Having the skills to administer first aid in emergency situations is important. The importance increases dramatically when we start to talk about first aid for geriatric patients. Elderly patients require unique care and are sometimes exhibit symptoms where the care required would be different than if presented in a younger adult.
Handling the care of these patients requires a particular skill set, and there are a couple of areas that should be considered prior to administer first aid to geriatric patients.
First responders should be aware of hypoglycaemia. Hypoglycaemia is a condition in which your blood sugar drops to a lower than normal level. This is important to consider as glucose is your body’s main energy source.
Hypoglycaemia is extremely common for the elderly. It can also be confusing for a first responder initially; the patient may present with combative or display intoxicated-type behaviour. Hypoglycaemia causes this type of behaviour, particularly in the elderly, so your patient could be suffering from this condition rather than being intoxicated or generally abusive.
Treating hypoglycaemia involves getting the patients’ blood sugar back to normal with high-sugar foods or drinks or with medications.
Geriatric patients will generally be frailer than younger adults, and it is important to remember this when handling the casualty.
Elderly patients can bruise easily, and their bones are brittle. If your patient has had a suspected fall, consider the higher chance this impact could have resulted in broken bones while handling the casualty.
Recognition of Dementia
When providing first aid to geriatric patients, it is important to consider the presence of dementia but don’t write off all confusion as a cause of the disease.
Common signs of dementia for first responders to identify in a patient could be:
- Not knowing how they got to where they are
- Not remembering where they live
- Not knowing who they should call regards their situation
They may appear extremely frustrated and confused.
Confusion, however, may not relate to dementia. Confusion is also possible in patients who have a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).
To better determine which is most likely the case, also assess the patient for:
- Pain in the side, abdomen or pelvis area
UTI’s are also common in geriatric patients, so they may not have dementia but a UTI.
Heat and Cold
Geriatric patients are more likely to respond adversely to hot and cold conditions. This is because as we get older, it becomes harder for our body to control its temperature.
If you are responding to an elderly patient in cold weather conditions, you should:
- Try moving them to a warmer place, if possible
- Wrapping the person in a blanket or any extra layers of clothing that are available to you
- Give them something warm to drink, if available
Look out for signs of hypothermia. Depending on how long the patient has been in this state, you should be looking for early or late hypothermia signs.
Some early signs of hypothermia include pale skin, shivering, slower than normal speech, acting sleepy. Some late signs include shallow breathing, a slow heartbeat and losing consciousness.
You can also advise geriatric patients on tips for staying healthy in winter that may reduce their susceptibility to the cold and avoid an emergency in the first place.
If, instead, you are responding to an elderly patient in hot weather conditions, treatment will, of course, be different. Heat stress occurs when the body can’t cool itself and maintain a healthy temperature.
If you believe that your geriatric patient is suffering from the heat, attempt to cool them down promptly. You may need to be creative when it comes to cooling someone down and use whatever you might have on hand—for example, a garden hose to wet them down if you are outside. Keep in mind that the water from a garden hose can heat up if left in the sun, so make sure you check the temperature first. You could apply cold packs from your lunch bag or use cool bottled drinks as cold packs.
Each of these areas of administering first aid is important to remember when caring for geriatric patients.