Emergency Department Utilization by Older Adults: a Descriptive Study

  • Lesley P. Latham Dalhousie University
  • Stacy Ackroyd-Stolarz Dalhousie University
Keywords: aged, aged 80 and over, frail elderly, emergency service—hospital, emergency medical services, health services



Emergency Departments (EDs) are playing an increasingly important role in the care of older adults. Characterizing ED usage will facilitate the planning for care delivery more suited to the complex health needs of this population.


In this retrospective cross-sectional study, administrative and clinical data were extracted from four study sites. Visits for patients aged 65 years or older were characterized using standard descriptive statistics.


We analyzed 34,454 ED visits by older adults, accounting for 21.8% of the total ED visits for our study time period. Overall, 74.2% of patient visits were triaged as urgent or emergent. Almost half (49.8%) of visits involved diagnostic imaging, 62.1% involved lab work, and 30.8% involved consultation with hospital services. The most common ED diagnoses were symptom- or injury-related (25.0%, 17.1%. respectively). Length of stay increased with age group (Mann-Whitney U;p < .0001), as did the proportion of visits involving diagnostic testing and consultation (χ2; p < .0001). Approximately 20% of older adults in our study population were admitted to hospital following their ED visit.


Older adults have distinct patterns of ED use. ED resource use intensity increases with age. These patterns may be used to target future interventions involving alternative care for older adults.

How to Cite
Latham, L. P., & Ackroyd-Stolarz, S. (2014). Emergency Department Utilization by Older Adults: a Descriptive Study. Canadian Geriatrics Journal, 17(4), 118-125. https://doi.org/10.5770/cgj.17.108
Original Research