Organizing Your Medical Information

“Memory Matters” for ALL Ages  (PROGRAM LINK)

Something to think about is how you have your medical history information organized. When doing home health care as a speech-language pathologist, getting the specifics from many of my older patients can be a challenge. Many sessions into a therapy program I may learn some important facts that were never shared during an evaluation.

What if a person has been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, young-onset dementia or perhaps the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease? It is probably something all of us should think more about even if there are no specific reasons to feel the need right now. Information is forgotten, a spouse is no longer living or those closest to that person have moved away. Others are very private and do not care to share those details. In a medical emergency, the information not provided might be important to the bigger picture.

Some things to think about

1. Is there someone that knows the details of your medical history? Have you recorded it somewhere? What if EMS comes to your home and you are unable to give them any specific information? If you have taken the time to organize it, who has additional copies and are you updating it regularly as circumstances change?

2. Is there someone you could assist in organizing their information in case of an emergency? It is also helpful to take a copy of your information when being seen by a new doctor or provide one when you are engaging the services of a home health care provider or home companion services.

3. Don’t forget to include something that may have been an issue in the past. Many people in my family may have forgotten that in the 1980’s I was ill and unable to work for years due to chemical sensitivities to toxins in the environment. While I am much better, I am very careful in what products I use and what I am around for more than brief exposures. It will be important for me to inform others if I needed to be in their care so that they would not be using products I do not want them to use if I had a choice. If a person had a childhood allergy they felt they grew out of, it may be helpful information to know in case there is a reaction decades later.

4. Another area of great concern is the fact that there are those who are unwilling to share their memory concerns with their family as well as their doctor. Many times the deficits that are present will not be as obvious in a routine medical checkup.  If a person does not want a family member accompanying them, it is suggested contacting the doctor before an appointment with some details. When I would take my mom to her appointments, I would hand the nurse a paper with some observations for the doctor to review prior to seeing her. He did an excellent job of directing the conversation to those areas of concern without me initiating the conversation. When I was back home, I would email him observations prior to her appointment that I felt might be helpful since I knew she would not mention it.

Many communities have created a form that residents keep in their home in case of an emergency.  In Hudson, OH they have Fridge Medpack  which allows you and members of your family to provide important medical and contact information to the EMS personnel in the event of an emergency situation in the home.  Why the fridge?  Easy to find!  Everyone has one!  And, in the event of a fire, the contents of the fridge usually survive. It is important to fill out a form for each member of the family. To take it a step further, make additional copies and give them to those you feel might need this information.  Keep a copy in your car in case of a medical emergency. If you do not have this program in your community, create your own form, contact  for assistance, or contact your local safety department to see about getting a program started.

Tips to consider

1 When you go to a doctor’s appointment and have a hearing, vision, or memory difficulty, inform the staff and request written details if you are having trouble following the information. It may be necessary to request the printed material be enlarged so you can read them. The program/blog next week will provide specific tips when there are hearing concerns.

2. Make sure that you update your medication list if it is included whenever there is a change. This is essential. You may also want to make a notation if there are any pets in the house since arrangements may be needed if a person is hospitalized and a person is unable to communicate their concern.

3. It would be very helpful if you included an additional sheet with information explaining any previous problems with hearing, vision, speech, confusion, memory and mobility. This can be helpful so that emergency responders can better evaluate what may be new symptoms or a person’s previous level of functioning.

4. I will often hear complaints from older adults with some communication challenges that they feel invisible during appointments while their family or friend talk to the doctor and they are just sitting there. Many of these adults with communication challenges can still read aloud  so I suggest that before the appointment the questions are written down so the patient can read them to the doctor. Not everyone is comfortable speaking up in that type of setting, particularly if there is a lot of detailed information communicated in a short period of time Those with hearing or cognitive deficits should be accompanied by someone for all appointments so that the needed information is obtained and conveyed to those who may be assisting in the care of someone requiring supervision.

For additional pertinent information on this topic refer to the article and corresponding blog series: Take Charge of Your Medical Information: Communication is a Two Way Street.

To do this week;
Make it a priority this week to update your medical information if you have put something together. If you have not done it, see what your community has to offer or create a form for each of your family members. Then help someone who needs one but may have difficulty putting it together.

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.  A. A. Milne

Information on Kathryn’s products and links to sample pages.    Kathryn is available for private consultations as well as educational and training programs.  

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters ( and Communication Connection( She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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