Here is a checklist of basic tasks to prepare your parents' home for paramedics:
• Medical alert system
• Home address sign and lighting
• Lock box / Code Box / Spare Key
• Contact List / Medication List / Doctor List
• Special circumstances – Dementia, Alzheimer's, special impairments
• Overnight Bag
First, and most essential to your parents' safety – invest in a medical alert system that contacts emergency medical help with the push of a button. Medical alert systems come in different forms – they can be worn around the neck, as a bracelet (like a watch), and some keep it in their pocket – but their purpose is that if your parent falls or has an emergency, help is literally one touch away. Over two million elderly people are treated for injuries in the emergency room due to falls each year.
Also – this may seem obvious, but make sure your parents' home address is clearly and easily visible from the street. The number sign and name of the street should be easy and clear to read for the paramedics, especially in the dark. Is the street well-lit at night? Consider installing extra lighting in front of the home. Make sure the address sign and the path to the door or garage are well-lit and easily read by paramedics driving on an unfamiliar street trying to find your parents' home. Lost seconds count in an emergency.
Then, make sure your parents' home is accessible – consider investing in a lock box, a garage code, or leaving a key with a trusted neighbor or family friend. Paramedics will respond quickly to help your parent, but they must be able to get into the home without your parent opening the door. The classic commercial “I've fallen, and I can't get up” is all too real and happens all too often with the elderly. If your parent lives in an apartment or assisted living facility, the facility often has a code box specifically for firefighters and paramedics that allows them to put in a special code for entry. Ask the facility if you need to know that code in case of emergency, or if it's already provided. Do what you can to help first responders to get to your parents quickly.
Next, consider writing up an emergency contact list to post on the refrigerator (or another obvious spot accessible and visible to paramedics). This contact list will ideally have names and emergency phone numbers of caregivers, neighbors, or other adults who are responsible, reachable and can speak on your parents' behalf in the event of an emergency – should your parents become incapacitated or otherwise unable to speak for themselves. Check this list periodically and update it regularly.
Then, make a list of all current medications and dosages that your parent is taking, along with doctors, phone numbers, and pharmacy information, and place on the refrigerator as well. Make a copy of this list for yourself in case of questions. Paramedics may ask if a person is diabetic or is taking insulin, and having a list of current medications and dosages will help greatly to avoid confusion and aid in their treatment of your parent.
Clearly note the following impairments in a visible place where paramedics will see it easily: if your parent has dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, any form of mental illness, is bedbound, hearing/vision/speech impaired, or intellectually disabled. Also make sure that all of these impairments are on file with the medical alert system so that paramedics can respond appropriately and give your parent appropriate care and treatment. Here are some other links to assist in preparing for emergencies with dementia and other more advanced situations.
Finally, consider putting together an “overnight bag” for your parent and keep it in the closet, or on a hook by the door. This overnight bag is 'just in case' your parent is admitted into the hospital or a skilled nursing facility. You can place a copy of the Emergency Contact List, a copy of the Current Medications, a change of clothes, stash a cell phone and charger, copies of insurance cards, house keys, and anything else that is essential to have for a few days. The overnight bag is the “grab and go” bag in cases of emergency.
- Happy Walking