Hospital Stays Speed Up Mental Decline in Elderly

by Chris Curley on March 24, 2012

For the sake of their mental health, older Americans should avoid hospital visits unless they’re absolutely necessary, a new study suggests.

After a hospital visit, the rate of cognitive decline doubled for seniors, researchers at the University Medical Center in Chicago say. After a patient’s first hospitalization, declines in long-term memory were three times faster and declines in complex attention 1.5 times faster than before the hospital stay, USA Today reported March 21.

These rates of mental decline after hospitalization would be the equivalent to aging more than 10 years, says study lead author Robert Wilson, Ph.D.

One reason for these precipitous falls in mental acuity may have to do with the way we practice medicine in the West, says Barbara Resnick, president of the American Geriatrics Society.

“The focus of acute care is taking care of the medical problem and not the care of the elderly down the road,” she says. “Cognitive function is the last thing to be considered. … In general, once people start declining they tend not to improve.”

Of course some hospital stays are unavoidable, but icheck with your health care provider first, experts suggest.

The study appears online in the journal Neurology.

(Photo © timsamoff via Flickr)