Prepare for the inevitable

My father loved being a dad. My brother says he became a teacher so he would have the same holidays as us kids. He taught us to play 42 (dominoes) and Pinochle before we even started elementary school. Once we were teenagers, he taught all our friends to play tennis; weekends and summers were filled with tournaments we would stage among ourselves. Once his “playmates” had all left for college, Dad continued to play tennis with anyone he could hustle into a game. After he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s he continued to play long after he could no longer remember how to keep score, so he was very healthy for a very long time after his diagnosis.

Alas, in the last few years of life, his body finally weakened. He fell ill—pneumonia—and ended up in the hospital. A hospital stay for those with dementia or memory loss can be terrifying for the affected individual; for family members or caregivers, it can be especially challenging. The National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health offers many valuable suggestions. Here are a few.

For overnight stays in the hospital, schedule with family/friends to have someone with the patient at all times. If insurance allows, request a private room. You will need a list of all medications and their dosage, medical power of attorney and any other important documentation. Pack a notebook and pen to record shift changes, instructions and provide updates between “sitters.” Patients often become confused or agitated; you may need to turn off the TV or mute your phone. Also, keep in mind that not all medical staff are trained to handle memory issues, especially if you’re not in a “memory issues” section of the hospital.

My father suffered terrible set-backs after both of his hospital stays. His first time in the hospital, he developed severe swallowing issues. His second stay, he stopped walking permanently. The experts say this is all to be expected with such a traumatic disruption for the patient, but your loved one’s hospital stay will be less traumatic if you are prepared. Find more information at www.Alz.org.

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