Older adults on involuntary hold status in the emergency department

Am J Emerg Med. 2021 Jul;45:242-247. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2020.08.043. Epub 2020 Aug 17.


Background: As the United States' population ages, the health care system will experience overall change. This study aims to identify factors in the older adult that may contribute to involuntary hold status in the ED.

Methods: This study is a retrospective review conducted at a suburban acute-care hospital ED of adult patients evaluated while on involuntary hold from January 1, 2014, through November 30, 2015. Older adults (patients born on or before 06/31/1964) were compared to younger adults (born on or after 07/01/1964) according to demographic and clinical variables including medical comorbidity, ED length of stay, reason for involuntary hold, psychiatric disorder, suicide attempt, substance use disorder, serum alcohol level, urine drug testing, medical comorbidity, violence in the ED, 30-day ED readmission, and 30-day mortality.

Results: Of 251 patients, 90 (35.9%) were older adults. The most common reason for involuntary hold in both cohorts was suicidal ideation. Medical comorbidities were more prevalent in older adults [60 (66.7%) vs. 64 (39.8%), P ≤.0001]. Older adults were less likely to report current drug abuse [31 (34.4%) vs. 77 (47.8%), P = .04]. The most commonly misused substance in both groups was alcohol; however, despite similar rates, blood alcohol levels (BAC) and urine drug screen (UDS) were performed less often in older adults. Cohorts were not significantly different with respect to sex, race, violence in the ED, psychiatric diagnosis, and ED LOS.

Conclusions: Involuntary older adult patients present with medical comorbidities that impact mental health. In the ED, they are less likely report substance use, and drug screening may be underutilized. Medical needs make their care unique and may present challenges in transfer of care to inpatient psychiatric facilities.

Keywords: Baby boomers; Involuntary hold; Older adults; Substance use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / statistics & numerical data
  • Comorbidity
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Involuntary Treatment*
  • Male
  • Mental Competency
  • Organizational Policy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data