10 Ways to Make a Loved-One's Hospital Stay More Comfortable

Reasons for hospital stays can range from happy occasions, such as the birth of a child, to planned surgeries or treatments, such as an elder having a hip replacement, to even more frightening emergency medical situations. While any of these reasons can create stress, emergency situations are likely the most difficult for both the patient and their family. Read on for tips on how you can help someone get through this difficult time.

Caregiver advocating for his wife.

Be an advocate for your patient

Despite trying their best, hospital staff is often overworked and short on numbers. If a family member has ever stayed in a nursing home, you’ve probably seen staffing stretched to the limit. A hospital stay will be just as tough, if not more so. Therefore, your role as an advocate for this vulnerable person — no matter their age — is even more vital. During your visit, you might need to walk to the nurse's station to ask questions from time to time.

afghan throw from home.

Bring a touch of home to the hospital

Touches from home, such as a pillow, a throw blanket, or photo of family members or a pet can make a hospital room seem more home-like. While hospital stays are more often short-term unlike a move to assisted living or a nursing home, a few things may be allowed. Ask first — the hospital may place constraints on what you can bring because space is needed for medical procedures, as well as consideration for germs. Even one special item can make a difference.

calling ahead

Call ahead before you visit

If you’re visiting someone in the hospital, make sure they’re prepared for you to stop by. It's hard to be modest in the hospital. Flimsy gowns, fluid-filled tubes, and doctor's examinations can mean showing more skin than a person is used to. Additionally, medications can make people less aware of modesty issues and when modesty breaches are remembered at a later time, they might be embarrassed. Calling ahead before you visit a friend or family member allows them to decide if they are feeling up to having company, and to prepare for your visit.

Sleeping in hospital at midday.

Respect the need for sleep, even midday

With a patient’s inability to sleep because of pain from surgery, anxiety over the hospital stay, and staff waking them up when they do sleep, a hospital patient may have trouble getting needed rest. This may make naps important for healing. If they are sleeping when you arrive, you need to be honest about your place on the patient’s list of people to see. Your husband? Go in and sit with him. Your work colleague? Maybe not. Leave a note and say that you stopped but didn’t want to wake them.

Visiting sibling in hospital.

Keep visits short and sweet

Unless you are a patient’s spouse or partner, keep your visit short. The exception is when your job is to be the advocate, which is often the case with adult children. If advocacy is your job, you’ll want to be around more, but even then, you shouldn’t hover with nothing to occupy you. The last thing the patient needs is to worry about whether you’re bored. For the most part, short visits are best.

Caregiver worrying about patient

Remember to care for the caregiver

Patients aren't the only people worn out by a hospital stay. Caregivers are often emotionally and physically tired too. When you visit, offer the caregiver respite time for a break to run an errand, spend time in the chapel, or just have some time alone. You could also offer to run some errands for them or check ahead to see if bringing food would help, since they're often not included in hospital meals. Anything that helps them feel appreciated and supported is useful.

Crossword puzzle book.

Flowers are nice, but think outside the ‘bud’

Consider bringing gifts that may give the patient and caregivers a reprieve from boredom. You must, of course, consider the fact that they will be limited by physical pain and/or the inability to move. Magazines and crosswords geared toward ability and interests or other portable items might be appreciated. Even people with dementia might enjoy working with you on an adult coloring book. If the patient just wants to chat or rest, leave your gift for later.

Smiling at dad in hospital.

Put your best face forward

It can be hard to keep emotions in check when someone is gravely ill, but being a weepy mess will only bring discomfort to everyone. False cheer isn’t necessary, either. Let your concern show but try to seem positive in your approach.

According to Daniel, a patient sharing his hospital experience: “After my seizure I had some friends who couldn't keep from bursting into tears every time they saw me. Frankly, it was unhelpful. I needed people to encourage me to keep getting well, or to offer gentle understanding, not hysterics.–”

Arrange for hospital therapy dog to make a visit.

Personal touch works wonders

Hospital accommodations are impersonal and rarely comfortable. Some TLC never hurts. Ask if your friend or loved one if they’d like their hair combed. Bring some nice smelling lotion and offer a hand or foot massage. Ask a guy if he’d like a shave. While touch has a long history of contributing to healing, some people don’t want to be touched except by those who are most intimate. Ask first. Don’t push, and be gracious if they decline.

Daily life.

Life goes on in the real world; offer to help

Life doesn't stop during a hospital stay. Bills pile up, the grass grows, food goes bad, and dust bunnies multiply. Consider, too, that this person may be caring for more people at home whether that means children, a spouse, or aging parents. Ask what you can do to help. The patient and their family will still need help when they get home. If you can be available later, tell them that once they are home, you’ll be help by running errands, grocery shopping, or doing things around the house.

Shopping list

Put yourself in their place and ask how you can help

What would make you feel better if you were in their position? Offer to do these things for your friend or loved one. Never push, though. This person isn’t you and will most likely have different needs. Give an introvert space. Keep an extrovert company. Try to imagine what it’s like to be temporarily helpless, in pain, worried, while trying to put on a good face for visitors. With that in mind, ask how you can help.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at mindingourelders.com.