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'If I only had a heart'

I love that song from the great movie “Wizard of Oz.” Who can read those words and not want to belt out the chorus? I promise, I’ll only do it in the shower or alone in my car. Poor Tin Man! At least he didn’t scare my kids to death like those monkeys did, even Tin Man should have had a heart attack from them!

Why is this song running through my head and now yours? It’s February — Valentine’s Day, Heart Health Awareness Month and Go Red For Women. In February we’re reminded to be aware of the risks, live a healthier lifestyle and recognize the signs. Information to try to keep our hearts healthy and therefore happy!

One great event in our area is the Go Red For Women to be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Lodge. Even though heart disease has in the past been labeled as a man’s disease, one in three women are at risk. My thoughts go immediately to the daughters — the caregivers of the people I deal with every day! Signs of risk for a heart attack include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor diet, physical inactivity, being a caregiver ... being a caregiver?

Who’s going to assume their responsibility if suddenly the caregiver becomes ill? Who’s going to take care of Mom, Dad or Grandma? As a caregiver, you may suddenly have a medical emergency, or catch the flu, need surgery, or be hospitalized due to an accident. Many things can happen to prevent you from performing your daily caregiving responsibilities, so it’s important to be prepared in case the unthinkable happens.

I would like to pass on some great advice from an article I read in the November 2011 issue of Heart Insight magazine, a magazine published by the American Heart Association.

Caregivers juggle dozens of activities each day but rarely consider creating a backup plan. Whether it’s a wife caring for her chronically ill husband, a son caring for his aging parents or parents caring for a disabled child, there’s no “Plan B” for emergency situations. Compare it to taking a vacation. Would you book a flight without reserving a hotel room, stopping your mail delivery and informing family and friends when you plan on visiting? Without advance planning, caregivers and their loved ones can find themselves out in the cold.

“Even though you’re not being paid as a caregiver, you need to think of yourself in a professional context,” said Jamie Huysman, a psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and managing partner at Partners in Health & Entertainment Management in Miami, explaining that caregiving is a job. “See yourself as a family first responder or independent care professional. First responders like police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians create emergency care plans. Why shouldn’t caregivers?”

The first step in developing an emergency plan is to tap into local resources that can provide immediate caregiving assistance when needed. Identify and understand community-based services that are available to you, whether they’re short- or long-term, cost-based or free. You can find community based services that are available to you by visiting Local referrals from this website include Central Minnesota Council on Aging, and Minnesota Help Network, Both can be reached by calling (800) 333-3433. Many of them offer a wide range of free or low-cost services to seniors in most states. You may also want to check with the local chapter of the association that’s affiliated with your loved one’s disease.

Joining a support group can also be helpful, Huysman said, because it will expand your support network and possibly offer a ready source of temporary caregivers. Likewise, check out religious organizations that may be able to refer experienced volunteers during emergencies.

Huysman said it’s critical for caregivers to develop an emergency plan when they’re healthy and can think clearly, not when they’re sick or injured and unable to make important decisions. He compares the process to opening a bank account. When you need to make withdrawals, “the account isn’t empty. You have a lot in reserve because your plan is ready.”

Along with your plan, put together an emergency kit. If a temporary caregiver is needed, will he know what medicines to administer to your sick spouse? Will she know which doctor to contact if your mother needs medical attention? Will he know which family member to call if a medical authorization is needed for your grandfather?

There are many documents you need to create and copy, then store in one file in a safe, easy-to-reach location, such as a night stand drawer. These documents include a list of key contacts, ranging from family members to physicians, and a list of medications — dosages and frequencies — to prevent medication accidents. Also include a copy of the patient’s Medicare or Medicaid card in the file. Makes sure your loved one and other family members are aware of the file’s location.

For free worksheets, a mediation tracker form and complete list of important emergency documents, log onto and follow links to Senior Health Tracking Kit. If you don’t have access to the internet, contact us at 824-0077. We will mail you a Senior Emergency Kit, which includes all the forms put together in its own storage folder.

It’s important for all of us to pay attention and to be heart healthy. If you are a caregiver, it’s very, important. Take time to exercise, eat correctly, give yourself breaks regularly, and make sure you have a “Plan B.” “If I Only Had a Heart” never meant more!

For a complete article entitled “In Case of Emergency: What do you do when the caregiver needs care?” check November 2011 issue of Heart Insight magazine published by American Heart Association or go to

DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.