Leaving the Hospital: Your Hat, Coat and Discharge Papers

Leaving the Hospital: Your Hat, Coat and Discharge Papers

Recently a client was discharged from a hospital here in Westchester County. He was brought to the ER from his assisted living residence as a result of complaints of dizziness and unexplained confusion. As the trip to the hospital occurred in the middle of the night, for reasons I will never understand, the necessary list of his current medications were not given to the EMS driver, or the driver neglected to give them to the ER department. When he was ultimately discharged from the hospital (a diagnosis of dehydration), the discharge medication list bore little resemblance to the medications he was taking at his residence. His longtime doctor surmised in lieu of not having a current medication list, the hospital relied on medication records from years before. What occurred was inexcusable. Yet, if it wasn’t for the discharge summary that accompanied him back to his residence, this medication tsunami would never have come to light. Discharge summaries, which are given to the patient or family at the time of departure, are essential for a smooth transition to wherever the patient will be going.

A hospital will discharge a patient when they no longer need to receive care within the confines of a hospital. Because hospitals follow formularies set forth by Federal guidelines, discharge can occur before a family believes their relative is ready. The family has the right to appeal the discharge by calling the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Livanta at 1-866-815-5440. An independent determination is made within 24 hours and if discharge is to occur, the patient has to be out of the hospital by 11AM the following day. But assuming the discharge is occurring at a safe and appropriate time in the recuperation process, discharge summaries are essential. A discharge planner will stop by the patient’s room and meet with the patient, the family or significant others and help to coordinate the care one will need after leaving the hospital. If rehabilitation is necessary, the discharge planner will have already asked for the names of three to five rehabilitation centers that are situated in nursing homes. The services of an elder care consultant or an aging life care specialist can be extremely helpful at this juncture as we are familiar with those rehabilitation centers that provide quality care.

One should bear in mind, that even though a loved one may be discharged from the hospital it may not mean that he is fully recovered. The person may need a lesser level of care that the hospital has determined can be provided at home with or without the services of a visiting nurse. If a person is in the hospital for a day or so and is otherwise in good health, there may be no need for any type of nursing care once home. The discharge planner, who is usually a nurse, will explain this. However, if the patient came into the hospital and was already compromised medically, chances are their discharge papers will indicate that a visiting nurse will be coming to the home within 24-48 hours after discharge. The nurse will do an assessment to determine what kind of follow-up services are needed by the person including physical therapy. If there is a need for medical equipment, the visiting nurse will assist the patient and family in obtaining what we call DME: durable medical equipment. It will be ordered from those sources that are designated as Medicare providers. If a family chooses to go to a source not recognized by Medicare, they will pay out of pocket for such equipment such as a commode, walker, or bedrails.

The discharge papers will also list medications. Sometimes a patient will leave the hospital and continue on the same medications he was on before. Other times, based on a new diagnosis, a medication will be eliminated and another one started. Usually, the discharge planner will call in the new prescriptions to the person’s pharmacy. With these medication changes and possible new diagnoses, the discharge papers will tell you what doctors followed the patient in the hospital and who the patient should follow-up with after discharge. Unfortunately, when the directions are to follow-up with an internist in a week or ten days, it may be challenging to get an appointment within that time period. I have found here in Westchester County one can wait weeks for the discharged patient to see their internist. If the discharge papers read to follow-up with a specialist, and you are a new patient, the wait can even be longer.

If time permits, prior to the discharge, the patient and the family should compile a list of questions they have about next steps. It is essential to keep in mind that discharge planners are working under a timeline. When those discharge papers say it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave. Paying out of pocket for even an extra day can cost thousands of dollars.

Is it Walking or Wandering? Ten Pointers to Put Caregivers in the Right Direction

Is it Walking or Wandering? Ten Pointers to Put Caregivers in the Right Direction

One of the most frequently asked questions of this eldercare consultant is: What is an appropriate residence for my family member? To be effective in this role, it not only entails a thorough assessment of the adult senior but also refresher visits to long standing residences and visiting those residences that have opened since Covid.

A “mix and mingle” recently brought me to Briarcliff, New York to a new residence that is exclusively devoted to residents with dementia. An impressive feature was the enclosed outdoor space where residents can “wander, “as my guide pointed out, or, as I would like to think, where residents can “walk.” So, what’s the difference?

Wandering implies that the person’s actions are aimless or purposeless, putting them in danger to themselves. Stepping outside on a stormy day, making one’s way over to a busy intersection or leaving the house in the dark of night. But in other situations that wandering is walking. It has a purpose; since it is difficult for the person to communicate feelings or needs verbally, it is up to caregivers, sometimes with the assistance of a professional or organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association to figure out the reason for a loved one’s walking. While the explanations can be plentiful, the Ohio Council for Cognitive Health provides some direction as to why a person with dementia is walking continuously:

Pain: the person may be in pain and not able to express the pain.

Medication: the person may be experiencing medication side-effects that cause agitation.

Noise: the room may be too noisy or overstimulating

Boredom: If the person is bored, he or she may walk as something to do.

Toilet: The person may be searching for the bathroom and is not able to find it.

Lost item: The person may be searching for something that he or she believes is lost. This item may or may not exist.

Hunger: The person may be hungry and not realize that he or she needs to eat.

Confusion: The person may not recognize their own home and may want to go somewhere that they think is home.

Habits: The person may be trying to continue a long-standing habit such as going to work.

Sleep disruption: Restlessness or changing sleep patterns can lead to confusion between night and day. A person may wake early, become disoriented and think it is daytime and leave the house for work or a walk.

And this eldercare consultant’s suggestion, it comes from my favorite tee shirt which shows a pair of Birkenstock sandals. Beneath the sandals is the quote: “All who wander are not lost.” I would like to adjust that quote a bit and say all who walk find tranquility in the moment. The assurance of putting one foot in front of the other in uncertain times.

As Rare as Venus Passing Across the Face of the Sun

As Rare as Venus Passing Across the Face of the Sun

On June 5th and 6th 2012, the world was able to witness planet Venus passing across the face of the sun for about 6 hours causing a small black dot to appear on the sun’s surface. This event will not reoccur until 2117. I didn’t see the passing in 2012, and I can confidently say I will not see it in 2117. Yet in my world of being a geriatric consultant, I did see something equally as extraordinary. A senior adult called this Aging Life Care® Consultant to inquire about my services and how I might, one day, help her. A senior adult inquiring about help for herself, as rare as Venus passing across the sun.

This call was a first for me. I was accustomed to counseling adult children in such matters as dementia, in-home and residential alternatives, and overcoming parental resistance. I asked Isabel (not her real name) what prompted her call. She explained that her adult children lived at a distance, and she wanted to prepare for whatever the future may hold. She was 84. There was nothing compelling going on at the time, so I described how I could potentially be of help. A year later, I heard back from Isabel. She asked that I come to her home so that she could meet me and vice versa. Two years passed before I heard from her again, this time she asked if I could help her find a companion for a couple of days a week. Because I had done what we call in the trade, “a meet and greet,” I had a good idea of what type of companion would work best with her. Luckily, she was available, and the match was a successful one.

The passage of time brought conditions that required more care and eventually the need for a fulltime companion. None of this lessened Isabel’s astuteness to her needs, especially her hearing loss which was impacting on the activities she enjoyed in the community and with friends and families.  I am accustomed to seniors finding less effective and more irritating hearing solutions telling others: “To just speak louder.” Not Isabel. In keeping with this proactive senior, she headed to an audiologist to be fitted for hearing aids. They have helped, but even with regular adjustments, not to the degree she hoped.

With her mood now wavering and her age passing 88, we spoke about how the diverse world she was accustomed to was receding. Her family suggested consulting with her doctor about an anti-depressant which Isabel thought might be helpful (Again, I am more familiar with the response: “who needs that, I’m not crazy”). Not surprisingly, Isabel also asked me to recommend books about getting older. I mean getting older…. the real McCoy. Step aside Nora Ephron. The vicissitudes of accepting that you have less days on this earth than more. And with some research I shared three books with Isabel that would support what she was feeling.

  • Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying 
  • Growing Old: Notes on Aging with Something Like Grace
  • Helping Yourself Grow Old: Things I Said to Myself When I Was Almost Ninety

 Currently, Isabel and I chat on a regularly irregular basis. Sometimes short because a Zoom is about to start, other times longer. She leads me. I always like to know what she is reading, and we exchange names of books we have enjoyed. Truth be told, some of her nonfiction book recommendations are beyond my comprehension.

As an eldercare consultant I have always felt in the giving, there is receiving. It is so much the case with Isabel. And when the opportunity presents itself, I always remind her that she is my role model. I am not waiting for Venus to pass across the sun.

The Ten Commandments: Strategies for Communication

The Ten Commandments: Strategies for Communication

Before you turn away from this blog given its title, let me assure you I am not offering religious guidance. Instead, I want to offer ten communication tips if you are caring for someone with dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease or otherwise. I take no credit for these suggestions, but because I feel each is so relevant, I want to share them with you. They were written in 1996 by Jo Huey, of the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Institute. These approaches were based on her thirty-five years as a caregiver.

  1. Never Argue- instead, agree: What a person with dementia is saying is what they think to be true.
  2. Never Reason- instead divert: Reasoning is a futile effort, because the part of the person’s brain that controls logical thinking has been hindered.
  3. Never Shame- instead, distract: Change the subject as quickly as possible, the person with dementia may not realize what they are saying or doing could be viewed as inappropriate.
  4. Never Lecture- instead reassure: Imagine how much better it would feel if you just smiled and reassured someone with dementia: “I did the same thing yesterday.”
  5. Never say “Remember-” instead, reminisce: A person with Alzheimer’s Disease, cannot remember. So, if you were looking thru a photo album, say “this looks like Phil and Sue when they went camping at Lake George.” The person may use this cue to connect, otherwise, treat the album as just that, photos of people enjoying themselves.
  6. Never say “I told you”-instead, repeat/regroup: As the caregiver, you are the priority. Take a step back, start the conversation the next day. The person with dementia will pick up on your stress, causing the conversation to be frustrating at both ends.
  7. Never say, “You can’t,” instead do what they can: Such an approach is another reminder to a loved one that they are losing their independence. As the caregiver, you are tasked with the responsibility to search for the things that a person with Alzheimer’s can do successfully. This is what we call a “strength based approach.”
  8. Never command/demand, instead ask/model: The adage that actions speak louder than words, is equally relevant to a person with Alzheimer’s Disease. Because your loved one may not pick up on your verbal sense of urgency, it is better to model behavior. For example, if it is meal time sit across from the person and take a few bites of food. They are more likely to mimic your actions than heed your words.
  9. Never Condescend, Instead Encourage/Include: When caring for someone with dementia we may tend to exclude them from conversations regarding their health and overall wellbeing as if they’re not there. Not only can this hurt your loved one’s feelings, but it can result in aggression toward the provider of care. Rather, stand or sit next to them and allow them to be a clear part of the conversation.
  10. Never force, instead reinforce: No one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong. A better approach is to start by telling them what they’re doing well. Then, gently approach what they could be doing better.

In 1996, the same year that Jo Huey compiled these strategies, Motorola came out with their Startac phone. It was the first flip phone. It offered a vibrate alert as an alternative to a ringtone. The phone was so popular that Motorola sold 60 million of these phones at $1,000 a clip. How cell phones have evolved over 26 years. But the advice offered by Jo Huey is as relevant today as it was 26 years ago. I hope her suggestions can offer guidance as you face the challenges that can accompany a dementia diagnosis.

Farewell Dear Voice

Farewell Dear Voice

In the early days of COVID, senior centers and adult day programs shuttered their doors abruptly. Nearby family members visited cautiously while geographically separated family members remained just that. Caregivers weighed risking their health to meet the daily needs of the elders they were assisting.

For this eldercare consultant, it was a telephone, and technology that were my methods of communicating with clients and their families. As spring and summer arrived, outdoor visits served as a means for re-connection.

And while the seasons gave me the opportunity to re-unite with current clients and meet new clients, there still existed a segment of the population that remained isolated. It was during this time that I received an email from a non-profit organization asking for volunteers to reach out to homebound seniors to “chat” as they called it, just chat. Within weeks, I was asked to call Rosemarie T. in Brooklyn, no last name given.

While less than an hour from New Rochelle, I only knew Brooklyn via the tales my husband had shared of his youth growing up there and my occasional visits to a great aunt who lived, well, somewhere in the boro. As for Rosemarie, I was not calling in my familiar role as a care consultant, but just plain “Micki,” as I am informally known. I was instructed to keep the weekly conversation at no more than thirty minutes and let Rosemarie take the lead.

And so, began the year and a half relationship between, Rosemarie T. and Micki Z. It didn’t take much encouragement to learn about her early life in Spain and then Portugal. Oh, how she longed to be back in happier and healthier times. She was frustrated and depressed by the infirmities that were besetting her. Talk of death was a familiar part of our conversations. But no matter how great her suffering, before we said our good-byes, Rosemarie would tell me how much she loved me and made me promise that I would take care of myself. Each time I assured I would.
Occasionally our weekly calls were interrupted by Rosemarie’s hospitalizations. With each return home, Rosemarie sounded weaker. Talk of death now became an impatient wish to die.

In December of 2021, Rosemarie got her wish. I was notified by the “chat” representative of her passing. They told me how much my calls meant to Rosemarie. But truth be known, the voice of this faceless woman had also become very endearing to me. Thank-you and farewell Rosemarie T. from Brooklyn.