Support At Home: Planning for the ‘What Ifs’

What if the person supporting you becomes ill, has a serious accident, or dies suddenly? What would happen if someone relies on your support and you are incapacitated? The team at Access says it pays to think about the ‘what ifs’.

We are all brilliant at putting off thinking about adverse events that could happen today, tomorrow, or in the foreseeable future. The thing is, emergencies do happen; if we are unprepared, they could have disastrous impacts for us or for someone we care about.

Emergency preparedness should begin any time you start needing support, provide support for others, or when you live alone. But don’t despair – the only time it is a bit late to plan is if you are in the middle of an emergency!

Here are ideas to help you prepare for the worst, just in case. With your plan in place, you can devote the energy you used to spend worrying on activities you enjoy!

Define ‘emergency’

Because different scenarios affect people differently, it is worth taking the time to think about what an emergency would be for you. Write down things you would consider to be an emergency, and think about each one (see our ideas, opposite).

If you live independently, things to consider might be what would happen if you suddenly found yourself in hospital? What would happen to any pets or companion animals: who will feed them, what with, and where do you keep the food (Rover needs looking after if something happens to me; he usually goes to the kennels on 5th Street)?

What medications do you take and when; where do you keep them? Do you have any allergies: how do they affect you; how do you manage them? What about your mail: maybe you have an arrangement with a neighbour (my mail needs collecting every second day; my neighbour at number 27 usually does this for me). Write down anything others would need to know if you had to leave home suddenly.

If you are supported by others, is there a plan for continuity of your care; is there anything that might become an emergency for you without their support; are you able to access other help if your primary supporter(s) suddenly has an accident or becomes unwell? Do you rely on oxygen: what would happen if the supply ran out?

Consider how you will get essential medications, and manage meals and hygiene if this support is needed. Do you have regular household commitments? Consider how to pay bills or organise other assistance (my electricity bills need paying before the 5th of each month; my cleaner or support worker comes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7.30am and will need to be notified of where I am).

If you are supporting someone else, what are their preferences? What do you do that is essential to their physical, social or psychological welfare? Together, write down these preferences so that, in an emergency, someone else can step in. If you are going on a holiday or for a respite break, and the person you support is unable to speak for themselves, what special instructions are needed for relief carers about your client or relative’s preferences and personal habits?

Do they loathe a particular TV channel, or like to be outside with their hat and sunglasses on a sunny day? Is there a care plan you can direct others to for their daily needs; where is it kept?

Advance Care Planning

Have you thought about Advance Care Planning? Sometimes it is helpful to have the assistance of someone who can make support arrangements on your behalf, and ensure your specific health and welfare requirements are recorded, including your personal preferences for the important things that make up your daily life.

Advance Care Planning is a process of discussion and shared planning for future health care. It involves the individual, their whanau, and health care professionals.

The Plan itself is a written document that allows you to develop and capture care preferences based on personal views and values, understanding of current and likely future health, available treatment and care options, and preferences for comfort and living a life with quality.

Advance Care Plans are instructions made while you are still capable. They describe what kind of care you would want (or not want) if you were unable to speak for yourself. Ideally this is a document you prepare well in advance, make copies of, and tell your family/GP about. Put a copy in your getaway kit so that you have it with you if needed.

Last thoughts

It might be a mistake to assume that your closest family, friends, or others who support you are aware of all your preferences. Be sure those you are closest to have the information they need to provide thoughtful support if you live alone or rely on their help.

If an emergency does happen, prior planning will help to lessen your natural anxiety during the crisis.

If you would like more information about any of these topics, or help with Advance Care Planning, talk to your GP, email, or visit

You may also wish to complete and share copies of Carers NZ’s Care Planning Tools.

Our Support At Home sponsor is Access Homehealth, one of New Zealand’s leading healthcare organisations, specialising in home-based healthcare and support for New Zealand families since 1927!