Speaking to a Doctor in Front of a Husband with Dementia
Last updated 1/4/2024 at 10:37pm | View PDF
Question: How do I handle speaking with the doctor at the hospital if my husband has dementia and the doctor wants to speak in front of him?
Answer: That is a great question! Many family members have difficulty when their loved one has dementia, and the hospital staff want to speak about medical issues in front of them. It is too overwhelming for them to hear the quick conversation that the doctors are trying to convey to update both of you on his medical condition.
Many times, the doctor or nurse will ask your loved one with dementia a question that they cannot cognitively understand. This only causes frustration and agitation.
While the person with dementia is in the hospital, I always recommend the following:
Ask the doctors to make sure to limit questions to the patient that might not be capable of answering correctly. Instead, ask that they speak to you in private, outside of the hospital room door.
Help the hospital staff and doctors understand your loved one’s normal functioning behaviors. Ask them not to use physical restraints. They may use medications to cope with agitation and behaviors. Make sure to watch and see if the medication increases their agitation or if it calms them down. If it calms them down, then it is doing its job. If it tends to agitate them more, then ask the hospital staff if they can try another anti-anxiety medication. Some medications work on certain people, and some do not. Be the eyes and ears of your loved one.
Make sure to have a family member, friend or caregiver stay with your loved one, even during medical tests. This might be difficult to do, but it will calm the person down and make them less frightened. Having a familiar face helps to keep them calmer.
Immediately inform the doctor if you notice your loved one is suddenly getting worse or acting differently. Medical issues such as fever, infection or medication side effects can cause an extreme state of confusion that is not normal for them.
Encourage your loved one to consume fluids throughout the day so that they do not get dehydrated. They will not be able to recognize if they are thirsty or hungry. Make sure to have the hospital staff take them to the restroom throughout the day to eliminate the hazard of them falling.
Help them order food off the menu that they prefer to eat. Open their food containers for them and encourage them to eat. Remove the tray from in front of them when they are through. Assist them with their eating if necessary.
Speak or communicate with your loved one in the way he or she will best understand and respond.
The unfamiliar sights and sounds of the hospital will make a person with dementia even more confused. Be supportive and understand. Help the hospital staff understand that he has dementia and is not being difficult without reason. Be his advocate and his voice when he cannot respond or understand the words being spoken to him.
Bring a familiar blanket, magazine or item from home that will keep him focused on something other than the distracting surrounds.
Make sure to take care of yourself. Take breaks when he is sleeping, in surgery or having a procedure done. Take deep breaths and go for a walk, read a book, or take time to call family to keep them updated on his condition.
Question: This year was the first year that my spouse did not celebrate the holidays with me. I feel more alone than ever before. How do I get passed this sadness?
Answer: I am so sorry for your loss! When a lifelong partner passes away, it feels like half of you is missing. Holidays will not feel the same. Your sadness and loneliness are a normal part of the grieving process. The issue for you is in taking that next step forward. It is not easy to do this on your own.
Reach out to others around you who have experienced the loss of their spouse, to see how they managed through this difficult time. Speaking with a family therapist will help you to not only share your true feelings, but they will help to guide you in a positive direction. Bereavement groups help you to share with others how you are feeling. They in turn will help you better understand other spouses’ struggles with a loss. You are not alone!
See if you can visit your family for a bit to get out of your empty house. Go on a trip with a friend, get involved with your church or start focusing on getting your health on a better path. Walking increases the oxygen to the brain and makes you feel more productive than staying in your home.
Love is the greatest gift on earth. It creates a huge vacuum in our lives when it is gone. Try to find others who can help support you and your new journey forward. Take baby steps. Eventually you will see that the sky is blue again and the sunrise is beautiful. Give yourself the grace and time that you need to heal.
Kimberly Jensen has been working with Quail Park as a Senior Resource Advocate for over ten years and has helped hundreds of families find solutions to their senior problems. If you have a question, you can send it to her at KimberlyJ@QPCypress.com or call (559) 737-7443.