By Frena Gray-Davidson
As a caregiver, I've seen that it's not unusual for an elderly person without dementia to have dementia in a hospital setting. While no one really knows for sure why this is, we could probably all make reasonable guesses.
After all, what is a hospital? It's not your familiar home. It's often bustling and noisy. Few people are able to sleep well because of the continuous lights, the noise, the people, the total change in routine and setting.
Add to that, the probable use of medications a person is not used to having. Including sleep medications notorious for making lots of people clogged up in thinking processes.
Then there's the food. Different food, at different times and anyway you don't feel well -- even if it were the most wonderful delicious food in the world. Which it probably wasn't.
Then there are the things we really don't even want to talk about -- the fact that you're constipated because of illness, drugs, lack of movement and even dehydration.
A hospital is pretty disturbing for anyone. For an elder, having a frightening health event, it can feel quite devastating. In my support groups, families commonly report their terror that a family member has suddenly become demented in hospital. They start to plan future Alzheimer's care. They don't know what to do.
It's probably wise to make a basic temporary assumption that this is a temporary condition. Also, to try bringing that family member back home and allow time for recuperation. It may be necessary to also hire some help during that time, so that one person is not the only caregiver.
The recovery from hospital or rehabilitation delirium, which is what a temporary dementia is called (only you don't know it's temporary until it's over, so we usually call it dementia -- is that clear enough?) takes anything from a week or so up to as much as two months.
However, you would usually probably see a steady improvement going on before the two months was up. It's wise also see the patient's regular doctor, in case a new adjustment in normal medications was needed.
One of the best things a person could do would be to involve as many family members and friends as possible. This gives relief to the caregiver and may also help in bringing the person back to a sense of the familiar.
It's okay too for everyone to talk about it. Not all the time, of course. But open communication will also help the person. It will enable the sharing if fears or experiences and allow for checking things out.
"You know, I think I was in China last week."
"No, we know you were in the hospital last week. But, buddy, you did fight in China in the war."
That helps a person understand that there might have been dreams, flashbacks, memories all going on in an intense time. It's very grounding when processes can be explained and examined. It enables a person to become anchored once more in real life.
Frena Gray-Davidson is a longterm Alzheimer's caregiver and her latest book is "Alzheimer's 911: Hope, Help and Healing for Caregivers", available from http://www.amazon.com. Frena presents dementia seminars nationally and internationally. Visit her website at http://www.alzguide.com/ and sign up for her free monthly online newsletter for caregivers.
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