How To Protect Dementia Patients During Hospital Stays

Hospitals and Dementia – What You Need To Know

If you have an aging parent or other loved one with dementia there are a few things you really need to know about hospitals and dementia.

Mom went into the hospital with what I would call mild dementia. She was still pretty self sufficient and lived in her home alone. After a month stay in the hospital however she returned home needing 24 hour care. The dementia had progressed leaving her unable to take care of her basic needs. I am not alone in this experience.

I have met and continue to meet many families who wonder what went wrong or what they could have done to prevent this tragedy.

Hospital Disorientation Is Hard For Dementia Patients

Disorientation is common in a hospital environment and that extends to the rehabilitation hospitals also.. Even if you don’t have dementia, if you have ever been in a hospital for a few days or more you probably felt a little off. You lost track of the days and may have even been confused about what time of day or night it was. This can be due to the fact that people are coming into your room at all times of the night and day, waking you to take your blood pressure and check on you. Hospitals are not known for peace and quiet and there seems to be a constant commotion going on all the time. Medications may also cause confusion and disorientation.

Three ways you can help

1.  Bring familiar items into the room.

A few things from home, pictures and a large calendar to place in comfortable viewing distance can help a patient to stay oriented. Make sure the date is highlighted and this is changed each morning when they awake.

Remind the senior what day it is and what time of day it is. “Hi Mom, today is Thursday and I can see you are eating your breakfast (lunch, dinner, afternoon snack). Let’s change the calendar” Talk about what is going to happen today. “The physical therapist will be coming to take you to exercise later this morning. After a good workout you will be ready for lunch.”

 2.  Have an advocate with your loved one at all times.

Hospitals and dementia is a recipe for disaster! Don’t expect the staff to understand your mom’s behavior. Hospital staff is not usually trained to care for someone with dementia and often get frustrated. There are often short staffed and not equipped to deal with a patient who cannot understand their simple instructions.Someone needs to be there to advocate on behalf of the senior. If you or another family member can be there, that is great! If you are not able to be there 24/7, consider calling a home care company to hire a sitter.

A sitter will stay with the senior and give you feedback about what changes are happening. They can make sure that mom gets her meals, therapy and a drink of water when she needs.Make sure you interview the sitter well and that they know what you expect from them. Ask them to send you a text every couple of hours to let you know what is going on. You may even set up a list of items to have them check.  Ask questions such as what time did mom receive her medication, have breakfast, go to therapy or get a bath.

A senior with dementia left alone will often not receive the services they are entitled to get. The combination of Hospitals and dementia require an advocate to help make sure that the senior receives the care that they deserve from the hospital staff.

3.  Hire a Geriatric Care Manager or a Private Case Manager to help. 

Having someone with knowledge of the medical system can be a huge asset for both you and the patient you love. This professional can assess the current needs and help you to anticipate future needs.They can also help you with communication with doctors, nurses and social workers and will help you understand your rights under Medicare or Medicaid.

These professionals will ensure that your aging parent gets the best care possible. If you are out of time or have limited time you are available during the day hiring a professional to advocate on behalf of your parent is crucial.


If you find yourself dealing with hospitals and dementia, get the help you need. It will alleviate some of your stress and will ensure that your senior loved one gets the best care possible.



Photo by The U.S. National Archives

Kathryn Watson
Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is a Caregiver Life Coach and the Founder of Find Houston Senior Care, a web directory for families in the Greater Houston area to find the senior care service providers they need. Find Houston Senior Care has over 200 articles and videos to help you navigate the waters of the senior care industry.

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