Managing a Hospital Visit and Dementia

April 20, 2022

No one enjoys taking a trip to the emergency room. It’s usually chaotic and disorienting, with long stretches of uncomfortable waiting that can try anyone’s patience. For someone with dementia, whose ability to cope relies on being grounded in what’s familiar and routine, an ER visit can be downright traumatic, presenting considerable challenges to the accompanying caregiver. If you’re responsible for someone with dementia, here are some ideas to help you prepare for a successful hospital visit: 

Don’t Go Alone
If possible, ask a friend or family member to meet you at the hospital. Having a partner there will help you stay calm, focused, and better able to interact with medical personnel and get questions answered.

Bring a Transitional Object 
If your loved one has an item that brings them comfort, take it with you. You may also want to grab their favorite blanket, sweater, or slippers.

Be Proactive with Staff
Most ER and hospital employees have minimal training in dementia and Alzheimer’s, so don’t be shy about advocating for your loved one. Tell every staff person you meet that they have dementia and be specific about their needs. Prompts like “loud noises frighten her” or “Mom gets upset touching anything cold” will help prevent unnecessary agitation and keep things from escalating.

Slow Things Down
Things can move fast in hospitals without a lot of explanation. If it doesn’t compromise your loved one’s medical care, don’t be afraid to slow the pace down and build in extra steps. Suggest that the nurse make eye contact with your loved one and speak slowly and ask lots of questions as you go. If your loved one thinks they are somewhere other than the ER, cue the staff people in so that they understand and play along.

Leave with a Plan
It can be tempting to fly out of there once you’re cleared to leave but don’t. Make sure you understand all discharge information, and you’re clear on homecare instructions and any necessary follow-up.

Have a Hospital Bag Packed
This one requires a little advanced work, but it’s well worth it. While things are status quo, take a few minutes to pack a bag with everything you would need for both an ER visit and a hospital stay. Items including insurance and Medicare cards, a list of medications, physicians’ contact info, any advance healthcare directives, a bottle of water, a small amount of cash, travel-size toiletries, a change of clothing for yourself and your loved one, and an extra cell phone charger are essential to bring along.

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