Older people in the emergency department: a literature review

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Emergency departments (EDs) play a unique role in healthcare systems throughout the world by providing acute interventions for older patients with acute/emergency and multiple health problems. The aim of this review was to identify studies that focused on older patients admitted to EDs and to determine the reasons for the visits.

Design and methods.

The literature review was based on a comprehensive search of electronic databases. Inclusion criteria were original research written in English; published 2002–2012; focused on older people; reasons for ED visit; and factors that affect the discharge process and those associated with a repeat ED visit. Other literature reviews and studies unrelated to the ED context, and studies examining patients aged ≥65 years, were excluded. Content analysis was performed. Twenty-five studies were identified and critically evaluated.


The highest proportion of older people visited the ED because of multiple health conditions. The reasons for the visits were cardiovascular, mental health, musculoskeletal and abdominal conditions; adverse drug reactions; dermatological, neurological and respiratory conditions; poor health status; accidents; and the influence of time factors such as time of day, week or season. Factors that affected the discharge process were unresolved problems, health risk identification, aftercare instructions, medication prescribed at discharge and patient's residence before ED admission. Factors associated with repeat ED visits were sociodemographic characteristics, social problems, health problems, need for systematic health assessment, healthcare service use and inadequacy of care provided.


The current review showed that older people are the main population visiting EDs; important factors required for planning and providing nursing care for older people in EDs were identified. More research is needed to determine how EDs support older people and their families.

Implications for practice.

The findings of the current review identified that older people visit ED quite often because of different reasons. Discharge process and repeat visits may be influenced by various factors. To ensure quality nursing care in ED nurses need to be aware why do older people visit the ED, what factors may influence discharge and what factors are associated with repeat ED visits.

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