Can hospitalization drive your elder crazy?

June 25, 2013

elderly-woman-hospital-bed-8721282Your parent is admitted to the hospital for a physical complaint. Suddenly he is disoriented, seeing things, combative and paranoid. What happened?

Hospital delirium is a widespread condition that affects many elderly patients. For years it was ignored or misdiagnosed as dementia by the medical community. Recent studies, however, have shown that hospital delirium can occur in more than 20% of elderly patients. The occurrence is greater in the intensive care unit, up to 85%.

Why does this happen?

When a person is hospitalized their daily routine changes suddenly. Their sleep pattern is disrupted and they are under stress from whatever medical condition got them admitted to the hospital in the first place. Then there is a possible decrease of normal amounts of food and fluid intake. They are usually medicated and can be suffering from an infectious process. All this can result in a change of brain function leading to delirium. Delirium generally clears by the time the patient is discharged but the lingering affects include weakness, slower healing and, possibly, some permanent cognitive changes.

You may be the first person to notice changes in your elder’s brain function since you know him or her best. Watch for inattentiveness, disorientation and changes in behavior. If you see any of these things let the hospital staff know right away.

The good news is the affects of hospital delirium can be prevented. How?

• Personal contact through touch, engaging conversation, and questions that help keep the elder oriented.

• Low-tech activities like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and stress balls are helpful.

• Can the elder patient see clearly and hear adequately? Make sure glasses are clean and hearing aids are at hand.

Keeping your elder’s mind occupied and oriented may help them leave the hospital sooner and in better shape.

What have you done to help your elder weather a hospital stay?

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