How to Make a Hospital Stay Easier for Someone with Dementia


Going to the hospital—while never a pleasant experience for anyone—could prove hazardous to a person with dementia.

Evidence has shown that people with dementia are at greater risk for having adverse outcomes following treatment in a hospital. Even a brief stay may intensify a senior's dementia, and make them more prone to problems such as falling and malnourishment.

There are some things a caregiver can do to help make a stint in the hospital easier for their dementia-stricken loved one:

  1. Prepare in advance: If you know that an elderly loved one has to go to the hospital for surgery or treatment, there are steps you can take to ease their transition. Pack a hospital kit complete with pertinent medical and insurance information. You may also want to include changes of clothing for both you and your loved one, a pen and paper to take down information from the doctors and nurses, and a few snacks.
  2. Explain the situation: If a senior is able to comprehend what you're saying, you may try explaining what is going to happen and why. If they are resistant to leaving, it may help to reassure them that going to the hospital will make them feel better.
  3. Bring a bit of home to the hospital: If your elderly loved one has an object that helps keep them calm at home, bring it to the hospital. Things like photographs, a favorite blanket, or even a small toy, can help a person with dementia feel more at ease in an unfamiliar situation.
  4. Get a private room: While not always available, or cost-effective, a private room will be more relaxing for a person who has dementia. It will also enable you and other family members to visit your loved one without worrying about disturbing their bunkmate.
  5. Address the issue of worst-case safety scenarios: Discuss with the doctor how outbursts and uncooperative patients are dealt with. Inquire about the use of restraints (both chemical and physical), and voice your preferences for how staff should handle an emotional flare-up from you elderly loved one. Restraints should only be used as a last resort.
  6. Ask questions: Make sure you ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand your elderly loved one's diagnosis, what treatments they are undergoing, and how long recovery will take. A doctor should be able to tell you how a therapy could affect a senior's behavior and mental state.
  7. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself: Tell every new hospital staff member that is treating your elderly loved one that the patient has dementia. A study conducted by researchers from the University College London Medical School, found that hospital workers were only able to identify a cognitively impaired person about 30 percent of the time. So, tell them over and over that your loved one is impaired—don't worry about being a nuisance.
  8. Stay by their side: A familiar face can work wonders when it comes to keeping a dementia-stricken elder calm. Try and arrange to be with your loved one as much as possible, and particularly in the evening, during meals, and when medical tests and procedures such as IV insertions and vital sign checks are being performed. It may not be possible for you to be at the hospital this often, so try and arrange for other family members to come and visit when you cannot.
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PCVS, I cannot imagine a hospital not allowing the caregiver to be present at all hours. The hosptial that is nearest to us has window seats in each room that convert to beds for a family member. They allow 24 visitation for any patient. We wanted to switch to another hospital within the system where my husband's primary care physician does her rounds. I called and asked a lot of questions, including their policy about "visiting hours" for caregivers. I was assured the caregiver or a family member could be there at all hours. My husband has been hospitalized there once. No nice built-in window seat beds, but they did provide a reclining chair and bedding. We set up a schedule and at no time was my husband without a family member in his room, 24/7.

If you have the option of other hospitals, find out the visiting policy for each hospital and let that be one of the factors that helps you decide which to use. If you need to use this hospital with the stringent visiting hours rules, go in ahead of time and discuss the policy with the hospital administrator. It is really to the hospital's advantage to have family present for dementia patients. It keeps them calmer, often prevents behavioral problems, and reduces the number of calls to the nurses for things like water and bathroom visits and just plain confusion. Often dementia patients are not able to use the call buttons.

If a reasonable conversation doesn't work, I think I'd try invoking the Disability laws. Reasonable accomodation must be made for disabilities. Just as the hospital will supply or allow wheelchairs, and use lifting devices for persons who can't transfer out of bed on their own, they need to provide or allow one-on-one monitoring of persons with dementia.

Good luck!
Between my elderly grandma, then my dad, mom and very close uncle, I have been in many local hospitals in Miami. So far all have accomodated an overnight companion. My dad was so difficult in ICU, they even allowed me to stay.
Usually the nurses are grateful, a companion can lessen their load, for the non medical requests, and help calm the patient.
How do we address the issue of the hospital not allowing the primary family caregiver to be there when it's not officially visiting hours?