How to Help Senior Loved Ones Avoid 'Post-Hospital Syndrome'

Posted: 4/1/2019 8:00 AM by Interim HealthCare

Hospital stays are stressful for all of us. But they can be especially hard on older adults, who frequently emerge weakened and disoriented. Hospital stays of any length are typically very draining so that once they have returned to home, many seniors are susceptible to falling or developing new health problems. 


Many seniors who emerge from hospital stays end up returning to the hospital within a month. The phenomenon is so common that doctors even have a name for it: post-hospital syndrome.


How to prevent post-hospital syndrome


The reasons hospital stays are so draining aren’t surprising: think of the bright lights, loud noises, examinations by unfamiliar doctors, sleep disruptions, unappetizing food and prolonged periods of inactivity. Medications dispensed during hospital stays can also affect an older person’s mood, energy, cognition and judgment. All of these impairments can make the road to recovery more difficult.


Hospitals across the country are attempting to prevent readmissions by addressing the triggers of post-hospital syndrome. A critical component of this effort requires the assistance of family members and caregivers. Here’s what you can do:


Visit as often as you can. Friendly faces are a welcome site for scared, sick patients. While you’re there, you can also help your loved one navigate the unfamiliar environment and understand what’s happening. 


Visits are especially important because seniors are vulnerable to delirium, which is a sudden change in mental status or sudden confusion. Those with dementia or cognitive impairment are especially vulnerable. If your loved one develops delirium, try to arrange shifts so that a family member can be present 24/7.


Bring items from home (and be sure your loved one wears them). Items like glasses, hearing aids and dentures are particularly important. Glasses and hearing aids, in particular, may help prevent delirium. Comforting items like family photos, a favorite blanket or book, or rosary beads can also make the strange hospital environment more homelike.


Encourage better sleep. Keeping senior loved ones engaged and active during the day may help them sleep better at night and maintain their sleep-wake cycle. Also, talk with hospital staff about having the room lights turned off at night if they aren’t already, and about the possibility of minimizing overnight interruptions. A warm, cozy blanket can also make a difference.


Help seniors stay mobile. Walking is best if the doctor allows it, but movement doesn’t necessarily have to involve getting out of bed. When patients are not up and walking on their own, there are often exercises they can do in bed or while sitting in a chair. Be sure to discuss options with a doctor or physical therapist at the hospital. 


Encourage eating and drinking. Staying nourished is critical for maintaining strength, and staying hydrated helps prevent delirium. Of course, jokes about hospital food abound, but the truth is that hospitals are dedicated to providing nutritious, appealing meals for their patients. Assist loved ones with choosing and ordering their meals whenever possible. Otherwise, the hospital may default to a standard option. 


If your loved one has a poor appetite but you feel strongly foods from home may be consumed, speak to the medical staff at the hospital to determine whether those foods are appropriate. 


Watch for signs of delirium. No one knows your loved one better than you! You may be able to catch early signs of delirium and notify medical staff before it becomes severe. Signs of delirium include: confusion, memory problems and personality changes.


Participate in discharge planning. Understanding care when your loved one returns home can help ease the transition back to “normal” and provides critical support. This is especially important for patients with memory or cognition problems. 



Ask questions and write down responses to ensure you understand the steps needed to care for your loved one. If the level of care needed is outside your capabilities, home health care providers like Interim HealthCare can augment your caregiving to ensure your loved one receives complete care. 


Write down the phone numbers of key providers you can call 24/7 for care information, and be sure any follow-up appointments with the doctor are scheduled before discharge.


Keep an updated list of the person’s medications. This can help you ensure your loved one is taking the right medications at the right time.



Post-hospital syndrome is preventable. 

With the right care and attention, your loved one can avoid post-hospital syndrome and return to “normal.” Senior home care services from Interim HealthCare can help provide critical medical care and alleviate some of the burden you may feel. Contact your local Interim HealthCare location for more information.