In many emergency situations, you don’t need special knowledge beyond standard first-aid and CPR skills to care for people aged 65 and older. Still, it’s important to know that older adults are more vulnerable to accidents and injuries, which may require immediate first aid assistance. Understanding some of the common first aid medical situations that older adults face can help you prepare for possible emergencies.
Some situations that may require first aid include:
- cuts and scrapes
- cardiovascular problems
- heat- and cold-related illness
One in three adults aged 65 and older fall each year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls can lead to:
- head injuries
Common risk factors for falling include:
- poor vision
- lower body weakness
- physical inactivity or immobility
- conditions or medications that cause dizziness
- problems with balance
If someone has fallen and they don’t seem badly hurt, help them find a comfortable position. Treat minor bumps and bruises by elevating the injured area and applying an ice pack for about 10 minutes. If you notice signs of serious bleeding, bruising, or swelling, help them get emergency medical care.
If you suspect someone has fallen and seriously hurt their head, neck, back, hips, or thighs, ask them not to move and call 911 or local emergency services. Reassure them and keep them warm until help arrives. If they stop breathing, perform CPR.
Cuts and scrapes
Your skin becomes more fragile with age. This raises the risk of cuts and scrapes in older adults. In some cases, these injuries become infected. While older age itself doesn’t cause infections, many older adults have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. These conditions can lower their immune system’s defenses against infections.
Minor cuts and scrapes
Remove obvious dirt and debris from the wound to treat Clean the wound with tap water if available. If it’s bleeding, place a clean bandage or cloth on top of it. Press on it firmly, or apply pressure by binding the area in tape. Raise the injured area above the person’s heart level. If blood seeps through the first layer of bandage or cloth, don’t remove it. Simply add a second layer on top.
Severe cuts or heavy bleeding
If the person has a severe cut or heavy bleeding that won’t stop, help them get emergency medical care. If they only have a minor cut or scrape, wait for the bleeding to stop and then wash the wound using soap and clean water. Encourage the person to keep the wound clean, watch for signs of infection such as:
- increased pain
- drainage from the wound
Make an appointment with their doctor if it becomes infected. Applying an antibiotic cream or ointment can help promote healing.
Heat- and cold-related illness
As you age, you’re more likely to develop chronic medical conditions that impair your body’s temperature regulation. Older adults may also take prescription medications that change their temperature balance. That’s why it’s particularly important for older adults to use sunscreen and wear appropriate protective clothing when outdoors. They should dress in layers that protect them from warm or cold weather. Staying hydrated is also very important to help to protect them against heat-related illnesses.
The symptoms of heatstroke include:
- a body temperature above 104°F (40°C)
- increased breathing rate
- a headache
If you suspect someone is having a heatstroke, contact 911 or local emergency services. Then, move them out of the heat and cool them off. For example, help them get into a cool shower, sponge them with cool water, have them drink ice water or cover their body in cool damp sheets or towels. If they stop breathing, start CPR.
The symptoms of mild hypothermia include:
- slight confusion
- increased heart rate
- increased breathing rate
The symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include:
- a weak pulse
- slow breathing
If you think someone has hypothermia, call 911 or local emergency services. Then, help them warm up. For example, bring them indoors out of cold weather, help them remove wet clothes, and cover them with warm dry blankets. Reheat them gradually and focus on warming their chest and abdomen before their limbs. If they stop breathing, start CPR.
Age-related changes in heart and blood vessels put older adults at greater risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes.
According to the American Stroke Association, the symptoms of a stroke include drooping of the face, weakness of the arms, and difficulty speaking
The symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, and discomfort in your upper body.
If you think someone is having a heart attack or a stroke, call 911 or emergency services. Reassure them, and keep them warm until help arrives. If they stop breathing, perform CPR.
First aid and CPR training
Accidents can happen any time. Older adults face a particularly high risk of certain injuries and illnesses, such as falls and heart attacks. Consider taking a basic first aid and CPR training course to prepare for possible emergencies. Contact the American Red Cross or a local first-aid organization to learn about training opportunities in your area. You never know when someone might need to perform first aid. For older adults, immediate help can sometimes make a lifesaving difference.