By Paula Falk
Taking care of the person he’d loved since the age of 16 was the natural thing to do for Tom G. Even after a stroke left her in need of constant care, he never left her side. Then, suddenly it was he who was rushed to the hospital.
The couple had no children. They didn’t have close neighbors willing to step in to help. While her husband was whisked away by ambulance, she was in a state of panic, fearful for husband, and for her own well-being. She felt disoriented, unable to cope. When authorities needed to help, no information could easily be accessed about her health, medications, next of kin, or what her wishes might be if something happened to Tom.
Like most of us Tom and Mary thought they were doing okay. They hadn’t really thought about what could happen.
Life can change quickly. Without a plan, chaos takes over.
The unexpected can catch us off guard. Whether it’s a sudden illness, a car accident, or an unpredictable hurricane or storm, the result is made easier when you have a plan. Now is the time to get your information in order, especially as hurricane season approaches. It’s easy to become complacent and forget how quickly a storm like Charlie or Andrew can change life forever.
Take some time to get your information in order, to let others know your wishes, and to make sure all your information is easily accessible should it be needed.
The Vial of Life is one of the best known means of making sure your medical and personal information is easy to find for emergency workers should you become incapacitated. It’s a simple one-page form. Along with personal information, it includes information on emergency contacts, medical conditions, medications, physician contacts and insurance information. You can attach advanced directives, durable power of attorney for health care, do not resuscitate and organ donor information. Some Vial of Life Kits include a sticker for your door to notify EMTs that you have your information together and will know to look for it either inside the vial in your refrigerator or on the refrigerator door. You may also wish to include additional information about your wishes, special conditions or additional people to contact.
Copies of your insurance policies, wills, social security cards, birth certificates, and other documents should be stored together in a safe place. Inform your loved ones or those who may have to speak for you know where these important documents are located.
Special Needs Registries
With hurricane season rapidly approaching now, before a disaster is the time to file with special needs registry in your county. In Sarasota, call 941.861.5000 for information. While citizens are encouraged to make their own evacuation and shelter plans if possible, the Special Needs Application is designed to address the needs of people with special medical conditions, or need for transportation to a shelter.
Disaster Preparedness Guides and Educational Programs
There are many ways to access information to help you plan ahead for a hurricane or other disaster. Educational programs are offered through local media at various locations, including Senior Friendship Centers, and there are a number of publications that can make planning easier, including the Disaster Preparedness Guide for Elders published by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. It offers comprehensive information on how to deal with everything from understanding insurance policies to what to do in the event of a tornado, flooding, or lightning strike. Among the forms included are address and contact information for family members and a disaster preparedness supplies checklist. Copies are available at Senior Friendship Centers in Sarasota and Venice.
AARP Prepare to Care
A very helpful way to organize your personal, medical and legal information is offered through AARP Prepare to Care, a Planning Guide for Families. This very comprehensive, but concise document is designed to help families discuss the issues, assess needs, make a plan and take action to provide care for loved ones. It’s available on-line at http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/info-2010/prepare-to-care.html and at the Caregiver Resource Center in Sarasota (941. 556.3268).
Resources When You Don’t Have Family or Friends Nearby
If you don’t have a support system nearby, it’s important to make sure your wishes and plans are shared by people who can help. This might include a home health agency, a geriatric care manager, your attorney, a member of the clergy or other trusted designee who has access to your information should an emergency arise. Senior Friendship Centers Caregiver Resource Centers in Sarasota (941.556.3268) and Venice (941.584.0050)can be helpful resources in helping you to identify your options.
We all want the best for our loved ones but without a plan for ourselves, we also make them vulnerable. Not having a plan puts everyone at risk. Having one can relieve worry and bring great relief, and it just may save your life or the life of the one you care for.
There are many places in our community to find support and education on the caregiving journey, including the Caregiver Resource Center at Senior Friendship Centers. To learn more, call 941. 556. 3268.
Paula Falkis the Director of the Caregiver Resource Center (CRC) and Adult Day Service Program at The Living Room at Senior Friendship Centers’ Sarasota campus. The Caregiver Resource Center is a community collaboration bringing together agencies and businesses offering services and products to help caregivers through one of life’s more challenging times. For more information, call 941.556.3270, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www. friendshipcenters.org