The Dreaded 3 A.M. Phone Call (Mom’s in the Hospital)

There’s nothing worse than the sinking feeling when the phone rings at 3 AM. Half asleep, you answer to find out Mom’s been taken to the hospital. It might have been a fall, car accident, heart attack or any number of illnesses or injuries. Suddenly, you’re wide awake, panicked and springing into action.

That dreaded call can come anytime when you have aging parents. Today, we’ll share some things you can do to prepare and what to do when the call comes. We’ll also share some tips that might even help prevent the call in the first place.

Preparation & Prevention Tips

Be proactive to prevent unnecessary crises. That’s not always possible since many things can happen as our parents age. However, research indicates that nearly half of hospitalizations could be avoided if the proper preventative steps are taken.

Preventative Steps to Take Now:

  1. Review our warning signs checklist (click here to get your free copy) and don’t ignore the signs.
  2. As a long-distance caregiver, plan visits wisely (see our visit checklist) and make sure someone is checking in regularly.
  3. Encourage your parent to take advantage of all preventative care.
  4. Attend some doctor’s visits with your loved one, if they’ll permit. Medication reviews and coordinated care help reduce common problems for elders. Consider hiring a patient advocate to help coordinate care.
  5. Get a home assessment. Falls are the #1 cause of injury for elders. Make simple changes in the home to prevent the top causes of falls.

When Mom Goes to the Hospital: Being Prepared

  1. Have your parents executed (and updated) key legal documents? Everyone needs documents like a durable power of attorney, healthcare surrogate designation, and living will. And, you need to have these accessible! Never lock documents away in a safety deposit box. You and your loved one should have copies, and it’s good to give copies of the advance care planning documents to medical providers. We suggest keeping copies in cloud storage (along with the info. below).
  2. Can you access key information in a flash? We recommend a cloud-based medical records or care management system. You can store medical history, a list of medications and other information along with important contacts.
  3. Know who to call. Make some local contacts ahead of a crisis. Have the numbers of key contacts such as neighbors, your parent’s advisors, doctors, and local resources handy.
  4. Even better, hire a care manager on call so you just have to make one phone call. Access the help you need, someone who knows your parent’s history and needs as well as how to navigate the system. A care manager on call will go to the hospital and coordinate things. If you are a long-distance caregiver, you get peace of mind that your parent is taken care of even if you can’t be there right away. Even if you’re local, you might want an expert on call.

Action Steps: At the Hospital

Navigating an emergency is stressful. Unfortunately, you’re right to be especially concerned about your aging parent. Delirium, associated with many negative outcomes, can affect up to half of older patients in the hospital. Elderly patients lose mobility and functioning quickly in the hospital. And, unfortunately, falls and medical errors cause far too many injuries and deaths.

Our experts highly recommend someone being there round-the-clock with most older patients. You can create a rotation schedule of family members, perhaps along with hired hospital sitters. Family caregivers need breaks and will likely be juggling a lot.

Other questions to ask:

  • Has your parent been admitted to the hospital or are they “under observation”? This is especially important because it affects how Medicare pays and what services might be available after.
  • Who is the treating physician? Who is the charge nurse? Has Mom been assigned a case manager?
  • What’s the testing and treatment plan? This is also where you, your parent or advocate can provide valuable information to the medical professionals. Knowing the patient’s history and key details will eliminate a lot of guesswork (and, possibly, therefore, unnecessary tests).

For more information, read Five Things I Learned When Mom Was Hospitalized.

What to Do Next: Post-Hospital Care

You may be overwhelmed after getting the call and jumping to react. However, pretty quickly you’ll need to be considering the next steps. The doctor may discharge Mom before you know it. Will you bring her home? And, if so, what services will she need to be sure you’re not getting the call again a few days later? Or, will she need rehabilitation? Where and how?

The hospital will typically assign a case manager for discharge planning. However, their role is fairly limited. So, this is where your care manager advocate can really help. Ours have also created a discharge planning checklist to give you an idea of what you need to know and prepare. Click here for a copy.

End your worries about getting "the call"

Be prepared and have a personal advocate on call to help anytime.