Barbara Garwood: A caregiver’s life

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

Hospital stays: Plan ahead

Let’s face it. We don’t go to the hospital because we feel great. We go because something is wrong and we need help. Either we have a scheduled procedure that requires us to be there or we are experiencing an illness or injury that requires a visit to the emergency room and possible admission.

Think back to times when you have been hospitalized. How did you feel physically? You were probably in pain, weak, confused, incapacitated. Now, think how you felt emotionally. Nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, afraid.

For all of us, a visit to the hospital can be stressful both physically and emotionally. But what about folks who suffer from memory loss? Imagine for a moment that you are in the emergency room and are not able to comprehend why you are there. The lights are very bright. There is a lot of noise. A stranger asks you to remove your clothes and put on a skimpy gown. Someone approaches you with an elastic band and a needle. You are asked to wait. And wait. And wait. A person with dementia in this setting is nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, afraid, and confused, magnified by one hundred.

As a caregiver, how can you make this time easier for your loved one and for the hospital staff who are there to help them? Be prepared! Do not wait until you find yourself in an emergency situation, frantically trying to think of what you need as you rush out the door. Have things in order.

Create a notebook with the following info:

  • List of important contact names with phone numbers
  • Copy of healthcare power of attorney (POA)
  • Do Not Resuscitate form (if loved one has a DNR)
  • List of current medications and medical conditions, including past surgeries
  • List of allergies to foods, medications, latex, etc.
  • Copy of insurance cards, including Medicare and/or Medicaid

Have a bag packed and include the following:

  • Snacks (it could be a long wait)
  • A few dollars in cash or change for the vending machine
  • Something to read (again, it could be a long wait)
  • Pen and paper to write down questions and answers
  • Cell phone charger
  • Sample size toiletries
  • Advil or Tylenol (stress headache and sore muscles)
  • Warm socks for your loved one (it’s cold in the ER)
  • Sweater for you

If you have a pet, include a plan for who will care for them while you are with your loved one at the hospital. Have their phone number on your contact list.

The link below will take you to an excellent resource from the National Institute on Aging titled “Hospitalization Happens.” This brochure has step-by-step tips on planning ahead and being prepared for that inevitable trip to the hospital. Take advantage of this info and be ready when the time comes. You’ll be glad you did.


Barbara Garwood is director of community services for Lutheran Services Carolina. Email her at













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