Elderly people can catch colds and the flu, and they can periodically feel under the weather just like younger people. Not every sniffle or ache is a sign that your elderly parent needs medical attention. However, since an older person's life is more fragile than that of a younger person, you do need to be on the lookout for some specific signs that they do need prompt medical attention. If your parent displays any of these signs, take them to a medical clinic — or emergency room — ASAP.
Signs That Demand Emergency Room Care
1. Chest Pain
Not every instance of chest pain indicates a heart attack. Sometimes, chest pain may occur due to heartburn, a strained muscle, or a respiratory irritation. However, since there is a chance that the pain is due to a heart attack, you should always take your parent to an emergency room if they complain of chest pain. Note that not every patient experiences the arm pain, shortness of breath, and sweatiness that you may think of as classic heart attack symptoms. Sometimes, chest pain is the only symptom at first.
If your parent suddenly seems confused about basic facts, such as your name or what day it is, you should seek medical attention at the emergency room. If you're not sure whether your parent is thinking straight, ask them a couple of easy questions, such as who the president is and what they ate for lunch. If they struggle to answer, this could be a sign of a stroke. They could also some other serious condition that is causing a fever and mental fatigue.
3. Vision Loss
If your parent complains that their vision suddenly seems blurry or that they can no longer see clearly, they could have a detached retina. This is a quite common problem in older adults who have diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration. A detached retina can often be surgically repaired, restoring vision to the patient, but this surgery needs to be performed promptly in order to be effective. It may not hurt to give your parent's eye doctor a call on your way to the ER, just so they have a heads-up that you may need their input soon.
Numbness, whether it just be in fingers and toes or in an entire limb, can be a sign of a serious condition like a stroke, heart attack, or nervous system disease. Tingling in the extremities or in a limb is similarly concerning. Even if the numbness seems to go away or subside after a few minutes, it's best to take your parent to the ER so they can figure out what's causing it and take actions to prevent it from happening again.
Signs That Your Parent Should Go to a Medical Center
These signs are a little less urgent and can typically be dealt with at a medical center rather than the ER.
1. Respiratory Distress
A little sneezing or the occasional cough may be nothing to worry about, but if your parent is struggling to catch their breath or is breathing very noisily, this could be because they are suffering from pneumonia or bronchitis. Bronchitis can easily progress to pneumonia, and pneumonia is often deadly, especially in older adults. The earlier your parent gets treatment, the better.
2. Intense Swelling
A little swelling in the ankles and feet is one thing. Feet, ankles, lower legs, and hands that are notably puffy are quite another. As strange as it may sound, swelling of this sort can be a sign of congestive heart failure. As the heart slows down, fluid pools in the tissues, leading to swelling. Heart failure could lead to a heart attack or stroke if untreated, so seek medical attention promptly.
Older people's health can be quite precarious, so if you have any doubt as to whether a symptom is serious, be cautious and take your parent to the doctor.