• Meg Pemberton

Less Stressful ER Visits

Nothing gets the heart beating faster than a phone call in the middle of the night. Rarely do they bring good news.

No matter the ring tone, the sound will have you bolt upright and mentally ticking off each loved one on the checklist. You don’t recognize the caller ID. Where are each of your children? If you’re caring for elderly parents, where are they? With dread you answer the phone. An all too perky, for the middle of the night, healthcare provider is on the phone. Your Mom or Dad is in the ER and your stress level has just soared through the roof. We can never truly be ready for an emergency. They are sudden and unexpected. However, there are a few easy steps you can take to ensure less stressful ER visits for your elderly parents.



The ER Visit Kit


On arrival to the ER, you and your parent will be met with a lot of questions. If your parent is unable to answer for themselves, you’ll need to be able to answer for them. So, it’s important that you be familiar with the following items (listed below). Additionally, you should have copies of each item with you. Collect the information noted and have ready to share in easily identifiable and readable documents.

  • Allergies to medications.

  • A list of all current medications.

  • Advanced Directive and/or Do Not Resuscitate order if applicable.

  • Primary Care Physician’s name and contact information.

  • Names and contact information for any other doctors your parent sees.

  • A brief medical history. This doesn’t need to be heavy in detail. Include chronic health conditions, any acute illnesses or events, and surgeries. With today’s technology, the ER physician will be able to access further details easily.

  • Contact information for one member of the family who will be responsible for sharing information with the rest of the family. Ideally this is your parent’s Medical Power of Attorney (more on this below). The nurses and physicians in the ED and on the nursing units don’t have time to call every member of the family to share information and updates.

Creating an ER Visit Kit can be very helpful. It doesn’t need to be large. The information can easily fit in a sturdy envelope. You can expand the kit to further meet your parent’s needs by adding an overnight bag with a change of clothing and personal care items. Have these items prepared and keep them in an easily accessed location in your home. A second kit can be at the ready in your parent’s home.  Depending upon their circumstances they may remember to take it with them. Additionally, ensure your siblings have copies of the documents. You may wish to keep copies at work too. I did and they came in handy more than once.



Prepare to Advocate


If you’re the one responding to the ER, by default because you are closest or because you are their caregiver, be prepared to advocate for your parent. My dad who had Alzheimer’s disease could not speak for my mother when she was in the ER. I was able to do so. Advocacy ranges from simple support to championship and even to assertion. An advocate can ensure appropriate care is provided in a timely manner. No, you don’t have to be a medical professional to do so and this is not an indictment of emergency rooms. However, an ER is a busy, chaotic place. If your parent is seemingly stable yet confused or impatient he or she may not get the necessary care without your calm, persistent advocacy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If something doesn’t feel right say it out loud. This is your loved one and they deserve the best.


In an earlier blog, I shared information regarding advanced directives including assignment of a medical power of attorney (MPOA). This is also known as Health Care Proxy, Health Care Surrogate, or Durable Medical Power of Attorney. The title and form used to designate an MPOA differ from state to state. Access the Virginia state form here. Talk with your parents, have them designate a MPOA and get it in writing. The MPOA is recognized as the person to speak for your parent regarding their healthcare wishes and decisions when they cannot. As my parent’s MPOA I was able to advocate for their care. In my mother’s last days, the house doctor wanted to send her to the ICU for intubation, something she did not want. I was able to intervene and ensure she remained comfortable while her wishes were honored.



Preparation Equals Less Stressful ER Visits


Being prepared for the day to day experience of life can and does lead to less stress. However, we can mitigate the stress. We set our alarm clocks so we can get up on time rather than be late. We prepare our clothes the night before. Prior to an important meeting, we can prepare documents and practice what we will be presenting. Our children study for upcoming tests in school. Preparing for an emergency is not quite as simple. Rather, it is about preparing for what might be needed. Even then we can never be entirely sure of what to have on hand. However, a MPOA with an ER Visit Kit is can put you on the right path. It is possible to have less stressful ER visits for your elderly parents.

Fredericksburg, Stafford, Caroline, King George, and Spotsylvania
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