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Accompanying a loved one in a hospital setting


Accompanying a loved one in a hospital setting

When a loved one goes into the hospital, it can be upsetting, regardless of the seriousness of the situation. The emergency context, the change of environment and routine as well as the concern about your loved one's health are all factors that make this situation difficult for both you and your loved one. What should you expect when your loved one is hospitalized? How do you continue your role as a caregiver in a hospital setting?  


What to expect

As a rule, your loved one will first be seen in the emergency department where the medical team will assess the situation and decide whether your loved one needs to be transferred to a care unit (the department or floor where your loved will be an inpatient).The hospital setting can easily be overwhelming.  Whether in the emergency department or a care unit, everything moves very quickly. Staff take over from one another and it can sometimes be difficult to know who we should address. To make this transition a better experience:

  • Ask staff to identify themselves and take note of their name and position, especially the professionals who will be providing care during the hospital stay;
  • If possible, be there when your loved one is transferred to the care unit.

Arrival in an unfamiliar setting and the loss of bearings can result in various reactions by your loved one, including confusion, anxiety, insomnia and even aggression, especially if your loved one has cognitive impairments. Such reactions are common and usually temporary. However, you can help minimize the impact:

  • When you arrive at the emergency department, inform staff that your loved one has cognitive impairments. By being informed, workers will be able to act accordingly. 
  • If your loved one becomes disoriented, remind them of the date, where they are and what will be happening next. If there are no cues visible from their bed, bring in a calendar or small watch to help orient them in time.

Listen to their needs

A study conducted by the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec (CHUQ) identifies respite, support and the fact of being informed and reassured of care as the three main needs of caregivers while a loved one is in hospital. To support your loved one effectively, it is of prime importance that you recognize your limits and identify your needs:

  • Although this can be difficult, clearly state your limits regarding the care and help that you can provide during the hospitalization. If you are uncomfortable with certain tasks you are being asked to do, say so.
  • Continue to take respite. Ask your family and friends to relieve you, so you can recharge your batteries, and keep an eye out for compassion fatigue.
  • Do not hesitate to ask questions that come to mind, whether about your loved one's health or the care they are receiving.

Team up with staff

You know your loved one best, and this knowledge is very useful to the care staff.  To help them take the best action: 

  • Inform them of medical conditions, usual medication and specific precautions to take when administering certain treatments.
  • Do not hesitate to ask the staff questions.

Encourage independence

Unfortunately, the consequences of prolonged bed rest are felt quickly by seniors. In just a few days, a reduction of mobility can result in loss of muscle mass leading to a loss of independence which could delay recovery or even the return home. To foster the maintenance of their independence:

  • Inform staff of your loved one's level of independence before hospitalization.
  • Unless there is a medical contraindication, encourage your loved one to sit in the chair regularly and to walk. If you do not feel strong enough to help, ask the staff to do so.
  • Bring your loved one's clothes and personal belongings and encourage your loved one to look after their own personal care.

Prepare for discharge

The announcement of discharge can bring both the relief of knowing that your loved one is medically stable, but also concern with respect to the return home. It is important to properly prepare for this step with the team:

  • Do not hesitate to express any concerns you have.  Whether it is about independence, administering medication, follow-up appointments or anything else you want to ask.
  • If you do not feel capable of looking after your loved one at home, say so. Perhaps your loved one might benefit from a period of convalescence, temporary accommodation or home care.
  • Ask to meet with a social worker or liaison nurse. These people will help you take stock of all the issues related to the discharge and direct you to the right resources. 

For more information on Accompanying a Loved One in a Hospital Setting, please read Fact Sheet 18 in the Maintaining Life Balance while Caregiving [In French only] guide, developed in cooperation with Appui Laurentides. You can also contact Caregiver Support at 1 855 852-7784. Our counselors are there to listen to you, help you find solutions and direct you to the right resources.

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