Hospital visits – planned or in an emergency – can be stressful, especially for someone with dementia and their carer. By preparing for hospital visits it can be a more positive experience for everyone involved. As a carer, here are some tips on what you can do to prepare you and the person you care for with dementia, for hospital visits.
Always keep an emergency hospital bag at home for ‘just in case’ so you can just grab it and go. Read ‘The emergency hospital bag’ which suggests what you should put in the bag. (These suggestions will also help you to pack a hospital bag for a planned visit).
Involve the person with dementia as much as possible in the planning process and discussions of their hospital visit, so they don’t feel excluded.
Prepare a list of questions and concerns for the doctors and nurses – ask questions about anaesthesia, catheters, and intravenous medicines. Anaesthesia can have side effects, including increased confusion, so ask if you can be allowed into the recovery room if possible.
Make a schedule with family and friends to take turns staying with the person with dementia while they are in the hospital. Having people with them will help them to stay calm and less frightened. Build a ‘team’ for care and support and develop roles for each person (spokesperson, hands-on carer, main contact, etc.).
Use a ‘telephone tree’ to keep others posted of progress. This can greatly reduce stress and make sure that you do not have to contact everyone or receive calls from everyone.
Make doctors and nurses aware that the person with dementia may not always be able to answer them accurately. Have an information sheet on the person with dementia, which you can share with the medical and care team. Read what you should include in this. Ask the hospital if they have a ‘Forget me not’ or ‘This is me’ card that you can fill in that will inform them about the person you care for.
Make nurses aware that the person with dementia may have difficulty remembering where the emergency button, toilets and bathrooms are. Offer your assistance to help with their daily personal care.
Personalise their bed space with photos, so they feel like they are in a familiar surrounding.
Help with filling out their menu requests and also assist with eating, if needed.
If the person with dementia gets upset in hospital, try comforting rituals such as reading, praying, singing, reminiscing, and listening to music. Remove personal clothes from sight and avoid talking about subjects that might upset them. Give comforting touches or distract them. Slow down and try not to rush them.
You know the person with dementia the best. If they seem more confused than usual highlight this to the nurses and doctors as they may have a fever, infection, dehydration, or are having a reaction to the medication. Consider ‘unexpressed pain’ e.g. furrowed brow, clenched teeth, fists, or kicking – tell doctors/ nurses, as this will help assist them with pain evaluation and treatment.
Stay calm and positive. Your feelings or behaviour may affect how the person with dementia is feeling.
Look after yourself too – take time to care for yourself, and take breaks while in hospital; like go for a walk, or go get a coffee.
Do not leave hospital without a follow-up plan. If you are going home, make sure you have all the instructions you need for follow-up care e.g. what to do if things get worse or do not improve.
Information for this post was kindly provided by Admiral Nurse Pam Kehoe.
Read our information leaflets
Our free information leaflets are written by our specialist dementia nurses and put together in response to the questions we hear on our Helpline and in the community