Five ways to improve hospital stays for people living with dementia

Hospital stays can be challenging for any patient and for someone living with dementia, the patient experience can be even more scary and confusing.

Here are five ways caregivers can improve their loved one’s experience.

Frequently a trip to the hospital begins with a visit to an Emergency Department (ED). According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of ED visits in 2016 was 145.6 million. The number of ED visits resulting in hospital admission was 12.6 million. The decision to call 911 or to drive a loved one to the ED is a stressful one. (Source: National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2016 Emergency Department Summary Tables.)

  1. Organizing one’s “need to know” information long before a health issue arises is one of the best and easiest ways to assist healthcare providers. Make copies of insurance cards, photo ID, advance directives including Powers of Attorney documents, living will, family contact information, medications list, etc., and place these documents in a “grab and go” bag. This “plan ahead” step is helpful for everyone. If your loved one has a Do Not Resuscitate doctor’s order or MOST form, the document should be given to the emergency workers.
  2. Add an information sheet to your “grab and go” bag to include information about your loved one. This will help aides, nurses and doctors communicate effectively with their patient. Tell your loved one’s medical team that she/he has a dementia diagnosis as well as the stage of dementia. Tell them your loved one’s preferred name. For example, your loved one may no longer recognize “Mr. Smith” but instead will respond to “John”. Share if your loved one has hearing problems, whether hearing aids are used, wears eye glasses or contacts, dentures, and provide a brief medical history of major diagnoses, surgeries, allergies, etc., along with a list of current medications.
  3. Do not assume that every healthcare provider that you and your loved one encounter at the hospital is a dementia care expert. Provide guidance on how best to approach your loved one (e.g., field of vision decreases significantly as dementia progresses) and positive and negative triggers (e.g., positive: a smile and gentle handshake; negative: loud noises).
  4. Keep your loved one safe. Share important information with healthcare providers. For example, alert the nurse that he/she may try to leave the bed and the room because he/she is trying to find their home, spouse, or parents. Explain that he/she may no longer understand their current age and believes that they are many years younger. If your loved one is no longer oriented to time and place, mention this information quietly to their healthcare provider.
  5. Keep your loved one calm. Bring an item from home that offers comfort: a special blanket, photo, stuffed animal, whatever is meaningful. A hospitalization is a time to call in your troops. Try to have a family member or friend provide you, the primary caregiver, with adequate breaks by sitting with your loved one. Keep the explanation about this hospitalization simple: “you had a fall or a fever, etc., we are at the hospital to help you feel better and that we hope to return home as soon as possible”.