Emergency Room Visits May Increase Disability Risk For Elderly Patients: Study

Elderly patients treated in an emergency room are more likely to experience increased disability levels within the next six months, according to the findings of new research. 

The study was published in the medical journal the Annals of Emergency Medicine. In addition to the disability risk, researchers from the Yale School of Medicine also indicate that elderly patients face a higher risk of needing to be admitted to a nursing home, and are more likely to die within the six months after an emergency room visit.

The findings raise concerns because disability, and a decline in daily functioning, are linked to an increased risk of death, the need for nursing home care, and increased healthcare costs.

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Researchers followed 754 older adults, with an average age of 84 years, for 14 years, who went to the emergency room, but were not admitted to the hospital. Those patients were matched to 813 patients who did not visit an emergency room. They were also compared to a group that was hospitalized after visiting the ER.

Participants were followed-up every 18 months and interviewed monthly to assess their disability status, identify illness, injuries, identify nursing home admissions and deaths.

The findings indicate that patients who went to the ER are more likely to become disabled for up to six months after the ER visits. During the six months after the ER visit, patient’s disability scores were 14% higher than the scores of the control group who did not have ER visits.

Elderly individuals who went to the ER and then were hospitalized after the ER visit also had disability scores that were significantly higher than both the other groups.

Patients who had ER visits were more than three times as likely as the other participants  who didn’t go to the ER to be admitted to a nursing home within the next 6 months. They were also nearly twice as likely to die within that time.

Those that were admitted to the hospital after an ER visit experienced worse outcomes. They had 17% higher disability scores than patients who went to the ER and then were sent home. Hospitalized patients also had a much higher risk of nursing home admissions and death.

Researchers said the study findings do not indicate the visits to the ER caused the disability, nursing home admission, or death. It is more likely that the injury or illness that prompted the patient to go to the ER in the first place is what caused the decline in the six months after the visit.

Instead, the study’s findings suggests the six months following ER or hospitalization are crucial for elderly patients. The researchers called for closer monitoring of elderly patients following ER visits to avoid health deterioration due to the problem which resulted in their ER visit, as well as other health risks.


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