Because of the nature of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, it's probable that the affected individual will be hospitalized at some point.
Most hospitals are not well-designed for those with Alzheimer’s, so preparation is the key for a comfortable hospital experience.
It is helpful to have a care team. Discuss the need for planned hospitalization and explore alternatives such as outpatient procedures and/or hospice services. Talk to the doctor about anesthesia, catheters and IVs that may make the individual very fearful and uncomfortable. Check to see if local anesthesia is an option as general anesthesia can have side effects.
If possible, involve the individual with the planning process, giving him or her dignity and respect.
A care team can rotate staying with the individual during the hospital stay to assist in helping keep them calm and alleviating fears. They also can be on the lookout for any medical issues that may arise such as fever, infection and/or medication side effects.
Monitor signs of pain which may include a furrowed brow, clenched teeth or fists, fidgeting, gestures or kicking. And always make sure the affected individual is thoroughly hydrated.
Cue the doctors and hospital staff about the individual’s condition, behaviors and cognitive function and ask them to limit questions in front of the individual that he or she may not be able to answer. Instead, talk with the staff outside the individual’s room.
Provide the staff with information on what approaches work best with the affected individual, his or her likes and dislikes and the triggers which cause distress. Additionally, let the staff know of any hearing and/or vision impairments the individual may have.
Above all, share safety concerns with staff, especially if he or she is at risk for falls or has previously experienced wandering and/or suspicious behaviors.
Keep the lines of communication open, and know that an unfamiliar environment, invasive tests, surgery and medications can cause behavioral expressions such as confusion, anxiety or agitation. In those cases, try to keep the affected individual as calm as possible, providing comforting touch therapy, favorite snacks, soothing music or favorite rituals and/or activities.
During this COVID-19 time when hospitals are full, a planned hospital stay may be postponed to a later date. Hospitals continue to update appointment and visitor policies to comply with the state Department of Health for the protection of the patients, visitors and employees, so it helps to visit the hospital’s website for all its regulations and guidelines.
In emergencies, if it is at all possible to contact the doctor first, do so. If the doctor advises that the individual needs hospital-level care, proceed accordingly. It may be that he or she can be treated at an after-hours clinic or other healthcare facility.
COVID-19 precautions are such that patients and visitors are required to wear face masks and typically only one person is allowed to accompany the patient to the hospital. For more information on hospitalization during COVID-19, visit coronavirus.gov.
Once discharged, make sure there is a plan in place for follow-up care.