Plan Ahead: How to Prepare in Case of a Medical Emergency

Because no one ever plans to get sick or injured, people often fail to prepare for what to do in the event of a medical emergency. Yet, planning ahead can make all the difference in a person’s outcome. Unexpected health crises can sometimes be life threatening, and they can be particularly alarming for older adults who live alone and are not able to call for help.

Many put off planning because they are afraid it will add worry or stress or will be a burden on themselves or others; however, preparing for an emergency is actually a solution that provides peace of mind. Creating a plan now allows loved ones to be at peace because they will know what to do in an emergency. It can put all of those “what ifs” away so that they don’t need to worry.

Prepare for a Medical Emergency

There are some important steps to take in advance to be better prepared to handle a crisis situation. AARP offers these key tips:

  • Make sure all your important health information is readily available. Make duplicates and stow the copies in several easy-to-access places.
  • Add your emergency contacts’ information—their home, work, and cell numbers—into your own cell phone. Identify it as ICE, which stands for “In Case of Emergency,” instead of listing it under the person’s name. If you have a phone that requires a password to get to your contact list, consider putting emergency information on the lock screen itself. (If you need help, take your cell phone to a store from which you get your service.) Keep your cell phone close by; some people simply keep their cell phone in a fanny pack that they wear every day.
  • Consider signing up for a medical alert system, often referred to as a personal emergency response system (PERS) or medical emergency response system (MERS). Many people who are signed up for these services wear a pendant with a button to call a response center in case of an emergency. As technology advances, newer systems may include fall detection or prevention, in-home health and well-being monitors, fitness trackers, movement sensors, and more.

When selecting a medical alert system, start by evaluating the person’s specific needs and abilities—both now and how they might change in the future. For example, if someone has dementia, would he or she understand how to operate a system? Or is something automatic like a fall-detection device, more appropriate? Does she have a disorder, such as aphasia, that will make communicating with a call center difficult? These are important considerations to keep to best meet the person’s need.

Sign up for Smart911

The City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County now offer an emergency communication tool, Smart911. This technology helps reduce response times and provides first responders with vital information that can help improve incident outcomes. In addition, it is particularly helpful when calling from a cell phone, because wireless calls to 9-1-1 only provide a general location of the caller, not an exact address.

Smart911 users can create a secure Safety Profile that will automatically display to emergency call takers immediately upon placing a 9-1-1 call. All information in a Safety Profile is private and secure, and it is seen only when a participating user dials 9-1-1. Additionally, through the technology, a 9-1-1 call taker can even send an outbound text message to mobile phone callers who are unable to communicate verbally. A user’s Safety Profile will display anywhere in the country that utilizes the Smart911 technology. When deciding to use Smart911, only share pertinent information that would be helpful in an emergency to avoid compromising privacy.


“Many put off planning because they are afraid it will add worry or stress or will be a burden on themselves or others; however, preparing for an emergency is actually a solution that provides peace of mind.”


Create a Healthcare Directive

Advance care planning is not just for older adults. At any age, medical crises can leave people too ill to make their own healthcare decisions. Even if a person is healthy now, planning for the future is an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want if you are unable to speak for yourself and doctors and family members are making the decisions for you.

Advance care planning involves learning about the types of decisions that might need to be made, considering those decisions ahead of time, and then letting others know—both your family and your healthcare providers—about your preferences. These preferences are often put into an advance directive, a legal document that goes into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself.

Two common types of advance directives are:

  • A Living Will: The information in this document gives you a say in your health care if you become too sick to make your wishes known. In a living will, you can state what kind of care you do or do not want. This can make it easier for family members to make tough healthcare decisions for you.
  • A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: This document lets you name the person you want to make medical decisions for you (healthcare proxy) if you cannot make them yourself. Make sure the person you name is willing to make those decisions for you.

Talk About Your Advance Care Wishes

The National Institute on Aging recommends having conversations with the people close to you about how you want to be cared for in a medical emergency or at the end of life. These talks can help you think through the wishes you want to put in your advance directive. It is especially helpful to talk about your thoughts, beliefs, and values with your healthcare proxy. This will help prepare them to make medical decisions that best reflect your values.

AgeWell Cincinnati can help you learn more about Advance Care Planning and give you resources that can help get your plan and affairs in order.