Taking Care of a Loved One with Dementia During Hospitalization

A hospital visit can be an incredibly stressful endeavor for a person with dementia. Depending on the stage of dementia, new, loud, and bright environments can be disorienting and confusing for your loved one. Hospital staff are not usually able to spend ample time with each patient, and while your loved one is getting treated for their hospitalization, their dementia symptoms could worsen with the stress.

But don’t worry — preparing for emergencies and scheduled hospital trips ahead of time can help alleviate that stress. This article provides recommendations that can help you prepare for your loved one’s emergency department or hospital visit.

What You Can Do in an Unplanned Hospital Visit

Here are some tips on what to do in the case of unplanned or emergency hospital visits.

  • Bring all items your loved one needs, such as medication, mobility aids, and other physical aids (such as glasses or hearing aids).
  • Request that a friend or family member accompany you to the ER. They may stay with the patient and keep them occupied while you communicate with hospital staff, and take turns watching over your loved one.
  • Be prepared to discuss the symptoms and events leading to the ER visit with multiple staff members.
  • Inform the hospital personnel that the patient has dementia. Explain the best way to approach and interact with them.
  • Let staff know about any medication your loved one is taking.
  • Communicate any dietary restrictions.
  • Do your best to stay calm and collected. If your loved one is apprehensive, they will pick up on your emotional state, and it may help them relax as well. Take extra steps to soothe them if they still seem nervous.
  • While you will be busy speaking to hospital personnel and staff, don’t forget to also communicate with your loved one during downtime. This can help keep them calm and occupied — which is also why it helps to have another person around to keep the conversation going.
  • Prepare to wait. If your visit is not urgent, you may have to wait up to a few hours. There can be wait times even after being admitted — some lab tests can take hours to process.
  • Encourage hospital personnel to treat your loved one as an individual rather than simply another dementia patient who is confused and disoriented due to their condition.
  • Make a plan before leaving the ER department. If you are sent home, be sure that you write down and understand all follow-up instructions.

How to Plan Ahead for Future Hospital Visits

Here are some tips on how to proactively prepare for future hospital visits.

  • Set up a list of contacts ahead of time who are willing and available to accompany you and your loved one to the hospital.
  • Have a dedicated, updated list of your loved one’s medications on hand.
  • Check your nearby hospital’s website to see if they have any special services or accommodations for individuals with dementia.
  • Have a personal document on hand with your loved one’s basic info, along with dietary restrictions, some likes/dislikes, comforts/discomforts, triggers, etc. Highlight things that are particularly important to their routine at home — in some cases, hospital staff may be able to accommodate these details to make the stay more comfortable.
  • Make a checklist of items they need to bring with them to the hospital, such as glasses, mobility aids, and comfort items (such as a small hobby item or a favorite possession), etc.
  • Have some of their favorite snacks or items on hand to bring with you to the hospital and make it a more pleasant stay.

How to communicate with hospital staff

Remember that not everyone at the hospital knows the ins and outs of MCI, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias. You may need to assist hospital personnel in learning what method works best with the person with dementia, what distresses or disturbs them, and how to alleviate that distress.

While this information can be shared verbally in a pinch, remember that your loved one likely won’t be interacting with the same staff for the entire duration of their visit, especially if it is a multi-day stay. Having a personal sheet on hand with your loved one’s info can be an invaluable tool in making their hospital stay more comfortable.

The personal information sheet can include:

  • Medications
  • The patient’s usual routine
  • How they like to be addressed
  • Habits
  • Likes and Dislikes
  • Potential behaviors (including what causes them and how to deal with them)
  • Nonverbal signs

Help workers understand the person’s “baseline” (previous level of functioning) to distinguish dementia from acute confusion or delirium.

Additional tips:

  • Do not assume that hospital staff are aware of your loved one’s needs. This is why a prepared, pre-built informational sheet can come in handy.
  • Keep a copy of the personal information page with the chart in the hospital room and at the nurse’s station.
  • Decide who will do what for the individual with Alzheimer’s disease with the help of the hospital personnel. You may want to be the one who assists with washing, eating, or using the restroom, for example.
  • Inform the staff of hearing challenges and other communication issues, and provide suggestions for what works best in particular situations.
  • Make sure that your loved one will be safe. Let staff know about prior problems with wandering, getting lost, falling, or delusional or paranoid thoughts and behavior.
  • When you don’t understand some hospital procedures or tests, or if you have any worries, ask questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up!
  • Plan for their hospital discharge ahead of time. Inquire with the hospital discharge coordinator about your patient’s eligibility for home health care, equipment, or other long-term care choices.

Tips for assisting a person with dementia in preparing for a hospital stay

The following tips may help someone with dementia prepare for a hospital stay:

  • If they are concerned, ask what information you can find out from hospital staff to reassure them.
  • If this is a pre-planned hospital visit, involve them in choosing what clothing, items, and snacks they’re bringing for their hospital stay.
  • Discuss any items they may want to bring to keep themselves entertained, such as a music player, novels, or periodicals. Bringing personal objects can make your loved one feel more at ease, such as their smartphone or picture albums.
  • To mitigate the risk of any loss, label any clothes or items with the person’s name.
  • Ask if you can assist with anything around the house while they’re gone, such as taking out the garbage or watering the plants.
  • Arrange any transportation that may need to be reserved ahead of time.

What if the person who has dementia refuses to go to the hospital?

Try to understand why they are resistant to going. Are they afraid of a particular procedure, or the hospital itself? Sympathize with and soothe your loved one to the best of your ability, but explain that the visit is necessary for the sake of their health.

Involving them in the decision-making process whenever possible (such as choosing which items to bring with them, or having them assist you in filling out their personal sheet) can work wonders for your loved one’s apprehension as well.

If you’re still having trouble, you can also seek the advice of a geriatric care manager or social worker who can help you navigate the situation.


A hospital visit can be a stressful and challenging experience for a person with dementia, but preparing for emergencies and scheduled hospital trips ahead of time can help alleviate some of the stress. By being prepared, understanding the needs of your loved one, and being their advocate to hospital staff, you can help make their visit as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

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