When Your Aging Parent is Hospitalized – Part 2
This is Part 2 of a 3 part series on this topic.
Click here for Part 1. Click here for Part 3.
Being in the hospital can be scary for people of all ages. If your aging parent is hospitalized for even a short time, here are some things you can do to make it easier for them.
- Bring some favorite things from home to decorate the stark hospital room. This can include family photos to be put near the bed where they can easily see them, a special throw blanket or pillow(s), and flowers or plants. Have your children, nieces or nephews make Get Well cards to display. An iPod or small CD player may also be brought in loaded with their favorite music.
- Many hospital rooms have a combination bulletin board/white board on the wall facing the patient’s bed. If so, write messages to your parent to read while you’re away. Use a thick black or dark marker and write in large print on the white board because often times they don’t wear their eyeglasses when in the hospital. I would write something like “Dad, Follow doctors’ orders and keep getting well fast. I will be back at 6:00 pm today with Jeff and Robbie to visit.” When I left in the evening I would write, “Have a good sleep and sweet dreams. I will be here in the morning at 9:00 am to visit.” The bulletin board side is perfect to hang Get Well cards on, so bring some thumbtacks from home.
- Along with creating a friendlier and more interesting physical environment, I believe it is vital to create a positive-thinking environment when visiting. Try your best to be positive, upbeat and calm in front of your parent, because I truly believe they read and pick up on our “vibes.” They are probably already scared by just being the hospital, so by your staying calm and in control it won’t increase their level of anxiety and may even decrease it. Even if the diagnosis is serious, I believe it is important to stay positive in front of the patient and share your worries or concerns with the hospital staff and doctors when you are sure your parent won’t hear the conversations, either behind closed doors or far down the hall from their room.
- Be a patient extender, the person who helps your parent fully explain him- or herself to the doctors, nurses or other providers. This goes beyond their medical history or current condition; it includes the “every day” things, such as letting the nurses know they aren’t wearing their hearing aides, but if the staff faces them and speaks slowly the patient can read their lips. Or, their glasses are for distance, not for close up reading. Or, they’d prefer apple sauce instead of water to take their medications with.
- Be your aging parents’ advocate. Write down what the doctors and nurses tell you each time you have a conversation. Then, write down follow up questions as you and your parent think of them, so that you can be sure to get them answered the next time either MD or RN returns to the room. Be persistent in getting all of your questions answered clearly and completely!
- Become a technical interpreter, the person who helps doctors and other providers explain themselves to your parent. While communicating with the hospital staff and even family members who are visiting, do not talk in front of your parent as if they’re not there and aware of what’s going on! Even if you think they are asleep or sedated from medication, they may be conscious. As long as they have the ability to comprehend and participate in the health care decision, include them in the discussions as best as you can. They may be ill, but they are still alive and have the right to understand and have input about their health care decisions.
- If you are unhappy with something that occurs, speak up in an assertive way. Remember, your parent probably cannot handle a difficult situation themselves at the moment, so you are representing them and their best interests. Being assertive yet firm will yield a better result than being unpleasant or aggressive in your approach to the hospital staff. (As the old saying goes, you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.) And if you do have a complaint, state it away from your parent’s room so as not to upset them further. They might not have even realized something upset you, so keep it that way!
- Depending upon your parent’s age, medical condition and your own daily responsibilities, you may want to hire a companion/health aide/licensed vocational nurse (LVN) through an outside agency to stay with your parent when you or other family members can’t be with them. Many Golden Oldies may have a decline in their normal level of functioning or get confused temporarily when they are in an unfamiliar environment, and having someone with them (especially during the night) may help. If you have a large family, try to arrange a schedule for your siblings, their grown children, and/or other family and friends to be with your parent during their stay. Hopefully any confusion or decline in functioning will return to normal once your aging parent is back in their own home.
Having a parent in the hospital isn’t easy on any family, and not all problems can be prevented. But hopefully the steps above should help make it an overall more positive experience for everyone involved. In Part 3 I will cover issues regarding hospital discharge and the transition from hospital to home.
Here’s to more Tender Loving Eldercare!