Hospitals Can Be Challenging Places for Elders

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The focus of hospital care is to treat the urgent problem as quickly as possible and minimize the length of stay and the cost. That said, hospitals can be very hard on Elders.

Many older people have multiple chronic medical conditions in addition to the primary problem that causes their hospitalization. When older people are admitted to the hospital, they are at high risk for complications and can develop serious side effects that aren’t even related to why they went to the hospital in the first place. When they are in the hospital, their other medical conditions often get less attention or may even be overlooked.

The hospital environment and structure create real problems for older adults. Their normal daily routine is totally disrupted and they are in an unfamiliar environment. It is difficult to rest and sleep because there is constant noise and frequent testing and monitoring throughout the night. This can lead to exhaustion and new or worsening confusion. There is an increased risk for falls with injuries, especially if they are sedated and disoriented. There is a danger of the spread of new infectious diseases. More time spent in the bed can result in pressure ulcers, blood clots, decreased mobility, weakness, and loss of function. The introduction of new medications and changes in existing medications can make chronic conditions worse and may result in confusion, depression, and polypharmacy.

Elders are particularly at risk of developing delirium when they are in the hospital. Delirium is a sudden, acute onset of mental confusion and emotional distress. Residual symptoms of delirium are present in about HALF of people that are transferred to a nursing home from the hospital. Delirium is often the reason a previously “healthy” older person is sent to a nursing home. It is recommended that someone accompany the older person to the hospital and stay with them throughout their hospitalization to minimize the risk of delirium and other complications.

Please make sure that your friends and colleagues are aware of this important information.

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