Elder Care

Your Aging Parents

What you need to know in case mom or dad has a medical emergency

If your parents were to have a medical emergency, could you provide the vital information doctors would need to care for them?

Do you know the names of your parents’ doctors?

Is your mom taking any medication?

Has your dad ever had any surgery?

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know the answers to some of these questions. It only takes a few minutes to collect and write down this vital information. And it can save precious time in an emergency.

Why do you need to know?

“Sometimes a parent isn’t able to give medical information when an emergency arises, so emergency medical personnel must rely on the adult children or a spouse for that information,” says Paul Takahashi, M.D., a specialist in geriatrics at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. “These are things you should know. Just as you fill out those emergency cards for your kids in school, you should have similar information available about your parents.”

Assess what you know

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re ready to step in if your parents have a medical emergency or need your assistance:

  • What are the names of your parents’ doctors?
  • Are your parents allergic to any medications?
  • Do your parents have advance directives, such as a living will, an organ donor card or a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR)?
  • Does diabetes run in your family?
  • Does your mom or dad belong to a health maintenance organization?
  • Does your mom or dad drink alcohol?
  • Did you mom or dad quit smoking within the last five years?
  • Does you mom or dad take blood-thinning medication?
  • In case of an emergency, would your mom or dad like to have the services of a chaplain?
  • Do you need to know more about your parents’ health?

Don’t be surprised if many of your answers are “not sure.” As people age and become responsible for their own health care, they don’t often share such information. But these are the types of questions a doctor may ask you in the event that your parent is unable to answer.

The most critical information: Below, in order of importance, is a list of 10 things you need to know about your parents’ health.

  1. Names of doctors. If you don’t know anything else, this is probably the most important piece of information. Why? Chances are good that your parents’ doctors can provide much of the rest of the information needed as well as more details about your parents’ specific health histories.
  2. Birth date. Often medical records and insurance information are cataloged according to birth date. This can improve communication in an emergency or a crisis.
  3. List of allergies. This is especially important if one of your parents is allergic to medication — penicillin, for example.
  4. Advance directives. An advance directive is a legal document that outlines a person’s decisions about his or her health care, such as whether or not resuscitation efforts should be made and the use of life-support machines.
  5. Major medical problems. This includes such diseases as diabetes or heart disease.
  6. List of medications. It’s especially important that a doctor know if your parent uses blood thinners.
  7. Religious beliefs. This is particularly important in case blood transfusions are needed.
  8. Health care information. In B.C. every resident has an individual health care number. Know where your parents keep their “Care Cards”. Also know the name of any private health insurance provider they may have (ie: Blue Cross)
  9. Prior surgery. List past medical procedures, such as cardiac bypass surgery.
  10. Lifestyle information. Do your parents drink alcohol or use tobacco?
    To help you care for your aging parents, document the above information and keep it in a convenient place in the event it’s needed.

Source: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).