Staying in a hospital can be an unpleasant experience for anyone, but it may specifically be hazardous for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Situations such as changed routine, unfamiliar people poking, an entirely different environment, etc., can make the stay a challenging experience for them.
According to studies, people with dementia have an increased risk of experiencing adverse outcomes1 following hospitalization. Even a brief stay can exacerbate the dementia symptoms and augment the risk of complications, including falls, dehydration, malnourishment, delirium, and hospital-acquired infections.
Due to the mentioned reasons, caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia in a hospital can be a daunting task. However, some tips can help you make their hospital stay a bit convenient.
Whether your patient has a scheduled treatment or unexpectedly ends up in the emergency department, it is critical to have a few essential items on hand. An already prepared and packed hospital kit can come in handy in emergencies. You should include the current insurance information and relevant health information, such as a comprehensive list of medications, a brief medical history, and a copy of the medical power of attorney document.
While planning for the stay, think of the things that can make your patient’s hospital stay easier. Take along items such as a cherished photograph album, a favorite book or puzzle, or a prepaid topped-up mobile phone with easy-to-locate contact numbers to keep them engaged.
Before your arrival, it will be helpful to call the hospital ward to know what services they can provide to dementia patients.
Provide Comfort And Reassurance To Your Dementia Patient
Hospitals may appear loud and unfamiliar to dementia patients, making them confused and agitated. They may not know where they are or why they are there. Therefore, it is essential to explain to them the place and why they are there in a calm manner. Try to be gentle and reassuring to make your patient feel at ease.
Since the noise at the hospital can scare the patient and add to their anxiety, check that their hearing aids are on and adjusted as per new surroundings. Ask the staff if there is a day room for the patient to take a break from the ward, especially at the peak times (such as visiting hours or ward rounds).
Another way to provide reassurance is to talk to them, read to them, and support them emotionally since familiar faces can bring comfort to dementia patients in such situations.
Share Information About Your Dementia Patient With Staff
It is helpful to discuss your loved one’s behavior and dementia symptoms they exhibit with the hospital staff because the staff might not know that the patient has dementia or may not have experience dealing with dementia patients. Sharing information about the person will help the staff to understand and respond to them more effectively.
You can give details of the person’s daily routine, the food they like or dislike, difficulties they have during mealtimes or while communicating, sleeping patterns, or any other information that can help staff build a good relationship with the patient. It is also necessary to let the staff know if your loved one needs reminders or assistance with activities such as eating, drinking, dressing, taking medication, or going to the toilet.
Support Your Loved One With Dementia To Eat And Drink
Hospital stays can considerably impact the mealtimes of dementia patients, who can become stressed, dehydrated, and malnourished. If ward mealtimes occur outside of visiting hours, you can ask the staff if you can stay after these timings. As hospital staff is often busy at mealtimes, they may be grateful for any assistance you can provide. So, it will be helpful to be there for mealtime or bring extra food if you can.
Since you may not always be around for assistance, it would be better to let the staff know about any difficulties your patient has at mealtimes.
You can make your patient’s mealtimes easier by having a drink or snack with them. If they do not seem to eat, do not presume that they are not hungry. Instead, try engaging them in different ways and making food seem more appealing.
Support Your Patient If They Are Walking About
A person with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia might attempt to get up and roam around the ward. As the patient must be safe, this behavior can make the staff worried. However, walking can be a great activity to stay active in the hospital.
If the patient wants to walk around the ward, and it is safe and possible, ask the staff to assist them. Some dementia patients may become stiff if they do not move around, increasing the risk of falls. So, explain to the staff why it is important for your patient to walk around.
Sometimes, the person may feel angry, threatened, or agitated if they are prevented from walking around. In such cases, you can ask the staff to make any adjustments to help them. For instance, they can let them walk when they have visitors.
Stay By Your Loved One’s Side
When it comes to keeping a senior calm in the hospital, a familiar face may do wonders. Make every effort to spend as much time as possible with your loved one, especially in the evenings, during meals, and while medical tests and procedures like IV insertions and vital sign checks are carried out. If you are unable to visit the hospital regularly, attempt to arrange for other family members to do so.
Alzheimer’s Research Association is committed to helping caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by providing the latest news and research on Alzheimer’s, useful tips, and grants. For more information, contact us!
1. Fogg, C., Griffiths, P., Meredith, P. and Bridges, J., 2018. Hospital outcomes of older people with cognitive impairment: an integrative review. International journal of geriatric psychiatry, 33(9), pp.1177-1197. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6099229/