Has your doctor said you need a medical test that has to be done in the hospital? Do you need surgery? Most people worry when they have to stay overnight in the hospital. Learning more about what to expect and about people who work in hospitals can help.
It's best to bring as little as you can to the hospital. You will need:
Make sure you bring your health insurance card and updated information about:
Leave jewelry (including wedding rings, earrings, and watches), extra cash, credit cards, and checkbooks at home, or have a family member or friend keep them for you. Don't bring electric shavers, hair dryers, curling irons, or other equipment.
Once your hospital stay is planned, many hospitals have a staff member call to ask pre-admissions questions over the phone. Then, when you go to the hospital, many of the forms are already filled in.
Your first stop at the hospital is the admitting office. You will sign forms that:
You also will be asked about advance directives (see Patient Rights section below). If you don't have health insurance, talk with the admissions staff about other payment methods and sources of financial aid.
A hospital bracelet will be put on your wrist by the admissions staff and checked by nurses. Look at your bracelet to make sure your information is correct.
While you are in the hospital, there may be many people who take care of you.
Hospitals have many patient-care areas. The intensive care unit (also called the ICU) has special equipment and staff to care for very ill patients. Coronary care units (CCUs) give intensive medical care to patients with heart disease. In both the ICU and CCU, visiting hours are very limited. Often only family members are allowed to see patients. Surgery is done in the operating room (OR). After an operation, patients are cared for in the recovery room until they are ready to move to their hospital rooms.
Because you may feel weak or tired, here are some safety tips to follow.
Older people may have health problems that make it hard for them to live on their own after they leave the hospital. In some hospitals, a team that includes a doctor, nurse, and social worker takes care of the special needs of older patients. This team also may include other specialists and therapists. The team performs a careful exam, called a geriatric assessment, to learn about the patient's physical and mental health, family life, income, living arrangements, access to community services, and ability to perform daily tasks. The team checks for health problems and makes a plan to help older patients get the health care and social services they need after they go home.
A hospital stay can be very hard for older people. Often the strange routine and lack of sleep can cause confusion. Family and caregivers may be the first to notice these changes. Families should talk to a doctor if they see any confusion.
During your hospital stay, you may have questions about what's happening. You may want to ask your doctor or nurse:
Before you go to the hospital, you might want to think about writing an advance directive. An advance directive says what medical treatment you want if you can't speak for yourself. It also lets you name who you want to make your medical decisions. Two common kinds of advance directives are:
In a living will, you list the kind of medical care you want (or don't want); it's called a living will because it takes effect while you are still alive.
In a durable power of attorney for health care, you name someone else (a family member or friend, for example) to make your medical decisions if you are unable to make them for yourself. You also can list any treatment you don't want.
If you have an advance directive, bring a copy of it with you to the hospital. Make sure your doctor has a copy, and check to make sure your wishes are part of your medical records. If you have a durable power of attorney for health care, be sure to give a copy to the person you've chosen to act on your behalf.
When you are ready to go home, you'll get discharge plans from the medical team and a release form from the hospital business office. Sometimes people go from the hospital to a rehabilitation (rehab) center before going home. The social worker can help you go home or arrange admission to a rehab center.
In An Emergency
In a medical emergency, every second counts! You may have severe pain, a bad injury, or sudden serious illness. In such a life-threatening emergency, seek medical help right away by calling 911. Be sure to tell the operator your problem and the address where you are calling from.
You should always carry the following information:
If you have a medical problem such as epilepsy or diabetes, you should wear an ID bracelet or carry an ID card to let rescue workers and hospital staff know about these conditions.
Here are some Federal and non-Federal resources.
American Hospital Association
One North Franklin
Chicago, IL 606006-3421
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
7500 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21244-1850
For more information on health and aging, including nutrition, nursing homes, having surgery, and getting your affairs in order, contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit NIHSeniorHealth (www.nihseniorhealth.gov), a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to have the text read out loud or to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Publication Date: August 2007
Page Last Updated: April 30, 2013