Home > Caregivers, Hospitalization, Strategies > Caregiver Tips: When Your Loved One Is In the Hospital

Caregiver Tips: When Your Loved One Is In the Hospital

Image courtesy twobee @ http://www.freedigitalphotos.netTo start things off, I’d like to conduct a little visualization exercise.  Just close your eyes and let your imagination take control.  You’re in a strange place, with strangers crowding around you firing one question after another at you — not giving you time to answer one question before they fire off the next one.  There are all sorts of beeps and alarms and other sounds, as well as strange smells.  They put you on a stretcher and race off down the hall with you, not saying anything about where you are going or why you are going there.  Then there’s that excruciating pain in your hip that just won’t go away.  Is it any wonder even a cognitively intact person might get flustered?

I’ve written a couple of posts lately on the problems that persons with dementia can encounter when they are hospitalized.  Today, I’d like to speak about some things that can be done to make the experience a more pleasant, and safer, one for all concerned.  Most of my strategies will be geared toward caregivers, however those who are still living at home independently may also benefit from them.

First, it’s important to remember that emergencies can happen at any time.  The more you plan ahead, the easier it will be for both you and your loved one if, and when, the time comes.

  • Keep your loved one’s health information together, in a place where you can grab it quickly if you need to.  Here is an extensive list of information to put in your file, as well as some handy forms to use.  (Courtesy http://www.caregiverstress.com)
  • Make a short list of your loved one’s idiosyncrasies — those behavioral quirks that make her unique.  Also be sure to put down suggestions on how the staff can improve communication and ensure that she will be able to cooperate with them and participate in her care.  Be sure to include mealtime preferences, what causes her to become agitated, best and worst times of the day, and so on.
  • Ensure that things like eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dentures go to the hospital along with your loved one.  Or, if they can’t go along with her, be sure to take them there as soon as possible.  Also, consider packing a small bag with clothing, toiletries, and a few familiar items that will increase her sense of security.
  • Once your loved one gets to the hospital, be sure to share the above information with those who will care for her there.  Be available to answer any questions, from your loved one or the staff.  Don’t assume that everyone working at the hospital will have been trained in how to deal with a person who has dementia.
  • Try to help create an atmosphere of calm and familiarity for your loved one.  There will be enough going on that is strange and disorienting.  It will be important to provide that “security blanket” to help her process everything.
  • Take time to get to know the nursing staff.  Be respectful, and offer your assistance, instead of trying to be authoritative.  Let them know that you are trying to help them help your loved one.  Show respect for their expertise and knowledge, and learn from it as well.  Try to adjust your routines to those of the hospital — bath times, medications, therapy, doctor’s visits, and so on.  Occasionally, make a small gesture to show your appreciation — flowers or candy are almost always received with thanks.
  • Arrange with friends and family members to have someone stay with your loved one at all times.  Staff members can’t be present every minute of the day and, unfortunately, falls are all too common with this population.  As vigilant as the hospital staff may be, accidents do happen.  Ask the hospital what their rules are for overnight visitors and, if need be, have her physician write an order to allow someone to stay with her at all hours.  Some families hire a caregiver to stay with their loved ones when they can’t be there themselves.
  • Be sure to serve as an advocate for your loved one.  Even little things that most of us might take for granted may seem threatening to a person who is confused and/or disoriented.  This can include having blood drawn, being hooked up to an IV, going to the bathroom, and so on.  Your loved one may not remember that she needs to ask for help to get out of bed, or be able to figure out how to go to the bathroom with an IV in her hand.  Too, someone should make sure that advance directives are respected.
  • Plan ahead for your loved one’s discharge from the hospital.  It may be difficult to know when this will take place, or what condition she will be in when she does leave, but it is important to know what your options are.  The nurses and the social services department at the hospital will be able to help you here.
  • Of course, the best strategy for handling hospital visits for your loved one is to make sure that they don’t happen.  Remember, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  The American Medical Association has reported that approximately 2/3 of hospital visits are potentially preventable.   This includes things like urinary tract infections and falls.

Further reading:

http://www.caregiverstress.com/dementia-alzheimers-disease/elder-care/alzheimers-and-hospitalization/

http://www.caregiver.com/articles/print/hospitalization_and_dementia.htm

http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/acute-hospitalization-and-alzheimers-disease-special-kind-care

http://www.caring.com/questions/dementia-and-hospital-stays

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  1. July 15, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    Great list. Everyone should print it out and keep it handy in case the need arises. When my mother was in the hospital I found that keeping her pain/nausea medications timed properly and the need to use the bathroom were the two major things I had to flag down staff for.

    • July 15, 2013 at 10:03 PM

      It’s good that you were there to help both your mother and the staff in that way.

  2. findingmyinnercourage
    July 15, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    Definitely going to print this list. No doubt it will come in handy! Thank you!

    • July 16, 2013 at 8:14 AM

      You’re very welcome. I hope you find it helpful.

  3. July 16, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    This is an exceptional article; very thorough. Thank you.

  4. July 20, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    Easy to follow suggestions. Thank you.

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