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After a stroke left Clyde Mears unable to speak, family members moved the then-82-year-old Evansville resident and his wife, Dottie, to Columbus.
For a number of years, Dottie Mears was more than capable of explaining her husband’s needs to their daughter, Lisa. But as Dottie Mears got older, she began to display signs of dementia consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.
Due to Clyde Mears’ declining health, emergency medical services personnel were called a number of times to their home. But one day, when paramedics were summoned, neither the husband nor the wife was capable of explaining what was wrong to the emergency responders.
“When the EMS people arrived, they really didn’t know where to go, who they had or what was going on,” said the Mears’ son-in-law, Ed Reuter. “They both seemed to be doing better, and we thought they would be fine alone. But then, it’s always a tough decision. When do you make the call that you don’t leave them alone anymore?”
As director of Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center, Reuter knows that many families will go through similar frustrations and experiences.
For that reason, the county’s 911 Center has begun a program that encourages individuals to provide medical information in advance that can be used in case of an emergency.
It’s modeled after the national “Vial of Life” program, and the components are basically the same. A form is filled out that states the health status of the residents and current medications being taken. That information is kept in the kitchen.
Stickers are then placed on the form and in the front window of the home so responding emergency personnel will know to look for them.
The difference is that the local program urges residents to fold the filled-out form and post it on their refrigerator, so the medical information on the bottom is hidden from view.
In contrast, the “Vial of Life” program urges residents to put their form in a empty pill bottle or container and store it inside the refrigerator to protect it from a potential fire.
“We felt our program would be logistically better,” Reuter said. “If there’s a fire to that degree and someone is still inside, the unfortunate thing is that their chances of survival are pretty slim. It’s also more likely that an emergency responder will see the information if it’s posted on the outside, rather than left inside the refrigerator.”
The former Indiana State Police post commander learned long ago that, when an unexpected emergency occurs, even a normal mind can become overwhelmed by shock, fear and confusion. And suddenly, it becomes nearly impossible to provide answers to specific medical questions.
“But providing accurate and up-to-date answers without delay gives EMS and emergency room staff what they need to know to save a life, especially when the person has a complex medical history,” Reuter said.
The program isn’t just for the elderly. It is recommended for anyone with a physical or mental impairment that might prevent the person from communicating with others.
Some program participants have chosen to add additional information posted in a plastic bag stuck to their refrigerators that contains such things as a copy of their latest EKG, a living will or a do-not-resuscitate testament.
Others have decided to put the same type of information in the glove compartments of their vehicles.
While Reuter feels it’s best to keep the medical information “short and to the point,” seniors are strongly urged to make sure the information gets updated regularly because of medical changes and medications.
Clyde Mears died on Oct. 18, 2010. Dottie’s mental condition has deteriorated to the degree where she requires 24-hour care in a nursing home.
Reuter’s voice began to break as he started to explain why he believes adults might want to obtain the form for their elderly parents and help keep it up-to-date.
“I get a little emotional with this because they took care of us when we were younger,” Reuter said. “But then, things turn around, and we need to pay our parents back. If we can all do this simple thing that might save their lives, that’s a good place to start.”
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