As medicine advances and care for the elderly improves, the number of elderly people in the population is growing fast.
The Office for National Statistics tells us that in 2016, 18% of the population was aged over 65 and 2.4% of the population was aged over 85. They also estimate that there are well over half a million people in the U.K. over the age of 90.
To put these numbers into context, there are now 285 people aged 65 and over for every 1,000 people of “working age” (16-64). There are a few places where this aging population is more apparent than in Norfolk, which has led to an innovative new scheme at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. With one in seven of their 350 accident and emergency admissions each day aged over 80, the hospital has now taken the unusual step of opening a dedicated A&E unit, especially for these elderly patients.
In the busy accident and emergency units of most hospitals, you are just as likely to be seen promptly by a specialist in elderly care as being dealt a royal flush in poker. Despite the rise in elderly admissions, however, the system has been slow to catch up, and stretched resources mean that specialists are often not available, especially outside of normal working hours.
However, with the new scheme at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, patients aged 80 and over will automatically be sent to a dedicated emergency unit. This unit will have around-the-clock specialists in caring for the elderly, including a team of emergency doctors, geriatricians and specialist nurses.
“The population of elderly people in the county is continuing to grow at a fast rate,” explained the trust’s Consultant for Older People’s Medicine, Dr. Martyn Patel. “So, we’ve got to do something that no-one else has done before in the U.K. to ensure our older patients are able to receive the best care, most appropriate to their needs, in a timely manner.”
Timely care for elderly patients can make a huge difference in the outcome. Older people are more prone to cardiovascular problems, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. In both cases, prompt and appropriate treatment is essential, and literally, every minute counts when it comes to delivering care.
Of course, it is not just the life-threatening cases that require additional expertise when dealing with the elderly; there are many other factors to consider, too. Elderly patients often have issues with hearing and sight or may be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s; all of which make it difficult for them to communicate with doctors and nursing staff. Specialist teams must have additional training to help them to deal with these issues and get to the root of their problem fast.
Elderly patients are often far frailer than younger patients, too, with fragile skin and weak bones. Once again, this requires specialist care and treatment to avoid causing further damage and introducing infection risks into patients with an already reduced immune system.
In an ideal world, all accident and emergency units would offer the same level of service. But for now, it’s good to know that Norfolk and Norwich is leading the way in providing the best quality care for those of our population who have provided so much for our community for so many years. Hats off to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for their truly groundbreaking work.