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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.