Without any doubt or hesitation we can now declare that maintaining a daily routine for dementia patients is vital. However, when something happens and a hospital visit is required, their world will be turned upside down and, if you are the caregiver, so will yours.
Anxiety levels and confusion will be off the charts. Unfortunately, this is when bad things begin to happen, sometimes setting off a chain of events that can be quite difficult to stop.
The moment you accompany them into the emergency room you are entering the most critical first moments of their stay, whether long or short. First and foremost don’t let the staff separate you. They will try to keep you busy in the lobby filling out the paperwork while they whisk the patients off to triage.
Do not let this happen! Be confident and in control because the staff will begin asking them vital questions that will set the course for much of their treatment to come. The fact that these patients are cognitively impaired may not even be noticed by the triage nurse. You need to be there to field those questions; all answers must be verified by you!
I understand that the hospitals are taking these patients at face value. They see them as adults, which of course, they are. However, caregivers need to stand in the gap and be certain it is understood that yes, they are adults, but with cognitive issues! Not everyone knows that a major symptom of dementia is poor decision making. Once the staff “gets it,” it will make a world of difference when it comes to the approach that is used, especially under these higher levels of confusion.
It’s one thing to ask them where they were born and have them answer with the wrong city, even in a state they have never even been to. But when they are being asked if they're allergic to any medications or when is the last time they had any surgeries, the incorrect answers will lead to serious complications.
Get ready. This can be an exercise in frustration. Sometimes it won’t matter how many times you stomp your foot on the floor and tell the hospital's medical staff that these patients are suffering with dementia. More often than not, it will go in one ear and out the other.
One of the first things I teach when training hospital staff members about dementia care is that all information must be verified. We are lacking dementia training in our hospitals here in the United States, and in many other countries as well. I’ve been working hard for years to change this. I am happy to say that I am beginning to see a steady pace of progress.
With the incidence of dementia patients entering our hospitals surging, these facilities need to be educated on how to properly address their behaviors and better ways to communicate with them. This continues to be one of my biggest goals, but until we get there, you, the caregiver, must be the voice and advocate for your loved ones during these admissions. If you have power of attorney, have the official papers with you, and keep them with you during the entire stay.
Make sure you tell everyone that they have dementia and that everything needs to go through you. And I mean everyone!
We, their caregivers, are the only ones that can make sure their hospital stay is safe and calm. We are an essential cog in the wheel of tranquility for our loved ones, the hospital staff and for ourselves.