There are few things more stressful for you, or a friend or loved one, than to be admitted to a hospital. From when we’re very young, these cold, sprawling buildings carry the stigma of being a scary place where even scarier things happen – and it’s not easy to shake these feelings, even as adults.
Today, there’s a new reason for the “fear factor”: Changes in healthcare, skyrocketing hospitalization costs, a feeling of isolation from doctors and nurses – and yes, even an enhanced awareness of hospital-acquired infections – all conspire to send anxiety and stress levels soaring.
Yet, the presence of loved ones during the hospital stay can have some very measurable benefits to all involved. Studies conducted for both Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and The Journal of the American Medical Association show stress is reduced when a family member accompanies a patient. This reduction in stress often leads to an overall improvement in patient outcomes.
Of course, having a friend or family member in the room can offer a myriad of other benefits. Rather than just spending idle time watching TV or poking through magazines, here are five great ways that friends and family can participate in the hospital patient care experience:
- Notes and Reminders: During stressful times, it is easy to overlook crucial information – some details that seem minor, like physical therapy advice or medication dosage instructions – can actually be quite important. If a patient is focusing on the beeps and clicks that are constantly assaulting them, whether or not they will have enough appetite to eat their next meal, or trying to remember the “important” things the doctor just told them, they can easily overlook such simple, yet necessary, information.
- Getting Up and About: Getting up and moving around as frequently and as often as possible is essential to a full and speedy recovery. But not too much, too soon, right? An engaged family member can be a help in reminding, but also ensuring, that patients don’t push too hard, or for too long. They can also be an encourager and a hand to hold during a walk down the hall that might be tough for someone getting out of the bed for the first time following a surgery.
- Brushing Teeth: Everyone knows how important it is to brush their teeth as a part of our daily lives. But, did you know it is even more important for those relegated to a hospital bed? Perhaps it is because people are concerned with other issues, but studies show that lying in a hospital bed tends to encourage people to brush less frequently or less vigorously. Research is now finding that poor dental hygiene could even lead to chest infections, including pneumonia.
Being less attentive to good oral hygiene can also lead to poor nutritional health, and nutrition is part of regaining strength. In the article, Oral health deteriorates during hospital stays, Dr. Nigel Carter states: “The help of close family and friends during hospital stays can make a difference to this aspect of their care and well-being and more should be done to encourage their involvement.” Having a family member around can really improve the quality of health during a hospital stay.
- Keeping it Light: Though it is clear we can provide valuable support to our family members
when they are going through the stresses of hospitalization, it’s also easy for us to be a part of the problem. When talking to the patient, or to each other, be mindful of the impact of discussions about their condition, or their recovery, on their well-being. Conversations about the mode of care; or conjecture about what could or should have been done; can be very stressful and result in the potential for conflict. It is important to take the discussion outside the room and get on the same page, especially since such discussions can get emotional. A nice, cordial chat can escalate quickly, and without warning. Also, arguing with doctors and nurses or other health officials can be incredibly stressful to all involved. Remember – we’re all on the same team here, and we all have an equal interest in a speedy, and full, recovery of our loved one.
- Leave the Germs Outside: A hospital can be full of germs and bacteria, and hands are excellent ways to transfer them around. The hands of the family member, which are wonderful for hand-holding, embracing and helping, can also be a conduit for transferring germs from a door knob to the person they are trying to help. According to the Patient & Family Hand Hygiene Guide, published by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute: “Whether you’re a patient, a family member, or a visitor, your role in supporting hand hygiene is extremely important. Your active participation in good hand hygiene practices is the first step.”
It’s virtually assured that during our lifetime, each of us will have a friend or family member that is hospitalized at some time. We can be a vital part of the care, or we can be part of the problem.
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