Specialized Hospital Unit Opens for Seniors

In 2016, The Oldish reported about emergency rooms tailored for geriatric patients, specifically one at St. Joseph Mercy hospital in Michigan.  And now UC San Diego Health has opened a new emergency medicine unit specializing in treating older adults; the first accredited senior emergency care unit in California. 

What makes a geriatric emergency care space different?  For patients over 65, the noise and crowds and harsh lighting of a traditional emergency room can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety for frail and sometimes confused elderly patients.  According to a recent press release by UC San Diego Health, a separate physical space with improved acoustics, a variable lighting system that helps patients keep track of the time of day and contrasting colors between different surfaces all help keep seniors more calm and safe.  Chairs in the waiting room are designed to be sturdy enough to help older adults sit and stand more easily.   And every aspect of the care given in this special unit is designed to better serve an older patient, helping to reduce repeat hospital admissions and ensure better transitions home following discharge. 

In addition to creating an environment that causes less anxiety and fewer fall risks, the treatment older patients receive in a specialized geriatric unit also includes medication management and a partnership with social workers to follow up after seniors leave the hospital.  All staff receive special training in geriatric medicine.  From a centrally located nurse’s station, all patient rooms are visible and caregivers have a private space to wait in during long visits. 

Because many patients who visit hospital emergency rooms are elderly adults, as the proportion of seniors continues to rise over the next 20 to 30 years, accommodating the specialized health care needs of older adults will be increasingly important.  Training new doctors in geriatric medicine, although not a glamorous field of study, is greatly needed to meet the needs of a rapidly growing elderly population.  By 2029, the United States Census estimates that the entire baby boomer population will be over the age of 65.  Adopting specialized emergency units across North America will help improve outcomes and quality of life for older adults.   Learn more about geriatric emergency services at UC San Diego Health here