Families living with dementia can plan ahead for hospital visits

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An unexpected visit to a hospital emergency department can be stressful for anyone. But it can be even more frightening and upsetting for a person living with dementia who may have difficulty communicating and understanding what is happening around them.

That’s why the Alzheimer Society of Canada and the Older Adult Hospital Readiness (OAHR) team at the University of Alberta have partnered to create a new toolkit to help you and your family plan ahead and make your next hospital visit a more positive experience for everyone.

Be Ready for an Emergency Department Visit is a toolkit of handy checklists and forms that you can complete with your family member who has dementia before a trip to the hospital becomes necessary. Each tool – About Me, Who Knows Me Best, My Medications, My Wishes, My Ready-to-Go Bag and Plan Ahead for Going Home – helps families communicate the person’s needs while in the hospital and when preparing to go home.

“A person with dementia may have trouble remembering details about their health conditions and the supports they use at home and find it hard to express themselves verbally,” says Mary Schulz, Director of Education at the Alzheimer Society of Canada.   “This toolkit makes it easier for family caregivers to share vital information about the person in a busy emergency department. When hospital staff know what supports and comforts the person, they’re better able to provide the care that’s needed.”

For example, About Me provides emergency department staff with essential information about the person with dementia. This includes the things that may cause the person to become agitated or anxious and the best ways of comforting them. Knowing how a person might behave also helps medical staff to make a timely and accurate diagnosis at triage and during the visit. This information is even more important in preventing common problems such as sedating the person with dementia unnecessarily or using urinary catheters instead of offering regular toileting.

My Ready-to-Go Bag provides a comprehensive list of practical and reassuring items to pack for you and your family member with dementia. These items include: the person’s MedicAlert® Safely Home® bracelet, advance directive, favourite snacks, bottled water and juice boxes. Basic care needs may be neglected in an emergency department. Having these supplies on hand during long wait times can prevent dehydration, hunger and unnecessary discomfort.

“These tools are really about putting power into the hands of the caregivers so they can advocate on behalf of their family member with dementia. Caregivers and emergency department staff can work hand-in-hand to create a successful visit for all involved. Ultimately, we want to make sure we help people with dementia live at home longer,” says Parke.

The tools are free and available at the Alzheimer Society website: In English: alzheimer.ca/hospitalvisits or in French: alzheimer.ca/visiteshopital

While on the website, you can also find more information about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and locate an Alzheimer Society in your community for help and support.

Submitted by the Alzheimer Society of Canada.