Dementia patients are twice as likely as older adults without dementia to seek emergency care. The emergency department can be a loud, busy, and fast-paced setting, worsening dementia-related cognitive impairments and providing communication concerns. There are, however, procedures that can be taken to enhance an emergency department visit for a patient with Alzheimer's disease or another cause of dementia.
Prepare a two-part strategy for a visit to the emergency department well in advance of its necessity. This plan should begin with a discussion of chronic health conditions and what's essential to you or your loved one from a health and care perspective. The second part should include a folder of documentation that you can bring with you to the emergency room. The folder should include a list of medical problems and surgeries, an updated medication list, your primary care and specialists' phone numbers (including after-hours numbers), advanced directives, and any other information that may help emergency department staff understand how to care for you or your loved one immediately.
Inform the emergency department staff that you or your elderly loved one has dementia or memory problems when you arrive. Request that this information is noted in the medical record. It will assist healthcare professionals in understanding how to approach and proceed with communication and care. If the patient has a valid health care power of attorney (HC-POA), the emergency department staff should have this paperwork readily available. If you are the primary signatory on the HC-POA, inform the staff.
There is no optimal time of day to attend the emergency department. Emergency departments are equipped to treat all patients, but they prioritize the most critical cases. Visit the emergency department whenever you believe it may be necessary, and do not let the wait times deter you.
Even with emergency department patients' priority access to testing, diagnostic testing, such as X-rays, blood tests, CT scans, and interventions, such as medications, require several hours. It is essential to be ready for a potentially long visit. Bring things that will make you or the patient more at ease in the hospital. This may be reading glasses, hearing aids, or a sweater or blanket for warmth. It may also include reading materials, headphones, and music, as well as a gadget for watching television and movies. If you bring medications, snacks, or refreshments to the emergency room, always check with staff before eating, drinking, or taking prescriptions to ensure that they will not interfere with testing or treatments. Notify the emergency department staff if you require anything; they do not want you to become dehydrated or miss a medication.
There are times when a visit to the emergency department is necessary. The elderly, particularly those with dementia or chronic conditions, are susceptible to becoming unwell fast. Sometimes, health changes occur gradually or exhibit early warning signs. Do not disregard warning indicators. If you have a health problem that does not require emergency medical attention, contact your primary care physician. In many cases, a primary care physician can intervene before a condition becomes an emergency, thereby preventing a trip to the emergency room or even hospitalization.
Familiarize yourself with dementia, the different stages of the disease, and the progression of the condition so that when medical difficulties or changes happen, you know what to anticipate and how to respond. Changes in behavior or difficulties swallowing, eating, and drinking is some examples.
If you wish to find out when dementia patients require 24-hour care, read this article from Senior Strong.