Caregivers and Seniors: How to Prepare for a Medical Emergency
Seniors or people with physical disabilities are more likely to experience some kind of accident or medical emergency. That’s why it’s important for seniors and their caregivers to have a plan in place to deal with an emergency when it happens. Let’s review some steps you can take to prepare for a medical emergency and to ensure that you react calmly and purposefully when a crisis occurs.
Preparation and Prevention
You may have heard the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The phrase simply means that being careful and methodical in your daily routine can often forestall unfortunate incidents, like a medical emergency or accident. Preparing in advance for the possibility of a medical emergency is just as important as reacting to the incident.
Have a List of Emergency Contacts
First of all, make a list of anyone you may need to contact in an emergency. Since you are caregiving for a senior citizen, this would include any children or adult grandchildren who may need to know about the situation. It might also include a specialist or therapist, as well as friends or neighbors. The emergency contact list will look different for each person. If your client has memory issues, consider including the 911 number at the top of the list in case he or she forgets those important digits.
Know Your Client’s Allergies
If your client has allergies to shellfish, peanuts, medications, or anything else, you need to know those risk factors right upfront. You may even want to keep a posted list of the allergies in the home and in your client’s personal belongings, perhaps in their purse or wallet. If the allergies are so severe that they would require an EpiPen, make sure you have one on each level of the home if there are multiple stories. Carry one with you if you and your client go out anywhere.
Practice Your Life-Saving Techniques
As a caregiver, you have probably been trained in life-saving techniques such as the Heimlich maneuver, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, CPR, and the like. It’s important to maintain these skills by watching training videos again periodically, and by practicing on a dummy. Also, if your care recipient has heart problems, familiarize yourself with the emergency measures you could take to preserve their life through a heart attack or other heart failure incident, including chest compressions or administering life-saving medication or injections.
Establish Meeting Points
What if the medical emergency also involves a crisis event like a tornado, fire, earthquake, or flood? Plan ahead and identify safe spots to shelter in place from events like an earthquake or tornado. Map out safe exit paths to escape a fire and appoint a meeting place outside the home, such as the end of the driveway or a neighbor’s front porch. In the event of a severe crisis event, identify a spot where you could meet up with your care recipient’s family members, and communicate that plan to them.
Have a “Go Bag” Ready
It’s a good idea to have a “go bag” or “bug out bag” ready, in case emergency forces you and your care recipient to evacuate. A small rolling suitcase is excellent for this since you or the senior in your care can easily roll it along when you leave. In it, you can stow a 3-day or one-week supply of medications, bottled water, nonperishable food, contacts or glasses, and medical devices with extra batteries. You can also include travel-sized cosmetic and hygiene supplies, as well as spare cell phone chargers. Every three months, review and update the contents of the “go bag.” The emergency kit can also include copies of important documents sealed into a waterproof bag. And don’t forget first aid items as well!
Write Down the Emergency Plan
Every part of your emergency plan, whether for a natural disaster or a medical emergency, needs to be written down. Some parts of it may also need to be posted throughout the home, perhaps in the kitchen, in the bathroom, or beside the front door. Seniors often struggle with memory issues and with remembering a series of instructions or a particular sequence of events, so it helps them to have a written record of any emergency plans you have designed together. Be sure to share the emergency plans with your care recipient’s family as well, so you can all be on the same page in case of an emergency.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to be prepared for a medical emergency. Other precautions and preparedness measures will be unique to your situation as a caregiver, and to the specific health struggles that your client has.
Action and Implementation
So you’ve prepared and planned, and you’ve posted the emergency contacts, allergies, and steps to follow in an accessible place. What if a medical emergency actually happens? What can you do to move through it safely, with the best possible result for your care recipient?
It’s really tough to stay calm when you’re faced with a serious medical emergency. However, yielding to panic will not help anyone, so it’s important to stay as calm as you can. Take a second to breathe deeply, and then act. Use your common sense and follow the emergency plan you have laid out.
Help Others Remain Calm
Even if you manage to calm yourself, those around you may not be able to control their emotions in the situation. Speak in a calm, even tone and gently but firmly direct anyone who isn’t emotionally ready to help the situation. Ask them to sit down, or give them a simple task to do.
Do Not Move an Injured Person
If your care recipient has fallen, unless the individual is in immediate danger from something in the vicinity, do not move them. Call 911 or another medical emergency number and wait for trained medical professionals to evaluate your client’s condition and determine if it’s safe to move them.
Remain with Your Care Recipient
If possible, avoid leaving the care recipient alone. If you need to step out of the room to grab a phone to call 911, that’s acceptable, but otherwise, try to stay right beside your care recipient until professional medical help arrives. Having you nearby, providing whatever care you can and speaking in calm tones, will help the senior in your care to stay calmer and wait more patiently for the help that’s coming.
Collect Necessary Items
If you and the senior in your care need to leave the home or residence to go to a hospital, or if you need to evacuate due to a flood, hurricane, or other critical events, be sure to grab the emergency kit and important documents bag that you prepared. In case of fire or an immediate threat, you can leave those items behind, but if you have a few moments before an evacuation or before departing for the hospital, take that time to collect any essential items and medications for the person in your care.
Sometimes, the items that seem least essential can bring the most comfort to someone going through a medical emergency or some other crisis. Whether you’re heading for a hospital or evacuating for another reason, try to bring along comfort items that will help your charge feel more at peace, such as framed family photos, small heirloom items, a soft sweater, or a favorite pillow.
If you’re looking for a caregiver for a beloved senior in your life, consider getting in touch with Community Home Health Care. We have an experienced, caring staff of trained in-home caregivers, including registered nurses, personal care aides, and home health aides. On our website, you can fill out the online form and we’ll send you additional information about the assistance we offer to seniors. And feel free to visit in person or call (845) 425-6555 so we can answer all your questions.