5 Tips for Bringing Your Elderly Loved One to the Emergency Department

For many older adults, emergency departments can be difficult to navigate. Kevin Biese, associate professor of emergency medicine and internal medicine at UNC, and Jan Busby-Whitehead, professor and chief of geriatric medicine at UNC and director of the UNC Center for Aging and Health, share these important steps you can take to help the older adult you are caring for get the care they need and deserve.

by Kevin Biese and Jan Busby-Whitehead

Getting old is tough. Taking care of an aging loved one is tough, too. And the difficulties of navigating health-care systems do not help. Sadly, many older adults are chronically ill and frail, resulting in many trips to the doctor for gradually worsening medical conditions. It can be difficult to get appointments with your primary care doctor, doctor’s assistant or nurse practitioner on short notice, so patients, and particularly older adults, often end up repeatedly needing care in Emergency Departments (ED). Though the doctors and nurses working in EDs are well trained, hard working, and leaders in critical care, EDs are usually not well designed for frail older adults and the doctors in the ED may not know your loved one’s medical history (unless he or she usually gets their medical care at that hospital). However, there are some important steps you can take to help the older adult you are caring for get the care they need and deserve. 

Cropped photo of Kevin BieseKevin Biese is associate professor and vice chair for education and residency director for the Department of Emergency Medicine as well as a clinical adjunct professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatrics at the UNC School of Medicine. He is on the Board of the Academy of Geriatric Emergency Medicine and is a recent participant in the John A. Hartford and Atlantic Philanthropies Practice Change Leaders in Aging in Health. At UNC he has started a Geriatric Emergency Medicine fellowship, has recently been named a UNC Medical Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor, and is past president of the UNC Academy of Educators.



Jan Busby-WhiteheadJan Busby-Whitehead is 
the Mary and Thomas Hudson Distinguished Professor of Medicine, professor and chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine, and director of the Center for Aging and Health in the Department of Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. She is President-Elect of the National Association of Geriatric Education Centers, a past president of the Association of Directors of Geriatric Academic Programs, and Chair, Board of Directors of the Health in Aging Foundation of the American Geriatrics Society. She is also a Founding Member of the UNC Academy of Educators. Dr. Busby-Whitehead is an expert on geriatric syndromes including bladder and bowel incontinence, functional assessment and transitions of care.

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