Recently, I've had the opportunity to spend some valuable time dialoguing with hospital administrators, while at the same time working on the Dementia Hospital Wristband Project.
They have stressed to me over and over again the importance of the patients having their Power of Attorney papers with them at the time of their admission.
Now, I understand how things can happen quickly. A caregiver may not have the chance or time to go home and dig through documents and files. However, if they have a "heads up," please try to remember to bring them with you and a list of whatever medications they may be currently taking.
If you are a caregiver, this advice is for you. Handing staff members' proof that you are the official Power of Attorney right from the start will help them understand that you alone are that patient's advocate. It becomes even more important that you make this perfectly clear when that patient is suffering from any type of dementia.
Hospitals have a bad habit of separating a dementia patient and their caregiver, right from the get go. They wheel the patient into the emergency room, while insisting that their advocate stays out in the admissions area, filling out piles of paperwork. This is one of the most crucial time periods where patients' advocates need to be with them. This is when all the initial and vital questions are going to be asked.
I recently wrote about how perilous it is for any medical history questions to be asked of a dementia patient. The queries must be made to and verified by a family member or advocate.
During this question and answer time, it is essential that these two people should never be apart, not only for corroboration, but to help keep the patient calm. This will only serve to help the staff administer the essential care that the patient needs.
At the initial introduction of the patient to staff, it's imperative to have all medical papers in hand. If it is a nonemergency, you will usually have all the time in the world to fill out all the paper work required while sitting in the waiting room listening for their name to be called. In an emergency situation, however, even with your Power of Attorney papers in hand, keep insisting that you're the person that needs to be with that patient at all times. Be polite but unflinching. Make it clear that you are the patient's advocate and that all medical procedures need to be approved by you and you alone. This could be lifesaving.
We have a long way to go in training our medical professionals in dementia care. Slowly but surely, I believe we're starting to get somewhere.
Gary Joseph leBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly-released book "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness," can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.