What to Do When a Senior Needs Urgent Care or Hospitalization

In this article...
  • If an older loved one experiences a steep decline in health or physical mobility, you need to be prepared for any sudden needs they have for urgent care or a hospital stay. This guide outlines how to prepare and what to do when urgent care is needed.

With aging, many people experience a slow, gradual loss of function that’s a natural part of life. The activities of daily living become harder, memory becomes a bit fuzzier, but for the most part they can care for themselves.

However, there are times when a medical emergency, an accident or a sudden decline in health requires a rapid response and a place to receive urgent medical care or living support.  

Here are some tips for recognizing this scenario and taking appropriate action.

Plan Ahead

Elder care experts recommend that all families create an emergency care plan long before it may be needed. Spend time to research the options in your area that you and your loved one would be happy with if a need arises. Waiting too long could limit your choices and force you into making choices that you aren’t prepared to make.

You may find your elders pushing back, however. According to AgingCare.com, it’s hard for many seniors to accept the idea that they need any help. It is uncomfortable to give up one’s independence.

Sadly, it often takes a traumatic event to force the issue, and that can make it worse.

Have Legal Documents in Order

Ensure that you and your loved one have created all the legal documents that are vital during serious medical emergencies and life-altering health events. These documents can include:

  • Medical and financial powers of attorney
  • Advance directive
  • HIPAA authorization
  • Wills and other estate planning documents

If you have yet to draw up these documents, talk to an elder law attorney to have the documents ready and accessible if needed in an emergency.

Learn About Your Loved One’s Condition

It’s important to learn as much as you can about your loved one’s medical conditions, especially with chronic and progressive diseases like:

This knowledge can make you a more effective leader of their care team and help you make better decisions.

Get Help Choosing the Right Care Facility

The main choices for care after a serious medical event can include:

  • At-home care
  • An assisted living facility
  • A skilled nursing facility
  • A nursing home

The level of care needed will play a large role in determining where your loved one will be the happiest and the safest. The best case for the patient and the family is that the senior will be able to return to their own home without any need for care other than some assistance from a home health aide.

Your loved one may need a higher level of care in an assisted living, rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility before they are healthy enough to return to their own or a loved one’s home.

If your loved one has experienced a traumatic event and is being released after treatment in a hospital or rehab center, you may not know what level of care is needed or where to get it. In that case, talk to a case manager or discharge planner at the hospital or rehab unit. They are charged with transitional care planning, including where your loved one should go after being discharged.

Have this conversation before your loved one is set to be discharged. Find out the expected date of discharge, the type of care they will require after discharge and what level of care provider is recommended.

Depending on what’s needed, the case manager or discharge planner can point you in the right direction and sometimes help make arrangements for services.

About the Author

David Levine is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, American Heritage, U.S. News & World Report and others.

David has covered health, health insurance and health policy topics – among many others – since 2017. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Rochester and currently lives in Albany, New York.

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