It is 3:00 a.m. and you suddenly hear a loud noise from just outside your door. As you investigate, you discover that your loved one has fallen on the way to the restroom and needs immediate help. What do you do?
In a moment of panic such as this, it’s difficult to know exactly how to react. That’s why it’s important to anticipate the situations you may encounter as part of caring for an elderly or disabled relative or friend.
Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when preparing for medical emergencies at home.
Keep important information handy. Examples of important information to include:
- Documents and records: Keep important documents, both personal and financial, in a waterproof portable container. This should include personal ID, insurance cards, your loved one’s MOLST (Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment), DNR form, and/or advance directives.
- Medicine list: Keep a current list of medicine that your loved one is taking, pharmacy numbers, and doctors’ names and phone numbers.
- Contact numbers list: Create and keep a current list of phone numbers of family members, physicians, and other personnel who are involved in the care of your loved one. Contact your local emergency medical services to ensure they have your correct address and your loved one’s medical condition on file to ensure a quicker response time.
If you prefer your documents as physical copies instead of digital ones, keep one copy of each document in your vehicle and another copy in a place where you could quickly access it in the event of an emergency. If you prefer to manage health information digitally, you can use mobile applications. However, you should always have a paper copy handy for others in case you are not present.
Keep an overnight bag with two or three days of supplies. For your loved one, pack some nightclothes, toiletries, books, personal care supplies, and any other items to help them retain routine if they are required to spend the night in the hospital. For yourself, pack some extra clothes, daily hygiene products, medications, snacks, and books to help you pass time while waiting in the hospital.
Educate yourself about emergency response. Take classes for first aid and CPR. Assemble and keep first aid kits handy at home and while you travel, such as inside the vehicle. Some essential items include bandages, scissors, tweezers, gloves, cotton swabs, thermometer, cold compress, hand sanitizer, and a blanket. Talk with your loved one and his or her healthcare provider to determine whether you should have specialty items on hand like a blood sugar monitor, blood pressure monitor, automated external defibrillator, etc.
Discuss medical alert systems with your loved one. Medical alert systems offer your loved one a fast and easy way to seek help during an emergency, especially if you and your loved one do not share a household. They are usually wearable devices such as bracelets, watches, wristbands, or necklaces. If your loved one needs help, he or she can push the button on the device to be connected with a trained dispatcher who will contact emergency help or a loved one as needed. There are a variety of medical alert systems, ranging from in-home (using a landline) to mobile (using GPS technology) devices. Identify your loved one’s needs and habits to determine which device is the right fit.
Plan to alternate caregiving responsibilities. While acting as a caregiver can be a fulfilling responsibility, it can also be personally taxing and time-consuming. Experiencing “caregiver stress”—feeling tired and overwhelmed—is common.
Recharge yourself by alternating caregiving responsibilities with siblings, friends, and neighbors. Practice simple self-care techniques like breathing exercises and meditation to ease your mind from any stress or anxiety. In addition, try finding local or online caregiving support groups to cope with the demands and challenges of long-term care.
Will you be ready?
Medical emergencies can happen at any time. It is important to be prepared to take care of your loved ones and yourself during these unexpected moments. Preparation is the best medicine in the event of medical emergencies.