When it comes to emergency room visits, I probably have been more times than the average person due to the nature of my job. But this year with the flu hitting near epidemic levels not only just in Alabama but also nationwide, emergency room visits have been experienced by many. Trips to the ER can be a scary situation at any age. The ER can prove particularly challenging for the elderly. Here are some suggestions to help you keep it cool when you find yourself in the hot seat taking a senior loved one to the ER.
The first week on the job as a brand-new administrator I found myself headed to the ER following an ambulance with one of my residents who I had obviously just met that week. Now mind you, I had called their family and notified the proper folks of the situation. But for a short time, it was just me and this resident (who was experiencing chest pains) in a room in the ER as they were being seen by the doctors and nurses. I was grateful for a paperwork process that was in place in our community so I had the answers to the questions that were being asked by hospital personnel. We use what we call an Emergency Red File for each resident in our community for such an occasion. Inside we keep copies of the residents’ most recent medical exam and plan of care, insurance cards and other ID as well as advance directives and Power of Attorney documentation if they have them. It is called a red file because well, it’s red in color. Our local hospital staff has gotten very acclimated to our “red files” and it makes registration and getting medical staff some initial information on the resident so much easier. It also helps keep the resident calm because they aren’t having to give answers to so many questions. Our families appreciate this as well. They are usually a barrel of nerves at the call that their loved one is being taken to the ER anyway. It is a relief for us to go ahead and have all of this information readily available. Most regulations require assisted living communities to have this as part of the chart and way. It is so much easier to have this type of file ready to go at a moment’s notice versus stopping to make copies. We just make sure to secure them in a safe location, update them as appropriate and add the most recent medication list at an emergency occurrence.
Pack like a Pro
In addition to an emergency file, having a small bag packed is a huge help. I have been in situations where family members couldn’t get to the hospital that day due to travel outside the country, illness and more. I’m typically going to ensure that the resident has someone with them to be there and comfort them and so that I can get the information to pass along to the family. That is why having a bag packed and ready is a huge help. Now, this bag doesn’t need to be big and bulky or loaded down and cumbersome. But there are a few items I would suggest to take to help the resident and you be set up for as smooth “as possible” visit to the ER. Some things to consider packing include:
- Depends (pads, etc) for residents that require them
- Snacks (for both you and the resident)
- Phone charger
- Small blanket
- Water bottle(s)
- Ziplock bag
Now I know that most hospitals can provide you with many of these items. But it doesn’t take much preparation to have these things ready to go. Sure, there are some emergency situations that emotions will be high and some of these items will be the last thing on your mind. But if you make gathering this and your emergency file part of your process, they can make a tough situation a little more bearable. Remember that these items may be necessary for your resident and you. So, pack accordingly. I suffer from migraine headaches. My triggers for them include multiple things. But ranking up pretty high include: stress, dehydration and skipping meals. I’m no good to anyone else and can’t take care of them if I don’t take care of myself. I say all of this to say that proper planning can help you be more effective to your residents and their families.
At present date, the Alabama Department Health has made the following recommendations regarding visiting the ER or doctor’s office for FLU RELATED ISSUES:
“For people with mild to moderate flu or flu-like symptoms, please do not go to your doctor’s office without calling first and do not go to the emergency room. Please call your doctor to see if you are eligible for antivirals without an appointment. Many insurance companies now have a “call a provider” service to help with mild to moderate illnesses; please take advantage of this service before going to doctor or hospital. Mild to moderate cases of the flu usually do not require a hospital visit. Patients who do visit an emergency department or outpatient clinic should be aware of long wait times.”
As with all emergency situations use your best judgment, especially when it comes to an elderly person who may have a reduced immune system.
Depression is a condition that affects many people of all ages around the world. Over the years, I have experienced within our community just how difficult and debilitating it can be for some of our elderly in the winter months. Winter SADness…or Seasonal Affect Disorder is not just a bad or sad mood. It is a real health issue and as with any type of depression, it is important to be aware and seek medical intervention when necessary. The National Institute of Mental Health gives this explanation and as well as symptoms and treatments:
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.
Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:
- Having low energy
- Weight gain
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
Treatments and Therapies:
There are four major types of treatment for SAD:
- Light therapy
- Vitamin D
These treatments may be used alone or in combination. Along with the difficulties that a chronic illness can bring, seniors are also likely to experiences losses in the social networks, which can contribute to the formation of clinical depression. Not everyone who experiences Seasonal Affect Disorder is clinically depressed, but SAD can increase the effects of those who do live with chronic depression. Families and caregivers should be on the lookout for indicators of SAD in their older loved ones during the winter months.
It is important to talk with your loved ones if you have concerns about their mental health and seek medical attention when necessary. Be supportive, be loving and help them remain calm as they cope.
Recently someone said to me that I seemed to always have it together. Me? Together? Now that is funny! Most days I feel like I am chasing my tail. Did they know my day that morning started with dry shampoo?? But isn’t that life? Most of us are convinced that everyone else always has it TOGETHER. We envision everyone with cleaner houses, perfectly cooked dinners and flawless families. In reality, we are all doing our best…to do our best. One thing that will de-rail our “best” in a hurry is stress. It is very common to hear from families of seniors dealing with “role reversal” that it is one of the most stressful tasks they have ever endured. It’s one thing to raise and help our children…but when it comes to helping our parents…this is no easy task. We don’t want to disrespect, but we also want to keep them safe. Here are some tips to help you be proactive and avoid making situations frustrating for both you and your loved ones.
Don’t forget your Vitamin ZZZZZ
It sounds simple, but get your sleep! According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health, and safety. The Foundation advises: “When we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to “pay back” if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior.” Getting a good night sleep is important to your health and will help you be more effective in helping others and that includes your elderly parents.
Track Down a Paper Trail
According to AARP, an important part of getting things untangled for your elderly parents is organizing paperwork and documentation. “The first thing to do is ask your parents where they store important papers. It may be in a file cabinet at home, or in a safety deposit box or with an attorney. You can’t get organized if you can’t find anything, so come up with a checklist to write down where everything is. Documents that should be assembled and accounted for include”:
- birth certificate
- marriage certificate
- death certificate (for deceased spouse)
- divorce papers
- military records
- driver’s license/organ donor card
- passport/citizen papers
- living will
- durable power of attorney
- health care power of attorney
- letter of instruction — with funeral arrangements, important contact information such as insurance agent or broker.
- insurance policies (life, disability, long-term care)
- information about safety deposit boxes (e.g., location, number, key)
Remember to Enjoy Each Other
In this fast-paced world that we all get caught up in, it seems we can lose sight of the things that are important. Yes, making sure that everyone is safe and sound is huge! But Mom may also really enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with you. Dad may want to talk about the weather. Take time to enjoy the blessings each day. These small moments together will become larger than life soon enough. Make time to take time and as my Mom reminds me when I feel I’m at my wits end…just breathe.
If it is time to help Mom or Dad look at the option of Assisted Living please give us a call today. We would love to have you and your loved one come have lunch with us and see all that our communities have to offer.
Get more information at www.greatoaksmanagement.com