Just when you thought you had this caregiving thing under control and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, your loved one’s first medical emergency strikes.
For unprepared caregivers, this can often go one of two ways: they’ll panic, or they won’t recognize there is an emergency. In both cases, critical mistakes can be made, including raising their loved one’s stress levels and exacerbating their condition, giving them improper medications, or not seeking medical attention quickly enough.
“It’s understandable to panic when something is clearly wrong with your loved one,” says Lesley Vestrich, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Stuart, a Memory Care community in Stuart, Florida. “Being aware of the types of emergencies that can arise when caring for someone with memory loss and knowing how to communicate effectively with your loved one and their healthcare providers will buy valuable time needed for a proper diagnosis and treatment.”
In this post, we’ll explore four tips to help you assess and prepare for emergency medical situations your loved one may experience.
1. Know Their Norms
As their caregiver, you are keenly aware of your loved one’s normal day-to-day behaviors and actions. Your ability to observe their baseline moods and disposition, habits, and body language for changes will help determine if there is a potentially serious issue occurring.
This is important because a medical emergency may be subtle at first, and your loved one may be unable to verbalize that they are in pain. If your loved one is overly irritable or refusing to participate in daily activities, ask if they are in pain and look for signs of infection, injury, and other sources of physical distress. Are they constipated? Could they be suffering side effects of medications?
Your deep insight into your loved one’s typical behaviors will also help you explain to medical personnel that the behaviors they are currently exhibiting are not normal.
2. Stay Calm and Communicate Clearly
In the event of a medical emergency, you’ll want to keep a calm demeanor and tone in your voice to help keep your loved one calm. In turn, remaining calm will help you think and communicate more clearly so you can work together to get potentially lifesaving help quickly. Calm and clear communication will reassure your loved one you are there to help, and concise, pointed questions can elicit the vital information you need from them in the moment.
RELATED: Staying Calm in Non-Medical Emergencies. The Alzheimer’s Association has specific recommendations for handling emergencies such as hurricanes and other natural disasters. Having an evacuation plan in place can help keep you – and your loved one – calm in scary, high-stress, unexpected situations. If you need to move them to a safe location quickly, knowing where that is and how to get there in advance will enable you to do so without intensifying their fears. (Having a backup safe place and multiple routes planned can also save you both from being stranded in dangerous conditions should Mother Nature close bridges and roads or otherwise thwart Plan A.)
3. Be Your Loved One’s Advocate
Now that you know something isn’t right and you are remaining calm, you can much more easily be your loved one’s advocate by communicating their needs to first responders, nurses, and doctors. You can also advocate for them by advising medical staff how to interact with your loved one in a way they will understand and avoid potential triggers so they don’t become frightened, angry, or confused. You might encourage medical personnel to use eye contact when speaking to your loved one or explain how their body language will be read and interpreted.
For ER trips, NIH suggests having an emergency bag packed ahead of time to help facilitate prompt and safe treatment for your loved one and a more comfortable experience should they have a long wait in the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital. Items include copies of insurance cards, a list of medications, and advance directives for medical staff and comforting objects, changes of clothing, travel activities, and other necessities for your loved one.
4. Become an Armchair Expert
It’s not often you are encouraged to become an armchair expert on anything. Here’s your chance! One critical way to improve lifesaving communication with your loved one is to learn as much as you can about their existing medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) so you can recognize when they hit dangerous levels as well as spot new symptoms or conditions. Regularly assess your loved one’s cognitive impairment to help you determine if changes might be due to dementia advancement.
You’ll also want to learn everything you can about the signs and symptoms of strokes, cardiac emergencies, and other age-related medical risks so you can keep a close eye on your loved one for these red flags. Research now how to keep your loved one safe until help arrives, e.g., learn what to do – and what not to do – if they suffer a fall and ask your loved one’s doctor about safe medications to keep on hand in case of a heart attack.
There’s no time to lose when your loved one is experiencing a potential emergency. Knowing what to do and how to communicate effectively during a crisis can be a literal lifesaver and help both of you do what you need to do to get the help you need.
YourLife™ of Stuart helps families safely navigate at-home caregiving. Have questions? Call our experts today! 772-212-2448
Designed for You. Defined by You.
YourLife™ of Stuart was created with one purpose – to provide the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. As Memory Care specialists, we focus all our energy, attention, and resources on creating a community that caters to each resident’s personal needs, respects their choices and honors individuality while providing unmatched peace of mind and support for families.
Because Memory Care is our sole focus, we have the unique ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents. We see each resident as an individual, understanding that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities. With that information, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence.
Our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist with everyday activities, gentle reminders, and redirection.
Through our signature programming, YourStory, we create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and health and wellness programming, scheduled outings and other special events to personal care, assistance, and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Stuart, our residents and families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more! Call 772-212-2448.