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What Happens When Your Aging Parent Has No Emergency Plan?

Preparing for natural disasters is one thing. We are urged by local government to plan for them. But what about the crises that are nearly inevitable with aging parents? They can turn into disasters too. No one wants to think about that possibility, but it’s real. Planning for emergencies is basic and essential. And few actually do have a plan.

Take Marie for an example. She’s a family member in her mid 70s, widowed, with two adult sons. Both live out of Marie’s state, hours away by plane. Marie supports the older one, as he has never been successful in earning a living for long. The younger one is a newlywed, deeply involved in buying a house and starting a family. We visited Marie recently and I asked the question: “What would you do in an emergency, such as an accident, a fall or medical crisis?” She pointed to my husband and said “I’d call him”. I commented that we, too, lived far away and that would not work in a crisis. She said she would wait until there was an emergency and she’d figure it out then.

This is typical thinking. Denial. It won’t happen to me. I’ll be fine. I can handle it all on my own. I don’t need to actually do anything until there is a crisis. What is problematic is that during a crisis, one can’t count on being able to “figure it out”. It just might be that your aging parent’s thinking is impaired in the midst of an accident or health emergency. If your aging parent falls, for example, and gets knocked out, the person who discovers this will call 911. The paramedics will take her or him to the nearest emergency room. No one will know whether there is family, or how to reach them. Days can go by before you find out. Busy hospital staff are not going to do an internet search for you, even in the unlikely event that your name is found with your aging parent’s belongings they have on them when the emergency happens. What can adult children do to prevent an emergency from becoming an even worse disaster?

You can take simple steps to create a plan. First, ID bracelets can be personally engraved with 3 or 4 lines of critical information such as year of birth, crucial emergency data such as “diabetic” or “heart disease” and your aging parents’ emergency contact information for YOU. Consider getting one. They can readily be found online. It’s something like the concept of a dog tag military personnel have.

Second, you can post your aging parents’ emergency contact information on the refrigerator, near the front door or in a prominent place a paramedic could easily see if he or she has to make a call to your loved ones’ home.

Finally, you can discuss whether your aging parent would agree to wear a device such as a bracelet or pendant that will allow immediate contact to a call center in the event of a fall or other disruption. With some, the elder has to be able to press a button to call for help. If it is a sophisticated device with a gyroscope in it that will sense a fall, the emergency service will call your aging parent when that alarm goes off. The elder does not have to press anything. Some aging parents will refuse to wear them. (I had a mother in law like that. She was 88 before she would agree). Some can be persuaded, which can give you more peace of mind.

Every adult child with an aging parent one needs to consider how things would go in an emergency if your loved one is unable to call you. Creating a plan is not complicated. Everyone should do this. If you do, you can avert the numerous disasters that we see at AgingParents.com when no one thought ahead. Aging parents may need bit of persuasion. You can mention that having a plan will avoid putting an unnecessary burden on you.

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