Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital stays set off downward spiral in elderly’s mental acuity

No one likes hospital stays. Unfortunately, they’re often necessary to help people recover from ailments. Problem is a new study found hospital stays actually may start a downward spiral in elderly patients’ cognitive ability.

The study, which was published in the journal Neurology, followed 1,870 seniors over the age of 65 for 12 years and periodically tested their cognitive ability. Of those patients, 71% were hospitalized at least once. And of those hospitalizations, 97% were for general medical issues.

Let’s face it, a lot of people do slow down as they get older. However, the study’s results showed that for the patients who were hospitalized for any length of stay, their cognitive decline was 2.4 times greater than before their hospitalization and compared to study participants who weren’t hospitalized.

Granted, the sicker and older patients were, led to a faster mental decline. But even after those factors were taken into account, the impact of hospitalization was still statistically significant.

Dr. Robert Wilson, the study’s director and neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, equated the rate of decline directly after a hospital stay to that of aging 10 years. “What we showed is that once you get out of the hospital your trajectory is downhill.”

So what’s the reason for such a dramatic decline?

Dr. Wilson theorizes that hospitalization is very common in the elderly, and as people age they struggle with their mental abilities and that people with mental issues may be hospitalized more often.

Other possibilities are:

  • Impact of medications
  • Complications  from surgery
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Switch to an unfamiliar environment, and
  • Little to no exercise.

So what can be done to curb this decline in the hospitalized elderly population?

Experts suggest hospitals need to rethink how they care for this patient population by offering more opportunities for them to move/exercise even in small ways. And keeping their minds active with something other than TV, such as crossword puzzles, word searches, etc., and encouraging families to visit and engage their loved ones in conversation more.

Sure, that’s easier said than done, especially when hospitals are already doing more with less.

What do you think about the study and how hospitals can keep this patient population more active and engaged? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.



Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest healthcare news and insights delivered to your inbox.