Returning home from the hospital can present many challenges, such as follow-up doctor’s appointments and managing new medications that, if not met successfully, may lead to an unwanted re-admission. According to the Eldercare locator, studies show that one in five Medicare patients are re-admitted to the hospital within 30 days, with half of these being linked to social issues and lack of access to community resources.
Identifying what your needs will be and how they will be met is key in helping to prevent what could be an unnecessary re-admission. Will you be able to return to your own home? Can you stay with family or can family stay with you? Will you need help getting medication, meals, to follow-up doctor’s appointments? These are just some of the things that should be part of your plans.
If you are going to have a planned admission, ask your health care provider how the procedure will affect your ability to care for yourself, if there will be any restrictions and for what length of time. Ask about any special equipment you may need or if you will need physical therapy.
Make sure you follow any preadmission instructions. When you are getting ready to go to the hospital take what is needed including a list of your current medications, insurance information if not already provided, contact numbers, if family or friends aren’t accompanying you, a list of allergies, your Health Care Proxy and Advanced Directives if not already on file. You should also make sure you have your eye glasses, hearing aid and dentures, but may want to entrust these to your family or friend until after the scheduled procedure. Don’t take jewelry, money or other valuable items. Keeping a list of your current medications and allergies with you at all times is a good idea.
If your hospitalization isn’t preplanned, you or you family should start thinking about your discharge as soon as you can. While you are in the hospital, be sure that someone is communicating with the hospital staff and your doctor. There will most likely be a nurse or a social worker who will have primary responsibility for helping to arrange your discharge. You and or your family should share any concerns and make sure you keep a list of questions that you would like to have answered before you go home.
Sometimes special equipment or supplies will be needed either on a temporary or long-term basis. Hospital staff will be able to help you determine if your insurance will pay for these items and where you can get them. If you need something such as a walker, shower chair or commode on a short-term basis, you may be able to borrow these from a friend or a community organization that maintains a loan closet.
There may be some tasks that you or your caregiver will need to learn. If you are uncomfortable with these tasks it is important to share that with hospital staff. If you don’t feel that you have mastered the task by the time to go home, ask if there is a community agency that could continue to provide instructions at home.
Upon discharge you may find that you need to take additional or different medications. This can sometimes be a challenge, particularly when it changes your routine. If you are used to taking pills in the morning and before bed and now you have to take something every six hours, you may need some help managing until you no longer need to take them or you’ve adjusted to the new routine. Everyone should consider a pill box that you can pre-fill with the correct medications. That way you can check to see if you’ve taken your pills correctly or know if you’ve missed a dose. If you need reminders and there is no one there to give them you could explore an electronic medication dispenser.
If you have more than one person assisting you or there are lots of new things going on you may want to keep a notebook where you record what time you took a medication, or preformed a task. Even though you think you’ll remember, it is easy to lose track. If you have multiple caregivers and or they live at a distance you may want to consider using electronic means to keep current. There is even a free website called CaringTies.com where caregivers can keep track of your current status.
Another important thing is to know who to call when. Make sure you get contact information before you leave the hospital and know what things should be followed-up on immediately such as shortness of breath, intense pain or a fever and what can wait until offices are open. Being informed and prepared can help make your hospital stay and discharge successful.
Otsego County residents who would like additional information on this or other topics are welcome to call the Office for the Aging at either the Cooperstown office at 547-4232 or the Oneonta office at 432-9041.
Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.