Preparing for a medical emergency gives peace of mind to caregivers of aging parents and improves crisis health care for elderly patients.
Take the following steps to prepare:
1. Identify Emergency Contacts
Who will check on your loved one if you are worried about them? Who will advocate for them if they have an emergency? Identify someone living near them who is willing and able to accompany them to the hospital if they need emergency care. Ideally, also find a backup advocate.
2. Obtain HIPAA Release Forms
A HIPAA release form reassures health care providers that they have permission to share health care information with the advocate. Read more in our article HIPAA: Giving Your Advocate Access to Healthcare Information
3. Place Emergency Documents Where They Can Be Found
Keep emergency information updated and place it where emergency responders will know to look - on the refrigerator and in your parent’s wallet. Give the emergency advocate -- and their backup -- access to a copy.
Read our article about “Emergency Medical Information Forms” for a list of what information to gather and to download free forms.
4. Find Out What Medications Your Loved One is Actually Taking
Sometimes aging parents don’t consistently take the medications prescribed to them. They may forget to take the medication, drop pills when trying to take them, or discontinue taking them due to expense or drug side effects. Therefore it’s best to verify through observation whether medications are actually being taken. This can be done during visits or by using a medication box that sends alerts if medication is not taken.
5. Use a Personal Emergency Response or Home Automation System
If your aging parent or loved one is frail or at risk for falling, consider a personal emergency response system. These devices come in many shapes and sizes, and some can detect a fall and call emergency responders automatically.
Home automation systems use sensors on everyday items like refrigerator doors and bedside mats to detect disruption in your loved one’s schedule and send alerts.
6. Clearly Mark the Home So Emergency Responders Can Find It
If emergency responders come to your loved one’s home, they will need to see the address easily from the street. Follow this advice:
- Post the address clearly and prominently at the end of the driveway and on the home.
- Use a reflective or illuminated material so the address it can be seen in the evening as well as during the day. Use numbers that contrast with the background.
- Use large numbers and make sure it can be seen from all directions.
- Clear the view of the numbers from obstructions like shrubs, trees, or decorations such as flags.
- Do not assume since the mailbox is marked, you have posted your address – mailboxes are not always at the entrance of a driveway and usually are not marked clearly on both sides.
Responders will also need to get you out! Make space for a 26 inch wide stretcher to be carried into your home.
7. Grant Access to the House
If you live near your loved one and have a key to the house, you can easily check on them if you are worried. But what if emergency workers need access when you aren’t there?
Emergency responders can always knock down the door, but that can prove scary and expensive! Some communities have programs in which residents can install a lockbox that can be accessed by emergency personnel. Some personal emergency response systems allow you to give a lockbox code to the monitoring personnel so they can give it to first responders.
Most senior living communities with on-site security staff allow their residents to authorize certain people to be given access to their homes. Without these options, you and your loved one will have to weigh options like giving a key to trusted friends or neighbors, placing a lockbox and giving the code to authorized people, or hiding a key on the property. Avoid hiding keys in obvious places like over the door frame or under the door mat. Avoid giving keys to professional caregivers.
8. Complete an Advance Health Care Directive
In a life-threatening medical emergency, health care providers need to know what treatments your loved one wants or doesn’t want. Advance health care directives (also called “advance medical directives” or “living wills”) make these wishes known, which takes an enormous burden off the shoulders of loved ones.
Every adult should prepare an advance health care directive and name a trusted person as agent under durable health care power of attorney to make decisions in the case of incapacity. Consult an elder law attorney for details about how to draft an advance health care directive and health care power of attorney document that meet your specific needs, or utilize the Toolkit for Advance Care Planning from the American Bar Association.
Some people in Virginia will also choose to have a Durable Do Not Resuscitate Order (DDNR) or a Physician’s Order for Scope of Treatment (POST). All require a physician’s order and your loved one should discuss the options with their doctor.
9. Prepare Little Comforts for Emergency Room Visits
Medical emergencies can be frightening and exhausting. Some involve lengthy waits in the emergency room. Consider a few comforts - for both you and your loved one - that you can grab quickly on the way out the door: your loved one’s reading glasses and hearing aids, a book or newspaper, a wrap to keep them warm, healthy snacks, change for vending, machines, a cell phone charger, etc.
Do not bring valuables to the hospital.
10. Check in Often with Your Loved One
See your loved one often in person so you can monitor any changes in their health and their living situation. If you can’t visit, arrange for friends or a professional advocate to do so.
How Care is There Geriatric Care Management Helps You:
Are you a long distance caregiver, do you travel, or are you busy managing your own life, family, and career? At Care is There Geriatric Care Management, we fill the gaps by being on-site with your loved one and working with them to take the necessary steps. We will:
Make Necessary Preparations
- Identify a local contact as an emergency advocate, or serve in that role ourselves
- Provide HIPAA release forms and help your loved one fill them out and sign them
- Gather emergency information like medication lists, medical history, emergency contact information; keep them up to date; and post them with other emergency information on the refrigerator and in your loved one’s wallet
- Monitor medication compliance
- Help you choose and implement a personal emergency response system or a home automation product
- Clearly mark your elderly loved one’s home so emergency responders can find it
- Ensure there is room for a stretcher to be brought into the home
- Determine the best way to grant access to your loved one’s home in an emergency, and arrange it
- Help your loved one complete their advanced health care directives and, if appropriate, to obtain from their doctor a durable do not resuscitate order and / or a physician orders for scope of treatment
- Suggest ideas of what might comfort your loved one during an emergency room visit, and get them ready
- Check in on your loved one, regularly, in person
Advocate for Your Loved One in an Emergency
- Attend doctor appointments with your loved one, communicating all relevant information and handling logistics like picking up prescriptions and scheduling follow-up appointments. Learn more about our advocacy services on this page.
- Attend medical emergencies: giving health care professionals up-to-date information, communicating status to you, and comforting your loved one through difficult circumstances.
- Recommend next steps after the emergency: choosing a home health agency, obtaining assistive devices, arranging home modification, choosing a residence with more services, etc.
Contact Care is There Geriatric Care Management for more information and a free consultation by calling 800.434.1633 or by emailing us at Info@CareisThere.com
- Download our Powerpoint Presentation "How to Prepare for a Medical Emergency" in the files section below.
- American College of Emergency Physicians
- American Bar Association - Healthcare Decision Making Resources for Consumers
- Advance Care Planning Resources
- Virginia POST (Physician Order for Scope of Treatment)
- Virginia Durable Do Not Resuscitate Program
- Virginia Do Not Resuscitate Fact Sheet
Are you prepared for your loved one's medical emergency? Care is There Geriatric Care Management can help.
Contact us for a free consultation: 800.434.1633 or info@CareisThere.com
- Medical Information Forms
- How to Be an Effective Advocate for Your Loved One
- How to Advocate for Your Loved one at Medical Appointments
- HIPAA: Giving Your Advocate Access to Health Care Information