When a loved one lives with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia, a hospital stay can present unique challenges. While hospital staff no doubt has the best of intentions, understanding how to communicate with someone who has impaired verbal skills isn’t something they may do every day. In addition, some health professionals might not be aware how illnesses, injuries, and new medications can impact someone with dementia differently than their peers. 

Here is a quick overview of potential problems caregivers should watch for when their Alzheimer’s loved one is hospitalized:

Increased confusion.

This can be caused by everything from too many new faces to a change in environment and routine. Help their care team by explaining what you know helps decrease agitation and confusion. It might mean not waking them in the middle of the night as often to check their vitals or to approach them slowly while making eye contact. Be prepared to do this with each new shift of caregivers.

Pain may be unnoticed or undertreated.

When your loved one has difficulty communicating, their pain level is difficult to assess. Try to have someone who knows them well be with them at the hospital as much as possible. Loved ones can generally tell by behavior and facial expressions that their loved one is in pain.

Greater risk for falls.

Because the environment is unfamiliar to them, your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease may try to get up and “go home.” That increases their risk for a fall, especially if they have had a surgery or other injury.

Delirium and infections.

Older adults who are hospitalized often experience delirium at higher rates than their younger counterparts. For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, it may be overlooked because the hospital staff isn’t familiar with what their normal behavior is. It might cause a serious infection to go untreated. If your loved one seems to be experiencing a change in behaviors,  hallucinations, or is more agitated than is typical of them, let the care team know.

If you are a long distance caregiver and can’t be in the hospital to advocate for your loved one, consider employing the services of a local care manager. They can help to oversee the situation and make sure your loved one receives the care they need when you can’t be there.