For many older adults, the emergency room can be difficult to navigate – and unfortunately, these visits can happen all too often.
Many seniors are chronically ill and frail, resulting in regular trips to the ER. Whether it’s for an unavoidable accident, a serious health complication, or something else, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to help them be prepared.
Knowing what to expect in advance – and having everything you need ready to go – can make the process a lot less stressful.
Here are some important steps you can take to make sure your older adult gets the care they need and deserve (and they get home as quickly as possible):
- Keep a Current List of Medications and Medical Conditions
It is very important that the doctors and nurses caring for your loved one know what medications they are taking and what health issues they have. To help them provide the correct treatment and prescribe the right medications, you should be able to provide:
- A list of current medications
- The actual pill bottles, if possible
- A list of health conditions your loved one is currently being treated for
- Bring a copy of recent blood work, x-rays, MRIs, and other lab tests if they may be relevant
- Know Your Loved One’s Allergies
Just as important as knowing which medications your loved one is taking is knowing which medications they are allergic to. You should be able to tell hospital staff which medicines they have a reaction to, how they react (rash, breathing problems, etc.), and how it is usually treated.
- Have a List of Doctors and Specialists
In today’s world, it is highly unlikely that you will be seen by your primary care physician when you visit a hospital or urgent care. Because the emergency room staff will be unaware of your loved one’s medical history, they will likely want to talk to their regular doctor. Having a list of all of your older adult’s doctors and specialists, and their phone numbers, will make it easier for the ER staff to contact them if necessary.
- Keep Insurance Cards Handy
If you show up at the hospital without an insurance card, it’s not the end of the world. You will still receive treatment and you typically don’t have to pay up front – but correcting the error down the road can be a giant headache. Make sure you keep your loved one’s insurance cards in an easy-to-find location so you can quickly grab them when needed.
Note: Most hospitals also require a photo id (driver’s license, passport, etc.), so make sure to bring that along!
- Advance Directives and POLST/MOST Forms
Although no one likes to think about a worst-case scenario, it’s best to be prepared. The fact is, many of the conditions that cause seniors to visit the ER (heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, etc.) can be deadly.
If your loved one has an end-of-life plan or healthcare wishes, you need to advocate for them if they are unable to advocate for themselves. That means being prepared with an advance care directive which describes the medical treatments they might want and appointing an appropriate representative (if it’s going to be someone other than yourself).
- Have a “Go Bag” Ready
In the event of an emergency, you’ll want to get out the door as quickly as possible. Many people find it helpful to have an emergency bag packed and waiting.
Unfortunately, ER trips can be very time-consuming. Even if your older loved one doesn’t get admitted, they may spend hours in the emergency room waiting to be seen. They may even have to sit in a room overnight while awaiting test results.
Having certain “comfort” items with them can help make the whole ordeal less trying. Things you should pack include:
- Toiletry kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, brush/comb, etc.)
- Glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and other necessary items
- “Comfort” items, such as pajamas, slippers, cozy socks, and a favorite blanket
- Phone charger
- Books, crosswords, puzzles, or some other form of entertainment
Tip: Ask to stay with your loved one. Due to crowding issues, Emergency Departments often limit how many people can stay with a patient (if any). However, older adults often have extenuating circumstances such as dementia or confusion and can benefit from the company of a friend or loved one.
While this list contains many necessary items, it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. It is important to be aware of your older loved one’s particular situation so you can pack what is essential to them. Remember to keep everything together in one convenient location (such as a closet by the front door) so you know where it is when you need it!