Emergency Planning for Seniors: Simple to Do, Critical in a Crisis

What if a crisis should strike an elderly person living alone, or a senior couple who lives in their own home? No one likes to think that it will happen, but inevitably it does, says WRAL in a useful article titled “Having an emergency plan critical for safety and health of seniors.” It’s good to stay calm—and it’s even better to stay calm and quickly access the information and resources that could make the difference between life and death.

Sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

Why should you know how you’ll react in a crisis? The best way, say aging experts, is to think about the situation and the different parts in advance. Knowledge is power, and nowhere is this truer than in emergency situations.

Start by discussing health concerns with your doctor. When should you call the office, and when should you call 911? What is a normal ache or pain, and what kind of pain or sudden change signals an emergency?

If you are not sure what you or a loved one is feeling, call 911. There’s no need to hesitate because you’re not sure about whether it’s an emergency. Dispatchers are trained to identify emergencies and they can assess the situation quickly, even if you can’t.

One thing we should all have, regardless of our age, is a printed-out list of medications, diagnoses, names and phone numbers of medical providers and family contact information. This should be kept in a place where emergency responders and family members will have access to it quickly. EMS workers may not have time to review your medicine chest or a stack of bottles on the night table, but they will need to know what medications you are taking. A list—and one that you keep current—could save your life.

As a crisis unfolds, another list becomes important: documents from your estate plan. That includes your general power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and DNR (Do Not Resuscitate, if that is appropriate in your situation). The health care power of attorney will cover any health care decisions that arise, and the general power of attorney will cover financial, business and personal decisions.

Copies of these designations should be kept easily at hand at home. Make sure to tell the people you have appointed that you have done so, and what the expectations are for them.

Plans for what happens after the emergency has passed the crisis stage should be discussed, also preferably in advance. If the emergency was a fall or the senior is no longer capable of living independently, there may need to be changes made to the senior’s living situation. Rather than being forced to make a fast decision about a new living situation after an emergency, devote time to touring independent or assisted living communities to make a transition to a new home easier, than doing so in haste.

Identifying possible future living arrangements in advance also provides the opportunity to make the necessary financial arrangements. The hope is to prevent the senior from feeling like they’ve abruptly gone from the comfort and familiarity of their own home to a new and unwelcoming environment with no advance notice.

Preparing for a crisis in the short and long term may require some difficult conversations, but with the right care and planning, it may make life easier and more pleasant for the senior and the family.

Reference: WRAL (Jan. 2, 2019) “Having an emergency plan critical for safety and health of seniors”