Alzheimer’s & Hospital Stress

Hospital trips are stressful. This is especially true for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Be prepared for emergency and planned hospital visits. Relieve some of that stress. Check out these tips for ways to make hospital visits easier.

Going to the Emergency Room

A trip to the emergency room (ER) can tire and frighten a person with Alzheimer’s. Here are
some ways to cope:

  1. Ask a friend or family member to go with you or meet you
    in the ER. He or she can stay with the person while you
    answer questions.
  2. Be ready to explain the symptoms and events leading
    up to the ER visit—possibly more than once to different
    staff members.
  3. Tell ER staff that the person has Alzheimer’s disease.
    Explain how best to talk with the person.
  4. Be patient. It could be a long wait if the reason for your
    visit is not life-threatening.
  5. Comfort the person. Stay calm and positive.
  6. If the person must stay overnight in the hospital, try to
    have a friend or family member stay with him or her.

Do not leave the emergency room without a plan. If you are
sent home, make sure you understand all instructions for follow-up care.

What to Pack

An emergency bag with the following items, packed ahead of time, can make a visit to the
ER go more smoothly:

  • Health insurance cards
  • Lists of current medical conditions, medicines being taken, and allergies
  • Health care providers’ names and phone numbers
  • Copies of health care advance directives
  • “Personal information sheet” stating the person’s preferred name and language; contact
    information for key family members and friends; need for glasses, dentures, or hearing
    aids; behaviors of concern; how the person communicates needs and expresses
    emotions; and living situation
  • Snacks and bottles of water
  • Incontinence briefs if usually worn, moist wipes, and plastic bags
  • Comforting objects or music player with earphones

Before a Planned Hospital Stay

Keep in mind that hospitals are not typically well designed for patients with dementia.

Preparation can make all the difference. Here are some tips.

  1. Build a care team of family, friends, and/or professional caregivers to support the person
    during the hospital stay. Do not try to do it all alone.
  2. Ask the doctor if the procedure can be
    done during an outpatient visit. If not, ask
    if tests can be done before admission to
    the hospital to shorten the hospital stay.
  3. General anesthesia can have side effects,
    so see if local anesthesia is an option.
  4. Ask if regular medications can be
    continued during the hospital stay.
  5. Ask for a private room, with a reclining
    chair or bed, if insurance will cover it. It
    will be calmer than a shared room.
  6. Shortly before leaving home, tell the person
    with Alzheimer’s that the two of you are
    going to spend a short time in the hospital.

During the Hospital Stay

While the person with Alzheimer’s is in the hospital:

  • Ask doctors to limit questions to the person, who may not be able to answer accurately.
    Instead, talk with the doctor in private, outside the person’s room.
  • Help hospital staff understand the person’s normal functioning and behavior. Ask them to
    avoid using physical restraints or medications to control behaviors.
  • Tell the doctor immediately if the person seems suddenly worse or different. Medical
    problems such as fever, infection, medication side effects, and dehydration can cause
    delirium, a state of extreme confusion and disorientation.
  • Ask friends and family to make calls, or use email or online tools to keep others informed
    about the person’s progress.

For more information, see the NIA booklet “Hospitalization Happens.



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