What to Do When Your Parent Is in the ER
It’s something we don’t like to think about, but – like taxes and flu shots – we can’t ignore. At some point, it’s likely that our older loved ones will take a trip to the emergency room. These visits, even for minor mishaps, can have major consequences.
Medical emergencies are considered “sentinel events” because they frequently indicate more serious health issues.
“Visits to the emergency department are sentinel events for anyone,” explains retired emergency physician Ben Hippen of Decorah, IA. “But elderly persons’ health can be more fragile than younger people's, so it’s a wake-up call to make necessary changes and keep a closer eye on your family member.”
Just what you wanted to hear, I know. But with a little advance work, we can be better prepared for a loved one’s ER visit and recovery.
How to Create a Medical History for Your Parent
Healthcare professionals agree that one of the most helpful things we can do to improve outcomes from a trip to the emergency room is gather critical information beforehand.
“This is extremely important because things happen very quickly in the emergency room,” explains Nicole Rochester, a physician expert on health care navigation, a patient and family caregiver advocate in Gambrills, MD. “A senior who’s not feeling well – and may have cognitive deficits secondary to dementia – will likely have difficulty providing an accurate and detailed medical history.”
Here’s the information you and your parents should gather now:
• Current medications, including names, dosages, frequency, and whenever possible, whether your parent is actually taking the medication as prescribed
• Allergies, including those to medication
• Medical conditions and surgical procedures
• Advance directive wishes
• Contact information for you or another decisionmaker with power of attorney
PRO TIP: If you’re not sure, ask your parents’ primary care physician to help you compile and update this information.
“The good news is that, if you plan ahead, this doesn't need to be too difficult. All of it can be maintained on one or a few sheets of paper, updated as needed,” Hippen says.
Having the information ready for the nurse at triage makes the intake process much more efficient, and allows healthcare professionals to begin delivering the best possible care sooner. “Without it, medical errors are more likely to occur,” Rochester adds.
PRO TIP: Store the medical history in an envelope near your parent’s front door or their bedside for easy access when you’re not around. Keep digital copies or photos on all family smartphones, too. Make a list of items that might be needed during an ER visit, like a sweater or shawl, address book, mobile device, glasses and hearing aids, a pad or notebook for taking notes, etc.