Caring for Home Medical Devices in Emergencies and Every Day

To many seniors, independent living still means a life dependent on medical devices.

To family caregivers, that means to keep them well we must ensure they and all those who care for them are capable of operating their medical devices properly.

That’s true every day, but especially during emergencies, such as a power outage.

Medical devices can be lifesaving, so keeping them in good working condition and powered up all the time is important for our senior loved ones.

Some seniors have to use more than one device, which could make it even more difficult to manage during a power outage.

Are you ready?

Home Medical Device

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a home medical device is any equipment intended for use, in any environment (not just a hospital), that can be used by any user with proper training for safety.

A medical device is equipment or a product that is used to diagnose and treat a condition or disease, or to cure or prevent disease.

Medical devices can be something simple, such as a tongue depressor, bedpan or hearing aid, all the way up to feeding pumps, CPAP machines, oxygen tanks and pacemakers — and many things in between.

Your senior may be using many different kinds of medical devices in their home to treat and prevent chronic conditions. Some of these may be basic but others that run using electricity can get complicated.

It is important to learn all you can about how the devices operate, using them safely, cleaning them, and keeping them in good working condition so they function well.

However, it is critical to take all the necessary steps to have an action plan ready to go in the case of power outages.

Loss of power can happen at any time day or night and doesn’t always happen during a storm. If someone hits a power pole in your senior’s neighborhood, they could lose power for some time. Utility equipment can also malfunction or some other unusual occurrence could mean a loss of power to a crucial medical device.

How will you and your senior react to it?

Using Home Medical Devices

Because they may use more than one device or a new device is being used or the durable medical equipment (DME) provider changes out a device for something different, it is important to stay informed about the devices your senior uses.

Does your senior have the instruction books for all their medical devices, especially those powered with electricity? These should be kept in a place that can be accessed in case of emergency and to troubleshoot in case they cease functioning properly.

Not only should they be handy, but someone should read them to be sure they are fully understood. There may be regular maintenance or other safety precautions that need to be taken for each medical device.

Some newer medical devices require internet connections so that health data can be transmitted to healthcare professionals for monitoring and treatment adjustments.

We all know how enjoyable reading owner’s manuals can be, but this device can mean the difference between health and real trouble for your senior loved one so we should know how they operate.

The following information should be available to everyone in the household who operates the equipment:

  1. Name of device manufacturer
  2. Who supplied the device – company, pharmacy, DME company, healthcare provider
  3. What supplies are needed for proper functioning such as tubing, filter, batteries, etc.
  4. Instructions for cleaning it thoroughly
  5. Directions to keep it fully charged in case of power outage if backup battery is included

Learning About Medical Devices

If your senior’s home medical devices require electricity to work, it is important to know a little bit about the devices and how they operate.

Be sure you and all caregivers (unpaid and paid) have read the instruction manual and operating information.

  • Will a power surge hurt the operations or even cause it to stop working?
  • Should the device be connected to a surge protector to prevent harm if there is an electric power surge?
  • Is there a backup power source and how long will it run the device if power is lost? Can it work with regular batteries? If so, what type and how many will be needed?
  • Can the medical device be connected to another source of power, such as a generator, without harming its function or safety?
  • What is the physical consequence if the medical device stops working? Should someone call 911 or can your senior wait a short time until it is repaired, replaced or re-powered?
  • If the medical device malfunctions, are there other supplies that are needed and are they in the home ready to use? 3 days of provisions should be kept on hand if supplies are needed.
  • Does everyone know what the alerts and messages mean and how to correctly resolve them for safe operation?
  • Who should be called and what is the contact number if there is a problem or question about proper functioning of your senior’s medical device? What if the device fails after working hours – what emergency number should be called?
  • Is there some type of special cleaning product needed to keep the device working correctly?
  • Is a refrigerator needed for the device or supplies in the case of power failure or a cooler with an adequate ice supply to keep the device components or medications at the proper temperature?
  • Is there a working flashlight in the home so that someone can manage the medical device in the dark in case of power outage?
  • What steps should be taken when the power goes out?
  • What steps should NOT be taken when the power goes out?
  • Does your senior or a home caregiver need instructions and training on the use of the device?
  • Is there access to a fully charged cellphone to call for help if needed?

Plan Ahead – Alert Officials

Seniors who require medical devices at home powered by electricity should alert the local utility company that they have devices that need to be powered. They can be sure to restore power as quickly as possible in the event of power failure when they know someone dependent on electricity for medical devices is in the area.

Caregivers should also alert the local first responders to the fact that there is a medical device in use in the neighborhood that requires power to operate. They will want to know in the event of an emergency or natural disaster so that they can be sure to check out the well-being of your senior.

In the case of extended power outage, prepare for your senior loved one to take shelter in the community or with family who have power so that their medical needs can be met.

Home medical devices are designed to improve not only the health of our senior loved ones but also their quality of life. For many they are life sustaining.

We all need to be ready to care for their equipment everyday but especially when a power outage threatens their well-being.