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How to Approach Hospital Stays When Living with Dementia

Hospital stays are often a fact of life. Many of us will be admitted to hospital once or twice - normally for pretty routine procedures. In fact, around 16 million admissions take place in the NHS each year. While living with dementia doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be spending more time in hospital than the average person, it does mean that you’re more at risk of requiring hospital support, due to having more complex needs.

Why are hospital stays problematic for someone living with dementia?

Prolonged periods spent in hospital can worsen the symptoms of dementia. Unfamiliar surroundings, new faces, noise, changes to routine or medication, can all mean that a stay in hospital becomes very uncomfortable for someone living with dementia. The disturbance can be stressful and in some cases, it can cause delirium or a rapid decline in overall health. Trying to avoid all but the most necessary visits to hospital is recommended if you’re living with dementia or caring for someone who is.

While there’s no need to fear hospitals, unnecessary stays can often be avoided by attending to some of our most basic needs and making sure they remain a priority.

What can I do to minimise the risk of needing emergency hospital treatment?

While sometimes unavoidable, there are some simple things you can do to keep yourself or your loved one safe and well, preventing the need for hospital admission.

  • Being mindful of your self-care. Drinking enough fluids, eating the right food and regularly taking your medication will mean your body is given the best chance of remaining healthy.

  • Avoiding unnecessary falls. If you’d like to find out more about how to prevent falls at home, check out our blog from June.

Attending hospital should only be in response to an emergency, or on the recommendation of a healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about the general physical or mental health of yourself or a loved one, please reach out to your local care team first. GPs and pharmacists are well equipped to help with most issues and can treat minor infections safely at home.

What if going to hospital is unavoidable?

In some cases a stay in hospital will be necessary, and while not ideal for someone living with dementia, there are some things you can do to make their stay more comfortable.

Firstly, it’s crucial that the hospital is made aware of the dementia diagnosis, so that they can properly support you, or your loved one. Most hospitals will have a dementia champion – someone who understands dementia and can help you throughout your stay. The Wayfinding Team can advise you on who to contact at your local hospital if you’ve not had an introduction.

Secondly, you should monitor, or ask for support in monitoring, fluid intake, food intake and necessary medication. Hospital stays can be disconcerting and when normal routines are disrupted, staying on top of basic physical needs becomes even more important.

If you’re caring for a loved one who is admitted to hospital, you may be given a form to complete. This is normally called a ‘Knowing Me’ form, or a ‘This is Me’ form. Be as detailed as possible in this document, as the more information the hospital has, the better they’ll be able to support your loved one during their time there.

Aside from this, the hospital team should conduct a full-assessment covering pain, cognition, delirium and nutrition. Don’t be afraid to ask for this, or for a more detailed assessment if you feel something important has been missed. You know your loved one best, so if they display any behaviours or symptoms that you don’t recognise, do raise it with the hospital team.

Going home again

Rest assured that the discharge team at the hospital will not send you home until you’re medically ready to go and appropriate care and equipment is in place. The discharge process can sometimes start alarmingly soon but this is just to make sure that the team has time to cover all bases for you and your loved one. They will make sure that;

  • Your home environment is safe for you to return to

  • You have all the medication you need to continue and are confident on how to take/administer it

  • You have ongoing support at home, if needed

  • You have next steps organised with any medical professionals who will continue to help you after you have been discharged

If you’re a Carer, you’re also entitled to a full Carer’s assessment before returning home. This can be very reassuring and will ensure that you’re properly equipped to support your loved one as they recover.

Taking care of someone living with dementia is one of the most emotionally and physically challenging things you can do in life and it’s vitally important that you consider your needs in the process. For support on how to tackle the return home from hospital, or advice on how to take care of yourself while caring for someone else, please reach out to our Wayfinding Team.


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