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Hospitalization and Dementia:
The Role of the Caregiver
By Sandra O’Connell

(Page 1 of 4)

Inevitable as the progression of the disease itself, hospitalization will happen to a person with Alzheimer's disease or related dementia.  Physical problems increase with age; studies show that one-third of the people discharged from the hospital are 65 or older. With a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, the chance of hospitalization increases dramatically. Older individuals are more likely to have multiple conditions and weak immune systems.  Whether a planned stay or the result of an emergency, the caregiver needs to be prepared to manage a stay in the hospital.  Hospitalization is disruptive and frightening for everyone; for someone with Alzheimer’s, the hospital is, indeed, a scary place.

You might assume that a hospital staffed by healthcare professionals is a safe environment. Unexpectedly, the hospital requires more vigilance and special skills by the caregiver. The very nature of a hospital and the needs of a person with dementia are not highly compatible.

Hospitalization requires even more care than normal from the family; the following guidelines should help you to prepare for and survive a hospital stay. They are derived from my personal experience during 14 years of caregiving for my husband that included three hospitalizations, two stays in rehab nursing homes and seven trips to the emergency room. My experience is supplemented with that of my Alzheimer’s support group and the current literature.

Hospital Environment

Patient with Alzheimer’s
or related dementia

Many are understaffed.

Person needs continued observation and has more needs than a regular patient.

Thrives on information: blood type, test results, symptoms.

Not a reliable source of medical history.
May be unable to express discomfort or pain

Relies on protocols, standards, systems for care, and schedules.

Person has little ability to recognize time or control behavior; most likely will not fit into the hospital routine.


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