Accidents and First Aid for Older Adults

First aid for older adults is useful when it comes to handling falls, burns, cardiovascular problems, or other common accidents. We'll explain the main measures in this article.
Accidents and First Aid for Older Adults
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 15 December, 2022

Knowing a series of first aid measures for older adults is essential to be able to act in the event of an accident. In developed countries, life expectancy is very high – so much so that a large part of the population is over 70 or 80 years of age.

The problem with this is that, as we age, we become more vulnerable to injury. That’s why an injury that in young people wouldn’t necessarily be a risk can turn out to be life-threatening in older adults.

First aid for older adults is especially important in the case of those who take care of an older family member or who work for them. In this article, we’ll explain how to act in each situation.

What accidents require first aid for older adults?

The elderly or older adults usually have mobility problems or are more fragile in the face of any event. The reason is that the incidence of concomitant diseases increases. For example, osteoporosis, arterial hypertension, and dementia.

In addition, health conditions after a certain age make it necessary to consider how to perform first aid in the elderly. The elderly are more likely to be confused, frightened, or have problems with vision and hearing. That’s why the measures vary from those for younger people.

As an article from First Aid for Life explains, the vast majority of accidents suffered by the elderly are falls. The worst thing is that almost 75 % of them lead to injuries to the limbs or shoulders.

As a publication from Know What To Do states, falls are often related to vision loss or balance problems. At the same time, it’s important to note that such instability can be a consequence of certain medications.

Another condition to be aware of in older adults is bleeding. It’s very common for them to take anticoagulant drugs to treat cardiovascular disorders. This leads to a higher risk of hemorrhage in the event of any injury.

An old man who's fallen on the floor.
Falls are very frequent in the elderly and are due to a multitude of risk factors.

Other common accidents

Cardiovascular problems are another of the most important issues to take into account in the elderly. For example, there’s a higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

First aid in older adults should also focus on treating the consequences of diabetes, drug intoxication, or seizures. It’s also important to consider the risk of dehydration or extreme temperature changes.

You may be interested in: First Aid for Strokes

First aid for older adults depending on the case

Depending on the accident, first aid measures for older adults should be carried out according to the case. It’s important to know how to act in each case to try to reduce the risk of complications. We’ll explain the most frequent situations.

1. First aid for older adults in the event of a fall

The first course of action when it comes to first aid for older adults, whatever the situation, is to call for help. When someone falls, try to calm them down and move them slowly. If there’s a lot of pain in any area, a deformity, or inability to move, avoid moving that part.

If it’s possible to do so without pain, help the person to get up. To do this, you should place the person on all fours for more stability. Then help them lift their elbows from the floor.

In cases where the fall has caused loss of consciousness, bleeding, or vomiting, you should go to the emergency room. The same if there is difficulty breathing or suspicion of a broken bone.

2. How to act in the event of an accident

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the elderly to get hit by a car. In these cases, first aid for older adults should follow the PWA strategy. This stands for protect, warn, and assist.

Therefore, the first thing to do is to remove or protect the person from the road. Then, immediately notify the emergency services. Once this is done, do everything possible to keep the airway clear and stop any bleeding.

You may be interested in: How to Respond to a Cardiac Emergency

3. First aid for older adults who’ve become intoxicated

Intoxication in older adults can have multiple causes. As at any age, it could be a suicide attempt and that’s an option you need to consider. However, it’s more common for it to be due to an error in taking medication.

When an intoxication appears, you need to find out what’s caused it. If you identify it, the best thing to do is communicate it to the emergency service so that they provide exact guidelines of how to act.

Don’t induce vomiting or give any other liquid or medication. If the intoxication was caused by a gas, such as carbon dioxide or paint fumes, try to remove the person to an area with clean air.

4. How to act in case of choking

Choking can occur at any age. First aid in older adults doesn’t differ much from other ages. If there’s no respiratory compromise, the person should be encouraged to cough and reassured as much as possible.

If difficulty in breathing appears, call the emergency services and start the Heimlich maneuver to remove the obstruction. What you should never do is to try to remove the object or food with your hands or by hitting the person’s chest.

Basic first aid kit

To perform first aid on older adults, it’s essential to have a good first aid kit at home. Ideally, all families should have one, but it’s even more important if there’s an elderly person in the house. It should contain several essential items.

Specifically, it should include gauze, scissors, bandages, and tweezers. What’s more, it’s also important to have tape, antiseptic towels, and hand sanitizer. It’s better if you have cold compresses in the freezer and a thermometer.

On the other hand, at home, there should also be a series of basic general medicines. For example, anti-inflammatories, analgesics, antipyretics, and even antiseptic cream. The supplies vary depending on the health conditions of the inhabitants of the household.

For example, if the person is a diabetic treated with insulin, extra doses will be necessary. A blood pressure monitor or blood glucose reader is also recommended.

A first aid kit.
A first aid kit should be present in every home, especially if an older adult is present.

It’s crucial to act decisively and quickly

What we must keep in mind is that knowing the basic first aid measures for older adults can prevent many complications and even save their lives. We must try to be very clear about how to act in each situation.

Ideally, each caregiver should be aware of the risks of the person who’s under their care. Depending on the illnesses present, there will be a greater likelihood of suffering some types of accidents or others.

Therefore,  recommended that family members become involved in the pathologies of their loved ones and really understand the risks. If they take action quickly and effectively, there’s less likelihood of serious or irreversible injury.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.