Minimizing Confusion While Your Loved One is Hospitalized

When an older person is hospitalized, an illness or the change in enviroment can cause confusion, which is usually temporary. Confusion can be a safety concern because the older adult may not think or act as rationally as he or she would normally, and this could result in a fall or injury in the hospital. It is important to plan ahead before a hospital stay to reduce the risk of confusion.

Be prepared in case of a hospitalization. It is important to have this information on the ready at all times:

1. A complete list of all medications (with their dosages), as well as over-the-counter medicines.

2. Prepare a “medical information sheet” listing all allergies, names and phone numbers of physicians, the name of the patient’s usual pharmacy and all known medical conditions. Also, be sure all pertinent medical records have been forwarded to the doctors who will be caring for the patient.

If your loved one is hospitalized, there are a few things that you can do to help prevent confusion:

1. Bring glasses, hearing aids (with fresh batteries), and dentures to the hospital. Older persons do better if they can see, hear and eat.

2. Bring in a few familiar objects from home. Things such as family photos, a favorite comforter or blanket for the bed, rosary beads, a beloved book and relaxation tapes can be quite comforting.

3. Help orient the patient throughout the day. Speak in a calm, reassuring tone of voice and tell the patient where he is and why he is there.

4. When giving instructions, state one fact or simple task at a time. Do not overwhelm or over stimulate the patient.

5. Massage can be soothing for some patients.

6. It is always important to have an advocate available for the patient. Stay with the hospitalized patient as much as possible. If your loved one becomes confused, relatives should try to arrange shifts so someone can be present around the clock.

7. If you detect new signs that could indicate delirium — confusion, memory problems, personality changes — it is important to discuss these with the nurses and physicians as soon as you can. Family members are often the first to notice subtle changes.

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