Making Eldercare Easier for Caregivers

Living Independently as Octogenarians

Eighty-seventh birthday celebration
Eighty-seventh birthday celebration

The phone rang and the quavery voice said, "We've had a little accident over here." These few words always send adrenaline surging into my system. As caregiver to my mother and her older sister, we are the first point of contact when something goes wrong.

When the phone rang in 1991 and I heard those frightening words for the first time, we immediately rushed over to Mom's house to evaluate the situation. We discussed whether we should call an ambulance or just take her to the emergency room ourselves. We made the wrong decision.

I learned that day not only is it dangerous to transport an injured senior, but when we arrived at the hospital, we were treated to a long wait behind others who either looked worse or who had arrived by medical transport.

At the Doctor's Office

Waiting in the cold
Waiting in the cold

"I've fallen and I can't get up..."

Bad Call

Another time we made the wrong decision was on New Year's Eve. The phone rang early that morning - never a good sign - when Mom called and asked me to come help her get a shower. She told me she fell in the bathroom during the middle of the night and lay on the floor until morning.

The timbre of her voice immediately told me something was very wrong. I should have called an ambulance that very moment. Instead, we bundled her up against the cold January wind and drove her to the emergency room. Due to it being a holiday, they were understaffed. We sat in the ER waiting for treatment from noon until eight o'clock that night, eight long hours surrounded by others who were equally sick, coughing and spreading germs.

During those long hours, the staff would not allow me to give her anything to drink, not even an ice chip until the doctor could examine her. When we were finally called to the back, the doctor began to lecture us on the fact that the patient was seriously dehydrated and running a fever. You can imagine my response.

She's lived in her house since 1991. It's less than two minutes away from mine.
She's lived in her house since 1991. It's less than two minutes away from mine.

Hello in There

After those emergencies, it made sense to put together a few necessary items into a dedicated medical information bag. This bag comes in handy when the ambulance gets there or when you arrive at the hospital. The paramedics ask questions that the hospital staff asks again and the nursing staff later asks for the same information if the patient is admitted. Having the answers handy saves time and reduces some of the stress.

  • Make a photocopy of the patient's Medical Insurance Card, front and back. The card has the necessary phone numbers, insurance policy number and member's identification number. Put the copy into the bag dedicated for emergencies.
  • Also enclose a copy of the patient's photo identification in the bag.

These are the first two things they usually ask to see. The ambulance drivers often take the patient's insurance and identification cards with them en route to the hospital. Giving the drivers a photocopy can minimize loss of the patient's original cards.

Medical Information Bag for Emergencies

Having all the information together in one place is helpful in reducing stress.
Having all the information together in one place is helpful in reducing stress.

Tips for Emergencies

Having a prepared list of essential phone numbers is important. In case your cell phone battery runs low or if you forget to bring it along, this ensures you'll have these numbers close at hand.

  • Pick up two business cards from the Doctor's office during their next visit. One is for your wallet and one is for the bag.
  • Gather the phone numbers of their doctors, minister, friends of the patient and their relatives.
  • Carry along a small notebook to jot down important news. Rather than scramble for a blank piece of paper, you'll be able to write down instructions and take notes when the doctor arrives.

When my husband was admitted to the hospital prior to surgery, he was taking an enormous amount of prescription medications. Rather than try to remember this long list, we prepared an Excel spreadsheet with the information: medication names, doses and frequencies. Several printed copies went into the bag. The admissions clerks, nurses and doctors were extremely grateful to get a copy of this detailed list.

  • Include a list of prescription medications that your senior takes, along with the frequency and exact dosages in the bag.
  • Make a list of all known allergies or reactions to medication they've taken in the past.
  • List any over-the-counter medicines they take regularly.

Having a prepared list will save you from repeating this information to paramedics, ambulance drivers, doctors and nursing staff.

Make a List of Current Daily Medications

List all prescription medications the patient is taking daily along with any over the counter pills.
List all prescription medications the patient is taking daily along with any over the counter pills.

What Surgeries Has the Patient Had?

It's often necessary to list the dates of any previous hospital stays and the outcome, and whether the patient was admitted, along with a list of all surgeries the patient has undergone.

  • Prepare a List of previous surgeries, the types and the dates,

For example: Appendectomy - 1975; Left Hip, Replacement Surgery - 1991

It's a good idea to question your senior about this information before an actual emergency in case they're confused or unconscious.

Make a List of all Previous Surgeries

A list of the patient's surgeries along with the date and type of medical issues is important.
A list of the patient's surgeries along with the date and type of medical issues is important.

Are you one of those known as the Sandwich Generation - caregivers of parents and parents of children?

See results without voting

More Items for the Bag

Most of these items are handy to have and can be found at the dollar store.

  • Add a good book for long waits at the hospital and to avoid the germ laden, out-of-date magazines in the waiting room.
  • Pack some bottled water and packages of crackers or cookies. When your wait is long you'll be glad you did. It never fails, if you leave the room even for a minute to go to the cafeteria, that's when a medical person comes in with an update.
  • Wet wipes and travel sized hand sanitizer
  • A package of tissues for tears or runny noses.
  • A new toothbrush and travel size toothpaste in the bag. This is for you.
  • Packets of artificial sweetener, salt and pepper, and plastic spoons. Sometimes a vending machine has food available but there are no utensils or condiments.
  • A clean pair of cotton socks to wear in those cold waiting rooms at the hospital.

Bring Along the Medical Equipment

Be sure to bring along the patient's wheel chair or walker to use during their hospital stay.
Be sure to bring along the patient's wheel chair or walker to use during their hospital stay.

Those Were the Days

If you decide to drive your senior to the hospital, be sure to bring along any portable medical equipment they use, like oxygen. When my Dad became critically ill, he refused to go to the hospital by ambulance so we drove him to the emergency room.

In our haste, we left his portable oxygen at home. Naturally the ER was overflowing with people and he had a dreadfully long wait before they finally admitted him to intensive care. Every gasping breath without his oxygen was a nightmare.

If your senior is admitted into the hospital, you'll likely want to talk with the attending doctor. Sometimes they make their rounds near midnight so you could be waiting a while. Once you spend hours in the emergency room waiting for X-rays, blood work and other procedures, you'll want to stick around and find out what's going on with your senior friend or relative.

In the hopeful possibility that your senior is not admitted, you'll want to bring their walker or wheelchair in your car when you follow the ambulance to the hospital. They'll need these items when they're ready to go home.

Taking a few moments ahead of time to assemble an emergency medical travel bag can reduce some of the stress that goes hand in hand with any trip to the hospital. The best hope is that you won't ever need it.

Centennial Medical Center

A markerCentennial Medical Center -
12505 Lebanon Rd, Frisco, TX 75035, USA
[get directions]

The Final Word

Here's one last word of advice in case you lose the ambulance you're trying to follow. Be sure you know the address and route to where your senior has been taken. Good luck and I hope you never need these tips.

© 2009 Peg Cole

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Comments 45 comments

mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 7 years ago

Great tips. I need to get to work getting things gathered together!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you mulberry. Best of luck to you and yours.

fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

These are such great tips. I would have never thought of this, had I not read this hub. I don't have that responsibility, but who knows when it will happen. Back in 2001, my mother had open heart surgery, and I wish that I'd had this bit of advice then. Very very good hub, one to bookmark.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

fastfreta, you know then after experiencing your mother's hospital stay that every patient needs someone to look over them while they are there. Things happen. Thank goodness you were her advocate during that stay.

Here's hoping that you won't need these emergency room tips any time soon. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

sabbatha1 profile image

sabbatha1 7 years ago from

These are really great tips. Thanks for sharing the information. While I am attending Medical School it really helps me alot to get useful information.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Sabbatha1, I admire your dedication and career choice and pleased that you found useful information here. Thank you for reading and taking your valuable time to comment.

TJ Stephens profile image

TJ Stephens 6 years ago from Burnsville, MN

Great advice for someone caring for an elderly relative. Thanks. Very helpful.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

TJ, Thanks for stopping by. Hope you won't need any of this advice anytime soon. I recently had to use my er kit and found that I need to update the Prescription Rx lists in there. It really helps just to hand these lists to the paramedics when they arrive. Guess I better get busy typing.

stars439 profile image

stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Very good advice. We went through it all many times with my mother and father. God Bless You.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you stars439. It's never the same twice is it? Each time I learn something new. God bless you with your specific challenges as well!

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

A marvelous hub full of very valuable information. Thank you. Rated up and awesome!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Coach - Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Cheers.

Fluffy77 profile image

Fluffy77 5 years ago from Enterprise, OR

Great hub, we are doing this very same thing here at our home. Caring for my Grandpa and Dad both disabled. Mom and I are both Certified nurse assistants and worked at our local elders home here in our very small country town until budget cuts forced them to shut there doors. Pray, that our votes push for the building of our new one here. Great read, voted you up!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Fluffy77, My heart goes out to you in your situation. I hope that a new window opens soon up for you. And May God Bless you and your Mom for the work that you do for our elders. I will pray things get better in your small town. Thank you so much for your comments and for stopping by to read this.

Healthexplorer 3 years ago

Emergency rooms are more helpful and especially designed for providing beneficial health care services during emergency hours. Here we get some beneficial points that are applicable for a patient in an emergency room. I would like to collect the whole details and tips from this hub.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you. Hope you found some details of value here. Nice of you to stop in.

Healthexplorer 3 years ago

We get beneficial health care service in emergency room and health care organizations are also contribute a lot to established a perfect platform that deliver positive health care results especially to seniors. After Obamacare/Affordable Healthcare Act we have witnessed various programs are introduced at regular intervals to give better care to senior.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Healthexplorer. Thanks for stopping in with your input. I'm not familiar with increased programs for better care that have been implemented under Obamacare. For a fact, their primary care physicians are doing more paperwork just to renew the medicines these ladies have been prescribed for years like blood pressure medicine and synthroid. Nice of you to share your positive experiences. Thank you.

moonlake profile image

moonlake 2 years ago from America

Great tips. I have always had a spreadsheet on our medications and our health records so at least we had that recently when we had to go to emergency room. When we went to the hospital recently never knowing my husband would be staying we were so unpepared for what was coming. I threw clothes in a suitcase to head to a hospoital miles away from us and forgot most of what I needed. I packed for three days and I needed 12 days of clothing. Hospital Emergency Bag is so important and I have learned my lesson and will have one now, but you have some good ideas I never thought of. I have started a binder for him and it is getting full fast. I also try to put notes in my iphone right after we talk to the doctor so that I don't forget what was said. I have been packing today and we will be heading out tomorrow for the starting of 5-6 weeks of chemo and radiation for him.

Your right always best to call ambulance for a senior in many cases.

Voted up on your important information. Thanks for sharing.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Moonlake. I'm sorry to hear about your husband being admitted into the hospital. It is so true, that in the middle of an emergency it's hard to remember all the medical info or remember their prescription history without some notes. Putting notes into your Iphone is a great idea. My phone burns through the battery charge so quickly I can't trust that it will be useable when needed unless I bring the charger.

Thanks for your valuable comments and the visit today. I hope your family gets well quickly.

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Such a useful hub for those of us with elders-very practical and empathetic--

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Audrey. So nice to see you pop in today. I haven't seen you in a while. Thanks for the visit and the kind words.

Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas

Good advice and suggestions. A situation like this is bad enough without having to try and remember so many things and having the lists and bag all ready to go can be such a help.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you, Au fait. It has helped me in the past. Thanks for dropping in and for your support.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is excellent advice Peg. Even if our older relatives are already gone, as we age it might also be helpful to have those types of things written down for the "what if" situations in life.

Arriving by ambulance does put one ahead of all of those who walk or are wheeled in to the emergency room with help from their family members. We learned that the hard way with my mother one time who...after a loooooooong wait in the ER...was finally admitted. That tip alone is worth sharing!

Will tweet, G+, pin and share with my HP followers.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W. I appreciate your input and support on these suggestions for elder care. Sorry to hear about your mother's long wait at the ER. I know what you mean. I sure learned a valuable lesson from that New Year's eve visit we made to the Emergency Room. Despite the outrageous cost of the ambulance, we know now that we don't want to spend 8 hours waiting while being exposed to the flu and all sorts of other maladies.

Thanks so much for your visit, tweet, G+ and for sharing.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

Bravo to you for caring for your mom and aunt so they do not have to go into a facility and for sharing these tips so other caregivers can benefit from what you've learned. This is an invaluable post for anyone who wants to keep their loved one out of so-called care homes. Am linking it to my post on Elder Care Attorneys if you have no objection.

Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 2 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

Thanks. I needed this. This is good information. I hope I can avoid some situations. Forewarned is forearmed.

lrc7815 profile image

lrc7815 2 years ago from Central Virginia

What an awesome hub. Although I have progressed past the stage of waiting for the phone call that alerts me to a disaster at home, we still get them from the assisted living facility. My heart still jumps into my throat. The idea of an emergency bag is terrific. I carry a flash drive with medical history and medication list on it and a small hard-shell wallet with the photo id and insurance cards in it. Copies in a bag or notebook are a good idea too. I sympathize with your situation and remember all too well how hard it was when Mom and Dad were still at home. The time came a year ago for us to move them. It was hard but now is such a relief knowing they are no longer alone and have trained personnel 24 hours a day to handle those emergencies.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello RTalloni, Thanks for wanting to link this one to your hub. Your article looks like a good resource for those in the role of caregivers. We met with an Eldercare Attorney about 10 years ago and drew up the necessary documents (power of attorneys, living wills etc.) that have helped so much in dealing with agencys like hospitals, insurance companies and doctors over these years.

We managed to keep Mom and Auntie at home until this past March 2014 when Louise took a bad fall and I asked someone come in to look after Mom for a month. She confirmed my fears that Mom's memory is fading to the point of being dangerous. In November, Mom nearly had a major disaster when she left something cooking on the stove and a raging grease fire resulted.

It was a difficult decision to move them into assisted living recently. They now have new friends and social activities, beautiful surroundings, freshly prepared meals and twenty-four hour care by a loving staff at the facility. Mom said recently that she feels a sense of relief that her chores are at a minimum now. They've both put on weight which was a major concern as they were dangerously underweight at 100 pounds.

While it is true that many places have less than a caring staff and have poor conditions, I'm happy to report that they are receiving wonderful and attentive care where they have moved.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

I'm so glad you were able to keep your relatives home as long as you safely could, and especially that they are in a good care facility. As our society ages, these stories need to be told, good advice needs to be shared, and warnings about problems people can be faced with need to be discussed.

We were so glad to be able to keep my father and my husband's mother out of facilities prior to their deaths, mainly because it was their desire as well as ours that they not go into one. My mother, on the other hand, is a different story and as much as I do not wish for her to be in the situation she is in, I could not fight her choice when the hospital staff and social workers offered to settle her in a facility.

She now regrets it, but she has been a prescription drug addict for too long to change at her age. She chose to give everything to the government's medicaid system in order to get this "medical care". It has all been eye-opening business for me. Those facilities are apparently a completely different story than the one your mother and aunt are in.

Thanks again for sharing your info and opening up the discussion so people can read about even more experiences and share yet more good tips.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

RT, I was hesitant to get social services for Mom until the last 6 months for fear that they would deem her situation as unsuitable and unsafe, which it truly was, unfortunately. We held out for as long as we could.

If you ever have the time, you can read more personal accounts on my blog, the link to which is on my profile.

I'm sorry to hear about your Mom's situation. There are things that affect everyone's outcome so differently. We've seen many other places which are beautiful, yet staffed with cold, indifferent people. I'm truly grateful that we found a good place for my family to stay.

Thanks again for the wonderful conversation today. Hope to see you again soon.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Patsybell, So good to see you here today. I appreciate you letting me know that you found something of value here. Bless you.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Lrc7815, Thanks so much for adding this interesting comment to the discussion here. As I've recently learned, that is an incredibly difficult decision, one made with much sadness and tears, when it comes time. I've lived on the edge for years, waiting for that dreadful call, or worrying that I would be away and miss it. Mom said just today that she still misses her house and being in the neighborhood. I miss her, too, but I actually get to enjoy her company more often now than I did when I was handling all her shopping needs, bill prep, home maintenance, etc.. And she has people around the clock to look after her.

Your idea of carrying a flash drive with that info is great.

marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 2 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

"Sometimes you have to laugh so you won't cry." Oh, ain't that the truth, dear Peg...??

I feel better that you wrote this evergreen piece 5-years ago, as I am discovering it today. What a wonderful collection of essential information we all need to remember at times we can be frazzled, forgetful and just downright emotional...

I loved seeing the beautiful picture of Mom and Aunt Lou with their big smiles and that gorgeous birthday cake. So sad to see the shivers in the waiting room...and inexcusable...loving the stylish safari tote!

Voted UP and UABI and sharing. Love you and to the girls as well, mar

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Mar, Wonderful to see your comment today. I recall that you recently spent an evening in the ER with "G". It is never the same twice and hopefully, not too often that we have to go. I'll bet we could both write a book on the experiences we've had during those visits.

Mom and Louise send their love to you as recently as yesterday when I visited. Mom said she never thinks to write a note to you but I explained that you would most certainly understand. Hugs back your way and thanks again for the sweet words this morning. Loveu 2.

marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 2 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Oh Peg, Please tell Mom I DO understand...and the fact that these sweet ladies ask after me brings tears to my eyes (don't tell her that...LOL) but it means the world to me... Loveumore...!!!

lrc7815 profile image

lrc7815 2 years ago from Central Virginia

Gosh, you have to live it to fully understand it, don't you? What a great job you have done to help others prepare for those frightening phone calls. We were lucky in our family that none of those calls resulted in injuries but it didn't make them any less frightening. Even though I only lived 5 miles away, it seemed like 500 miles when the calls came. I wish I had thought of having a travel bag on hand. What a great solution. Now my parents are both in assisted living. I still get the occasional phone call but knowing there is someone else on site takes away some of the panic. What a journey this is. Wishing you restful nights and peaceful days ahead. Thanks for the great tips.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Lrc7815, Linda. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and for sharing the story about your family's situation. Yes, that five miles can certainly seem like a long journey when the emergencies come up.

Mom and Auntie moved into an assisted living facility this year after a bad fall that put Louise in the hospital for a few days. I can tell that you understand what a tremendous relief it is to know that someone is with them now twenty-four hours a day. What a blessing that is, and even more so, that the caregivers are loving and thoughtful people.

Bless you for your continued dedication to your folks and for leaving such a wonderful message today.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 22 months ago from sunny Florida

This is so important. I was the caregiver for my Momma and Daddy the last years of their life and it was a learning curve.

So much of what you have shared is information that can make such a difference when medical care is needed. And the way you are treated in ER's (I don't know how it is now because I have not had to go for years, thank God) but the waiting was absurd, outrageous, and should be outlawed!!! if it has not improved.

I am sharing this and voting it up...everyone who has elderly family members needs to read this

Voted up+++ and shared

Please know that Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 22 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Patricia, thank you so much for your visit today. God bless you for taking care of your Momma and Daddy. Yes, it is a learning curve. So much that I didn't know about elder care I found out by trial and error.

Thankfully you have not been to the ER for a long while. It's never a good time, that's for sure. I appreciate your visit, reading and sharing and may the Angels visit you, too.

ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 16 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Hi PegCole17, These are very good tips you have presented in your article. I learned a lot taking care of my mom. I now keep a bag packed for myself in case of emergency. Great Hub. Stella

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 16 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Ladyguitarpicker, Bless you for taking care of your Mom. I'm glad you found something here that makes life a little easier.

marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 5 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

Wanted to stop by this evergreen hub - thinking of you and the ladies today, as I often do.

This AM Doc told me I made 'the best coffee he has ever had'...which got me misty eyed. I followed your excellent advice - he is loving his ice cream and milk shakes.

Please give hugs from me to 'Mom" and Aunt Louise. Love you, mar

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Mar, Nice to see you visiting the ladies here. They certainly ask about you often. I'm glad you've found a formula that inspires the Doc to take in some needed nutrition. When they get to the point of not eating, it is a huge concern. Our family physician cautioned me about Mom's weight when it dropped close to one hundred pounds. She had become too tired to cook properly and so their meals at home were insufficient. He said that once they drop below the one hundred mark it is usually downhill from there. She is fortunately eating properly again and is showing signs of improved health. I'm keeping the Doc in my prayers. Love your way. Peg

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