When Your Elderly Parent Is Hospitalized: Go to the Hospital or Go To Work? Four Strategies to Help You Decide

Four Strategies to Help You Decide

When your elderly parent is hospitalized, you of course face many challenges like tackling new medical problems, dealing with insurance companies, communicating and coordinating with doctors and specialists, and not to be minimized at all, trying to balance your responsibilities at work with your responsibilities as a caregiver.

Many working daughters ask me how best to plan their time when their elderly parents are hospitalized. Should they be bed-side as much as possible? Do they really need to be there at all if experts are attending to their parent? Should they save their time off for when their parent is sent home?

While there is no one right answer – every situation is different, every family is different, and every work situation is different – here are some ways to help you think through the decision process.

For many of us, our instinct when we hear someone has been hospitalized is to rush to be with that person. And if your elderly parent lives nearby, it is usually good to act on that instinct. Hospitals can be overwhelming and scary, and everyone, especially the elderly, can use support when they are in the ER or admitted as a patient. Plus, as a caregiver, you know your parent best. You want to be there so you can be involved in decisions around drugs – especially whether or not to use psych meds, and around treatment – you want to make sure the hospital staff has your parent’s advanced directive form and follows it. You want to ensure that the hospital staff consults with your parents’ primary care physician, and with you, about your parent’s medical history and baseline behavior and health.

If you are a long distance caregiver, you may want to wait to determine what the long-term prognosis is before you make plans to travel. If your parent is going to need care after their hospitalization, it may be better to go when they are sent home so that you can help them post-hospitalization. But if you can, send someone to advocate for your parent and serve as your eyes and ears. If you can’t call on a relative or neighbor, considering hiring help – at least in the first hours after your parent was admitted.

But after that first day, what should a working daughter do – go to the hospital or go to work? The answer of course depends. It depends on you, your job situation, your parent’s health situation, your family’s circumstances, your other responsibilities, and, quite frankly, the relationship you have with your parent.

Last month my father was in the ER 3 times, admitted to two different hospitals, and to two different rehabs. I chose to visit him as much as possible for brief visits. Because I work from home I can work from any location – as long as I get my work done. So I ran a client call from the front seat of my car, a team call from the lobby of the rehab, attended a web conference call – with a very tight camera angle – from my father’s hospital room, and a leadership call from an ambulance bay. As an experienced working daughter, I always keep my phone charged, and travel with headphones, a wifi hotspot and my laptop.

Why was I at the hospital instead of in my office? Because I believe one of the most important things I can do when my father is hospitalized is humanize him. I try to meet his nurses on every shift. I want to make sure they view him, not as “the cranky 90 year old man in room 301” but as “Liz’s Dad” –someone who is loved. So I plan frequent, short visits, and I often schedule them during a conference call that I can take anywhere. Putting a face with a name also helps when I call for updates; I no longer wait around trying to meet the doctor face-to-face. And finally, I want to be sure that when the discharge planner asks the nursing staff who to involve in discharge planning, it’s me. (Read: What To Do when Your Elderly Parent Is Discharged From The Hospital.) 

Download the Hospital Discharge Checklist here.Hospital Discharge Planning preview

That’s what works for me. Only you can decide what works for you. Here are some helpful tips on how to make that decision:

1) Use the 10/10/10 rule, made popular by Suzy Welch. Ask yourself of your decision:

  • How will it impact me 10 minutes from now?
  • How about 10 months from now?
  • And how about 10 years from now?

In 10 years will you wish you spent that time with your mother? Will you be grateful you had job security and therefore retirement funds

2) Let go of the idea there is a perfect solution. Are you struggling with that 10-year question? Just use it as a guide and move on. There is no perfect decision when it comes to caregiving. The best you can do is make decisions based on the information you have at the time. If you act from a place of compassion, then you are doing things the right way.

3) Remember your purpose. When I visit my father in the hospital, I have a purpose. It might be meet the nurses, or provide him with comfort, or help combat hospital-induced delirium, or spend time with him because he is bored, lonely, or scared, or follow up on something I have concerns about regarding his treatment. Likewise, when I choose work over the hospital, I also have a purpose. It may be a deadline, or a client meeting, or maybe it is just important that I show up and be seen – after all I am being paid to work!

4) Ignore the word should. As I have stated many, many times, “should” should be a four-letter word: s-h-u-d. When we make decisions based on what we think we “should” be doing, we are operating based on someone else’s belief system playing in our heads. What do our siblings think we should do? What do our parents think we should do? What should a good and perfect daughter do? What should the perfect employee do? Stop deciding based on “should.” Trust you are doing the best you can, based on your many competing, and often conflicting, priorities.

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When Your Elderly Parent Is Hospitalized: Go to the Hospital or Go To Work? Four Strategies to Help You Decide