Emergency Planning Guide for Seniors and Their Caregivers

Emergency Planning Guide for Seniors and Their Caregivers

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. It’s a saying you’ve likely heard countless times. However, it’s advice you should act on if you’re an older adult or a family member caring for an aging loved one.

Emergencies can happen at any time and can range from minor accidents to major medical problems and natural disasters. Having a plan to deal with emergencies is smart at any age but essential for older adults who can be more vulnerable when even small issues crop up. It’s especially important for family caregivers to ensure essential information, documents and supplies are in place and accessible so they can quickly respond to their loved ones’ emergencies.

This guide will help both older adults and their caregivers prepare for the worst to ensure the best possible outcome in emergency situations.

Make a list of essential information

Think of this as the master list of information that’s needed in case of any type of emergency. Actually, there should be two lists: one for the older adult and one for the family member who is helping care for the adult. Some of the items on the list for the senior might seem unnecessary. But if the older adult has dementia or becomes panicked in an emergency, even what seems like obvious information can be forgotten.

For the senior:

  • A note at the top of the list stating: “In case of emergency, dial 911”
  • Senior’s address and phone number (to share with emergency personnel)
  • Caregiver’s name and phone number
  • Other emergency contacts (family members, friends, neighbors)
  • Primary doctor’s name and phone number
  • Pharmacy name and phone number
  • Financial and legal professionals’ names and phone numbers
  • Insurance agent’s name and phone number
  • Location of important legal, financial and medical documents

For the caregiver:

  • Your loved one’s full name, birthdate and Social Security number*
  • Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance policy number*
  • Login credentials, account numbers and contact information for loved one’s primary financial accounts*
  • Primary doctor’s name and phone number
  • Pharmacy name and phone number
  • Financial and legal professionals’ names and phone numbers
  • Insurance agent’s name and phone number
  • Location of important legal, financial and medical documents
  • List of loved one’s current medications, allergies and medical history

*This information should only be for a trusted family caregiver, not a professional caregiver who has been hired to care for an aging adult. Making this sensitive information readily accessible to hired caregivers puts older adults at greater risk of exploitation.

Ensure estate planning documents exist

All adults need estate planning documents to make their wishes known and to designate people they trust to manage their finances and medical care in emergency situations. Without these documents, families could end up in court and have to rely on a judge to make these decisions.

A will or trust to spell out who gets what when you die. A trust also can be used to plan for how assets will be managed while you’re living if you become incapacitated.

A durable power of attorney to name someone you trust to make financial and legal decisions and transactions for you if you can’t.

A healthcare power of attorney to name someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you can’t.

An advance directive or living will to specify what sort of end-of-life medical treatment you do or do not want.

There are free and low-cost estate planning documents available online. However, it’s best to work with an estate planning attorney or elder law attorney to draft these documents to ensure they are tailored to your or your loved one’s specific needs and to conform with state laws. Also, to be valid, the documents must be signed while the person who is signing them is mentally competent.

Put financial protections in place

In addition to naming a durable power of attorney to handle financial matters in emergency situations, it’s important to name trusted contacts with financial institutions. A trusted contact is someone financial institutions can contact if they are concerned about activity in an account but can’t reach the account owner. Think of a trusted contact as an emergency contact for financial matters.

Aging adults also should provide the family caregiver who helps them with daily money matters a way to view their financial accounts. Then the caregiver can spot changes in behavior, such as a pattern of missed bill payments, that could be a sign that the aging adult is experiencing cognitive decline or another health issue. A service such as Carefull makes this easy because it can be linked to bank, credit and investment accounts, monitor them 24/7 and send alerts when it spots money mistakes and unusual transactions.

Older adults also should review with their caregivers the financial protections they have in place to identify gaps in coverage.

Make sure there is adequate homeowners insurance. Even if the mortgage is paid off, older adults still need homeowners insurance if disaster strikes. There should be enough coverage to completely rebuild the home and replace belongings in as many disaster situations as possible, including floods. Older adults who rent should have renters insurance to cover their belongings.

Make sure there is adequate health coverage. Traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) covers hospital visits and outpatient services. It doesn’t include prescription drug coverage, routine vision or hearing care, hearing aids and some other expenses. Adults can fill the gaps with a Medicare Advantage plan (open enrollment runs every year from October 15 to December 7. A Medigap plan is another option that can fill some gaps and covers most (or all) traditional Medicare copayments, co-insurance, deductibles and other expenses. However, those who don’t sign up for Medigap when initially enrolling in Medicare have to go through the underwriting process and might not get coverage if they have chronic conditions.

Make sure there is a way to pay for long-term care. Medicare does not cover the cost of long-term care services that assist with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and eating. A long-term care insurance policy will cover the cost of care in an assisted living facility and nursing home, and newer policies also cover the cost of in-home care. Other ways to pay for long-term care include hybrid life insurance policies, cash-value life insurance, long-term care annuities, a reverse mortgage and self pay. VA benefits and Medicaid also cover the cost of some care for those who are eligible.

Make sure there is an emergency fund. There should be enough cash in a savings account to at least cover the cost of insurance deductibles. Ideally, an emergency fund should cover three to six months’ worth of expenses.

[ See: How Retirees Can Be Financially Prepared for Emergencies ]

Keep important documents in one place

Important financial and legal documents should be stored in a secure place that can be accessed in case of an emergency. A safe deposit box isn’t necessarily the best place because it can be difficult to access in emergencies.

A better option can be a fireproof home safe—where estate planning documents, property deeds and titles, insurance policies, birth certificates, marriage certificates or divorce decrees, IDs such as passports and Social Security cards can be stored. The safe should be someplace where it can be accessed easily enough if there is an emergency that forces a quick evacuation. It’s also smart to upload copies of these documents to a digital vault, such as the one offered by Carefull, so they can be easily accessed in emergencies.

Other documents, such as tax returns, account statements and medical records, should be organized in file folders and stored someplace they can be accessed. Consider plastic storage bins that can keep out moisture and water.

Create a LIFE file

A Lifesaving Information for Emergencies (LIFE) file is a list of information that emergency responders need during medical emergencies. LIFE file kits may be available from fire departments, EMS agencies, pharmacies, community education services or senior centers.

However, you can create your own by writing or printing out the following information and including it with copies of your healthcare proxy and advance directive documents and do not resuscitate order (if you have one)  in a clear plastic bag. Label the bag “emergency medical information” and hang it by the front door or on the refrigerator.

  • Full name
  • Birthdate
  • Current medications
  • Allergies
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Doctor’s name and number and preferred hospital
  • Emergency contact names and phone numbers

It also can help to have a medical identification card that lists the above information and can be stored in a wallet or wearable medical alert ID, such as a bracelet or necklace. Organizations such as MedicAlert Foundation sell wearable IDs and ID cards.

[ Read: Inexpensive Ways to Make Your Aging Parents’ Home Safe ]

Create an emergency supply kit and evacuation plan

Actually, two kits can be helpful: one for medical emergencies that require hospital stays and one for natural disasters.

The medical emergency kit should include copies of healthcare power of attorney, advance directive and do not resuscitate documents; a list of current medications, allergies and chronic conditions (pill bottles can be tossed in at the last minute); toiletries; slippers or anti-skid socks; glasses, hearing aids, dentures or other essential items.

The disaster kit should include a several-day supply of water and nonperishable food, can opener, flashlight, batteries, battery-powered radio, first-aid kit, cell phone chargers, a change of clothes and essential personal items. It’s also a good idea to keep copies of the list of essential information and LIFE file in the disaster kit. For a complete list of items to include, visit Ready.gov.

Older adults also should have an evacuation plan for emergencies. Identify neighbors, friends or family who live close and can provide transportation. Collect their phone numbers, and share the senior’s phone number with them.

The Red Cross has more resources, including an Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults guide. By taking steps now to be prepared, difficult situations will be easier to navigate for both older adults and their caregivers.

[ Keep Reading: How Financial Care Is Part of Aging in Place ]

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