Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Importance of Being Prepared
Story from the Sun Sentinel

If you help care for an elderly parent — or will do so in the future — it's smart to plan ahead for an emergency room visit.

More than 7 million emergency hospital visits each year involve patients 65 and older. A rushed visit to the hospital can be difficult and stressful, and caretakers will be called upon to answer lots of on-the-spot questions related to medical care and payment.

Fortunately, planning ahead can save a world of headache. Even simple things help a lot.

"I usually bring enough Diet Pepsi and snacks to last six hours, since that's how long I am waiting with my mom or dad until they're admitted," said Ann Blanchard, founder and president of, which sells low-priced organizer notebooks for medical information. "And some Sudoku or crossword puzzles, since I'm too stressed to concentrate on a novel."

To help, the American College of Emergency Physicians recommends:

Fill out a medical history form (ahead of time): Go to to obtain a form that you and your parent's physicians can complete. On the form you will list what medications your parent is taking, allergies, as well as past and current medical conditions. Bring this form to the emergency department and give to the emergency physician. Also keep track and make sure your parent is taking medications correctly.

Anticipate admission: Bring a change of clothes and some personal items in case your parent is admitted to the hospital. You can always leave them in the car.

Know physician contacts: Do you know all the names of the doctors your parents see? You should. Take some time now and find out their names, contact information, why your mother or father sees them and how long they have been patients. Write it down and hand it to the doctor or nurse in the emergency department. If you are traveling, have copies of the most recent doctor summary and a copy of an EKG if it is abnormal.

Convey parent's state of mind: You know your parent better than the doctor. If he or she seems confused, explain to the physician what "normal" behavior is like. If the doctor is talking to you, make sure you are talking to your parent. The doctors may have to run tests, conduct an examination or admit your parent to the hospital. Keep the conversation open with your parent.

Consider living wills: A difficult issue to discuss, but end-of-life planning is important nonetheless. Do your parents have living wills, and do you know what their wishes are if their conditions become critical? If not, find out now.

Report on recent surgeries: Keep track of surgeries, especially those involving implanted devices such as hip replacements, or pacemakers.

Simplify insurance information: Have a single sheet of paper with insurance and identification information.

Bring reading materials: Make sure you have a book, magazine or a newspaper to read while you are waiting for results or to see a physician. Bring a laptop so you can check your e-mail or do work. Having something to do that will make the time pass more quickly and help keep your stress level in check, too.

For information about elderly emergency care, go to

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