A stay in the hospital isn't desirable at any age, but it can be especially detrimental for older adults. The biggest fear is that the patient won't return home with the same level of independence as they had before the hospitalization. The loss of physical strength isn't the only concern; a 2011 study reported a higher risk for cognitive decline in seniors after a hospitalization.
The study, led by Robert Wilson, professor of neurological and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, examined data on 1,335 people age 65 and older. The participants were hospitalized at some point between January 1993 and December 2007. Each participant was interviewed every three years and given tests to determine mental status. Researchers interviewed each participant at least once before a hospitalization and twice after.
The study found that the rate of cognitive decline more than doubled after a hospital stay. What this study cannot show is whether it is the fact of being in the hospital, or the fact of being ill enough to need hospitalization, that leads to the cognitive decline.
Obviously the best bet is to avoid hospitalizations when possible. Luckily, other research shows that nearly half of all senior hospitalizations can be prevented. Even better news is that 99% of nurses surveyed say that the role family plays is as important as the role played by health care professionals when it comes to preventing senior hospitalizations.
The research identified five ways older adults can prevent hospitalization:
Follow doctor's orders
Don't ignore symptoms
Reduce risk of falls and accidents
Stay active physically and mentally
Maintain a healthy diet
There are warning signs to potential hospitalizations that you should be aware of, but there are also some practical solutions to help. Learn more about helping your aging loved ones avoid hospitalizations by downloading the 5 Ways Guide.