Daily living with dementia poses challenges, but maintaining a routine helps families to cope. It is when there is an unexpected break in the daily routine that dementia can pose a real problem, such as hospital visits. Unfortunately, hospital visits are common for ageing adults living with dementia or other diseases as the immune system is compromised and more prone to infection, as well as being at higher risk of injury. So it really helps to be prepared for hospital visits.
Your senior loved one with dementia is likely to be extremely stressed by the experience of unfamiliar surroundings, bright lights, seemingly invasive strangers, potentially painful procedures, and constantly being asked questions that they might not be able to answer. This stress is often manifested in anxiety, volatile emotions, and uncooperative attitudes. There is even a term for the state of confusion and stress for a senior with dementia upon entering a hospital: hospital delirium.
So what are the things that you can do to help?
- Be patient and remind your senior loved one – every time they ask – that they are in the hospital, and tell them why.
- Assure your senior loved one that you are there with them, and everything will be okay.
- Communicate with any hospital staff who are working with your senior loved one to ensure that they know he/she has dementia, and how to work with someone suffering from dementia.
- They are going to be asked the same questions a lot, as staff change shifts, so it helps to be prepared with a ‘hospital sheet’. This may be a laminated page with significant information, including name, DOB, current medication information, time with and severity of dementia, anxiety triggers and common reactions, allergies, food they like/dislike, whether they are prone to incontinence, and communication for needs such as hunger or needing the washroom. Any information you can think of that would be useful for someone caring for your elderly loved one should be included on this sheet, and the sheet should always be with them at the hospital.
The most important thing, of course, is that you continue to reassure your elderly loved one and provide them a calming presence.