If you are the point person for an elderly relative living alone, one of your chief concerns should be following basic elder home safety tips. You have probably spent time making your loved one's home as safe as it can be, but what if something does happen? Whether it's a personal medical emergency, a brief power outage or a natural disaster, you need an eldercare safety kit.
A Communications Center
Create a communications center in your elder's home to ensure that vital information is easy to find and use on a routine basis, advises Romie Myers, R.N., of FamilyCareGiversOnline.com, a Web site devoted to supporting caregivers. Many people use the kitchen as a convenient central storage location for this information, she says.
"Emergency workers such as firefighters are trained to go to the kitchen and check the outside and inside of the refrigerator for emergency information," Myers notes.
Anyone who routinely comes to the home and provides care should know where the communications center is.
An emergency information sheet (see sidebar) is the centerpiece of a plan to help an elderly person cope with a crisis, according to Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner. You and your elder should document your network of emergency contacts.
"This list should be posted near every telephone," Loverde says. "But also on the refrigerator. A copy should be given to a trusted neighbor. Every family member should have a copy on their person, in their car and in their home.
According to Myers, many emergency personnel are trained to look for the Vial of L.I.F.E. (Lifesaving Information For Emergencies) inside the refrigerator. This is a clear plastic container (such as an empty pill container) with a copy of the important medical and personal information rolled up together with a photograph and stored in the door of the refrigerator, close to the handle. Place a note or a Vial of L.I.F.E. magnet (available from some local fire departments) on the refrigerator door. The refrigerator will provide some measure of protection to the information sheet in case of fire, flood or other major damage.
You, your elder and your elder's network should devise a system for checking in on a regular basis so that the caregivers can be alerted when something is amiss. This might include a combination of:
Fire Prevention and Safety
Prevent fires by:
Plan an emergency response to fire:
Basic Household Safety
A few basic household items will help keep your elder safe:
Basic Emergency Items
In case of emergency, your elder should have these items assembled in a clearly labeled container so that everything can be easily found and ready to go if necessary.
You and your elder should make plans in case of a power failure. "Find out from the provider of your elder's medical equipment what he or she should do in case of power loss," Loverde suggests.
Finally, you should notify your local emergency departments of any illness or disabilities your elder may have. Myers points out that some communities have a "fragile persons" registry or other advance registration.
The American Red Cross and eldercare experts recommend that you and your elder come up with plans for coping with natural disasters. This involves knowing what disasters could occur in your region and then making two sets of plans: one in case an evacuation is required and the other if residents are instructed to remain in place.
In addition to the basic safety items listed above, your elder should have:
Make sure that your elder's legal paperwork is in order long before an emergency occurs, Loverde advises. "You need to be sure that the legal documents are in place that allow you to be part of the decision-making for this person. That means a power of attorney form for finances and health care."
You should keep copies of your elder's:
Sarah Bennett-Astesano is a former associate editor for Parenthood.com.
© Parenthood.com, used with permission.
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