Hospital stays cost consumers and the healthcare system billions of dollars each year, and there is a big push in the United States today to cut down on unnecessary hospital admissions. A new study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago recently examined another possible “side effect” of hospitalization. The study, published in the journal Neurology, suggests that seniors may have a higher risk of developing memory and thinking problems after being in the hospital.
“Our study is timely as the United States population continues to rapidly age and researchers try to identify factors that could reduce memory and thinking problems in the elderly,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD. “Understanding a possible link to something as common as hospital stays is extremely important.”
The study examined 1,870 elderly Chicagoans who were interviewed every three years for up to twelve years to test their memory and thinking skills. The researchers found that while on average the seniors’ memory and thinking scores declined slightly, people who were hospitalized experienced double the decline. Mental decline is known to makes it more likely that a senior will be hospitalized, but the researchers reported that the results stayed the same even taking into account factors such as severe illness, longer hospital stays and older age.
Gerontologists today are researching ways to make hospital stays easier on seniors. Some hospitals have opened geriatric emergency rooms and units that promote better healing among the senior patient population, featuring a quieter environment, appropriate lighting and measures to prevent pressure ulcers and falls.
“Further research may help to develop strategies to prevent medical problems in older people that lead to hospital stays. It could also lead to changes in hospital inpatient and discharge policies,” said Wilson.