One of the hardest challenges I experienced in caring for my father was helping take care of him when he was hospitalized. His memory got worse and his confusion was heightened being in a new setting. He suddenly became aggressive and agitated and had to be temporarily restrained which increased his agitation even more. I felt helpless and heartbroken.
It is not unusual for seniors to find themselves facing some type of medical problem due to a medical condition or accident that requires hospitalization. When you add that condition to someone who already has memory loss or confusion the need for specialty care becomes elevated. The first thing to do is understand why a hospitalization can trigger these types of reactions:
- They may be in pain or uncomfortable because of the medical problem and not understanding why they are in the hospital. They may have to undergo medical treatment like x-rays, injections, IV’s, catheters, that can be very frightening and painful.
- Their regular routine has changed and they may be unable to sleep in a hospital setting causing more confusion and fear.
- They are in a new place with hospital staff that are strangers coming in their room all hours day and night which can be very frightening and confusing.
- Delirium, or sudden mental confusion, can occur with a hospitalization. It can be triggered by an infection or extreme stress. Even people with no memory issues can suddenly have an altered memory status.
Now you have an understanding of what the potential reasons for enhanced memory or
behavior problems are. It is important to note there are concrete steps you can take to help
manage these problems or at least try to reduce the severity and longevity:
Work With Hospital Staff at time of Admission
The hospital staff needs to understand what your loved one’s baseline memory and functionality is so they can act quickly if changes are noted.
Have a Familiar Family Member Spend as much time as possible with the patient
Having someone your loved one knows be close by to help advise staff and calm the patient is very important. Just seeing a familiar face can reduce agitation and anxiety.
Discuss Hospital Policy on Management of Patient with Aggressive Behaviors
Talk to a doctor and hospital staff about what they recommend when these instances occur and patient and staff safety become problematical. They may suggest restraints or medication that can calm the patient. Make sure you are OK with the plan. Do you want to be contacted if this occurs? Are you against the use of restraints? Ask about other options like a sitter or an alarm.
Consistency of Staff and Routine
Request that your loved one has the same nurse, nurses aide, or other staff when they are working. Having people a patient is familiar with can reduce the incidence of behavior problems or enhanced memory issues. Also having the same routine every day can be helpful. For example meals and physical/occupational/ speech therapy sessions at the same time can help orient a patient.
Placement of Patient
If your loved one is disruptive have him/her in a room closer to the nursing station and without a roommate. This helps ensure staff will be more attentive as issues arise. Not having a roommate disrupts the frequency of unfamiliar people coming in and out possibly causing regressive tendencies.
Visual and Verbal Reminders
Try to have a clock and calendar visible to help orient your loved one. Have photos of family members with names on them. When visiting, speak softly in short sentences identifying who you are. Be in front of the your loved one by their face so you can be seen and they are aware you are there. Hospital staff should be advised to also use these techniques. Remind patient’s why they are in the hospital. Refer to your loved one by name or relationship, i.e.. “Dad this is Iris, your daughter.”
Use Calming Techniques
Using a smile or gentle touch can go a long way to calming an agitated person.
Don’t dispute or argue about what they are saying. Instead try to understand why they are saying it. My father told me he saw a cow outside his hospital room. Rather than discounting it I looked out his window. I noticed a piece of construction equipment that was oddly shaped and looked like it might have horns. I asked him if that was the cow? It was. Use reassuring words. If they seem worried about something ask why.
Don’t try to rush them into doing something. Allow time for them to prepare and explain what is going to happen in understandable steps. Offer reassurance that you will be there as things that might cause anxiety will be happening.
Bring Familiar Items from Home
If your loved one has a special pillow, blanket, clock or photograph, bring it to the hospital. If they like specific music, use that as something to do together during your visit. If they wear glasses, dentures, hearing aids make sure they are there because that can help with communication and orientation. Things can easily get misplaced or disappear from a hospital room so keep track of where they are placed as much as possible.
Good communication is a key component in making the hospital stay go as well as possible. Make sure that information about your loved one’s deficits is placed in their chart, their care plan, and if there is a board in the hospital room for special care instructions place it there. Also you can write this information on a piece of paper and hang it on the wall near their bed. If you see new staff working with your loved one, make sure they are aware of any special concerns or care needs. These steps can bring peace of mind and lessen anxiety for all concerned parties.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. Role Reversal is the winner of 5 major book awards. Ms. Waichler has been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done freelance writing, counseling, and workshops on patient advocacy and healthcare related issues for 17 years. Find out more at her website http://iriswaichler.wpengine.com