How to Make a Caregiver Crisis Plan and Kit

Ask experienced family caregivers for advice on how to stay on top of things and a few themes emerge: be prepared and expect the unexpected. Recurring illnesses, sudden falls and plain old acts of nature can turn a calm day upside down. Having a crisis plan and a kit ready to go when your dad or mom needs help can make it easier to handle whatever comes along. Here’s our step-by-step guide to caregiver planning for health crises and natural disasters.How To Make a Caregiver Crisis Plan and Kit

We’ll start with a caregiver crisis plan. Creating one can help reduce your overall stress level, said Erin Conway, a family caregiver from Maine. With the plan talked over with your parent, thought through and written down, “when you start worrying, you at least have your worst-case scenario attended to.”

What Belongs in Your Caregiver Crisis Plan

Your crisis plan is a written document that can walk you, another caregiver, or emergency responders through the basics of getting your parents help and reaching family in an emergency.

It should include:

  • A complete list of your parent’s allergies, current medications and over the counter supplements
  • Emergency contact names and numbers, including yours
  • Health insurance details, including a contact number, the insurer and group and member numbers
  • Information on whether or not your parents have an advanced medical directive or durable power of attorney
  • The names of your parent’s physicians and their phone numbers
  • The names of their preferred hospitals
  • Your parent’s address and phone number
  • Your parent’s date of birth and gender
  • Your parent’s identification, such as driver’s license number, Medicaid Number and/or passport number

A Place for Mom has created a printable Emergency Info Sheet you can use to collect your parents’ must-have information. Your crisis plan should also include basic logistical details, such as:

  1. If your parent is admitted to the hospital, who will take turns sitting with them so you can get some rest each day? Having familiar faces close by is especially important for older adults with dementia, and having someone who can take notes and ask questions is always a good idea. Talk to family and friends now about whether and how they can help if you need it.
  2. Who will be responsible for notifying other family members and friends? If you’re the one at the hospital with your dad or mom, you may be too busy talking with doctors and calming your parent. Plan now to share information with one person and have them share it with other people who need to know.
  3. Who will take care of your children, other family members and pets if you have to be away overnight? Include the names of your go-to babysitters and pet-sitters in your crisis plan and make sure they have a key and alarm code.

Once you have a plan, it’s time to build a kit so you don’t have to waste time gathering vital items in an emergency. “Because nothing is worse than chaos, a cranky elder and you can’t find the insurance cards,” according to Pamela Price of Texas, who served as her mother’s caregiver.

What Belongs in Your Caregiver Crisis Kit

Conway and Price recommended having a bag packed and ready to go, perhaps even kept in your car. What should be in it?

Copies of Your Crisis Plan

Print and stash a couple of copies inside the bag so you’ll have the information at hand when you arrive at the hospital. That way, even if your cell phone battery is dying or a poor WiFi connection prevents you from accessing your plan online, you can still contact people in your circle of helpers and give the hospital staff your parents’ medication and physician information.

Things Your Parent Will Need

Include the basics for comfort, hygiene and passing the time. Pack the bag with extras or, if you don’t have extra items, buy new items in the same styles and brands your parent prefers — familiar things can make a hospital stay less stressful, especially if your parent has cognitive issues or is prone to confusion.

  • A blanket or sweater and a knitted hat can make chilly hospital air more bearable.
  • A notebook and pen or pencil, plus something to read or listen to if they’re awake and bored.
  • Clothing: A comfortable, easy to put on gown or pair of pajamas, along with a lightweight robe and a pair of slipper socks with grips on the soles.
  • Flip-flops or slide-on soccer sandals for the shower to protect against germs and prevent falls.
  • Other personal care items your parent uses, such as denture cleaner, facial tissues and incontinence pads in the brands they prefer.
  • Travel sizes of the soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and other toiletries that your parent uses at home, and a new toothbrush.

There are a few items that your dad or mom may need that you won’t want to store in your vehicle. Keep these items – eyeglasses, hearing aids – in one spot in your home so you can scoop them up and put them into the go bag when you need to leave for the hospital. Being able to see and hear clearly can reduce confusion and distress.

Things You May Need

If you bring nothing else for yourself, pack an inexpensive phone charger so you can reach family and friends, neighbors and your sitter. A jacket, shawl or sweater for yourself is a good idea, too — hospitals are cold for everyone, even if you’re not the one in a gown or pajamas. A change of clothes, floss, a toothbrush, soap and a travel pillow will make your life easier if you end up spending the night at the hospital. If you take daily medication, bag it and stash it on your way out the door.

When Your Parent Lives at Home and There’s a Crisis

So far, our planning has looked at medical crises that require an unplanned trip to the hospital. But in a natural disaster, you and your parents need a different type of plan in place. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov site offers tips to prepare for all types of situations.

For families with seniors who need care, these are the key points:

Stay Connected

Set up a way for each member of your family to get emergency warnings. You can have everyone in the family set up the FEMA app on their phones to find shelters nearby, get weather alerts and get other notifications. You can also check to see if “reverse 911” service is available in your area. If so, you can register the cell phone numbers for everyone in your family so you’ll all get a call from the authorities if there’s a disaster in your area.

Be sure to check in with your parent and other family members in a disaster to make sure they’ve heard the news and know what to do next.

Stay Healthy

Ready.gov recommends that seniors who “undergo routine treatments administered by a clinic or hospital” (for example, chemotherapy or dialysis) talk to those providers about where to go for treatment if there’s a disaster in the area. If you live in an area with frequent fires or flooding, you may want to ask your parent’s doctor about prescribing a small extra supply of any prescription medications they take, to have on hand in an emergency.

Study Shelter Options

In a sudden emergency, your family may have to go wherever authorities say it’s safe to go. But many disasters, like hurricanes and spring flooding, come with some warning. You can make the most of that lead time by planning now where you can take your parent if you need to leave your home temporarily. Is there an out-of-town family or friend you can stay with for a few days? Are there motels in a nearby city where you and your dad or mom would be comfortable? If you or your parents have pets, include their needs in your plans. Stash an extra supply of their food and medication and research pet-friendly motels and shelter locations before you need to go.

Protect Paperwork and Payments

Ready.gov points out that benefits checks mailed to your parents’ home may be undeliverable during and after a natural disaster. To keep your parents from going without funds during a disaster, DHS recommends setting up direct deposit of your parents’ federal benefits.

FEMA also has a thorough checklist of documents and important information you and your parents will need after a disaster, such as financial account information, health insurance cards, ID cards, pet tags and vital records like birth and marriage certificates.

It might take a few hours to put all of this information together for yourself and your parents and you don’t have to gather it all at once. You can work with your parents over a few days or weeks to put together your plan. Having it ready in an emergency can save you time and hassles after the crisis has passed.

When Your Parents Live in a Senior Community and There’s a Crisis

Crises don’t just happen at home, of course, so any assisted living community where your parent lives should have a couple of disaster plans ready to go — one for evacuation and one for sheltering in place.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services require that all certified senior-care communities  have written emergency evacuation plans that they train their employees to follow and which they practice in drills. Every senior community, certified or not, should have such a plan.

When you’re considering a place for your parents, or if they already live in a nursing home or assisted living, it’s a good idea to ask these questions – and perhaps ask them again every year or so to see if there have been any changes you should know about:

  1. Can you see a copy of the emergency evacuation plan?
  2. Does the assisted living facility coordinate with city, county or state emergency management offices?
  3. Does the facility have enough staffers on hand at any given time to successfully get all the residents out in an emergency?
  4. How often do community staffers and residents practice and talk about the plan?
  5. How will medication schedules and healthcare be managed during and after an evacuation?
  6. How will residents’ personal medical information be protected and accessed during and after an evacuation?
  7. How will staffers keep track of residents during and after an evacuation?
  8. Is there a phone number or social media account where family members can get evacuation updates?
  9. What possible emergencies are part of the plan? (Depending on where your parent lives, planning may need to include earthquake, flood, hurricane or wildfire, or hurricane scenarios.)
  10. What should family members do if residents are evacuated — meet at the evacuation destination, come to the facility to help move residents out, or something else?
  11. What vehicles will be used to move residents and staffers in an emergency?
  12. When will family members be contacted if there’s an evacuation?
  13. Who is responsible for making the decision to evacuate?

Each facility should also have a shelter-in-place plan in case of disasters such as terror attacks, tornadoes and utility outages. You can ask to see this plan and you can also ask:

  1. Does the facility have backup generators to keep medical equipment, kitchen, and heating and cooling equipment running in an emergency?
  2. What’s the backup plan if the generators fail or run out of fuel?
  3. What’s the plan to keep residents safe if the water supply is interrupted?

It’s also a good idea to ask how staff will help to calm and reassure residents during an emergency, especially if your dad or mom has anxiety or dementia.

Putting together a crisis plan and kit for your family – and asking important disaster-preparedness questions at your parent’s senior community – is not the most fun set of activities. But the effort you put into gathering information and supplies now will pay off when you gain more peace of mind knowing your parents’ needs are planned for and when you actually have an emergency.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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