Emergency Preparedness: Caregiver Tips for the Elderly

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 11/29/2017

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An emergency, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an “unforeseen combination of circumstances…that calls for immediate action.” Emergency preparedness for caregivers can save you from not knowing what to do when your elderly loved one is facing a dangerous or life-threatening situation. Keep in mind that no matter what the emergency, a crucial element of emergency preparedness is being ready to call 9-1-1.

Emergency preparedness: painkiller overdose

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015 more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription painkillers, also called opioids. The most common prescription opioids involved in these overdose deaths include Methadone, OxyContin (oxycodone), and Vicodin (hydrocodone). According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, all of these drugs may cause life-threatening breathing problems.

One step of emergency preparedness is to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of a painkiller overdose. If your loved one is experiencing slowed breathing, long pauses between breaths, or shortness of breath, call your doctor and get emergency medical treatment immediately. You should also get emergency medical care if Vicodin use causes extreme sleepiness, unresponsiveness, and unusual dizziness and lightheadedness. Other symptoms of a prescription painkiller overdose include narrow or widened pupils, cold, clammy, or blue skin, and loss of consciousness/coma.

Emergency preparedness: heat exhaustion

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults are more vulnerable to heat stress and do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. Untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is potentially fatal, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you know that high temperatures are in the forecast, you can take steps for emergency preparedness and make sure your loved one is drinking enough water, has access to air conditioning, knows how to keep cool, and is not showing any signs of heat stress. Signs of heat exhaustion according to the Mayo Clinic include faintness or dizziness, nausea or vomiting, a weak rapid pulse, muscle cramps and weakness or fatigue.

Emergency preparedness: falling

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in people 65 and older. A simple trip on a rug or slip on a wet floor could result in a hip fracture, broken wrist, or life-threatening head injury. To help your loved one avoid falls, encourage him or her to get up slowly, recommends the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Also encourage the use of canes and walkers to help prevent falls. Be aware of medication side effects that may cause dizziness, limit alcohol consumption, and be sure your loved one gets enough sleep. One more step of emergency preparedness and fall prevention is to get your loved one’s eyes and ears tested. Small changes in sight and hearing may contribute to falls, according to NIA.

Emergency preparedness: wandering

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are very common among seniors. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (ALZ), one in three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. If your loved one has dementia, he may wander, which is dangerous for someone with dementia and means you need an emergency preparedness plan. According to ALZ, six in ten people with dementia will wander. Someone who strays away from home might become disoriented and not remember his name or address. The good news is that 94% of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared, according to ALZ. People who wander generally follow the direction of their dominant hand, so if the person is left-handed, look left and if she is right-handed, head right. Provide the person with ID jewelry, suggests ALZ, and keep a recent close-up photo to give to the police. Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone and suspect she’s wandering. You also can use devices that signal when a door is opened, such as a bell or an alarm. See more about wandering at the ALZ website.

You can also learn more about caregiver tips on preparing for natural disasters.

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