Recent studies reflect that one hospitalization can lead to additional ER visits or hospital stays. “Those over age 65 account for up to one-fifth of emergency-room visits. … . Within three months of hospitalization, up to 27 percent of older adults have another medical emergency, face another hospital admittance, or die, studies show. That’s because they tend to have multiple chronic conditions and take multiple medications, and may have poorer communication skills to convey symptoms and history.” (A Better, Safer Trip to the E.R., Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com senior editor)
With those statistics in mind, now is a great time to begin to prepare for the unexpected and proactively defray some of the stress for future Emergency Room visits and hospital stays.
How do you prepare?
Here’s what helped me: When I was a long distance caregiver for my parent, I kept a small bag packed, with jeans, t-shirts and travel essentials (including prescription meds). I was ready to respond and travel whenever that unexpected phone call came. At a moment’s notice, I could make a few phone calls, grab my bag and hit the road. I kept copies of my parent’s advance directives and durable powers of attorney for healthcare (health care proxy) in a file in my travel bag, along with lists of current medications and copies of Medicare and insurance cards.
Another important piece? I kept a notebook handy to record any questions, observations, and physician visits. With stress and worry about the situation, lack of sleep, and most likely too much coffee, I found that it was hard to keep some details straight. My written notes became important tools for communicating to members of the healthcare team, other caregivers helping me, and the entire family.
I could also review those notes and share them with the patient when appropriate.
Be the patient’s advocate. The patient’s caregiver/health care proxy may need to be prepared to represent the patient if he/she is not able to communicate, due to confusion, illness, exhaustion, etc. If the patient is able to speak and understand the situation, that person has the right to communicate with the healthcare team and have his/her wishes respected. If the patient is not able to understand or communicate his/her wishes the caregiver has the responsibility to speak up and take an active role as part of the team concerned and caring for your loved one. It is not the time to sit back on the sidelines, you may have important history, information and observations.
It is also important for the caregiver or a trusted family member or friend to be present to support their loved one in the unfamiliar hospital environment. The Caregiver may need to help the older adult answer questions from nurses and physicians, to clarify information and intervene if the patient is unable to communicate effectively.
In addition at time of discharge, there will be discharge instructions that can be difficult to understand and remember. Taking careful notes and asking pertinent questions can save problems when you return home.
For more information about family caregiving and managing a hospitalization see the following:
“How to Have Strong Communication With Medical Staff” by Melanie Haiken, Caring.com senior editor