What’s in Your Go Bag?

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one in seven Americans age 65 or older will need to spend at least one night in the hospital each year. Some of these hospital stays are planned in advance, but many are not. If you’re a family caregiver, you’ve probably already experienced the chaos associated with unplanned trips to the ER.

One of the easiest ways to prepare involves packing a go bag, one for yourself and one for your relative. This article explains how to assemble a go bag for your elderly loved one. In a future article, we will address how to pack one for yourself.

Having a go bag at the ready can make the experience more bearable by helping your loved one feel safe, secure, comforted, loved, and supported. The go bag can be a small backpack or a tote that closes securely. Here’s what to include.

Personal Fact Sheet

Everything will go more smoothly if healthcare professionals have basic information as they evaluate and treat your loved one. Create a Personal Fact Sheet that lists the following details:

  • Your loved one’s full legal name (make sure it matches insurance and other documents).
  • Existing conditions and/or chronic illnesses.
  • Current medications and over-the-counter treatments, including dosages and schedules.
  • Allergies, adverse reactions to medications, and food sensitivities. Some treatments and diagnostic procedures can be affected by food allergies.
  • Regular healthcare providers, including your loved one’s primary care physician and any specialists, along with their names and phone numbers. Mention the specific condition each specialist is addressing.
  • Special dietary needs, including low sodium, diabetic, halal, kosher, vegetarian, etc.
  • Description of potential issues that could affect communication, such as speech or hearing impediments, the language they’re most comfortable speaking, if other than English, issues related to confusion, etc.
  • Preferred faith tradition and preferences.
  • Information about you, the caregiver, including name, relationship, mobile phone number, and email address, plus name and contact information for one additional trusted family member or friend.
     

Copies of Important Documents

No trip to the hospital is complete without paperwork. Include these items in your go bag to expedite admission, insurance claims processing, and decision making.

  • Insurance card (front and back, as authorization numbers often are on the reverse)
  • Medicare/Medicaid card
  • Medical power of attorney/Durable power of attorney
  • Living Will
  • Do Not Resuscitate order
  • Organ donor affidavit, if applicable


If your loved one stores these items in an online digital archive, make sure you have the credentials to sign in.

Medication, Toiletries, Other Supplies

Trips to the emergency room sometimes turn into inpatient admissions, so pack small quantities of the things your loved one might need to make the situation more comfortable.

  • Current medications
  • Eyeglasses/contact lenses
  • Denture cleaning supplies
  • Hearing aids and extra batteries
  • A change of clothing, including underwear, socks, tops, bottoms, slippers
  • Toiletries and personal care items including dry shampoo, a comb or hairbrush, deodorant, lip balm, hand lotion, moisturizer, antibacterial hand wipes, facial tissue, hand sanitizer
  • Ear plugs and an eye mask to make it easier to sleep
  • Copies of family photos, prayer book, Bible, rosary, etc.
  • Reading material
  • Tablet or phone with charger
  • A list of family and friends with phone numbers


Unexpected trips to the hospital can be disruptive for everyone. With a little planning, you can make the experience easier for everyone involved.