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Home from hospital: how to stay healthy

Steps to a strong recovery.

At Medibank, we know that going to hospital can be a challenging time. So we hope this collection of information and advice on your hospital stay helps you have a safe and comfortable stay, and a strong recovery.

The month or so after you leave hospital is a particularly vulnerable time for many people. Once you return home, you may need extra support, especially during the first couple of weeks. The same things that help in hospital—eating and resting well, prioritising good sleep and relaxation, and taking steps to prevent infections— are all important after hospital too.

Here are five simple steps for a strong recovery:

1. Don’t neglect other health conditions

When you leave hospital, you might find yourself focusing a lot on the condition that sent you to hospital in the first place. You’ve probably been talking to specialists who are focusing on it too. But it’s especially important to take care of any other health issues you have as well.

In fact, when people end up back in hospital in the month after leaving, it is often due to a different health condition that was ‘neglected’. Make sure you know the warning signs and red flags for any long term conditions you have.

2. Prevent falls

Falls are one of the biggest risks as you age, and the risk is higher after illness or surgery. But you can take steps to prevent falls and decrease the chance of injury.

Here are some tips for preventing falls and fractures:

  • Be active as soon as you’re able. Build up physical activity slowly and talk to your doctor to make sure you are moving safely. But be aware that the longer you are inactive, the harder it will be, so start to gradually incorporate activity as soon as you are able.
  • Stay mobile. Regular physical activity will help strengthen your muscles and bones. Try to include lots of different types of activity each week and talk to your doctor about specific exercises to improve your strength and balance.
  • Keep your shoes on. Walking barefoot or in socks or stockings dramatically increases the risk of falling— especially compared with well-fitted sports shoes.
  • Watch your clothes. Make sure pants, trousers, dresses or skirts are not too long—they should not touch the floor when you wear them.
  • Take your medicines as prescribed. But let your doctor know if you feel dizzy, confused or experience other side effects.
  • Eat well. Eat enough healthy and nutritious food to keep your strength up and your blood sugar levels stable. Keep your glucose levels under control if you have diabetes.
  • Keep your fluids up. Take care to drink enough water even if you don’t feel very thirsty. Dehydration can creep up on you and cause confusion, dizziness and falls.

3. Watch for red flags

When you leave hospital, you or your carer and close family members should be on the lookout for the warning signs for each condition you have—not just the one you’ve just been treated for. Ask your doctor if you are not sure about the signs for any of the conditions you have. And see your doctor if you experience any of the following:

Fever and other signs of infection

Fever is a common early sign of infection. Other signs can include:

  • rapid breathing
  • mental confusion
  • low blood pressure
  • swelling, redness, tenderness near wounds or wounds not healing
  • pain when you wee or blood in your urine can be signs of a urinary tract infection.

Weight loss

If you lose weight after you leave hospital you are more likely to end up back in hospital in the next 30 days. Weight loss is a sign of malnutrition, which makes you more prone to infection, pressure ulcers and problems with just about every system of the body, including heart, lung and gastrointestinal disorders. Signs that you may not be getting enough nourishment in your diet include:

  • poor wound healing
  • bruising easily
  • dental problems
  • weight loss.

Confusion or delirium

After surgery, it’s common for elderly patients to become confused or delirious—but it goes unnoticed in about 3 out of 4 cases. That’s a problem because delirium is linked to poorer outcomes—including slower healing and recovery and longer time in hospital.  Delirium can be a sign of another underlying cause, such as infection, dehydration or side effects from some medicines, for example.

Symptoms differ from person to person. Some people become confused, agitated, distressed or delusional while others become withdrawn and passive. There can also be changes to eating, drinking or sleeping, or sudden anxiety or hyper-activeness. Report any sudden change in behaviour, personality or mental status—even if it comes and goes.

Persistent pain

If pain persists and isn’t properly treated it can negatively impact sleep, mood, cognitive function and metabolism. See your doctor to address any lingering pain.

4. Keep your GP in the loop

See your GP regularly to monitor whether your treatment is as effective as it should be and identify any complications before they become serious. Make sure your GP is aware of any new medicines you’ve been prescribed at hospital and any lifestyle changes you’ve started. Tell your GP about any new symptoms since your last visit. If you are a Medibank member, you can also speak to a Medibank nurse about any recovery and rehab queries you have when you get home. To speak to a Medibank Nurse call 1800 644 325, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

5. Stay positive

Most importantly, stay positive. Don’t be discouraged if you have a down day, or don’t achieve your goals for a particular day or week. Just start the next day fresh. Any small steps you take will improve your overall wellbeing and help keep you independent.

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