We all dread it: The midnight phone call. Dario Campolattaro's mom was headed to the ER with complications from pneumonia. "She was having trouble breathing and her blood oxygen was low," recalls the Brambleton, VA resident. "It's an awful feeling."
The last thing on your mind in case of an emergency is what to pack, yet it can be vitally important and make a very stressful time a little less so. Most emergency rooms are not established with the elderly patient in mind.
"You may have to wait for hours on end in a noisy, uncomfortable environment, and answer the same questions repeatedly. Being well-prepared if mom or dad has an emergency is not only a comfort, it's a practical necessity," explained Mary Stehle, LICSW and Care.com Senior Care Advisor.
Stehle offers these tips for what to have packed in case of an emergency:
List of Current Meds
Be sure to have a complete, current list ready to go. Megan Helland, RN, a longtime emergency room and ICU nurse currently at a major university teaching hospital in North Carolina says. "Make sure the list includes doses and the times the medication is taken, which makes it much easier for us to ensure your loved one gets the best care." Megan notes that many pharmacies can provide this information easily.
"There's no need to bring the medication itself, since hospitals prefer to dispense their own," Helland adds.
List of Allergies
Note any medication or food allergies, including type of reaction and intervention used such as an EpiPen®.
Description of diagnoses
Keep a document of all medical conditions handy. This should be easy to obtain from your senior's primary care physician. Also include how each condition is currently being treated.
Doctors/Specialists Names and Numbers
Take the time to compile this information, which is good to have prepared in any case. "You'll find this helpful even for routine doctor's visits," Stehle remarked.
Don't overlook Medicare Part A and B and supplemental plan information. It's also helpful to include phone numbers. A photocopy of the card is a convenient way to record this information, but the hospital may ask to see original cards.
Even a library or group membership card is adequate, and a copy is usually acceptable. Keep a photocopy in your files in case you leave without your senior's wallet.
Include copies of your loved one's living will, health care proxy, and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, if applicable. Having these documents on hand is essential in a critical situation. If you don't know your senior's wishes this is a great time to start the conversations as opposed to in the midst of a crisis. It is also helpful to discuss having a legal power of attorney.
Glasses, Hearing Aid
It's easy to overlook these, but they're critical to ensure clear communication and help your loved one feel more at ease. If he has spare pairs, or needs extra batteries, keep them in the bag.
It's especially hard to remember information when stressed, so have a pad and pen handy to take notes, focusing on the medical staff's explanation of the problem, treatment, and next steps.
You'll want to have both the names of emergency contacts along with their contact information for close friends and family who may want to know about your loved one's condition. "You may want to designate someone in advance who will serve as the key point of contact, so you won't need to answer every call, " advises Stehle.
Though these should kept to a minimum to avoid clutter or confusion, family pictures, religious texts or objects, snacks, a favorite book, a blanket in case it is cold, or for some, a stuffed animal, may be a welcome comfort during a distressing time. These items are particularly important for a loved one who has Alzheimer's or dementia. What will be comforting to them in a different environment?
Stehle cautions families to keep the unessential items in the car initially. "You want to have the essential items, but you also don't want to worry about keeping track of too many things."
Be sure to include your loved one in the process as much as possible. Discourage doctors and nurses from leaving him or her out of the conversation. If he or she has Alzheimer's or dementia give frequent updates about what is happening in a calm, relaxed tone of voice.
Don't forget to have some items for yourself as the caregiver. A book, a snack, sweatshirt, and cell phone charger may make the waiting more bearable.
In case mom or dad is admitted, you'll need an overnight bag including:
- A change of clothes. Keep comfort and practicality in mind, and don't forget undergarments, sleep ware, a robe and slippers. Patients may be required to wear a hospital gown to make care easier for staff, but are often permitted to wear personal items at different times during their stay.
- Toiletries - Most hospitals will provide the essentials, but it's nice to have familiar items from home.
- Favorite snacks/candy - Check to see if it's OK, but some facilities are fine with bringing a favorite snack or sweet treat.
A trip to the emergency room can be nerve-wracking. Taking the time to be prepared can make it a little easier for everyone, and help ensure the process runs smoothly.