Caregiver Stress Increases Emergency Room Visits Among Elders

Caregiver taking care of senior partnerElders whose caregivers are exhausted, sad, or in poor health are more likely to visit emergency rooms, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study also found a link between caregiver health and Medicare expenditures.

Emergency room providers have long asserted that exhausted caregivers may be more inclined to take loved ones with health issues or disabilities to emergency rooms when they need a break—a trend sometimes called “pop drop.” Yet, little research has studied the trend. The new study supports the notion that caregiver stress may be a factor in the need for emergency medical care.

How Caregiver Stress Drives Emergency Room Visits

The study analyzed data on 3,101 couples who lived at home. In each couple, one spouse served as a caregiver to a spouse older than 65 with a disability that affected at least one activity of daily living. Researchers measured caregiver sleep quality, depression symptoms, and overall health using the Jenkins Sleep Scale, Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression-8 Scale, and caregiver self-reports on health.

Even after adjusting for other factors that might increase the likelihood of visiting the emergency room, the study found a clear correlation between caregiver health and ER visits. In just six months, emergency department visits were 23% higher among care recipients whose caregivers reported high levels of fatigue or poor health. Caregiver fatigue increased Medicare costs by $1,900, with caregiver sadness producing a $1,300 increase in costs.

The study did not find a link between disrupted sleep and ER visits or costs. This suggests subjective fatigue, rather than specific sleep outcomes, may play a more significant role.

The study’s authors say their research points to a clear connection between caregiver and care recipient well-being. By intervening with overwhelmed caregivers, emergency room staff may be able to improve the health of both care recipients and those who care for them.


  1. Ankuda, C. K., Maust, D. T., Kabeto, M. U., Mccammon, R. J., Langa, K. M., & Levine, D. A. (2017). Association between spousal caregiver well-being and care recipient healthcare expenditures. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. doi:10.1111/jgs.15039
  2. ‘Pop drop’ study finds more ER visits, higher costs for older disabled patients. (2017, August 24). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • jules

    September 7th, 2017 at 2:16 PM

    You get to a point where you have to care for someone day in and day out that you start missing out on rest for yourself so you might not be in the best frame of mind to always make the best decisions.

  • Lincoln

    September 9th, 2017 at 8:13 AM

    There will always be those families for whom the ER is the only natural step that they know. They may not have many other resources in their lives so this is the one place that they know that they can go and the patient will receive care. Even if they do not need this kind of emergency treatment those who have no one esle will often look to the hospital systems as the answer because who else are they supposed to go to for any kind of help when literally there may not be anyone else that they can call upon? It is a very sad situation but all too often the reality for many elderly folks and those who have taken on the care giving roles in their lives.

  • louise

    July 31st, 2018 at 10:33 AM

    just wait until you get your bill and nothing has changed.

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