Most of us go to hospitals as a last resort. The constant beeping of machines, depressing walls, strange person sleeping next to us, and delicious cafeteria food, give all of us the motivation to stay home. In a real emergency, however, we like to think that a hospital will save our life – and in most situations, it does. Unfortunately, when it comes to senior care, things get a bit more complicated.

When providing help for an older adult, we cannot simply drop them off in the emergency room, and assume the doctors will take it from there. Older patients often need help from a family member, friend, or homecare agency because hospital risks are at an all time high. Medical errors, medication mistakes, falls, infectious diseases, and a host of other possibilities contribute to a dangerous situation, which only gets worse as the amount of time a person spends in the hospital increases. The hospital staff strives to provide top care for all of us, but cannot overcome constant understaffing of nurses and physicians, low reimbursement rates, and often times a simple lack of beds. Having a caretaker besides your loved one in a hospital is a great way to maximize positive outcomes. While a close family member is best, a friend or homecare agency can minimize the patient risk. Here are a few tips for caregivers taking care of elderly patients in hospitals.

Delirium occurs in one third of senior hospital patients. The number rises to a whopping 70 percent for senior patients who are in the intensive care unit. No one knows for certain why delirium occurs, but it’s almost certainly a combination of disruption of normal routine, new medications, and sleep disturbances. A quality caregiver will usually be the first to notice delirium setting in and can often alert hospital staff. Having someone by patient bedside at all times lowers the chances of delirium itself.

If an older adult has trouble repositioning themselves, which is often the case for seniors in a hospital setting, there is a high probability of bedsores. Since bedsores are easier to prevent than treat, the hospital staff and a good caregiver should develop a plan early on. Position changes are key to preventing bedsores. Remember to frequently shift patients weight, adjust bed elevation, and use cushions to protect bony areas.

Older patients are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions. Having a caregiver provide more information to multiple doctors and nurses can often times be lifesaving. A standard physician in a hospital setting is responsible for multiple lives, nurses can have up to twelve patients at once. This often creates confusion and coordination difficulties. Having a caregiver present helps prevent medical mistakes and improves patient outcomes.

Prevention of falls is paramount to a safe hospital stay. Among older adults falls are the leading cause of injury and death. Each year between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people fall in the hospital. Hospital staff have multiple goals when treating their patients. Treat the problem, which brought patient into the hospital and keep up their physical and mental function while they are there. Part of keeping up physical condition is walking and movement. A patient caregiver can be a tremendous help to hospital staff, since they can be a preventive measure both when patient is in bed and able to walk around the hospital.

These are just a few of the more common problems a good caregiver can help prevent, while someone is experiencing a hospital stay. It is important for all of us to remember that a loved one experiencing a hospital stay is always sick and usually scared. They are surrounded by strangers, whose instructions they sometimes cannot understand, harassed by the beeping of machines, and are sharing a room with a complete stranger. Having a loved one or familiar person bedside can significantly reduce that anxiety and provides much needed comfort for the patient. This helps our loved ones cope with their situation and improves health outcomes overall

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