Tips for an Emergency Room Visit

January 4, 2018

No one enjoys taking a trip to the Emergency Room; it’s usually a bit 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 huge 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, see if a friend or family member can 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. Does Mom have a stuffed animal she likes to cuddle with? Bring it with you, along with her favorite lap blanket or slippers.

Be Proactive with Staff. Most ER and hospital employees have very limited training in dementia and Alzheimer’s, so don’t be shy about advocating for Mom. Tell every staff person you meet that she has dementia, and be specific about her 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 Mom’s medical care, don’t be afraid to slow the pace down and build in extra steps when you can. Suggest that the nurse to make eye contact with Mom and speak slowly, and ask lots of questions as you go. If Mom thinks she’s 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 – don’t. Make sure you understand all discharge instructions and you’re clear on homecare instructions and any necessary follow-up.

Have a Hospital Bag Packed. This one requires a little advance 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. This includes insurance and Medicare cards; list of medications; physicians’ contact info; any advance healthcare directives; incontinence briefs, if worn; wipes and a plastic bag; a bottle of water; a small amount of cash; travel size toiletries and a change of clothing for yourself, and an extra cell phone charger.

Any tips to share with our readers? Tell us in the comments!