Mom had only two extended stays at the hospital after her diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease. In both cases, I was a visible presence. Although I didn't stay with her overnight, I did hang out in her room for extended periods of time so that the medical staff were aware of my presence. And if there was a problem, I didn't hesitate to bring any concerns to the hospital staff's attention.
Therefore, I found the story "Half of Alzheimer's patients come out of hospital ‘worse than when they went in'" published in the United Kingdom's Telegraph an interesting and scary read. Reporter Kate Devlin described a study by the Alzheimer's Society which found that 50% of Alzheimer's patients who are admitted to hospitals suffer worse health due to poor care. Fifty-four percent of patients have experienced deteriorating dementia while in the hospital. Furthermore, one in three is discharged to a nursing home instead of their own homes due to their poor health.
The Alzheimer's Society study also found that patients were not being fed or given anything to drink, and were left sitting in their own urine "because staff did not realise Alzheimer's patients need extra help with simple tasks," Devlin reported.
Devlin noted that the Alzheimer's Society study follows another independent investigation which reported that approximately 2,000 dementia patients are killed annually due to being given drugs to keep them quiet. Additionally, hospital stays could be longer. For instance, one in eight dementia patients who suffered hip fractures stayed in the hospital for over two months, whereas the average length of stay for someone without dementia was one week.
So how do you handle it if your loved one has to be admitted to a hospital? Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins in "The 36-Hour Day" write, "The unfamiliar environment, the confusion of a busy hospital, and new treatments may precipitate a decline in function... It is not unusual for people with dementia to become agitated, scream, or strike out in such circumstances." Mace and Rabins suggested the following:
- Talk to the doctor in advance of the loved one's admission to discuss how Alzheimer's can complicate the hospitalization.
- See if the treatment can be done in an outpatient basis.
- Talk to the nursing staff at admission about the loved one's dementia.
- Write out information that the nursing staff needs to know and ask that it be placed in the loved one's chart. This information could include ideas that will help the hospital staff's interactions go smoothly as well as the loved one's abilities.
- Try to arrange a schedule in which you and other family members and friends can be available as much as possible while the loved one is in the hospital to help with eating, drinking and keeping the loved one calm.
- Consider hiring a sitter to stay with the loved one when you and family members are not available.
- Bring something familiar (such as a blanket or large photos of family members) and place these in the hospital room to reassure the loved one who has dementia.
- Ask that restraints (if they are needed) are as mild as possible.
Finally, Mace and Rabins encouraged caregivers to recognize that problems still may come about during the loved one's stay in the hospital. "It is important that you yourself not become exhausted," they wrote. I believe that during the hospital stay, caregivers need to give themselves breaks so that they can eat write, sleep well, exercise and maintain their equilibrium. Having a loved one in the hospital can be extremely stressful; however, taking time to relieve stress is the best gift a caregiver can give to themselves as well as to the loved one with dementia who is hospitalized.