Dear Family Resource,
A recent case of the flu turned into pneumonia and my mother had to be hospitalized. She went in with a treatable illness but once there things actually got worse. She was agitated and hallucinating, and even tried to pull the IV lines out of her arm. Her doctor said it was delirium caused by being in the hospital, and that once she got home she’d be back to her normal self. Fortunately, that happened, but since then I’ve learned that sometimes a person doesn’t fully recover and may even develop dementia as a result. She’s 91 and bound to need hospitalization again in the future. Is there any way to avoid this delirium from happening again?
Dear Thinking Ahead,
I am so sorry to hear about your mother and her recent hospitalization. Your mother’s doctor is correct in that often, older adults experience agitation, confusion and are disoriented during a hospital stay, and that this condition dissipates when the patient goes home. I frequently see this with many older adults, but they do not always go back to their baseline once home.
People are oriented to their home and routine. It is easy to continue to do things you have done your whole life, even when dementia sets in. Family members often do not detect early signs of dementia in their loved ones for a variety of reasons; family members always visit their mother in her home or speak to their mother over the phone. Often older adults rise to the occasion and put on their best behavior for the visit or the phone call. Once out of their familiar environment and routine, it is more difficult to “keep it together” and signs of the dementia are more noticeable. The condition is not caused by the hospitalization, rather the result of being out of her element.
Should your mother be hospitalized again, you may consider bringing some familiar items to her room such as a favorite pillow and blanket, a loved one’s picture or another item that reminds her of home and family. You can also make sure family members take turns and are with your mother during her waking hours or engage a sitter from a home care agency like Family Resource to be with her when family members cannot.