Research under way at the University of Missouri is working toward an emergency care solution for older Americans who live alone in rural areas and don’t have access to the same care networks as their counterparts in more highly populated areas.
The solution is based on education and communication of a series of stories, or vignettes, that present fictitious scenarios involving older adults in emergency situations.
“Older adults want to be independent and live at home rather than in nursing homes,” said Lawrence Ganong, professor and co-chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at MU, in a university news bureau article. “However, older adults living alone have increased risk of injury during emergencies. Adults living in rural communities are especially at risk because there are fewer healthcare professionals in these areas, less community support and slower ambulance response times.”
The concept involves a series of vignettes, which friends and family members discuss with their older loved ones. Those who had discussed the stories showed better emergency response plans than those who received emergency planning information only.
“Older adults don’t like to be told what to do or how to do something,” Ganong said in the MU report. “When family members or close friends try to tell older adults what to do when it comes to emergency planning, they tend not to listen. However, we found that when family members presented these hypothetical stories to older adults, the older adults began to think of themselves in the emergency situations and began to talk about what they would do. The stories helped older adults think about what could go wrong and, consequently, helped them plan for emergencies.”
Ganong has created a caregiver guide to help implement the program quickly, with the advice that subtlety is a cornerstone of the process.
“Creating vignettes isn’t a difficult process, and most caregivers could grasp the concept pretty quickly,” Ganong said. “The key is to make sure the vignettes relate to the older adults in subtle ways. It shouldn’t be obvious that the stories are based around their lives but rather lives or situations similar to theirs.”
Written by Elizabeth Ecker