Many family caregivers unfortunately know the names and faces of the people in the emergency room of the local hospital pretty well. Maybe too well.
Why might this be? Because they are visiting the emergency rooms (ER or ED) and hospital wings with their senior loved ones much more frequently than they want.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009–2010, “a total of 19.6 million emergency department (ED) visits in the United States were made by persons aged 65 and over. The visit rate for this age group was 511 per 1,000 persons” and “29% of ED visits by persons aged 65 and over were related to injury, and the percentage was higher among those aged 85”.
Emergency care due to falls is on the rise too.
Since we spend so much time sitting in healthcare facilities and going at a moment’s notice, we need to be ready when it happens and have the things we need all together for easy pickup.
Emergency ‘Go’ Bags
You may have seen on some popular TV shows law enforcement agents keeping “go bags” at the ready so they can travel on short notice. The same concept applies here.
Putting as many supplies in a bag that will be your go bag when an emergency arises makes great sense and you will be happy you did it, especially if your senior loved one is a frequent flyer to the hospital.
Many experts have contributed ideas to this go bag, to which we have added our own ideas and what we have found useful in the past with our own loved ones. Here is a list of the essentials you may need.
- Important documents! Keep copies of medication lists that include allergies, medication generic names and dosages as well as times when they usually take them. Phone/email contacts for health providers and family members so you can contact everybody you need. Include advance directive copies, such as a living will or DNR orders your senior has executed. Your senior’s Medicaid and other insurance cards. Many of these forms can be downloaded and kept in your smartphones using a variety of apps or programs such as Evernote.
- Smartphone or tablet plus chargers to keep them running for as long as you might need.
- Toiletries such as toothbrush/paste, makeup, deodorant, wet wipes, and tissues as well as any other personal care item you need.
- Keep snacks such as granola bars or nuts in case you can’t leave the bedside to get to a vending machine or you can’t find healthy things you want to eat there.
- Coins and single dollar bills to feed a parking meter or vending machine.
- Sweater or light jacket for you and them plus some pajamas and warm socks for them.
- I had some teabags for me and my loved one since neither of us drink coffee. I could get hot water but sometimes not a tea bag.
- Small pillow or neck rest.
- Notepad and pencil to jot down directions or keep a list of questions for health care team.
- Medical history list for your loved one, including surgery or procedures performed and any immunizations received.
- Book or e-reader that will help you pass the time. Crossword puzzle book or other items that make the time go by. “Entertainment” for you to pass the time and keep your mind from imagining the worst. Don’t forget a headset or headphones so you can listen without disturbing others.
- If you need medications for the duration, be ready to grab those too. Care for yourself as you care for them.
- Memento of meaning to your senior loved one that might help calm them, such as stuffed animal or picture of loved one.
Hospitalization Tips for Comfort & Peace
There are also some great tips for when your senior loved ones end up in the hospital for an unplanned trip or a scheduled procedure, no matter how long they may be staying.
- Never let your car be very low on fuel or blocked in driveway – you may need it to move fast on a moment’s notice.
- If your senior loved one goes to the emergency room without you, be sure to go by their home or send someone else there to get items they may need during their stay, such as their eyeglasses, dentures or personal items, including a robe and one change of clothes for their return home. I can’t tell you how many seniors go by ambulance to the hospital in the middle of the night without dentures or glasses and have a hard time during their hospital stay eating or reading consent papers. A bathrobe will be handy in the hospital for allowing them to maintain some dignity if they are asked to walk in the hallways or getting to and from the bathroom.
- Brings some favorite foods from home, even if you have to call on others to cook them, to help spur your senior loved one’s appetite.
- Don’t let your senior see your emotions. If you are scared, they will be too. Keep your emotions and fears in check while you provide them with uplifting messages of concern.
- Answer their questions honestly about their diagnosis, treatment options and prognosis and be sure they are involved in the decisions that are made. Really listen to what their choices are for care and follow their lead.
- Support the people caring for your senior loved one. Tell them thank you for their service, their jobs are not always easy.
You will never be fully prepared for emergencies especially when it is your loved one and emotions come into play. But having some essential items ready and waiting for you for when they are needed, will make it just a bit easier to help senior loved ones and you be face the challenges.
We would love to hear what items you would put in your Go bag so we can add it to our list!