For Elderly Patients, a Hospital Stay May Do More Harm Than Good

Just imagine, you’re an independent 75-year old, still working as a special education tutor. One day, you experience a bad fall — landing you in the hospital. After being treated for the related wounds and pneumonia, you contract a stomach infection, leaving you confused and weak.

Over three weeks later, once you emerge from the hospital and a number of rehabilitation centers, you’re no longer who you were when you entered the hospital. You can no longer work, drive, and are now looking to your family for support. Well, this was the case for Janet Prochazka, as reported by CNN.

Unfortunately — Ms. Prochazka is not an isolated case, either. Based on research, it appears that approximately one-third of individuals over the age of 70, as well as more than half of patients over the age of 85, leave the hospital more disabled than when they originally arrived.

Mental and Physical Deterioration Among the Elderly

As mentioned, the older you are, the more likely it is that you’ll experience a negative hospital experience. Meaning, elderly individuals often leave hospitals in worse shape than when they arrived, even though their original injury or illness has been treated.

This is significant not only for the patient but their family members as well. Many seniors who were originally independent, leave the hospital unable to care for themselves. Basic activities such as getting dressed or even walking become too challenging. In terms of medicine, sometimes more harm is done than good.

As stated by a researcher and physician, from the University of California, “while treating elderly individuals, sometimes less is more.” The reality is, many older patients are not fed properly; do not get out of bed enough, are restricted in terms of overall movement; and experience inadequate pain management.

Although many health care professionals are only doing their job, it appears that many medications are overprescribed, and based on noisy wards and hospital routines, such as checking one’s vitals during the night, individuals do not get enough quality sleep. For someone who is already at risk of rapid deterioration, this combination can be traumatic.

For those who are young and able, having to stay in bed without proper food or sleep, would most certainly be boring, challenging, and uncomfortable, but a full recovery generally occurs rapidly. For elderly individuals, however, these factors can result in long-term effects that directly threaten their health.

The Benefits of Elderly Special Care Units

Although fairly rare, there are currently a number of special wards opening across North America. These care units offer special accommodations, addressing the needs of elderly patients. Instead of focusing entirely on the original diagnosis, doctors and carers focus more on how they can get their patients home, allowing them to be independent once again.

One of the worst things for elderly patients is extended bed rest. Laying within a similar position for weeks often sets off a chain reaction. Within these specific care units, the staff encourages them to do more. They remove IVs and catheters during the day, allowing patients to walk around and even eat their meals in a shared dining area.

Although these care units are a step in the right direction, very few hospitals are actually offering this type of unique care. More often than not, staff members are so fixated on treating the initial problem — whether it be pneumonia or a broken bone, overlooking all other aspects of care.

Of course, many hospitals aren’t willing to or aren’t able to make the required investments, ensuring more advanced care is provided — yet, in the long run, it could save lives and money. Within one 2010 report, it was found that more than 25 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who were hospitalized, suffered an ‘adverse effect’ due to previous medical care.

Whether patients suffer from infected bed sores or the effects of an oxygen deficiency, once reviewed by physicians, it appeared that 44 percent of these ‘adverse effect’ cases could have been prevented. So, if you experience an accident or come down with a sudden illness, be sure to get your friends and family involved.

Try to remain as active as possible, both mentally and physically, without interfering with your recovery process. It’s not just lost muscle mass that’s the issue,the decline in cognition is also common — especially in terms of memory. If possible, have family members bring you nutrient-rich meals, (but always check with staff, just in the case surrounding patients have any severe allergies).

At the end of the day, awareness is a powerful thing and if so many elderly patients are experiencing lasting, traumatic effects after hospitalization, it’s important to address preventative measures. Simple changes made to pre-existing hospital routines could make a world of difference. If you or your loved one have been hospitalized, don’t be shy to speak up in terms of your current needs.

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