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
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
- 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.