ST. LOUIS - Ninety-four-year-old Harry Shank is happy living on his own, even if it worries his son, Gary.
"When they get older, they get kinda stubborn," Gary smiled.
Harry has fallen several times, with multiple trips to the emergency room. The last time, he broke three ribs.
"As he gets older, it's more and more of a concern, so it's a dilemma," continued Gary.
Emergency room doctors are facing a dilemma of their own. By 2060, there will be more than 100 million people over the age of 65.
"The older adults often don't come with one problem, and often the problem they come with is not the most life-threatening problem that's in front of them," said Dr. Christopher Carpenter of the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.
Forward-thinking emergency departments across the country are adopting new guidelines to get accredited as geriatric emergency departments. Missouri Baptist Medical Center is one of them.
"We need to get prepared, and we want to be prepared to help those patients," stated Dr. Joseph Galkowski an emergency physician at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
Non-stick floors, large-faced clocks, dimmable lights, windows to orient patients to the time of day, specially trained staff, testing for dementia and fall risk, and immediate follow-up care at home are all steps that cater to an older population.
"I think the patients notice the difference when they are in a geriatric-friendly emergency department versus one that treats the geriatric patient like the pediatric patient," Carpenter shared.
The comprehensive care Harry gets in the emergency room gives him and his son an extra layer of security.
"He's the greatest dad I could ever hope for," Gary exclaimed.
As of September 2019, there are 85 hospitals across the United States with accredited geriatric emergency departments. Early studies show elderly patients treated at geriatric EDs are less likely to be admitted to the hospital.
ED doctors are hopeful the accreditation program will serve as a motivator for ED departments across the country to adopt the guidelines and better care for our aging population.