Increased age combined with dementia and hospitalization can lead to increased risk for delirium, a serious medical condition. Delirium comes on suddenly and causes fluctuating changes in thinking and behaviour. Other factors that can contribute to delirium are infections, injury, surgery, malnutrition, dehydration, medication effects and poor sleep.
Here are seven ways you can help your loved one with dementia during a hospital stay:
- Know the signs and symptoms of delirium. Delirium can happen at home, a facility or the hospital – with a 30 to 80 percent risk of occurring in the intensive care unit. Delirium is marked by a sudden onset of behavioural changes (over hours rather than days), including:
- Changes in alertness and attention – including unresponsiveness
- Disorganized or illogical thinking
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Irritability, anger or euphoria, not typical for the individual
- Problems with short-term memory and recall
- Changes in movement patterns, such as walking more slowly or pacing agitatedly, etc.
- Be proactive. You know your loved one best. Let health care professionals know immediately when you see a sudden worsening in your loved one’s thinking and behaviour like the signs and symptoms above. Hospital staff changes from shift to shift, and the staff might attribute increased confusion and agitation to dementia, rather than a change in condition.
- Encourage fluids, food, appropriate sensory stimulation and movement. Keeping the body’s metabolism in balance helps prevent and treat delirium. Encourage your loved one to wear their eyeglasses, hearing aids and dentures while awake. Being able to process the world accurately through the senses may reduce confusion and agitation. Moving around, if possible, can help too but be mindful of increased fall risks.
- Create calm within the chaos. Play soothing music during the day. Try to keep the lighting and noise levels low at night. It is difficult for most people to sleep in the hospital. The change of environment can be more disorienting for someone with dementia. However, a good night’s sleep can assist in recovery.
- Watch for medication effects. Certain medications for pain, cardiac conditions, mood disorders, allergies, or Parkinson’s disease can cause delirium in older adults. Be alert for undesirable changes from medications. Use of multiple drugs (especially in hospital) can result in delirium.
- Use warm, clear communication. Speak in a gentle voice with simple, comforting language. Due to confusion, your loved one may need more reminders than usual about the day, time, location or even your name. Clocks and calendars may offer additional visual cues.
- Be present with your loved one as much as possible in hospital. Keeping an eye on your loved one during hospitalization can help in preventing and treating. Just being there can have a positive effect on your loved one’s health and your peace of mind.
To learn three practical interventions for dementia and delirium, watch our video on “Dementia and Hospital Delirium.”
ComForCare Home Care has experienced, trained caregivers who can offer companionship and a reassuring presence when your loved one with dementia is in hospital. Let us help you live your best life possible. Call 800-886-4044 today to learn more.