Be ER Prepared: Seniors

Prepare in advance. The best senior tip for going to the Emergency Room is to prepare in advance when you are calm and can view things in an organized manner. This kind of advanced preparation will allow you to meet your emergency efficiently and with less anxiety.

Keep a good summary of your important medical information handy.  Prepare a small wallet card that contains your vital identification and medical treatment information. With the help for your physician or a simple call to the hospital you can establish what information is required of patients coming to the emergency room. Ordinarily it is good to include your insurance cards, a small file card with a list of your medications and dosages, and your primary physician’s name and phone number. Also helpful to the Emergency Room would be a card with any unusual medical conditions you may have such as allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure, or pace maker. During a visit to the Emergency Room you may be fully conscious but your anxiety may keep you from providing this information without a reminder card.

Knowing that all of these identifying materials are safely stored in one location in your wallet or pocketbook will mean no last minute scrambling to find the needed materials. Good advanced preparation means that nothing that you can control will interfere with the prompt and appropriate medical management of your health issue.

Know how to get there.  In an emergency situation, your ability to function may be impaired.  Put a card near your telephone that says EMERGENCY CALL 911 (or other local emergency numbers).   Also write the phone numbers of two people you can call if your Emergency Room trip does not require emergency transport. You may never use the numbers but seeing them near the phone reminds you of how well prepared you are and should give you a deserved sense of security. Writing 911 and numbers that you think you know by heart may prove useful if your emergency situation interferes with your memory.

Along with the numbers you may also want to list the directions that will assist anyone transporting you to get you to your hospital Emergency Room quickly with your appropriate medical cards and identification.

Have a plan for getting home.  Make arrangements with a friend or family member to be available to take you home, if need be.  Be sure to have any necessary mobility aids handy.  Don’t forget your keys!

Bring somebody with you. It’s likely that when you go to the ER, you won’t be feeling your best and your concentration and focus will be suffering as a result. It’s always a good idea to bring somebody with you — a spouse or a trusted friend — who can help answer questions about your condition and remind you of any information the medical team gives you during the assessment and about your treatment plan.

Ask questions. Research has shown that if patients don’t speak up and ask, often doctors will assume patients understand or do not want to know.

On the other hand, doctors cannot know everything you are experiencing.  It is important to speak up and be as specific and detailed as you can be.  Both patient and doctor need to communicate openly and ensure a free flow of information. Questions should include what medications you should resume at home and which new ones should you take, what symptoms should prompt a visit back to the ER, and when to follow up with your family doctor.  Your doctor will want to know how your health is normally, and when things took the turn for the worse that made you come to the hospital.  Try to think of how long your symptoms have lasted, where they are located.  If you have had tests done recently, your doctor will want to know why they were done, when they were done, and what the results were.  Please bring copies of any medical reports you may have.

Know your allergies.

Know the names of your doctors, including specialists, and what they help you with. 

Be aware of when you last ate or drank.  In some situations you might need surgery, and it will be important to plan the operation for when you have an empty stomach.

Bring a list of your medications or bring the pill bottles. Certain drug allergies or interactions can harm or even kill you. To begin treatment, doctors will ideally need to find out about all the medications you’re taking.   Take note of all of the medications you are currently using – quoting the correct names and dosages — on a card that you keep in your wallet.  Or, throw your medications into a bag and take them to the hospital.

Repeat to the doctor in your own words what is wrong and what your at-home treatment plan is before you leave.  This gives both you and the doctor the opportunity to ensure that you have an accurate understanding and it will help you retain the information.  Take notes if possible.  Do not leave the ER until you fully understand what happened, what is wrong, what your care should be and when to follow up with your family doctor.

Bring comfort items. Bottled water, hand sanitizer, tissues, an extra sweater, healthy snacks and cash for the cafeteria or vending machines could all come in handy during a long wait.

Bring something to read. It will help the time pass and may relieve some anxiety by taking your mind off your surroundings.

Try to be understanding. The ER have to treat the sickest people first.  That person may not be you.  That said, ER staff are doing their best to get to you quickly and they will be responsive to any change in your condition.  If your pain is worsening, for instance, let the staff know of the change in your status since your check-in.

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