When a parent is suddenly hospitalized, things happen so quickly it can leave the caregiver overwhelmed and flustered. Another consideration that must be taken into account is where the elderly parent should go when its time to leave the hospital.
When Laurie Cuccia's mother was hospitalized after a stroke about a year ago, having her mom move in seemed to be the best option. After all, Cuccia has been a registered nurse for more than two decades and works as director of Arizona-based Bayada Home Health Care. But being in the medical field didn't totally prepare Cuccia for the year that was ahead. The experience, she admits, was "a real eye-opener."
Cuccia's sister moved to Arizona for two months to provide caregiving support and Cuccia's husband was there to help as well. But despite all her experience in the medical field, even Cuccia occasionally succumbed to one of the most common mistakes of caregivers.
"Even with our patients and their caregivers, they don't ask for help when they need it. They're trying to advocate for their loved one, but they want to take it all on their shoulders."
Here are some Do's and Don'ts for caregivers and their hospitalized elders:
When the elder is hospitalized, visit during normal business hours
This will give you the opportunity to ask questions of the doctors and nurses who are providing the primary care, and help you plan your loved one's discharge, suggests Karla Gambrill, a doctor of physical therapy and clinical coordinator for therapy services at a New Jersey-based home health agency. If a short rehab stay is necessary, this is the time to discuss it.
Investigate home healthcare services
Ask hospital doctors if health care is an option, post hospitalization. Home health nurses can provide education about the elder's condition, explain how to dispense a loved one's medication and teach about possible side effects or complications to watch out for. "A lot of times, it's the caregiver who needs the most help, not the patient" explains Cuccia. "Home healthcare helps the caregiver over that hump."
Home health care providers can also act as a project manager, ensuring that all of the elder's doctors or specialists are on the same page. They can also provide in-home physical or occupational therapy for the elder.
Many times, these services are covered by insurance or Medicare. If your loved one has been hospitalized, be sure to consult with a hospital social worker to determine what assistance you and your loved one are entitled to. Most states have an Agency on Aging, which is another valuable resource to find assistance.
Get to know your loved ones doctors and nurses
Go to as many appointments with your loved one as possible. Keep the lines of communication open and be a strong advocate for your loved one. "You almost have to come across as a bear sometimes to get what's needed." Cuccia states.
Adds Sue De Rosa, RN, a geriatric clinical nurse specialist, "Don't assume that all members of the health care team - primary care provider, specialists, nurses and aids - are working with the same information. This is rarely the case."
Bring your loved ones medications to each doctor's appointment
This will ensure that all doctors and nurses treating your loved one are aware of the medications being taken. It's also a good idea to use one pharmacy to avoid any potentially dangerous drug interactions.
Give yourself a break
Take care of yourself in order to take care of someone else. That means taking a break from care giving. Try to carve out a few minutes each day to do what you enjoy.
Try to do everything yourself
Seek as much assistance as you need. Ask other family members or friends to help for a few hours. Look into respite services. If you have the resources, consider hiring someone to clean your home and do laundry so that you can concentrate on your loved one. Also consider joining a caregiver support group to be among others who know exactly what you're going through or use the AgingCare.com Community Forum to connect with other caregivers.
Be afraid to ask questions
Gambrill, who also cares for both of her parents, suggests keeping a notebook for ongoing questions to ask your loved one's doctors and nurses. Never be afraid to call up the doctor's office to ask questions, and consider writing down or recording medical instructions on a smartphone or digital recorder.
You may also consider keeping a diary of your loved one's day-to-day conditions. According to De Rosa, this can allow you to determine whether your loved one is showing any unusual post-illness behaviors, such as memory loss, and alert your loved one's medical team.