5 Tips to Make Your Elder’s Hospital Visit Less Traumatic

The last few days, I have been writing articles on hospital visits for the elderly.  What items to have available for an emergency room visit and what a care giver can do to be prepared for a hospital stay.  Today, I would like to tell you about how you can continue to help your loved one when they are in the hospital.

Aging senior citizens react completely different than other groups of adults to changing medications, new and unknown surroundings, and stressful events.  If your loved one is cognitively impaired or extremely ill, they can become very confused.  I have always tried to stay with my beloved old person for at least 24 hours when they first get to the hospital.  The hospital personnel understand how frightening and confusing it can be for an elderly person to be put in an unfamiliar place such as a hospital.  My staying with my elder has always been met with appreciation.

Hospital workers are very appreciative of having the main caregiver present because the main caregiver is the “go to person”.  We know our elderly loved one better than anyone.  A word of caution, I found out the hard way that turning over the first 24 hour period to someone who isn’t the main caregiver can be distressing for the elder, the stand in caregiver, and the hospital staff.  Why do I say such a strange thing?

My Mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital for a double mastectomy.  My sister-in-law who doesn’t usually participate in doctor visits with her insisted on staying with her in the hospital instead of me.  I am the “go to person” for my mother-in-law who I will refer to as Mom2.  I’m a laid back person and I don’t like to disagree with people.  I’m not Mom2’s daughter and I thought it would be fine for her to stay with her Mom.

The surgery went well.  The problems began afterwards.  My sister-in-law wasn’t familiar with Mom2’s medications.  She wasn’t prepared at all for after surgery delirium.  I have been with my parents through numerous hospital stays and I understood that delirium can happen even with those who aren’t cognitively challenged.

By the time I returned the next morning, my sister-in-law was in tears.  She hadn’t slept at all and she was worried sick about the delirium.  Mom2 was disoriented and combative.  She was saying things to her daughter that hurt her sensitive feelings.  The lack of sleep was making her even more sensitive to the remarks.  Knowing this wasn’t usual behavior for Mom2, we sat down and started to unravel the puzzle of the delirium.  The questions I asked were; What new medications were they giving her?  What pain medications was she on?  How much fluid were they dropping into her IV?

I, immediately, went to her nurse to get some questions answered.  In Mom2’s case, the delirium was being caused by the pain medication.  Talking with the doctor, we were able to substitute a different medication, and the delirium cleared up in a matter of a little over 24 hours.  Mom2 doesn’t remember any of this time in the hospital.
As an experienced caregiver, I put together five points which can help make your elder’s visit to the hospital a little less traumatic for them and you.

1.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  ANY TIME a medication is given ask what it is and WRITE IT DOWN!!  Remember the note pad and pen from the list of things to have on hand at the hospital….this is another reason why.  Even though you were very clear on allergies when your loved one was admitted to the hospital doesn’t mean accidents don’t happen.  Sometimes the doctor messes up and orders the wrong thing and the nurses don’t catch it.  You, the “go to person”, might be the one who catches it, only if you ask questions.  Even if you annoy the hospital staff, wouldn’t you rather annoy them then run the risk of having something preventable and bad happen to your elder?  Don’t think that could happen to you?  These statistics are mind boggling!

2.  ALWAYS read the bag on the IV bag.  Mom2 is very allergic to penicillin.  I want to make sure she isn’t receiving penicillin in her IV drip as that would be life threatening to her.  Make sure your elder’s name is written on the bag.  Wouldn’t it be a disaster if your loved one got John Q Public’s bag of Chemotherapy and your loved one was in the hospital for something completely different than cancer?  Yikes!  But, things like that do happen.

3.  When test are being done, ask questions!!!  What is the test for?  What are the side effects?  If surgery is going to be preformed, why is it being done?  When they take them away for a needed surgery, is the area marked on their body?  Are the records correct on their chart?  A surgery to remove a right big toe wouldn’t be a success if they removed a leg instead, especially if it’s the left leg!

4.  Pay very close attention to what the doctor and the nurses are telling you.  Again, WRITE IT DOWN!  I have a very good memory, but hospitals can be stressful places.  I don’t want to forget anything that has been told to me.  I don’t want my memory to have to sort out what’s important and what’s not.  I write it all down.  Be sure you understand before the doctor leaves the room what was said to you.  If you’re having difficulty understanding a doctor’s accent, ask someone to stay in the room with you and help you translate it.  Nurses are very good at this because they deal with the doctor every day.    If you don’t understand a term they are using, ask what it means. Don’t be afraid to ask them to explain more or repeat it.  It doesn’t matter what they think about you, it’s your loved one that is important.  It can all done civilly.  It’s important to be polite.

5.  It’s important to be patient and don’t lose your cool.  The wheels in a hospital move slowly.  Especially in a hospital’s ER.  Your elder may be sitting there longer waiting for help than someone who comes in from a bad car accident or is near death.  But, don’t confuse patience with accepting things that aren’t right.  If you believe you are getting bad service ask for a supervisor.  The squeaky wheel does get the grease.

I believe it is important for the main caregiver to stay with the elder for at least 24 hours, especially if a cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s is involved. It is, also, important for the caregiver to take care of themselves.  It’s easy to get worn out staying in a hospital for days on end.  Go home after the first 24 hours and rest.  If it’s important for someone to be with your senior at the hospital, let someone else be there.  After all, that’s another reason you have written everything down and have all your important documents in place.

When I first started taking an active role in my parents care it was the early 1990’s.  The Internet wasn’t as evolved as it is now.  I didn’t even have a personal computer at home.  I would have loved to have someone to point the way for me with helpful information. Thankfully, the Internet exists!  Now, we can get helpful hints from all over the globe.  Let’s help each other.  If you have more helpful hints about this subject, leave a comment.  We’ll all benefit from it.

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5 Responses to “5 Tips to Make Your Elder’s Hospital Visit Less Traumatic”

  1. The tips are spot on. Thanks for sharing. Family caregivers sometimes do forget the doctor`s orders and warning signs specified for their loved one. Writing on a pad or on the phones can be of great help in remembering important stuff like medication and tests. Writing can better organize the list of instructions given to you by the doctor.

  2. Brandon M says:

    Family members shouldn`t ignore the feeling of their senior loved ones who are living far away. The new technology have really bridge the gap between relatives living far away. Video calling can let you talk to your loved one easily. However, your physical presence matters the most nonetheless. These are some really helpful tips. The caregiver of your loved one should know all the necessary things too in case of an emergency. I like the point of hiring the best suited caregiver. It can be sometimes daunting for seniors to be accompanied by someone they don`t like or get acquainted with easily.

  3. Technology says:

    Found your blog from Yahoo, thank you for the informative read.

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