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Index Cards: The Family Caregiver’s Best Helper

A set of index cards can be a first time family caregiver’s best friend. Yes, a simple stack of four or five index cards. This short stack has saved me time, lost brain cells and prevented anxiety attacks.

Here’s what you will need: Five or six index cards. A pen. Yes, a simple, ubiquitous index 3×5 index card. It was good enough for World War II code breakers, it’s good enough for me.

bletchley park info cards

Home Address and Immediate Information

This may seem obvious but bear with me. When you are a caregiver, you are monitoring another person on a daily basis. You keep track of a lot of information from their medicine schedule for the day to household chores and phone calls that have to be made to set appointments or talk to their doctor/nurse. In the meantime, you are minding their behavior and environment. Are they hot or cold? Are they hungry or sleepy? In short, there can be many things on your mind at any one moment.

When your mind is overloaded, it can be difficult to switch to a different task. Let’s take an example.

philly ambulance

Photo by Roman Fox

Your loved one slumps to the side while watching television in the living room. He or she can not move very well and can only mumble a few sounds. Your anxiety level spikes knowing that you have a serious emergency on your hands. You reach for the phone and dial 911 or whatever emergency number is available in your area.

The emergency operator will ask you a series of questions. Keep in mind that while you are on the phone, you are also attending to your loved one. You may be awkwardly holding them upright or you may be trying to soothe them. You can hear the operator’s questions but because of the rush of adrenalin in your system, you may find yourself going blank. This is where the index card comes in.

An index card with your loved one’s details can be invaluable when answering questions during a heated and emotional moment. On the card, you should have the following information:

  • Loved one’s name
  • Home address
  • Date of birth and age
  • Blood Type (if you know it)
  • Most immediate health condition like “Diabetes”, “Heart Disease” or “Dementia.” You don’t want a full list just those that would be most pertinent to a paramedic or emergency responder.
  • On the back, write down health insurance information. This can include policy numbers and social security numbers.

On the phone, the operator will usually ask for the first three then inquire about the condition of your loved one at that time. Mention the immediate health condition and your loved one’s situation such slumped on the sofa. These details will allow emergency services to have an initial idea of what to expect and what may be needed. You will likely have to repeat the information to paramedics. Having the information ready to hand will help to keep you calm and focused.

I suggest taping a copy of this index card near a home phone, a family message board or the refrigerator. This way other carers can have the information handy. I have replicated my card stack so I have one set at home and other sets in my car and purse.

Health Conditions and Allergies

Unlike the first card, this second card is intended for clinic or hospital personnel. This card should contain a list of:

  • Primary health condition like “Coronary Heart Disease”, “Cancer”, “ALS” or “Alzheimers”
  • Secondary health conditions like “Diabetes”, “Fibromyalgia” or “Colitis.”
  • Third health conditions like “Glaucoma”, “Scoliosis” or “Rhematoid Arthritis.”
  • Prosthetics, artificial or interior items. This would include things like cardiac stents and when it was put in. Or artificial hips and knees.
  • List any known allergies.

Your list of conditions will vary. The key is to put down the information so you won’t need to remember it all.

nurse taking patient blood pressure

Photo by Hush Naidoo

Medication List

This card is straightforward. Each line should detail one medication. Each line should have:

  • Medicine name
  • Dosage such as how many milligrams or milliters per day. Some medications are prescribed as “700 mg per day” which are then translated to “2 capsules twice a day” for example. Any medical provider will need to know the dosage.
  • Quantity such as how many tablets or capsules per day/frequency. This would be like “2 tablets twice a day” or “1 capsule at bedtime.”
  • Notes. I like to put down any alternate names for a medication. For example, the brand name blood thinner Eliquis has the generic name of Apixaban. At times the pharmacist or nurse will refer to medication by their generic name so knowing what it is saves time. I also put down what time of day the doses are given. If a dosage is twice a day, I would write “9AM & 3PM.”

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve needed to check this list at doctor’s offices and hospitals. This card must always be kept up to date. It’s your resource to catch mistakes. Everyone is human so mistakes can happen to anyone.

One of my father’s medications was changed. I noticed the change when I went to pick up the prescription. The original dosage and frequency was “Two capsules, three times daily.” The new directive was “Three capsules, three times daily.” Now, such a change may sound minor, but depending on the medication and condition of your loved one, the change could have adverse effects. I had not been contacted about this change. No mention of it was made at a recent doctor’s appointment. So, I was puzzled. I consulted my father’s primary physician who looked it up and also was puzzled. It turned out that the change was meant for another patient entirely. If I had not checked the dosage of the prescription against my card, my father could have had a change in his illness or behavior.

So, use your Medicine Card to:

  • Prevent unintended errors from impacting your loved one directly or you indirectly.
  • Check your wallet. A change in medication can add or subtract from the monthly medical bills.
  • Verify that you are picking up the correct prescription.

pills spilling out of bottle

Appointments and Important Events

This is another simple card. Use it to track upcoming appointment and past events. By past events, I include things like “Date of Major Operation” or “Date of Stroke.” These should be events that affected your loved one severely.

You need some basic information per line like the following:

  • Date and Time
  • Nature of event. Use abbreviations like “Appt” for appointment or “Lab” for lab tests.
  • Doctor’s last name. This is just a memory aid so you know at a glance who the appointment is with.
  • Location. Where will the event take place?
  • Notes. Use this space to indicate if anything unusual is required. For example, I put down “Fast-Midnight” to mean no food or liquids from midnight onward.

Keep the card updated. Start a new one when you run out of room and carryover any future events to the new card. I’ve found the Appointments Card to be a helpful mini-calendar when setting up future appointments in person or on the phone. I don’t need to look to a calendar, a planner or phone app to find out what dates are available.

More Contacts

My last card is a short list of phone numbers for family members and key medical personnel. Write down numbers of those that need to know about an emergency such as a spouse, partner, siblings or another carer.

You should include your loved one’s primary physician and pharmacy contact information. This is another time saver when filling out forms or answering questions in the Emergency Room (ER).

This card has come in useful for me when I’ve forgotten my phone and had to contact someone. Also, I could request records be sent to the primary physician right then and there if I was in an out-of-network hospital.

Conclusion

You should have five or more cards now. Add cards to include more medications, contacts and other information. You can staple these cards together. Or get a ring binder, punch the cards and put the ring through the punched hole. Or tie a rubber band around them. Do whatever is most convenient for you. The point is to have them where they are easily located with all the immediate information in one spot.

Feel free to add other types of cards to your stack. It is YOUR stack. Put into it what you know you will need or want to have access to.

Remember, keep your cards simple and to the point. You should be able to glean the information in one glance. It should not require much reading time or deep comprehension. They are there to save you time when time is very important.

Slider Notes: I use pre-colored index cards. They were punched to fit in an old Levenger Jotlet or Rollabind Pocket Notebook. You can use an index card binder available at most stores. Binders have the advantage of adding more cards and easily positioning them in the deck.

Maria is a Hubspot-certified digital marketer and blogger. This self-confessed rat race refugee left a 20+ year technology career to take on the challenges of family caregiving. She published her first Kindle novel Conway 6-7. Lately, she has been dabbling in interactive fiction game development. She is a Certified Caregiving Advocate and lives near Chicago.

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