July 29, 2019

Every year, millions of seniors spend time in the hospital. For older adults and the family caregivers who love and support them, these stays can be daunting, with aftereffects that last for weeks, months, or even years. 

Why are hospital stays so challenging for seniors – and what can family caregivers do to help their elderly loved ones regain their independence and vitality after time in the hospital? Let’s explore these important questions in more depth.  

Hospitalization for Seniors: A Common Challenge

Millions of elderly adults get admitted to, and discharged from, the hospital each year. According to research cited by PBS News Hour, about 13 million seniors are hospitalized per year, and adults over 65 account for more than one-third of all discharges. These hospital stays may be brief, or last for weeks. Seniors may be admitted to help manage a chronic health condition, undergo surgery, or seek treatment for a health emergency, such as a painful fall or a sudden heart attack or stroke. In fact, according to data from the Washington Post, as many as 1.4 million seniors pass through the ICU every year. 

Whatever their reason for checking in, hospital stays can be particularly challenging for seniors. For older adults, staying in a hospital can be a disorienting, confusing, and physically draining experience. Hospitals are often high stress environments, and the conditions can make it difficult for seniors to relax or get enough sleep. During a hospital stay, doctors may also change an older adult’s medication regimen or care routine. Surgery or the aftereffects of treatment can also affect a senior’s ability to move freely, care for themselves, and perform routine activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and walking. 

Just as importantly, for many older adults, spending time in the hospital can have serious emotional effects. For many elderly patients, having to seek care can feel embarrassing,  frustrating, or downright scary. Many seniors may feel limited during and after a hospital stay, or feel like their independence or freedom are being curbed. 

The Road to Recovery

As a result of all of these challenges, the period after a hospitalization can be a particularly difficult time for seniors. As they transition into recovery, many older adults face common health effects, including “muscle weakness and other physical impairments; problems with thinking and memory; and symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress,” according to the Washington Post. 

As the Post has reported, a prominent Yale study found that just 52.3 percent of those 70 and older “regained their pre-ICU level of functioning” after discharge, a recovery process that typically took six months. Research cited by Kaiser Health News has also found that “about one-third of patients over 70 years old and more than half of patients over 85 leave the hospital” with more complications than when they arrived.

Similarly, in a review of studies published by the NCBI, researchers found that roughly a third of ICU patients, young and old, experienced depressive symptoms that lasted through a full year of follow-up visits. Another study, published by the journal Neurology, found that cognitive functioning “tends to decline substantially after a hospitalization, even after accounting for illness severity and prehospital cognitive decline.” 

The long and short of it? A major or minor hospital stay can have serious physical, mental, and emotional effects for seniors, all of which can carry on for days, weeks, or months into the recovery process. 

How Family Caregivers Can Help Seniors Recover From a Hospital Stay

What can family caregivers do to help senior loved ones recover more quickly and more fully after surgery, a trip to the ICU, or a long-term hospitalization? Here are five ways to help empower and support your elderly loved one as they return home from a hospital stay: 

1.) Be Patient and Supportive

Recovering after an operation, a surgery, or a hospital stay can be emotionally trying for people of all ages, but these adjustments can be particularly difficult for seniors. As a family caregiver, it’s important to go in with an open mind. Be flexible, be willing to communicate and listen, and be as empathetic and patient as you can. Your senior loved one may be frustrated, depressed, anxious, or angry. Be encouraging, and work with them to try to find real solutions. Accept that your senior loved one may have more difficulty and need more assistance than they did before going into the hospital, and try to accommodate their needs as much as possible. At the same time, be realistic and don’t forget to account for your own health and lifestyle needs, too. Be ready to ask for help if your loved one needs more support than you can provide alone. 

2.) Get Everyone on the Same Team

The period after a hospital stay can be a whirlwind, for the seniors transitioning back into their daily routines, and for the family caregivers who may be overseeing their recovery and care plan. There are a lot of moving parts and pieces to keep in mind. To help make this process easier, don’t hesitate to carve out plenty of time to consult with your senior loved one’s doctors, surgeons, and specialists about the recovery process. These healthcare providers may have different goals, so it’s important to make sure everyone’s plans are in sync – and working together for the benefit of your loved one. 

After hospitalization, there may be a lot of different things to manage. There may be changes to your loved one’s medication regimen to keep in mind, new physical exercises to help with, or ongoing appointments to add to the calendar. Create a schedule, plan ahead, and be sure to check in with your loved one’s entire caregiving network, to help ensure that all doctors, caregivers, and professional companions are informed of changes and updates, and ready to help. 

3.) Prepare Their Home

Your loved one may need plenty of time to settle in after a hospital stay or surgery – and it may be up to you to make sure that their home is ready to accommodate them.

After a hospitalization, your loved one may have difficulty getting around, or they could be experiencing medication side effects, chronic pain, or substantial changes to eyesight or hearing. Before bringing your loved one back home, consult with a healthcare professional to see what changes you should make in their home, for their comfort and safety. 

Depending on your loved one’s needs, making their home environment safer and more accessible may involve installing grab bars, adding additional lighting, installing wheelchair ramps at front and rear entrances, fully stocking the pantry and fridge, moving furniture to create a safe walking path, and making sure that the bathroom, kitchen, and other key areas are fully accessible. Similarly, make sure all of your loved one’s health needs are on hand, including hearing aids, mobility aids, vision aids, medications, and so on.

4.) Help Where You Can

After being hospitalized, your loved one may need to coordinate visits with a home health aide, regularly go to doctor’s visits or therapy sessions, and manage ongoing medications and daily recovery on their own. That’s a lot to take on. As a family caregiver, your role may be to step in as much as possible, whether that means offering medication and exercise reminders, managing your loved one’s schedule, helping with housekeeping, cooking meals, and offering consistent encouragement and emotional support. However, it can be difficult and time consuming to manage these many duties all alone. That’s why it’s often important for family caregivers to…

5.) Bring On an Extra Set of Hands

After hospitalization, seniors may need help with routine ADLs, including cooking, cleaning, standing up and walking around, and performing basic grooming and personal hygiene. At the same time, there may be even more “moving parts” to their daily routine and care needs, such as new doctor’s appointments, physical therapy sessions, and so on. Helping older adults manage their day-to-day post-hospitalization can be a lot to take on so, even for the most dedicated and supportive family caregiver.

Non-medical home care can be a great way to offer your loved one the support and personalized attention they need during the recovery process, while also allowing family caregivers to rest and refocus on other other things. 

Available on full- or part-time basis, home care from an experienced senior companion can provide many different services designed to help your elderly loved one regain their health and independence after time in the hospital, including: 

  • Providing assistance with ADLs 
  • Offering housekeeping and laundry help 
  • Running errands and assisting with meal prep 
  • Providing transportation service to doctor’s appointments, family events, and more 
  • Providing medication and exercise reminders 
  • Offering emotional support and friendship 
  • Observing “yellow flags” and providing reports to family caregivers 

Have Any More Questions? Ready to Reach Out for Help?

Do you think your loved one could benefit from the attention and companionship that a professional caregiver can provide? Do you have any more questions, or want to discuss what may be the best course of action for you and your senior loved one as they return home from a stay in the hospital? Companions for Seniors would be happy to help!

At Companions for Seniors, our companions are trained and bonded, and can help your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for an aging loved one. We are locally owned and operated in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs.

We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort of their own homes. We also offer companionship services in hospitals or treatment centers.

Have any questions about Companions for Seniors? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our contact form available here.