You or a loved one has been hospitalized and will be discharged soon. Are you ready?

While in the hospital, your focus is trying to get through each day with little thought about what you might need when returning home.

Still, it’s important to begin preparation for discharge as soon as possible in order to avoid problems later.

Nearly 20 percent of Medicare patients are readmitted within 30 days.

Why are older adults so vulnerable after a hospitalization or rehabilitation stay?

What happens when they return to an empty house with no one there to provide physical and emotional help?

The first 24 to 48 hours are critical. According to LaNita Knoke, president of the American Association of Managed Care Nurses, “The key issues that send seniors back to the hospital so soon are medication problems, falls in the home, and not following up with the doctor.”

Home safety issues, nutrition and hydration challenges, personal care issues resulting from weakness and misunderstanding medication changes, schedules and interactions are overwhelming responsibilities for anyone.

A senior alone might simply be too weak or tired to take medicines on time, drink enough water or even to eat. This leads to early readmission due to dehydration, taking medicines improperly or not at all, or falls.

Many seniors want to remain independent and don’t want to use the resources of a facility during their recovery. Planning for whatever help you might need is very important, preferably before a crisis occurs.

Decide what home health agency you would like to have if medical assistance (i.e. licensed medical professionals, therapists) is needed.

These services are covered through Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance policies and require a prescription.

Non-medical home care is an option either by itself or as an adjunct to medical care.

Home care is homemaker services, companionship, transportation, meal preparation, personal care (bathing, dressing, toileting), and medication reminders and does not require a prescription.

It is NOT covered under any health care plan, but is private pay or through long-term care insurance.

Care can be arranged through an agency that screens, trains, bonds and insures its caregivers or through a private person whose employment and personal references and criminal background you have checked.

Drug tests and motor vehicle records should also be checked and some means of accountability established.

When hiring privately, you are the employer and responsible for withholding taxes and any injury or theft that occurs in your home.

As we age, we should plan for the “what if” situations.

A helpful guide in planning a return home after hospitalization is www.caregiverstress.com/home-care/hospital-to-home-care.

Rachel Carson, certified senior advisor, is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care, serving the Lowcountry since 1997.