Taking an aging parent to the ER

Anyone who’s ever cared for aging parents knows how stressful it can be, especially when there’s a medical crisis that requires a trip to the emergency room.

Because emotions can be running high in these situations, it’s wise for caregivers to be prepared, advises the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Among the ACEP’s suggestions to help smooth an emergency room visit for an older parent:

- Compile a medical history form ahead of time so you can bring it to the emergency room and give it to the physician. There’s an online form available at Emergency Care for You. It can be filled out with a list of your parents’ current medications, their allergies and any past and current medical conditions. You should also keep track of your parents’ surgeries, especially if they involve an implanted device such as a hip replacement or a pacemaker.

- Do you know the names of all the doctors your parents see? Their specialties? Their contact information? This is information that should be collected and written down so it can be available if needed.

- Put together your parents’ insurance and identification information on a single sheet of paper.

- Anticipate that your parent might have to be admitted to the hospital. Bringing a change of clothing and some personal items – even if you just leave them in the car – will help you be prepared for this possibility.

- Give some thought to a living will. Do your parents already have a living will? Do you know what their wishes are? An honest family discussion ahead of time, before you’re faced with a critical situation, can help pave the way if and when difficult decisions are called for. To get the discussion started, here’s some information from Rice Memorial Hospital on Minnesota health care directives.

Adult children might need to help their parents communicate with the doctor and nurses. Do your best to try to make sure your parents understand what’s happening. If a parent seems confused, explain to the doctor what your parent’s normal behavior is like. If the doctor is talking to you, make sure you’re talking to your parent. Be aware that older patients might downplay their symptoms to doctors or nurses, and be ready to supply more information if it’s needed.

Finally, be patient, because things don’t always happen quickly in the emergency room. Bring a book or newspaper to read while you’re waiting. Based on recent family experience, I’d also recommend a cell phone in case you need to call siblings, other relatives, employers, a neighbor or whomever.

Even if your parents are relatively young and healthy, chances are they’ll eventually end up needing emergency care for something. Emergency room visits by the elderly are growing faster than for any other age group, and could exceed 11 million a year by 2013.

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