Dementia & Hospitalization: 6 Pitfalls to Watch For
How to guard against common complications and mistakes in the hospital
Hospitals are all about healing. But complications, accidents, mistakes, and unnecessary procedures happen. And these can worsen the hospital experience for any patient -- especially someone with dementia.
Be aware of the following common pitfalls, so you can take steps to either prevent them or recognize them when they're happening:
Delirium is a state of acute mental confusion in which a person's state of mind suddenly becomes worse than usual. Anyone can develop it during a hospitalization as a result of an infection or other stressor, but people with dementia develop delirium at much higher rates. It's often missed by hospital staff, however, because they don't know a patient's baseline -- that is, what's normal for that person. And when someone has dementia, a certain level of confusion, apathy, and other signs of delirium are already normal.
There are many possible causes of delirium. In a hospital setting, common triggers are a hospital-acquired infection or complications from surgery.
Many hospital techniques meant to manage a confused patient may worsen confusion, including the use of restraints, tranquilizers, and sleep aids.
What you can do:
Know the signs of delirium.
Make sure the hospital staff is aware of a sudden change in mental status as soon as possible. Emphasize that even though the person has dementia, what you are seeing is a change in the level of confusion.
Make sure that pain is being adequately treated. (See below.) Pain can trigger delirium.
Work to keep your loved one oriented and calm. Not all delirium can be prevented, but a reassuring environment helps minimize confusion. Gently orient your loved one with reminders: "Here we are, still in the hospital for that operation, Dad." "You're in a hospital bed to have your heart checked." A familiar blanket or favorite picture from home and a cheerful plant can also be calming.