Several weeks ago, my dad had a bad fall that landed him in the hospital for five days, and then a rehabilitation center, where he still remains.
I had gone to Florida prior to his fall to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday, and my husband Gus stayed at home to keep an eye on my parents. It felt good to get away and visit with two of my sisters-in-law for the weekend.
I flew home early the following Monday morning, and upon landing, turned on my phone to find a text from my husband: my dad had fallen and was in the emergency room—but I shouldn’t worry, he said. Fat chance! My R&R was definitely over.
My dad had a cut above his eye and experienced cerebral bleeding. Thankfully, the bleeding was minor and eventually disappeared. What remained, however, was a marked increase in confusion and disorientation. He forgets to use his walker and can be found meandering down the long hallways. We just assumed it was dementia. I had heard from several sources that hospital stays could trigger an increase in dementia symptoms for older folks. Not only did my dad have a hospital stay, but he had been in two emergency rooms, two different floors of the hospital, then the rehab center, where he was just moved again to a room closer to the nurse’s station to keep him safer.
I was shocked at how my dad’s ‘dementia’ had worsened in just four weeks. In particular, shortly after arriving at the rehab center, my dad fell in his room and the nurses became concerned about his vitals. Orders were put in for a CAT scan, which meant another trip to the hospital. His dementia seemed to get even worse. Some days he thought he was back in Pittsburgh, where he grew up; other times, he was in Northeast Ohio, where we were raised.
But an article appeared in my inbox last week that made me think the behaviors he was exhibiting weren’t really dementia-related, but actually delirium. The article explains that both older and younger people can experience symptoms resembling dementia after being admitted to the hospital. My dad wasn’t only admitted to the hospital; he was shuffled between emergency rooms and a number of other locations at both the hospital and the rehab facility.
I also came across a related article that provides a number of suggestions for handling delirium. I noted that certain medications can be the culprit, and made sure that my dad wasn’t being prescribed anything new. It was most likely the numerous moves that caused him to become even more confused. The good news is that if this is indeed delirium my dad is experiencing, it could possibly disappear after a time.
At least now my mom and I know what to expect when we visit my dad, although it doesn’t make it any easier. At the beginning of his admission to the rehab center, I stopped in every day to see him and check on his progress. After a couple weeks of keeping up that pace, plus taking my mom to visit him every other day, exhaustion set in. I realized that if I wanted to stay healthy, I had to trust the rehab center to keep him safe and care for him when I wasn’t there. Now my mom and I visit him every other day. Seeing her seems to comfort my dad the most. However, he usually thinks we are there to bring him home, and often has some of his belongings already packed away in anticipation of leaving. The hardest thing for me to do is tell him he has to stay longer, and then unpack his belongings. To make it easier on myself, I put the blame on the doctor when I tell him he can’t leave yet.
After each visit, my mom and I drive home with heavy hearts. That part never changes.