Remember that hospitals can bring few miracles but many dangers for an older, frail person. Sometimes it is necessary for your loved one to be hospitalized. Here are some important points to keep in mind:
Urinary catheters are a major cause of infection in the hospital, especially for frail or elderly patients and for people with chronic illness such as diabetes, dementia or heart disease. Consider refusing a catheter for your loved one, or request that it be removed after no more than 24 hours unless there is a very important reason to keep it.
Be aware that sedatives stay in the system of older people much longer than in younger, more healthy people. Sometimes, patients became anxious or afraid in the hospital and are given sedation. Consider asking that a sitter be assigned to sit at the bedside or have a family member stay with your loved one in order to prevent her from getting sedating medications. Sedatives can cause confusion or hostility in older patients.
Being on bed rest for even a short period of time can cause muscle weakness in older people. It is important that your loved one get up and out of bed as much as is allowed. Even a short walk a few times a day can help to maintain strength. Realistically, hospital staff may not have time to walk with your loved one. This is something that family members can do if it is ok’d by the doctor or nurse practitioner. Activity also helps to prevent confusion and mental deterioration.
Be sure that there is a plan to treat pain. If narcotics are given, ask if a laxative should be ordered so that your loved one will not become constipated. It is easier to prevent constipation than it is to treat it.
If your loved one has dementia, she is at risk for increased confusion in the hospital. If possible, have a family member or a friend at the bedside as much as you can to help prevent more disorientation.