Caregivers Need First Aid Knowledge BEFORE an Emergency Happens

Emergencies that can require caregivers to administer medical help to a senior loved one can happen to anyone, at any time of the day or night.

Are family caregivers ready to minister to senior’s health needs? Are you?

Of course, if it is something traumatic, the first course of action is to call 911.

If it is not life threatening or while awaiting first responders, caregivers need to know what to do.

Medical Treatment for Seniors

Basic medical care techniques are skills most family caregivers should have in case of emergency.

It is a great idea for family caregivers to take a few classes in first aid, including CPR, Heimlich maneuver, and emergency first aid.

These techniques can be life saving for your senior loved one.

There are many organizations that provide these helpful classes across the country, such as the Red Cross, American Heart Association, and local healthcare systems.

If you can’t locate a class near you, there are online training courses you can take from home.

There are some events that are more likely to occur in seniors such as these:

Falls

Seniors are at risk for falling, especially if they have trouble with balance, loss of muscle mass or multiple chronic health conditions.

It is important to prevent falls whenever possible, but they can still occur.

If your senior falls, don’t try to get them up without checking them out first. They could be injured and getting them up too quickly could make the injury worse.

Here is a video helping your senior get up more safely after a fall. If they appear to be injured with a broken bone, stroke or head injury, call 911 and keep them still until help arrives.

Skin Cuts/Tears

Seniors skin becomes more fragile with age and loss of collagen. It becomes thinner and more vulnerable to tearing.

If a cut is superficial, cleaning and applying antibiotic ointment may be all that is needed; a bandage can help keep it clean but sometimes air drying is effective.

If a cut is deeper, stop the bleeding and assess to see if it will need more medical attention.

Some cuts bleed more than others, depending on their location and can be frightening. Also be aware that seniors who take a blood thinner may bleed more, take longer to cease bleeding and may need medical advice or a checkup to see if their medication levels are appropriate.

Choking

Older adults can experience difficulty swallowing and may have choking episodes, especially on certain foods such as hard meats, gummy foods, and stringy vegetables.

Coughing occurs often but choking is serious and needs immediate medical attention, especially if the airway is blocked.

If your senior grabs their throat, has trouble speaking, is unable to breathe and turns blue, or can only nod their head, first call 911 and then perform the Heimlich maneuver if you are trained.

Poisoning

Seniors can have trouble with their medications and take them incorrectly, causing poisoning. They can also unknowingly ingest something toxic.

It is a good idea to remove any dangerous chemicals from their reach and put the poison control number on the refrigerator in case it is needed quickly.

If you suspect they may have been poisoned, call poison control to get instructions before doing anything, including making your senior vomit.

Managing Medications

Medication nonadherence will result in medical problems for senior loved ones.

In fact, not taking medications correctly results in 125,000 deaths and 11% of hospitalizations annually.

Seniors may have difficulty with medication management for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Simply not remembering to take medications as prescribed at the correct time or as directed
  • Skipping doses because they feel better
  • May not be filling the prescriptions: 20-30% of prescriptions are never filled
  • May stop taking prescriptions due to side effects or thinking that they aren’t needed; 50% of people stop their medications or treatments as directed
  • Fear of side effects
  • Cost of medications, co-pay
  • Inability to secure transportation to pick up drugs at pharmacy
  • Running out before they have another doctor visit to update prescription
  • Having to split medications for correct dosage
  • Lack of understanding about consequences of nonadherence or benefits of medications
  • Food and/or drug interactions interfering with efficacy of medications

Proper medication management of prescriptions to treat hypertension will lead to 45% better blood pressure control.

However, in 2014, 26.3% (4.9 million) of Medicare Part D beneficiaries using blood pressure medication were nonadherent to their regimen.

Taking medications properly, including all over the counter medicines and supplements, will help your senior manage their chronic diseases and avoid potential health emergencies.

Supplies to Keep on Hand

Most of our senior’s homes have many supplies on hand from years of needing ‘cures’ but they may not have everything that you need in an emergency.

It is a good idea to take an inventory in their bathroom and fill any gaps with new supplies.

It will be very important to take the time to read the labels and expiration dates on all their products to be sure they are not too old to be used — and possibly even harmful if used. Discard any expired products and replace with newer items.

This is a good time to organize all the health products so that they are easy to find when needed.

  1. Keep an updated medication list including generic names, dosages, time of day, precautions and pharmacy contact number; emergency contact information is also helpful
  2. First aid kit – don’t forget to keep it up to date and change out any expired products
  3. Wound care products including bandages of all sizes, hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, antibiotic cream, gauze, tape
  4. Ace bandage
  5. Antacids for heartburn
  6. Thermometer
  7. Pain reliever
  8. Constipation relief, diarrhea relief
  9. Ice packs
  10. Heating pad that is new, replace any older model which could have faulty heating controls or wiring
  11. Antibacterial hand cleaner
  12. Non-latex gloves
  13. Cortisone cream for itching
  14. Hemorrhoid cream and/or wipes, witch hazel
  15. Moisturizing lotion that is nourishing to protect dry, cracking skin
  16. Flashlight and batteries
  17. Sunscreen and after sun lotion
  18. Tweezers and scissors
  19. Eyewash, eye drops
  20. Know where to find advance directives, insurance cards and other documents if need to go to hospital

Caring Means Being Prepared

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of information needed to be prepared for an emergency but most common and on hand already.

It is important to gather all the supplies needed and have them on hand as you won’t be able to run to the store to get necessary items in the midst of the emergency.

Readiness won’t just happen but a few small steps toward preparedness will be well worth it if an emergency does arise for your senior loved one.

Falls Change Many Seniors’ Lives – Improving Their Balance Can Help

Does your senior loved one fear falling? Do you fear what a fall could do to them?

Many seniors fear taking a spill, especially if they have taken a serious fall in the past. They know that the danger of losing their balance could mean a broken bone and even a change in their aging in place dream.

The statistics for falls are indisputable — and daunting.

Did you know that every 15 seconds an older adult is seen in an emergency room for a fall-related injury? Worse yet, it is estimated that 21,700 die from falls annually.

Causes of Falls as We Age

There can be many reasons why people fall, especially as we age. Medical condition, functional status and environmental factors all play a role in the potential for falls in seniors, whether they are at home or in a senior living facility.

  • Weakening muscles. As we age, we often lose muscle mass because our eating habits have changed. Our senior loved ones can experience a decrease in the nutritional value of the foods they eat. Perhaps they can’t (or choose not to) cook for themselves, can’t shop or don’t feel they can afford more substantial foods. Seniors also lack adequate levels of physical activity which can lead to a common condition known as sarcopenia or muscle wasting. When our strong muscles become weak, it is more difficult to keep our balance. Loss of balance will lead to falls and injuries.
  • Medications can cause periods of unsteadiness and even dizziness, which could lead to a fall, especially for our senior loved ones who take multiple medications. Because certain medications can make one dizzy, including blood pressure medications, your senior should be careful when standing up from a sitting position if a wobbly feeling results from a rapid change in blood pressure. Shifting incorrectly from one position to another is a leading cause of falls. You can have the list of medications your senior takes each day reviewed by the doctor or pharmacist to see if there may be areas of concern or changes needed in dosage, timing or types of medications they are taking.
  • Dehydration can also lead to falls. When our seniors don’t drink enough fluids they can become confused and light headed and their tissues weakened, too often leading to falls. Many seniors don’t sense thirst as they once did and don’t realize they aren’t drinking enough fluids. They could be purposely cutting down on drinking so that they can have fewer bathroom visits which could compromise their health. They may need reminders to keep drinking enough throughout the day as well as convenient access to fluids.
  • Poor eyesight. If our seniors can’t see where they are going, if there are obstacles or hazards or darkness in their path, they are more likely to fall. If they need an eye exam or updated glasses – or even just a good cleaning of their current glasses – it could help prevent a fall. Also, be sure that all areas have adequate lighting in the house, including stairways, hallways, closets, outside walks and basements. Lighting the way, either daytime or nighttime, will help prevent a fall.
  • Ill-fitting shoes or shoes that have a worn out sole could contribute to a fall. If their shoes have no traction or don’t fit well, getting a new pair that provide good support and a nonskid sole could really help. Also, encourage them not to live in their ‘old slippers’ that could hamper their ability to have sure feet. Proper fitting shoes can provide more than comfort but safety too.
  • Low blood sugar can cause unsteadiness, leading to falls. Testing blood sugar as recommended and following a diabetic diet can help your senior manage their blood sugar to avoid falls. Avoiding frequent ups and downs in blood sugar level through tight glucose control may also help to prevent a fall.
  • Obstacles in the home can also contribute to falls happening to our seniors (and even us too). Clutter, loose throw rugs, wet floors, electric cords in the walking path and even pets can get in seniors’ way and cause a trip and fall. Inspect their home for potential hazards and eliminate them.
  • Getting enough sleep and moderating your senior’s alcohol intake can also prevent potential falls. Being refreshed and clear thinking is important to maintaining balance and preventing injuries.

There is enough research and experience to show that there are many things that we can do as caregivers to help prevent falls from occurring. Some are relatively easy to do and others just need regular reminders.

Physical Activity for Fall Prevention

Your senior loved one can also reduce the likelihood of having a fall – and improve the chances of remaining injury free if they do have a fall – if they stay physically active and maintain strong muscles.

We created this video to demonstrate a few balance exercises most seniors can do. You can practice along with them and encourage them to consistently complete these simple exercises. Remain safe is the key, so begin slowly using a chair to lean on until your senior loved one gains strength.

Balance is something that needs regular practice so these quick exercises should become part of their daily routine not something that happens a few times expecting it to benefit them over the long term.

The exercises are done in 10 second blocks so are not time consuming and can be done anywhere in the home or facility.

We hope you enjoy this caregiver video tip.

These balance exercises are just the beginning. You can do a variety of different types of balance exercises as your senior gains strength. The more they do, the stronger they will be. Add a little music to keep the enjoyment flowing!

These exercises may help them begin to feel more stable on their feet and give them the encouragement they need to do even more activity! That’s a win-win for sure!

We feel strongly that being fearful of a fall should not keep your senior from living their life to the fullest. Falls can be prevented with a little planning and patience. Doing the exercises shown in the video consistently will help your senior gain strength and improve mobility to prevent dangerous trips and falls and hopefully injury.

“Injuries from falls are a major cause of loss of independence for older people. This is a significant public health problem.”

—Dr. Richard J. Hodes, Director, National Institute on Aging

Cutting Your Salt Habit – A Family Caregiver Video Tip

Stroke hits every 40 seconds in the US, with 800,000 Americans each year suffering a stroke.

Strokes kill more than 125,000 Americans each year and leave many more with paralysis and lives that are changed forever.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a significant contributor to stroke.

Sodium in our diets is a key contributor to hypertension.

Sounds like a good reason to cut our salt habit, doesn’t it? That’s especially true for our senior loved ones – and us if we’re over 50 – if we have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Like many things that are good for us, it’s easier said than done!

We’ve prepared the Family Caregiver Video Tip below to educate you to better help senior loved ones cut salt from their lives.

 

Salt is Hidden in Many Foods

Limiting sodium in our daily diet to less than 2,300 mg is the target for most of us, but our older loved ones who have been told by their doctor they already have hypertension should be cutting it to 1,500 mg or less each day.

As Kathy explained in the video tip, step one in cutting the salt habit is getting rid of the salt shaker, not just from the dinner table but from the kitchen completely. It may take some time but, maybe with some help from the spice rack, it’s just a matter of sticking to it long enough to form the habit.

The other steps take a little more effort. Here are a few of them.

  • Check food labels for the listed sodium content, focusing on those that contain less than 5% of our daily sodium intake; shoot for no more than 700 to 800 mg per meal.
  • Use fresh or frozen vegetables without sauce rather than the canned or processed versions, which have salt added unless specifically labeled no salt added.
  • Limit consumption of foods that are salted and cured, such as hot dogs, bacon, ham and luncheon meats.
  • Avoid foods that are sold in brine (which is a fancy name for salt water), such as pickles and sauerkraut.
  • Check out some new flavors and seasonings in the spice aisle of the grocery store to enhance foods without adding salt (check labels to ensure you’re not getting something with salt added, though).

Another tip from Kathy…check out our recent post on the DASH diet. No, that’s not just another fancy diet, but stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Sounds right on target, doesn’t it.

By taking steps to help our senior loved ones avoid hypertension and fight off stroke, we can help make their lives better!