Emergency room visits were never a significant part of my Mom’s life. That is, until she had Alzheimer’s disease. She was always an exceptionally healthy person and before dementia, I can’t remember a time when she was admitted as a patient in a hospital.
When a person has Alzheimer’s, they don’t know how to tell you that they aren’t feeling well. Caretakers have to become aware of the signs that the person is in pain because they simply can’t express it. Sometimes they become combative either verbally, physically, or both. To be clear, they can throw things or use swear words. Sometimes they become very quiet. It’s like trying to solve a mystery to figure out what’s wrong.
Mom had been in her new assisted living home for only a few weeks when my brother Jim stopped by for a visit. Mom was lying on the bed, and to put it delicately, he could smell an odor. He asked her how she was feeling and even though she couldn’t explain clearly that she was in pain, he could tell there was something really wrong. He put her in his car and went off to the emergency room at the local hospital.
They took a lot of tests, and Mom was diagnosed with diverticulitis. She was admitted as a patient and spent several weeks there. After an additional 6 weeks in a rehabilitation facility, she was strong enough to go home.
Alzheimer’s disease complicates everything about caretaking. Mom didn’t know why her life went upside down. We would explain that she was sick and needed to be in the hospital, then five minutes later she would ask again why she was there.
That was the first of many hospital admissions that Mom had to endure during her journey through Alzheimer’s. The lessons to be learned, however, were mine. I had to learn patience when she wanted to pull the IV needles out of her arm or rip the heart monitor off of her chest. I would explain why she needed those needles and tubes, and now I know how ridiculous it was to expect her to understand. I should have distracted her instead of trying to reason.
Another lesson I had to learn was taught to me by a doctor. I was sitting by Mom’s bedside when the doctor came in and said in a loud voice, “IS THAT YOUR PURSE ON THE FLOOR?? PICK IT UP!” Huh?? I’m being yelled at about my purse? That was the day I learned about the infection called C-Diff which apparently likes to spread itself any way it can. Mom got infected with C-Diff at a later date and that required hospitalization with isolation. To visit you have to wear something similar to a hazmat suit. You can imagine how that explanation went!
I also learned that being admitted to the hospital was sometimes worse for Mom than what was physically wrong. It threw off her routine and got her way out of her comfort zone. The effects lasted for weeks, sometimes months. After several years, I knew that my intention going forward was to keep her OUT of the hospital if at all possible.
Medicare would have been proud.
The Alzheimer’s Reading Room has a good article on taking care of dementia patients in the hospital: http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2016/12/how-to-take-care-of-a-dementia-patient-in-the-hospital.html
The Alzheimer’s Association also has a good article with helpful tips: