Tips for Navigating Hospital Stays for Those with Alzheimer’s

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by Ray Burow |

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Of the 5.8 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease, 5.6 million are age 65 or older. According to a 2009-2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, the same demographic accounted for 15% of emergency room visits during that period.

ER visits and hospital admissions increase with age

By 2030, one in five people will be 65 or older, according to projections from a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report. Trips to the ER become more common as Americans age. This survey found that senior Americans made nearly 20 million visits to emergency departments during 2009-2010, and over 36% of those visits resulted in admissions.

Undoubtedly, these figures included many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Hospital stays are difficult for the cognitively impaired

Alzheimer’s patients may present to emergency rooms as the result of an accident, such as a slip and fall. An emergency room visit or overnight hospital stay can be particularly traumatic for those living with dementia.

In unfamiliar surroundings, a patient with cognitive impairment may become more confused. Hospital staff and healthcare workers are not typically specialized in Alzheimer’s or dementia care. Doctors, nurses, and technicians are experts in their fields, which is invaluable to someone who is admitted for a broken leg, heart attack, pneumonia, or another acute illness. However, the same healthcare professional may be ineffective when communicating with your loved one.

Patient advocate caregivers

Hospitalists, emergency room doctors, and nurses are bound by a code of medical and professional ethics. They want to communicate effectively with their patients and involve them in decisions regarding their care. Patients with cognitive disabilities have the same patient rights as those without mental impairments.

Caregivers must advocate for their loved ones with dementia. The American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics makes provisions for a surrogate for patients who lack the capacity to make medical decisions. Once a surrogate has been identified or appointed, medical professionals will provide the patient’s representative with the medical advice, guidance, and documentation necessary for making a decision about the patient’s care.

Tips for making hospital stays easier

Spending the night

Caregivers have their loved one’s best interests at heart. But a hospital admittance might translate to a good night’s rest for a caregiver. Don’t judge — a worn-out caregiver is reassured to know that the Alzheimer’s patient is in a safe place under constant monitoring. However, in a different environment with strangers entering and leaving his or her room, the patient may become disoriented.

If a familial caregiver opts to stay with the patient overnight, he or she might get more rest there than at home. If the caregiver decides to leave, he or she might be called back to the hospital if the patient becomes restless or hysterical. A callback is better than the alternative solution, which could involve restraining the patient.

In most cases, a caregiver is allowed to stay in the hospital room with the loved one. Request a chair. Many chairs are pullouts, which may not be as comfortable as your warm bed, but it’s worth the trade-off if it helps your loved one to feel secure.

Meet the nurse on duty

Your mother, father, child, or spouse is one of many patients assigned to your nurse. The nurse is there to provide competent care, not wait on you hand and foot. Introduce yourself and your loved one, explain that he or she has Alzheimer’s disease and that you’re present to assist them with communication.

Use whiteboards

Many hospital rooms have whiteboards. Leave a brief note about the patient. Make it personal, including their name and some information about them. For example: “My name is Jane Doe. I have five children and 10 grandchildren. I was once a ballerina.” Humanize the person in the hospital bed. He or she is loved and more than a mere patient.

Don’t miss rounds

Be present when the doctor arrives to the ward to assess patients. Explain to him that you are the patient’s advocate. Ask questions and take notes.

Those with Alzheimer’s disease face additional challenges during acute illnesses or injuries. I hope that these tips will be helpful should your loved one need to visit the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital.



Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s Disease.


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