Healthcare News & Insights

Study: Mobility in hospital critical to elderly patients’ recovery

Elderly patients who visit the hospital often end up in worse health when they’re discharged, which puts them at a higher risk of being readmitted within 30 days. But there are several ways for hospitals to prevent this from happening, including focusing on keeping patients moving throughout their hospital stay. 

GettyImages-487728499The hospital experience can be disorienting, especially for older patients. Besides being at a higher risk of developing delirium, elderly people can also suffer ill effects from spending too much time on bedrest.

Older patients who don’t get up and move on a regular basis during their hospital stay are more prone to injuries after discharge. They’re also likely to experience a lack of mobility once they’re back in their familiar surroundings, leading to muscle deterioration and other issues.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine wanted to see if hospitals could do anything to reduce the likelihood that elderly patients would experience these problems after discharge.

According to an article from Medscape, a research team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham tested the effects of a specific hospital mobility program on the levels of mobility older patients had both before and after discharge.

Focus on activity

Researchers recruited elderly patients admitted to the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Patients were eligible to participate in the mobility program if they were admitted to the hospital for a medical condition, rather than for surgery, and if they had a life expectancy longer than 30 days.

With the mobility program, each patient did physical activity once or twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes each session. Movement included assisted sitting, standing, stepping in place, weight shifting and actual walking (with help from hospital staff).

Patients also chronicled their physical activity in a journal, and they were asked to talk about any challenges they faced with mobility – as well as come up with solutions. If patients didn’t have any ideas, they were encouraged to discuss the issues with their doctors and nurses to figure out some alternatives.

Results affect health

When comparing patients in the mobility program to a control group that didn’t participate, they managed to maintain higher levels of mobility upon leaving the hospital than their peers.

Using a hospital-specific assessment tool, the research team found a 10-point difference between the mobility levels of those in the program and those in the control group one month after discharge.

According to the researchers, those points made the difference between an elderly person who requires no help or mobility aids to go into town one to three times a week, and one who only goes into town once a week with the help of a cane.

This difference can affect everything from being able to pick up medications from the pharmacy to getting the appropriate amount of physical exercise – all of which make an impact on the person’s medical condition.

So it’s important for elderly patients to maintain as much mobility as possible once they’re discharged, and that starts with how staff prioritize keeping patients on the move in the hospital. Making mobility an integral part of treatment for elderly patients, instead of treating it as an afterthought, may prevent unnecessary readmissions and improve their health overall.

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