Hospital Hints for Seniors

Going to the hospital is somewhat like traveling to another country - the sights are unfamiliar and the people you meet there often speak a foreign language. No matter what the reason for the trip - whether it's an overnight visit for a few tests or a longer stay for medical treatment or major surgery - nearly everyone worries about entering the hospital. Learning more about hospitals and the people who work there may help make your hospital stay less stressful.

The following hints are meant for people who plan to enter the hospital by choice rather than for those who go to the hospital because of an emergency. Relatives and friends of patients who are admitted to the hospital also may find this information useful.

What to Bring

It's best to pack as little as you can. However, be sure to bring the following items:

  • nightclothes, bathrobe, and sturdy slippers (label all personal items)
  • comfortable clothes to wear home
  • a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, comb and brush, deodorant, and razor
  • a list of your medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • details of past illnesses, surgeries, and any allergies
  • your health insurance card
  • a list of the names and telephone numbers (home and business) of family members to contact in an emergency
  • $10 or less for newspapers, magazines, or other items you may wish to buy in the hospital gift shop

What to Leave Home

Leave cash, jewelry (including wedding rings, earrings, and watches), credit cards, and checkbooks at home or have a family member or friend keep them for you. If you must bring valuables, ask if they can be kept in the hospital safe during your stay. In addition, leave electric razors, hair dryers, and curling irons at home.


Your first stop in the hospital will be the admitting office. Here you'll sign forms allowing the hospital staff to treat you and to release medical information to your insurance company. You also will be asked about advance directives (explained later in this Age Page).

Most people 65 and older have Medicare health insurance, which has two parts: Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). Medicare Part A helps pay for care in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and hospices, as well as some home health care. It covers a semiprivate room, meals, general nursing, and other hospital services and supplies. It does not pay for private duty nursing, a television or telephone in your room, or a private room, unless medically necessary. For more information about Medicare coverage, call the toll-free helpline at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

If you don't have health insurance, an admissions counselor can advise you about other payment methods and sources of financial aid, such as the Hill-Burton program. Hill-Burton hospitals provide free or below-cost health care to people unable to pay. Eligibility for these free services is based on family size and income. For more infor-mation, call the Hill-Burton hotline at 1-800-638-0742; Maryland residents should call 1-800-492-0359.

Hospital Staff

Once you've filled out all the forms, you'll be taken to your room. You will then begin to meet the health professionals who will care for you while you're in the hospital.

Doctors are in charge of your overall care. You'll have an attending physician, who may be your primary doctor, a doctor on the hospital staff to whom you've been referred, or a specialist. In a teaching hospital (where doctors train), several doctors care for each patient. For example, the attending physician directs the house staff - medical students, residents (doctors who have recently graduated from medical school), and fellows (doctors who receive training in a special area of medicine or surgery after their residency training).

Nurses - registered nurses, nurse practitioners, licensed practical nurses, nurse's aides, and nursing students - provide many patient-care services. For example, nurses give medicines, check vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, and pulse), provide treatments, and teach patients to care for themselves. The head nurse coordinates nursing care for each patient on the unit (the floor or section of the hospital where your room is located).