Why you MUST visit frail older people in hospital

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In “Dementia the One Stop Guide” I said in 2015 that it is a good idea NOT to leave your frail older relative in hospital alone if you can help it.   They don’t need you to provide nursing for them but there are many smaller things that can go wrong, including falls, poor nutrition, and delirium caused by boredom, pain and fear.  I know you can’t be there for a lot of the time, but if more people spent more time with their older relatives during hospital admissions it would make a lot of sense. If you’ve got no older relative and you’re looking for a volunteering opportunity this is it.

Whenever my mum is admitted to hospital, I take days off work and go to be with her if humanly possible.  I learned from my experience with my uncle. He fell in hospital and had to go to a care home after and it cost a fortune, including selling his house.  I am sure that he just got confused and had problems finding the toilet in time, and fell over in his haste. We might have prevented that.

At the time I was heavily criticised for implying that families should make up for shortages in the health system, but what should we do?  We know there is a world shortage of nurses so you can’t get them.  We know there is an ageing population.  We know that health services struggle to keep up with the demand.  We know that families and local authorities don’t have enough money to take people swiftly from hospital to care homes when medical treatment has stopped.  If it is your own family and there are enough family and friends to make it possible, maximum visiting and support is a really good idea. Offer to do it for your neighbour or friend has someone in hospital. 

I like to be there to help my dad take his medication. He is slow and he holds the nurses up.  I’m going to have to do it at home, but why not here?

Even then the problem was as much hospitals discouraging visiting.  I had the personal experience of a hand in my face telling me I was ten minutes early for visiting.  Nobody minds making themselves scarce when there is an emergency going on, but the rest of the time we should all be glad to see lots of visitors.  Things are getting so much better.  Open visiting is being encouraged everywhere. But does everyone feel comfortable knowing what they are and are not allowed to do when visiting? Do you just sit there, eyeing the grapes?

Here are some ideas

  • Take the person for a walk
  • Encourage them to take fluids
  • Take them to the toilet
  • Listen to them
  • Bring your tablet and show them how their garden is doing, or the latest performance of the grandchild with their musical instrument or short video messages from people who can’t visit
  • Read the paper to them
  • Help them to enjoy their food
  • Just sit.

Just sitting with someone is quite a skill.  If they are sleeping fitfully and when they open their eyes they see you there, how comforting is that?  Take a book, some work, knitting…. anything.  And have a rest yourself. 

If you’ve got any more ideas, let me know, and we’ll put them in the next edition of the guide which will come out summer 2020.