EMERGENCY BAG CHECKLIST: People with Alzheimer’s need to be prepared for an emergency. Simple planning now will make future hospital trips a lot less stressful. Ease visits by preparing today for emergencies, as well as routine stays. Check out these tips.
Going to the Emergency Room
A trip to the emergency room (ER) can tire and frighten a person with Alzheimer’s. Here are
some ways to cope:
- Ask a friend or family member to go with you or meet you
in the ER. He or she can stay with the person while you
- Be ready to explain the symptoms and events leading
up to the ER visit—possibly more than once to different
- Tell ER staff that the person has Alzheimer’s disease.
Explain how best to talk with the person.
- Be patient. It could be a long wait if the reason for your
visit is not life-threatening.
- Comfort the person. Stay calm and positive.
- If the person must stay overnight in the hospital, try to
have a friend or family member stay with him or her.
Do not leave the emergency room without a plan. If you are
sent home, make sure you understand all instructions for follow-up care.
What to Pack
An emergency bag with the following items, packed ahead of time, can make a visit to the
ER go more smoothly:
- Health insurance cards
- Lists of current medical conditions, medicines being taken, and allergies
- Health care providers’ names and phone numbers
- Copies of health care advance directives
- "Personal information sheet" stating the person’s preferred name and language; contact
information for key family members and friends; need for glasses, dentures, or hearing
aids; behaviors of concern; how the person communicates needs and expresses
emotions; and living situation
- Snacks and bottles of water
- Incontinence briefs if usually worn, moist wipes, and plastic bags
- Comforting objects or music player with earphones
Before a Planned Hospital Stay
Keep in mind that hospitals are not typically well designed for patients with dementia.
Preparation can make all the difference. Here are some tips.
- Build a care team of family, friends, and/or professional caregivers to support the person
during the hospital stay. Do not try to do it all alone.
- Ask the doctor if the procedure can be
done during an outpatient visit. If not, ask
if tests can be done before admission to
the hospital to shorten the hospital stay.
- General anesthesia can have side effects,
so see if local anesthesia is an option.
- Ask if regular medications can be
continued during the hospital stay.
- Ask for a private room, with a reclining
chair or bed, if insurance will cover it. It
will be calmer than a shared room.
- Shortly before leaving home, tell the person
with Alzheimer’s that the two of you are
going to spend a short time in the hospital.
During the Hospital Stay
While the person with Alzheimer’s is in the hospital:
- Ask doctors to limit questions to the person, who may not be able to answer accurately.
Instead, talk with the doctor in private, outside the person’s room.
- Help hospital staff understand the person’s normal functioning and behavior. Ask them to
avoid using physical restraints or medications to control behaviors.
- Tell the doctor immediately if the person seems suddenly worse or different. Medical
problems such as fever, infection, medication side effects, and dehydration can cause
delirium, a state of extreme confusion and disorientation.
- Ask friends and family to make calls, or use email or online tools to keep others informed
about the person’s progress.
- For more information, see the NIA booklet "Hospitalization Happens," www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/hospitalization-happens.
The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center is a service of the National Institute on Aging,
part of the National Institutes of Health. The Center offers information and publications for families, caregivers,
and professionals about Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive changes.