With over 5 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s in the U.S. alone, it has become a strain on the families and healthcare system that try to help the victims of this disease. Part of making their lives as stress free and comfortable as possible is giving them a familiar environment where they feel safe. Unfortunately, due to their illness, they often have to be brought to a hospital where this sense of security is quickly lost.
Effects Of Hospital Stays On Alzheimer’s Patients
States of delirium when stressed or confused can happen for many patients of Alzheimer’s. This can cause even more damage to their deteriorating condition. Emergency room visits and hospital stays can be very stressful for anyone, especially someone with occasional memory loss. Waking up in a strange bed in a strange place can cause the patient to react in a negative way, by trying to escape or acting out aggressively.
A Harvard study recently published in the Annals of Internals Medicine shows a link to hospitalization and deterioration of Alzheimer’s patient’s condition. The study focused on 771 higher-functioning Alzheimer’s patients that had at-home care that were hospitalized. About 25% of the patients had a bout of delirium during their hospital stay and of these patients, 43% ended up being put into a nursing home and 15% of them died within the next year. The reason for the link has not been determined, but it is thought that the episodes of delirium can cause additional damage to the brain.
Reducing Stress During Hospital Stays
While it may be impossible to avoid hospital stays for Alzheimer patients, there are ways to reduce the possibility of upsetting the patient and causing an adverse reaction. The Alzheimer Association suggests the following for caregivers to avoid unneeded stress for these patients:
- Prepare ahead of time. Even for unexpected stays, having a plan can help reduce the stress of a hospital stay. Have a kit prepared that includes the patient’s regular medications, insurance information, notes on particular needs or issues and a change of clothes. This will help you be able to focus on reassuring the patient instead of hunting for these things when you need them.
- Remain with the person as much as possible. Try to be there when they wake up, when medication is being given and when doctors and other strangers enter the room.
- Leave communication for when you are not there. If you must leave them alone, leave a note for them describing where they are and when you will be back.
- Have 24-hour care. If possible, have someone that can be with them 24-hours a day that they are familiar with. Call on friends and family to do shifts, or use a trusted caregiver.
By making the hospital stay as comfortable and safe as possible, you can reduce the negative impact on your loved one. Surrounding them with familiar faces and items they recognize can go a long way in reducing their anxiety. By preparing for the inevitable, you will be more ready to handle the situation and be able to do the most important task of all; be there by their side.
Resources For Caring For Alzheimer’s Patients: