5 Tips for a Safer Emergency Room Visit When a Senior Has Dementia
A trip to a hospital emergency room can present unique challenges for adults with dementia and their caregivers. While we often take for granted that a patient in the hospital will be safe, the truth is that not all healthcare professionals have experience working with people who have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Emergency room personnel might not be aware that a change in environment can increase anxiety and agitation for someone with memory loss or that they might not have the verbal skills necessary to express their pain and symptoms. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place in case a loved one ends up in the emergency room.
Here are five tips to keep an adult with dementia safe in the emergency room:
1. Make sure someone familiar with the senior’s needs is in the room.
The best way to ensure a senior with dementia receives the help they need is to be certain they aren’t alone. Not only will the friend or loved one be able to converse with the doctors and nurses, they will also be able to keep the older adult safe in an unfamiliar environment.
2. Be prepared to quickly explain the senior’s disease.
It’s important to let the hospital staff know upfront that your loved one has Alzheimer’s. You might find it easier and less uncomfortable for the person with Alzheimer’s if you step out into the hall to explain the situation. Additionally, some families have found it helps to create small cards with this information written on them to share with people who need to know in lieu of talking in front of the senior. Having this information is essential for the doctor to understand what might be wrong.
3. Plan for waiting and confusion.
Hospitals can be confusing and frightening places for anyone, but doubly so for people with memory loss. Before an emergency happens, put together a comfort bag you can grab in a hurry. It should contain activities to keep your loved one busy while you wait, such as cards or fabric squares to sort. If your family member finds music to be soothing, you might want to include music and headphones in your emergency bag, too.
It may also help to bring a few favorite snacks, although you’ll need to check with the doctor before giving any food to your family member. Incontinence briefs, if needed, along with a change of clothing may be helpful, too.
4. Bring insurance cards and medical information.
You should also make sure to bring the following:
- Medicare and/or health insurance cards
- Medical history that includes current medications, allergies, medical conditions, and physician contact information
- Any devices or equipment they require, such as a cane or walker, glasses, dentures, or hearing aids
- Copies of healthcare advance directives or living will
5. Ask questions and document answers.
While the environment can be a little intimidating and stressful, take time to make sure you have all of your questions answered before leaving the hospital. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Write everything down, including what steps you need to take to follow up.
If you are the family caregiver for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease, we have a resource you might find to be helpful. In our caregiver guide to understanding the memory loss journey, we talk about issues ranging from creativity and humor to using the Validation Method to communicate.