Emergency rooms are typically noisy, crowded places. They can be especially overwhelming for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
You never know when you might need to go to the ER, but it can be less stressful if you know what to expect and what to do.
Before You Go
When you bring your loved one to the ER, it can help to have the following with you:
- Any devices they may need, such as hearing aids, eyeglasses, dentures, walking aids
- Medicines they take or a list of them
- Health insurance information
- Contact information for their doctors
- Contact information for other family members
- Details of your wishes about care in writing
- Power of attorney information
Don’t bring your loved one’s jewelry or wallet unless you hold onto it. If possible, don’t bring children, especially small children.
When You Get There
Unless your loved one has a life-threatening condition, they’ll have to spend time in the waiting room. Wait times are usually at least an hour. To make it less stressful for your loved one, ask if there’s a quiet place they can sit.
While you wait, you’ll need to keep an eye on your loved one and try to keep them as comfortable as possible. Offer them a snack if they get hungry so they don’t get impatient or upset. You should also make sure to find the closest bathroom and take them there often.
You’ll probably need to tell the staff why you’re there and let them know if your loved one’s mental state is different than usual. This will help them figure out if they’re delirious or if there’s another issue with their brain.
Clarify the goals of your visit. Tell the staff how far you want them to go when deciding on a treatment plan. For instance, if you want your loved one to come home as soon as possible and don’t want the staff to do a lot of tests, let them know.
It’s important to let your loved one know what is going on, unless it makes them upset or agitated. If this happens, don’t try to explain things. Just try to soothe them and keep them calm.
If You’re Not There
If your loved one goes to the ER by ambulance or with someone else and you’re not able to go with them, call ahead and tell the staff your wishes for your loved one’s care.
Problems to Watch For
A visit to the ER can sometimes lead to certain medical issues, such as:
Urinary catheter: If your loved one is very ill, they might get a urinary catheter. The most common problems with these are urinary tract infections (UTIs). The chances of a UTI go up the longer they wear one. Condom catheters can also make it more likely for someone to get a skin ulcer or for the skin to lose its color. Your loved one should use a catheter for the shortest possible time.
Pressure ulcers: These happen when someone stays in the same position on a stretcher or wheelchair for a long time. The ulcers usually form under bony places, like under the heels or tailbone. To prevent them, help your loved one change positions often. It’s also important to keep their skin clean and not let it get too dry. If they can’t control their bladder, you’ll need to check them often to make sure they’re not wet.
Delirium: This is when someone suddenly becomes very confused. It happens often to older adults with Alzheimer’s disease who go to the ER and can be hard to diagnose because your loved one already has some confusion. It’s important to let the ER staff know what’s normal for them and what has changed.