Preparing for a hospital stay when a person has dementia

There are various points to consider when a person with dementia is preparing to go into hospital. This may include making longer-term plans for the future.

How to prepare for a planned hospital stay when a person has dementia

Many people with dementia will need to go into hospital because of tests, treatment or a planned procedure such as an operation. 

They should be given or sent written instructions to follow before they go into hospital. These should include:

  • instructions about whether they can eat or drink before treatment
  • details on how long their stay is likely to be.

Contact the relevant hospital department if you have any questions or concerns about the visit. You should also contact them if the person with dementia has any communication needs, such as needing an interpreter.

If you can, look online at the hospital’s website – they may have information about any support they can offer to people with dementia and their families.

Tips to help a person with dementia prepare for a stay in hospital

The suggestions below may help someone with dementia prepare for a planned stay in hospital:

  • If they are worried, ask them what information you can find that may help to reassure them.
  • Involve them when deciding which nightwear and clothing to pack in their hospital bag.
  • Discuss any belongings they may wish to take with them to keep busy, such as a music device, books or magazines. It can also help to bring any personal items that will help the person feel more settled, such as their smartphone or photo albums.
  • Label any clothing or belongings with the person’s name in case these get lost.
  • Ask if you can help with anything at home while they’re away – such as putting the bins out or watering the plants.
  • Arrange any transport that may need to be booked ahead.
  • Consider filling in a This is me document.

How to prepare in case of an unplanned hospital stay

Not all hospital admissions can be planned in advance. Sometimes a person with dementia will have to be admitted to hospital suddenly. This may be because of an illness or if they have an accident or fall. 

This can be frightening for the person as they may not fully understand why they need to go to hospital.

It can be useful to have a list ready of things to pack in a hospital bag, in case this ever happens. The list could include:

  • items that the person needs in everyday life, like glasses
  • any medication that they are taking
  • snacks
  • anything that the person usually finds relaxing – such as knitting or a blanket.

You may wish to check if there are any schemes that are used in your area such as ReSPECT or MedicAlert®. These can help the person with dementia to communicate their wishes in an emergency.

If the person is admitted suddenly, hospital staff or paramedics may not be aware of their dementia so let these professionals know. This can be a huge help. 

The most important thing you can do is to communicate with the person with dementia throughout their stay in hospital. This is often difficult when you feel worried or stressed yourself. The person with dementia will benefit from reassurance and feeling included in conversations where possible.

Communication is not just what you say – it can also be your tone of voice and body language. Depending on the person, a reassuring smile or a squeeze of the hand can make a big difference to how they feel.

What if the person with dementia refuses to go to hospital?

Most people in hospital have agreed to be there and agree to the treatment that is given to them. Sometimes, a person will refuse to go to hospital even though they need the treatment.

In this case, the Mental Health Act enables someone to be admitted and kept in hospital to receive treatment if it is absolutely necessary to protect that person or those around them. 

What if the person does not have capacity to consent to going to hospital?

As their condition progresses, some people with dementia may lose the ability to make some decisions for themselves. This is known as losing ‘mental capacity’ to make that particular decision.

In some cases, a person will not be able to consent to being in hospital as they lack the mental capacity needed to make this decision. In these cases, the care may need to be authorised under the deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS).

The purpose of DoLS is to ensure that the person’s hospitalisation is needed, even if it reduces their freedom and independence. 

Making decisions in hospital

Three ways a person with dementia can plan ahead

While the person is in hospital a number of important questions and decisions can come up.

If the person has lost the ability to answer or make those particular decisions, having the arrangements below in place can be hugely helpful: 

Lasting power of attorneys (LPA) or Enduring power of attorneys (EPA) allow someone to appoint another person to make certain medical or financial decisions for them, if they are no longer able to make those decisions themselves. 

The laws governing powers of attorney are different depending on where the person lives:

Advance decisions and advance directives are legal documents. They allow someone to refuse, in advance, specific medical procedures or treatments. 

Like LPAs, advance decisions are legally binding. This means that health professionals have to follow these decisions if they can be applied in that specific situation.

Advance statements allow a person to explain what they like and don’t like, and to set out their preferences for the future.

Unlike LPAs and advance directives, advance statements aren’t legally binding, but they must still be taken into account.

Planning ahead for future decisions when a person has dementia

If the person you support would like to look into these options, order a copy of our booklet, Planning ahead.

Read more

Making decisions in hospital if the person with dementia does not have plans in place

If the person with dementia no longer has the capacity to appoint an attorney or make an advance decision, you can apply to the Court of Protection to become their deputy.

If your application is approved, this will allow you to make decisions in their best interests. However, the process of becoming a deputy is expensive and can take a long time. 

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