Elder in Hospital: Does a Family Member Need To Be There, Too?

Mistakes HappenWhen one of my elderly parents is admitted to the hospital, the other parent stays there too, usually curling up on a pull-out bed or a recliner. Lately my husband and I have taken on some of this responsibility, either taking turns, one night at a time or breaking the night into two parts and switching places.

We do this even though the hospital is top-notch and even though we have lots of faith in the physicians and nurses who provide care.

I’ll admit, for the past several years I’ve humored my parents, helping out, but not really believing in the need for someone always to be right there in the hospital room. Now, however, I’ve decided that we need to adhere steadfastly to their plan.

Just before Christmas, the ninety-four year old mother of a friend of mine — a woman who despite some memory loss was basically active and healthy — had a seizure, and her children took her to the hospital. Over the next week a series of mistakes occurred, including a fall. I won’t describe them all here — but by the beginning of the next week, my friend’s mother had died.

Around the same time I read a short description of another parent’s death — a cancer patient who was not  as old as my friend’s mother. Jonathan R. Welch, MD, writing in writing Health Affairs, described how he identified mistakes during his mother’s hospitalization, but even he, an adult child and emergency physician, could not get his mother’s treatment adjusted in time to save her life.

Although many of us regard hospitals as safe, secure, and welcoming places, in some ways they are not. Hospitals are busy and chaotic, with sick people, germs, and constantly changing teams of health care workers working hard to attend to their patients.       

With so many people in and out and back and forth, mistakes can occur, so keeping a familiar individual nearby a hospitalized elderly parent, I now understand, is a must. When I am the extra person, I make sure that all who come into the room immediately wash their hands. I also help my parent get in and out of bed and go back and forth to the bathroom. Most importantly, I can keep track of the medications and treatments and, when necessary, ask questions. It’s tiring but necessary.

What have I learned from these experiences? That my mom and dad are right. Keeping an extra person close by an elderly parent’s hospital bed is a must.

8 thoughts on “Elder in Hospital: Does a Family Member Need To Be There, Too?

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Along with all the major reasons that you’ve noted I think it’s important to be there for the little things too. When my father was in hospital last summer for (yet another) heart operation what he appreciated most was little things like being able to call a nurse for him, fill up his water cup or cut up his dinner.


  2. If family is able to hospital sit for a loved one it’s a wonderful act of love. The chairs are hard, the night is long and it can become a very emotional experience depending on the situation.
    Many people, including doctors and nurses are unaware of non-medical home Care. The caregivers ( hospital sitters) can relieve family or be there when they are unable for whatever reason. In IL. we are licensed by the state, trained, insured/bonded, and fingerprinted, and have thorough National background checks. They also can be there for companionship and comfort care. Caring for a loved one over a long period of time can be exhausting, having a bit of help can make all the difference.


    • How can I find someone to sit with my dad while he is in the hospital? I live in Baton Rouge, La and must work and I travel for work.


      • You will probably need to go with a home health agency and have specific instructions on file (along with your contact info).


  3. Pingback: Aging Parents: Hospitalization and the Importance of Family | Help! Aging Parents

  4. I don’t doubt that it’s a good thing to have a family member there 24/7. However, many elders are alone or have an older spouse who may not be able to tolerate hospital-sitting. My husband (83) and I (76) are still essentially healthy. However, he no longer drives at night and cannot sit for long periods of time, especially on hard chairs. I would not want him to risk his life or health to stay with me unless my condition was critical. As long as I am able, I would do my best to stay with him if the situation were reversed (he does have adult children living in the area). I am childless by choice so I’d better be prepared to be largely on my own should I be unfortunate enough to need hospitalization! I firmly believe that a hospital is no place for older people unless there simply is no other alternative.


  5. Pingback: Hospitalization Tips That Make a Difference: For Aging Parents, Grandparents, Our Children, and Us | Help! Aging Parents

  6. Pingback: [Reblog] Hospitalization Tips That Make a Difference: For Aging Parents, Grandparents, Our Children, and Us « Health and Medical News and Resources

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