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Hospitalizations and the Elderly: The Top Eight Things Caregivers Need to Remember!

Hospital stays can be very challenging on patients and families. It is rarely a pleasant experience. However, the silver lining is that a hospital stay can be extremely impactful in a positive way, not just by way of immediate treatment and help, but also through a full medical assessment and specialist support.

Information is key to implement a comprehensive care plan and to strategize about the future.

The purpose of this blog is to illustrate how some approaches can encourage a positive outcome during and following a hospitalization.


  1. Bring the bottles to emergency: Not booze, the patient’s medication bottles. Simply writing down or bringing a medication list leaves out crucial information like the identity of the prescribing physician, dosages and frequency.
  2. Know your role: Sometimes loved ones are not in a position to make decisions for themselves. This is where doctors might call upon a Power of Attorney (POA) or a Substitute Decision Maker to assist with the treatment plan and discharge options. If the patient is capable of making decisions, they call their own shots, in which case your role is to gently support them to make the best possible decision. If they are incapable, the Substitute Decision Maker (or POA) will be presented with treatment plans and discharge options. In other words, it’s all on you. If you are POA, bring a copy of this document (not the original) to the hospital with you.
  3. Take care of yourself: Try to maintain normal sleep patterns, and be mindful of changes in diet/appetite. Spend time, but not too much time at the hospital. It’s never a bad idea to check in with your own family doctor. Talk to people you trust and/or arrange some sessions with a therapist. Bottom line, it is crucial that you be your best at this time.
  4. Keep a journal: Shift nurses, multiple doctors, physiotherapists, a social worker and many more professionals may be involved in a patient’s care. They have important information that you may need to reference sooner or later. Recording this information by regularly updating in a notebook will help you organize and keep track of volumes of information presented to you.
  5. Don’t go it alone: Even if you are a diligent note taker, information can get overwhelming and you can lose perspective. Bring someone you trust with you! This can be a spouse, a sibling or a friend. Make certain you have the consent of the patient, if available. Support people can be particularly helpful during family meetings with health care providers.
  6. Don’t be afraid to challenge: Doctors and other health professionals are highly trained and skilled at what they do. But sometimes they are just plain wrong. This is not a slight against them. A doctor is an expert in medicine; a social worker is an expert in supportive counselling and resource provision; you are the expert on the patient. The basis of a good relationship between health care professionals and patient/caregiver is the exchange of information. Health care providers offer treatment, patient/caregivers determine whether they want it. Remember, health care professionals have a built in bias toward safety. Therefore, they will make sure that descriptive information is presented, options and possible outcomes are vigorously discussed, and preferred options (from a medical perspective) are presented.
  7. Know your limits: If the medical team and other family members/trusted friends are strongly advocating for something, they are probably right. Be open to considering all options, especially if you own the minority opinion.
  8. Be a partner in care: Many people say the Golden Rule in health care is that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”. While this may be true to an extent, one can get better outcomes by being a strong, passionate advocate. Just like a nurse or a doctor, you are part of the care team. Introduce yourself, state your role and be ready to say the small things like “My mother prefers tea over coffee”, or she responds “really well to this approach”. Little things like this can make all the difference for the patient, while engendering a caring environment that gently suggests you “are on top” of what is going on.




Michael McCleery MSW, RSW is a Registered Social Worker with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, and a member of the Ontario Association of Social Workers. In addition to his current private practice, he has worked in a variety of different organizations over the past 25 years, including several years in child mental health and the last 12 years at The Ottawa Hospital, one of the largest teaching hospitals in Canada. He has training in crisis counselling and Critical Incident Stress Management. He has extensive experience working in the health-care sector and with its community partners.  He is currently accepting clients at the Kanata Psychology and Counselling Centre. Call reception at (613) 435-2729​ to book an appointment today; or you can view his profile here.



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