For many elderly people, a short trip to the hospital can bring about justifiably intense fears. A recent study in the medical journal Neurology found that more than half of elderly patients experience dramatic cognitive decline after short hospital stays. The study took a look at 1,870 people up to 12 years after their treatments.
“Essentially, it’s as if people become 10 years older…than they actually were before a hospitalization,” said Dr. Robert Wilson, a lead author of the study. “We think that a hospital can…accelerate previously unidentified cognitive problems.”
Elderly patients are also more susceptible to pneumonia, medication errors, bed sores and infections during hospital stays. According to a recent article from Harvard Medical School, those who stay in bed for long periods of time rapidly lose muscle strength. Multiple sources say as many as two-thirds of patients age 70 and up emerge from hospital stays in worse shape than they arrived.
Bob Landorf, a 74-year-old chemist from the Chicago suburbs, vowed not to become one of those patients.Throughout his recent three-day hospital stay, Landorf dragged his I.V. bag behind him as he followed footprint decals on hallway walls. Thanks to efforts from the Northwest Community Hospital hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois, Landorf was able to stay on his feet throughout his visit.
“We want to preserve (the patients’) independence,” said Dina Lipowich, Northwest’s head of nursing. “Gone are the days when we needed to stay in bed to get better.”
Currently, fewer than 300 hospitals out of the nation’s 5,800 have “elder-care units” that cater specifically to older patients’ needs. Elder-care units include such amenities as carpeting, special lighting, and teams of specialists. They often encourage “active” daily routines that might involve reading the paper out of bed, or playing a musical instrument for visiting family members.
Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, who was recently quoted in the New York Times’ “New Old Age Blog,” says families should take extra care when elderly loved ones return home from hospital stays.
“Know that when your elderly parent is coming out of the hospital, this has the potential to be a very vulnerable period,” Dr. Covinsky said. “Whatever need your parent had prior to the hospitalization, there’s a good change they may change and that more support will be required.”
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Another Hospital Hazard for the Elderly November 2, 2011 New York Times: New Old Age Blog