric emergency nurse Mary-Ann Hamelin have these suggestions for older people needing to seek care in the emergency department.

1. If you have symptoms you are concerned about, the ED is a safe and welcoming place for you to come. The Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre has not had a single case of COVID-19 transmission in 16 months.

“We have seen many people during the pandemic who waited too late to come to the emergency department and were much sicker because of the delay,” said Hamelin. “Had they come earlier, they may have been able to be treated and go home, but by waiting later, they had to be admitted to hospital for long periods of time.”

2. Make sure you bring your shoes, walker, hearing aid and glasses.

Please don’t let anyone dissuade from bringing them for fear of them getting lost. These are essential to your mobility and comfort in the emergency department and leaving them at home would make it more difficult for you to safely walk or hear about your care from your health care providers.

3. Bring all of your medications with you and ask your emergency medicine doctor if he or she would like to look at them with you.

“Do not assume your past medical history or medications are available to the doctors and nurses in the emergency department,” said Melady. “While electronic medical records are better these days, it does take time to piece all of your medical history together. Give your doctor an up-to-date list of medications or, better yet, show them the actual pill bottles. Make a list of your medical problems and all your specialists, so you don’t have to remember them all when you’re sick or stressed.”

4. Bring your cell phone with you. Tell the ED doctor and nurse that you want them to talk to your family member. Put the phone on speaker so you can all talk together.

“Hospital visitor policies may mean your family member cannot attend with you,” Melady said. “You can tell your doctor, ‘I want you to talk to my family member and tell them what is happening.’”

5. Remember that now, as always, it is important to communicate with your family what is most important to you about your health care.

Though these conversations might seem difficult, most people want to communicate what is important to them in life and death. Ask questions like, “What would you want when you get really sick? What would you want if you were approaching the end of your life? What is most important to you?”


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