5 Common Mistakes to Avoid after Hospitalization

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You’ve done everything you can to make sure someone you love gets the best possible care in the hospital. But once he or she is ready to be discharged, your duties aren’t over. In fact, you may find they’re just beginning.
Whether your loved one’s care takes place at home or in a rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility, there are many, many decisions to make, both in the beginning and as time goes on. And how you handle post-hospital care can make an enormous difference in your loved one’s long-term recovery — and in whether or not he or she ends up having to return to the hospital. “A high percentage of people discharged are readmitted within 30 days,” says geriatric care manager Kay Paggi. “Often it’s because they don’t read the discharge instructions, don’t understand them, or can’t comply with them.” Here, the 5 most common pitfalls, and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Underestimating How Long Recovery Will Take
When it comes to health issues, we tend to be overly optimistic, experts say. As we get older, we don’t recover from illness and injury as quickly. There also tends to be an assumption that recovery means getting back to exactly how we were before. But that’s not necessarily the case, at least not right away. For certain conditions, rehabilitation can take much longer than either patients or their caregivers may expect.
Mistake 2: Overestimating Your Ability to Care for Your Loved One Yourself
When you feel a strong sense of dedication to someone else’s well-being, it’s natural to feel called upon to care for them yourself. But overestimating what you’re capable of can actually hurt your loved one’s chances of making a full recovery. Ask yourself these questions:
Are you — or is someone you trust — available to be with your loved one all or most of the time for the first few weeks after recovery, and possibly longer? Even someone who seems fairly strong and independent will be safest with constant supervision, at least for a week or two.
What are your other responsibilities (work, children, etc.)? Can you manage caregiving without neglecting other essential tasks?
Can you manage all facets of caregiving, or will you need help?
If you’re going to need help, do you have someone you trust — who’s truly available?
How are your own health and strength? Can you manage caregiving without ending up in the doctor’s office yourself?
Mistake #3: Choosing to Recover at Home When it’s Not Safe
There are a host of issues to look at if your loved one hopes to return home to recover. Review discharge instructions carefully to see if you need special equipment, such as oxygen or a bed that can be raised and lowered. If your house has more than one floor, you may need to reconfigure furniture so your recovering loved one can sleep and use the bathroom on the ground floor. Bathrooms may need rails and other safety equipment, and you may need to reorganize the kitchen so she can reach food and utensils. If your loved one’s illness has left her weak or vision-impaired, you’ll need to reconfigure the house to remove excess furniture and rugs to decrease falling risk.
Mistake #4: Expecting Too Much Independence
After any type of physical injury or surgery, there may be a great many tasks someone can’t do for themselves, from buttoning clothes and opening cans to getting in and out of bed safely. If an illness or injury has left your loved one weak, simply getting around can be a challenge. Many medications prescribed post-hospitalization may cause dizziness, increasing the risk of falling. And if driving and using public transportation are out, someone can become isolated, lonely, and depressed.
We lose body strength with every day of immobilization, so someone who’s been hospitalized for more than a few days may need time to regain strength. And for older patients, this process may be very slow. “If an elder is in the hospital three days or more, they lose the majority of their ability to function,” says Paggi. She also points out that Medicare will pay for rehab if you’ve been in the hospital for three nights or more, which is one more reason to make sure you or your loved one isn’t discharged too early.
Mistake 5: Not Following Through on Rehabilitation
Your goal is for your loved one’s discharge to be permanent; often that’s contingent upon getting all the care they need — including some type of rehabilitation. But not carefully heeding discharge instructions is more common than not, experts say. It can be hard to get to follow-up appointments and to keep track of required tests. And while physical therapy is essential for full recovery from many illnesses and injuries, the majority of patients fail to fully follow through. According to one study, more than 70 percent of patients fail to follow recovery plans if they’re “complex or require lifestyle changes and the modification of existing habits.” That means only 30 percent of patients actually fully comply with doctor’s orders.
It’s all too common for patients and family members to focus on “getting back to normal” when that’s not a realistic goal, or at least not for a long while. “People tend to assume the cause of the hospitalization is fixed or cured, meaning they can go back to the way things were before,” Paggi points out. But in many cases there remains a chronic underlying health condition that has to be managed. “Frail elders rarely return from a long hospital stay or illness back to the same health they had before it,” she says.
So what to do? Take it slowly, be realistic in your planning and expectations, and get the best possible care you can. If you’re over 65, the good news is that Medicare covers inpatient rehabilitative care as prescribed by your doctor if it involves at least three hours of therapy a day. Medicare also covers rehabilitation on an outpatient basis, including physical therapy, speech, and occupational therapy.

By: Melanie Haiken, www.caring.com

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