First aid is an important consideration when caring for an elderly person at home. It is important to know that seniors are more vulnerable to accidents and injuries since they often lack strength, flexibility and can have brittle bones. Their sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste may have declined also making them more vulnerable to accidents. It is very important that the elderly take care of their skin as well, because they are more susceptible to skin infections and disease due to natural changes in aging skin. These changes make the skin less elastic, thinner and dryer allowing more injures while also being slow to heal.
First Things First - A First Aid Kit
It is important to keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. You might want to purchase a kit or create one of your own. The picture shown is a homemade first aid kit created by using a portable file box that can be found at any office supply store or large discount store. Be sure to keep a first aid kit someplace where it can be located quickly and be sure to give it a regular check up by replacing expired items and updating informational lists.
Creating a list of insurance information, medical contacts, and medications could prove to be a very helpful addition to your first aid kit. We often have trouble trying to remember things in the event of an emergency, which is why adding procedures for specific conditions would also be a great asset to your first aid kit. If you purchase a kit that does not have these information pieces you may want to add them. You can print this page (see bottom right for a print icon) and cut out procedures and tape them to the outside of the box for easy reference.
In being prepared for emergencies let’s take a look at what a first aid kit should have in it:
What to Include in a First Aid Kit for Elderly People
- Antiseptic ointment and wipes
- Cold pack
- Band-Aids in assorted sizes including knee and elbow sizes
- Thermal patches
- Gauze (pads & roll), tape, and Ace elastic wrap
- Hand sanitizer or soap
- Tweezers, scissors, safety pins and needle
- Phone numbers for emergency contact, doctors, pharmacy, poison control, and insurance information.
- Medication list with dosage and times taken.
- Antibiotic ointment
- Sterile eyewash, such as a saline solution
- Aspirin (81 MG)
- Cotton balls and swabs
- Plastic bag for disposable
- Breathing barrier
- If needed: blood pressure monitor, blood sugar meter and/or AED
- First aid guide for reference
First Aid on the Go
When traveling, take the kit with you. You may want to add a blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, medical consent forms, and a medical history form. For specific medical conditions be sure to include any necessary equipment and instructional information. If you elect to keep a separate travel first aid kit, be sure to copy and include all medical information.
Falls and Injuries
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of three adults aged 65 and older fall each year, often resulting in hip or other fractures, head injuries or lacerations. Sadly, because of their fragility, seniors are more prone to broken bones, fractures, and sprains. After a serious fall or injury, an elderly person should receive medical attention. A hard blow to the head from a fall can cause serious injury even if there are no visible signs of injury. All falls in this age group should be assessed by a doctor or hospital emergency department depending on severity. Many falls can be prevented.
What to do for an Elderly Fall
- Stay calm and try to keep the person calm as well. Encourage slow, deep breaths
- Check for injuries first. Do not try to get the person up right away. If necessary, call for emergency services immediately; keeping the person warm while you wait and control any bleeding. If they appear dazed ask some simply questions (such as their age, who is president, what month is it) to determine the severity
- If not seriously injured and they want to try to get up, do so slowly and cautiously
- Check their mobility by moving arms and legs first, then guide them to roll to their side
- Next bring them to a kneeling position and place a chair in from of them to grab onto for stability
- Place a second chair behind them to allow them to sit down
Cuts and Wounds
All Cuts and wounds, no matter how small, should be cleaned as soon as they occur with soap and water. Once the cut has been cleaned and the bleeding has stopped apply antibiotic cream or disinfectant before dressing the wound. Be aware of possible breaks or fractures. If he or she is complaining about pain you may want to consider seeking medical help.
You should also seek medical advice if
- The bleeding does not stop after 10 minutes of applying pressure.
- The cut is deep or long.
- Something is embedded in the wound
- If the cut is the result of an animal bite, or something that may cause infection
You should also seek medical assistance if the wound is not healing properly or if showing any signs of infection. Common signs of infection are, swelling, redness, pain, and the appearance of a white or yellow substance. Remember that older people have thinner skin and are more susceptible to skin infection, diseases, and their skin may not heal as fast.
How to Control Bleeding
To stop bleeding WebMD suggests
- Apply direct pressure on the cut or wound with a clean cloth, tissue, or piece of gauze until bleeding stops
- If blood soaks through the material, don’t remove it. Put more cloth or gauze on top of it and continue to apply pressure
- If the wound is on the arm or leg, raise limb above the heart to help slow bleeding
- Wash your hands again after giving first aid and before cleaning and dressing the wound
- Do not apply a tourniquet unless the bleeding is severe and not stopped with direct pressure
Call 911 if
- Bleeding is severe
- You suspect internal bleeding
- There is an abdominal or chest wound
- Bleeding can't be stopped after 10 minutes of firm and steady pressure
- Blood spurts out of wound
Heart Attack & Stoke
Chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack and usually occurs on the left side or in the center of the chest and lasts for more than a few minutes. A victim may feel the pain in only one part of the body or the pain could also appear in other parts of the body such as arms, back, neck, shoulders and even the jaw. These discomforts may come and go and may bring about the sensation of squeezing, shortness of breath, pressure, fullness, indigestion or heartburn. Some heart attack patients have even experienced nausea and fatigue. Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms and some of these signs and symptoms may gradually begin to appear. Often the symptoms are different with a second heart attack.
A person experiencing these symptoms is a medical emergency and you should call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
For strokes remember the F.A.S.T. rule.
F. = Is the face drooping? Is one side of the face drooping or is it numb? If you are unsure ask the person to smile.
A. = Are they experiencing arm weakness? Ask them to hold out both arms.
S. = Is the speech slurred? Can they speak or are they hard to understand? Ask them to repeat a simple sentence to be sure.
T. = Time to call 911. If a person shows any of these symptoms it is time to get them to a hospital or call 911, even if the signs go away.
Check out the American Heart Association for more on warning signs of heart attack, stroke & cardiac arrest. Time is essential. If a person gets timely treatment in a hospital, the severity of the brain damage can be lessened if caught in time.
Elderly people can take too much medicine or accidentally take a poisonous substance if confused. For safety reasons a caregiver should remove any toxic substances from the home. Getting the furnace checked before turning on for the winter and installing a carbon monoxide alarm is a great guard against carbon monoxide poisoning. If you suspect that someone is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning get to fresh air immediately.
For better medication adherence, set up a daily dosage container. Simply charting all medicines and dosage with the time to be taken could be the solution as well. Be sure to change all medication lists if there are changes. A caregiver would be well advised to keep a copy for emergency situations. In an emergency situation, it is often difficult to remember all medications - and certain drug interactions can be very dangerous. During every outpatient or hospital visit, you will be asked about medications; being prepared can help with the efficiency of these visits.
Even if the person seems okay, but you suspect poisoning, call your poison control center. Unless directed to do so, DO NOT induce vomiting. Have the container or pill bottle nearby to give necessary information. For the poison control center number and other resources regarding medication issues click here. Write your poison control center number on your refrigerator list of emergency contacts.
For an elderly person, normal swallowing may be slowed, especially if taking certain medications. Never call the doctor’s office if you think someone is choking, CALL 911.
Choking is an emergency that requires fast and appropriate action by anyone available, therefore it is important for all of us to know what to do for a choking victim. Choking can cause a coughing spell or could completely block the airway. Besides coughing a person who is choking may grasp their throat, have trouble speaking, be unable to talk, or eventually begin turning blue. When a person is not able to answer you by speaking and can only nod their head, this is a sign of a complete airway obstruction and needs emergency help.
The American Red Cross now recommends that you immediately call 911 and then begin to give the choking victim back blows with the back of your hand and then begin the Heimlick Maneuver, also know as abdominal thrusts.
What to do if a Person is Choking
See American Red Cross for information to print out for your first aid kit.
If you encounter a conscious, choking individual that is coughing, encourage continued coughing. If the victim is unable to cough, speak, or breathe, complete the following:
- Send someone to call 9-1-1
- Lean person forward and give 5 back blows with heel of your hand
- Give 5 quick abdominal thrusts by placing the thumb side of your fist against the middle of the victim's abdomen, just above the navel. Grab your fist with the other hand
- Repeat until the object the person is choking on is forced out and person breathes or coughs on his or her own
Burn and Scald
As we age, bodily functions decline and as a result older people often have poor vision, hearing and/or sense of smell - all of which carry a greater risk of a burn. Drawing bath water that is too hot is a common burn seen in elderly people. Therefore, caregivers and older people should take precautions with daily activities to minimize accidents - such as setting the temperature back on the hot water heater. A hot bowl of soup could also be a source of burn for the elderly. The thinner skin of an elderly person can cause a burn to be much more serious. The risk of infection is also greater.
For a minor burn
- Rinse with cool water for 10 - 30 minutes
- Do not apply ice directly to the burn or use any creams or greasy substances such as butter
- Remove any clothing or jewelry that is close to the burn, but do not remove anything that is stuck to the skin
- Keep the burn clean and do not break any blisters that may appear
- If need, cover the wound with a sterile lint-free dressing
For a serious burn
More serious burns will require professional medical attention. A serious burn may include a burn to the face, a burn that is blistering or is larger than a fifty-cent piece.
Preventing burns or scalds
- When cooking, turn panhandles toward the back of the stove
- Use a mitt when removing the lid of a cooking vessel – being cautious of steam
- Test the temperature of water before bathing or doing dishes
- Place hot objects away from the edge of the counter or table
- Ensure all food and drink is at a reasonable temperature before eating
If you have not witnessed a person having a seizure, it can be scary - especially since the basic rule is to let them ride it out and to keep the person safe until the episode is over and consciousness returns.
If you are taking care of an older person who is known to have seizures, check with his or her medical team regarding how they want you to respond when a seizure happens, especially if medications have side effects of seizing. Does the doctor want to be notified each time or in certain circumstances? Be sure to know under what circumstances you should call an ambulance. You should also inquire about any special warning signals. For a first time seizure, medical assistance should always be reached.
What to do in the event of a Seizure
- If need be, ease the person into a reclining position and always turn them to their side to prevent choking on any fluids and to keep the airway open
- Put something soft under the head
- Remove anything from the area that could be a hazard
- DO NOT restrain jerking movements. Applying restraint could possible break bones that are already fragile or tear muscle tissue
- DO NOT force anything into the mouth. A person cannot swallow his tongue. Do not try to give any medicine or fluids until the person is fully conscious again
- As awareness returns, be calm and reassuring. If confusion persists seek medical attention
Basic First Aid Tips to Remember
If your are still feeling uneasy about administering first aid, you may want to consider taking a first-aid course through your local American Red Cross. The need for first aid can happen anywhere for anyone, therefore knowledge and being prepared could mean the difference between life and death - and between long term complications or health.
Always have the emergency contact numbers posted next to all phones. In some rural areas the 911 emergency number is non-existent. Be sure you know what the number is and have it easily assessable as well as posting it on top of the first aid kit. A refrigerator list for emergency contact information could also be posted.
****This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice - particularly in an emergency. If you feel a situation warrents emergency medical response, you should dial 911 and get emergency assistance from qualified medical personnel.
Related Forms to Download
Home and Personal Safety Checklist for Seniors
Resources for Family Caregivers and Elderly Medication Issues