If you’re looking after a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, you know that home is a comfortable place where loved ones often feel most at ease. On the other hand, a hospital visit — although it may be necessary — can be pretty stressful.
Filling out forms, relaying important info to medical personnel, making sure your friend or loved one remains calm, making sure you remain calm — it’s a lot to juggle, especially if the hospital visit is unexpected. It helps to be prepared for the inevitable trip by following these tips from Cheryl Parker, a family nurse practitioner at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Tucson, AZ.
Step #1: Fill out a complete care plan
Parker’s first tip helps you stay a step ahead by having all the necessary information at the ready. When you get to the hospital, their staff will need various info on the patient’s medical history. Having all this info organized beforehand is super helpful for everyone involved. A complete care plan should include the following details:
- List of current medications and doses
- List of past medications
- General medical history
- Recent medical visits and treatments
- Life-sustaining measures and preferences
- Patient’s personal habits, likes and dislikes
- Patient’s possible behaviors and how to respond
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made this step a bit easier with a well-organized Complete Care Plan form. The form is also available in Spanish. They recommend updating this plan every year or when there are changes in medications, hospital visits, etc. When possible it’s also important to involve the person you care for in this planning process and know what they prefer.
Step #2: Pack an emergency bag
A hospital visit can be short, but sometimes you need to stay longer. Having an emergency bag packed beforehand, for both of you, will make this hospital visit much easier. Consider packing the following items:
- Books, magazines, tablets or other things to pass the time
- “Comfort” items: Things that help your loved one stay calm and grounded, like a particular blanket or sweater
Parker suggested prepping some backup care plans, like the names and contact information of trusted people who can help out during a hospital visit. Who will stay with your loved one if you’re not available? Who will feed your pets if you have to stay at the hospital? Who will pick up your kids from school? Planning for these events, Parker said, can help caregivers feel a bit less worried when staying with the person they are caring for. It also helps caregivers start important discussions with their support network, so they aren’t feeling isolated during the caregiving process.
Step #3: Strengthen your relationship and personal well-being
When someone you love begins experiencing dementia, it’s emotionally challenging. The feelings of loss and grief can be traumatic. As people with dementia lose their independence, they can also lose their sense of self. Parker said it’s important for caregivers to keep this in mind and do what they can to involve their loved ones in decision-making.
As a caretaker, you’re the connector between your loved one and the medical staff. And because of this, your mood has a big impact on all parties. Stress can overwhelm people with dementia, and they’ll likely take emotional cues from you while at the hospital. Doing your preparation beforehand will help you stay grounded. It may also be helpful to have an additional friend or family member join you at the hospital.
Caring for someone with dementia is a lot of work. And caregivers often struggle to look after their own needs. When at the hospital, Parker advised caregivers to let medical personnel care for your loved one, and just be the daughter, son, spouse, etc. to your person in these moments. “It’s like stepping from being the CEO to a consulting position,” Parker explained.
You’ve got this!
What you do to care for your loved one is so important and valuable. When the need arises for a hospital visit, trust yourself to be calm, caring and prepared. Setting aside prep time, and involving your loved one in that preparation, will help you remain the smart, loving, capable caregiver that you are.
For more information about dementia and guidance for caregivers, visit bannerhealth.com.