How to Prepare for a Medical Emergency with Elderly Parents

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We never want our elderly parents to experience a lapse in their care and well-being. Staying prepared for a medical emergency will give you peace of mind and ensure your parent receives optimal care at all times.

It started out fairly simply. I needed to take my youngest son to the ER. It wasn’t an “emergency” but it was the only way we could get an MRI to check his hydrocephalus without waiting for their next available appointment in three months.

Five hours after we arrived, a doctor came in. He discussed my son’s test results with the Neurosurgeon and they are ready to admit him. Seven days, multiple tests, and two surgeries later, we were finally released to go home.

We never want our elderly parents to experience a lapse in their care and well-being. Staying prepared for a medical emergency will give you peace of mind and ensure your parent receives optimal care at all times. #elderlyparent #sandwichgeneration #caregiving

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Always Be Prepared

One of the first things I did when I became a caregiver was prepare for emergencies such as this. My MIL’s care passed to me after the very unexpected death of my FIL.

He did not expect to be in the hospital more than a day or two. All I had after his death was a list of my MIL’s medicines. I didn’t know her conditions, her doctors, her routines, or her care plan. It took us over a year before I felt confident that we were on a path to health and wellbeing.

Related Post: Establishing Your Role As A Caregiver

I decided I would never leave my MIL’s health in such a precarious place or her caregiver in such absolute confusion. If something were to happen to me or I be called away, I want to ensure my MIL’s life would continue on as normally as possible.

How to Prepare for a Medical Emergency with Elderly Parents

To ensure I stay prepared, I created an emergency checklist. The list is divided into three main areas:

  1. Care Binder
  2. Important Items
  3. Important Phone Numbers

My goal for these preparations is to ensure that if I am not able to provide instructions to the person taking over the care of my MIL, there will be minimal, if any lapse in her care and well-being. I keep the checklist at the front of my care plan and specify where each of the individual items are located in our home.

Important Items to Keep on Hand

Care Binder

I keep both an electronic and paper binder with any information a caregiver might need.

Critical Information

Perhaps the most important section of my care binder is this section of critical information. This section includes the most necessary details of my MIL’s care including:

  • Her basic information: name, address, birthdate, basic medical stats, allergies, insurance, and emergency care wishes
  • An Emergency Room Checklist: items to bring, notification lists, services to suspend for extended stay, notes for cancellations and rescheduling appointments, arrangements for pets
  • Responsible People: those that make decisions (POA, Guardians, Attorney)
  • Home Emergency Information: 911 address, landlord, emergency contact, neighbors, police, fire, ambulance, emergency supplies, special instructions, home maintenance numbers
  • Important Personal Contacts: those that should be alerted in case of emergencies
  • Monthly Schedule Tracking Calendar: doctor appointments, calls to make, medication changes, prescription refills, activities

Caregiving Guide

The next section of my binder contains the information a caregiver would need to provide optimal care for my MIL.

  • Information about the caregiver(s)
  • Professional Service Providers: doctors, skilled nursing and rehab therapies, personal care, homemaking services
  • About the Elder: preferred name, social history and background, relationships, favorites, hobbies, topics of interest, preferences, daily routine overview
  • Self-care abilities and needs
  • Daily activity log

Medical Details

In this section I keep more detailed medical information.

  • Medical Record Keeping Kit
  • Details on physicians and specialists
  • Medication and pharmacy details
  • Health Log
  • Medical Information Details: diagnosis, dates, doctors, treatments/status
  • Important Medical Events
  • Important Tests (blood, CAT, x-ray, MRI, etc)


The final section of my binder is where I keep copies of important key documents and papers (POA, identification cards, living will/advance directive, life insurance, etc) banking information, legal information, account information, and end of life instructions.

This binder allows whoever might be caregiver in my stead to keep my MIL’s routines as normal as possible and ensures there will be no lapse in her care.

Related Post: Keeping Medical Records for Your Aging Parent Made Easy

Prescription Bottles

Even if you are using a pill sorter, you should always have the most recent prescription bottles. Aside from the obvious dosages and medication instructions, you can get a lot of information from a prescription bottle.

  • The doctor prescribing the medication and their phone number.
  • The pharmacy where medication records are kept.
  • Insight into conditions and symptoms.

Packed Hospital Bag

I wasn’t even a full-time caregiver when I learned the necessity of keeping a packed hospital bag. No one wants to try and pack a suitcase while trying to handle and emergency. I keep an extra set of everything my MIL uses in a typical day neatly packed in a small suitcase.

Home Healthcare Supply Kit

This kit has everything a home healthcare provider might need during a typical day.

  • First Aid Kit
  • Disposable Gloves
  • Drug Reference Book
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Thermometer and Covers
  • Scissors
  • Clorox Urine Spray
  • Paper Towels
  • Flashlight
  • Blood Sugar Monitor
  • Blood Pressure Monitor

Important Phone Numbers

You never want anyone to have to wrack their brain about who to call when emergencies happen. With a list of important phone numbers you won’t have to worry about leaving someone out.

Related Post: The Many Roles in Taking Care of An Aging Parent

  1. Next of Kin
  2. Primary Care Physician
  3. Medical Specialists
  4. Preferred Hospital
  5. Insurance Information
  6. Pharmacy
  7. Attorney
  8. Banks
  9. Pastor

When my FIL passed away so suddenly, we were left with a list of medications and a few scattered business cards. It took us almost two years to get my MIL’s health (mental, physical, and emotional) in a good place. My biggest regret is we weren’t more prepared for an emergency.

Keeping these things readily available and updated will go a long way in providing peace of mind for you and your family. When emergencies happen, you’ll have one less thing to worry about and can focus on getting the help you need because you’ve already taken care of the details.

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    1. I advise that you get a jump drive and have the doctor update your person’s medical records on it each time they have an appointment. Most doctors will do this for free or a nominal fee. Then you only need to grab the drive and go.

      A free prescription tracking program (such as Pillboxy) makes it easy to track medications, schedule medications, and email or download the medication list and schedules onto the ER computer. Some programs even allow you to add photographs of the pills and/or prescription bottle information. I found this very helpful when I was taking care of five chronically ill family members all at the same time.

      Many pieces of medical equipment, such as diabetes monitors and blood pressure monitors, are computerized and allow their files to be downloaded for reference. You can download these files to your jump drive also.

      I also made a big ” In Case Of Emergency” bulletin board with all meds, schedules, etc. and put it, my emergency binders, emergency kits, and the jumpdrives on the wall right by the entrance to the home, so ER personnel could easily find it if I or my family members were incapacitated and unable to speak.

      FEMA has some good info on emergency planning. They cover all kinds of emergencies and have some nice questionnaires to help you tailor your emergency plan.

    2. This is all excellent advice! I love the idea of carrying the jump drive to the doctor. I had not thought of that. Thank you!

    3. If you have become a caregiver suddenly, the best thing you can do is find an excellent general practitioner, one whose philosophy is to have your family member on as little medication as possible. Have the GP review all medications your family member is taking. Often an elderly person has several specialists he/she receives medication from for different conditions, and they are unaware of each other, resulting in different doctors prescribing the same medication (double dosing) or incompatible medications that may reduce or increase the effectiveness of a medication. The GP can then coordinate with or recommend specialist services in your area.

      If your family member is unable to tell you doctors’ information, look at the person’s prescription bottles. Get the doctors’ names and pharmacy info off the bottles, then look them up online or in a phone book. With a little sleuthing you can then contact their offices and obtain their records, as long as you have a medical Power of Attorney (POA). My parents were living in Houston, TX when my father became ill and I had to move them near me in Ohio. I was able to locate a couple of their doctors this way, and they helped greatly by faxing records directly to my parents’ new doctors. These doctors also were able to point me to hospitals where my parents had had procedures performed but couldn’t remember who performed them. I was able to get a more comprehensive medical history for my parents in this way.

      If the family member is a senior citizen, contact your local Agency for the Aging, and schedule for home services evaluations, even if the person does not currently need these services. The Agency for the Aging is a centralized point for many senior medical and home care and transportation services. These services are funded by tax monies at the federal, state, county, and local levels. AotA will evaluate both immediate and future needs, and perform these evaluations at the federal, state, county and city levels, and enter your family member’s data into a central database for these services. After the in-home evaluations re done, they may take from a week to several months to be processed through the various government agencies providing the different services. By getting all the evaluations done up front, your family member is in all systems and will only need additional services activated if his condition should suddenly worsen. The AotA is great – I only had to make one phone call to AtoA, and they made the arrangements for any service I needed.

      I also recommend calling AotA if your family member is not a senior citizen, because they are so interconnected to other government organizations that they can often point you to the correct org for your circumstances.

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