Q: I care for my husband who has dementia. How can I have a plan for what happens if I suddenly cannot care for him?
A: I strongly urge all family caregivers responsible for a loved one to come up with a backup plan in case they suddenly are not able to provide care. Recently a friend of mine ran into this issue and learned the hard way what happens when you have not planned ahead of time.
My friend cares for her husband at home. She had a fall and needed to be transported to the hospital. She had no plan in place for who would stay with her husband, so she asked the first responders to bring her husband with her in the ambulance. It made the time in the hospital Emergency Room very stressful for them both, as her husband has dementia and became anxious and agitated by the environment.
Eventually she was able to reach another friend who came and picked up her husband and cared for him until she was able to return home. While this thankfully worked out, it could have resulted in her husband getting lost in the hospital or becoming injured himself. Also, my friend felt very uncomfortable calling someone to ask for help with no notice.
Anyone responsible for another’s care should think through what they will do if they suddenly need a backup plan. Accidents happen, traffic happens, and other emergencies can happen. We never know what may come up, so it is better to be prepared.
If your plan is to contact a friend or family member, talk to those people ahead of time and explain that you would like to use them as emergency contacts to step in temporarily, if needed, to provide care and supervision. Consider how they can access a key to your home if they need to and keep a list of important information posted in your home to help anyone who steps in to provide care. If your loved one has memory loss, then having them cared for in their own home may help reduce their stress and agitation.
Some find asking for this kind of help difficult, but now is the time to step outside of your comfort zone and do what is best for you and your loved one. Everyone deserves to feel supported by their community.
You may want to identify a paid homecare agency as part of your backup plan. A person you know can step in right away and help for a short time, but if the needs continue longer than a few hours you could have a homecare agency on standby to send a caregiver. You can find a homecare agency you feel comfortable with and provide that information to your emergency contact as a resource, if needed.
Caregivers may want to wear a medical alert bracelet that identifies them as a caregiver. It can list their own medical conditions, while also identifying them as a caregiver for someone who relies on them. It can include information on the care recipient and emergency contact information. Then, if the caregiver gets into an accident and is unable to explain their situation, the first responders will see the bracelet and alert the emergency contacts.
We may not be able to predict everything that might happen, but thinking through a backup plan should be on every caregiver’s to-do list. You deserve peace of mind knowing if an emergency arises you can deal with it and not also have to worry about what to do with your loved one.