Hospitalization Causes Temporary Memory Problems in Elderly
Hospitalization can be a scary and confusing time for people of any age, but a new study notes that elderly patients can experience temporary memory problems following a stay in the hospital. Memory difficulties can present a problem when it comes to understanding discharge instructions and taking care of oneself after leaving the hospital, both of which can have a negative impact on recovery.
The elderly need help after hospitalization
At Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, a team of investigators set out to determine how often hospitalized, community dwelling elderly individuals (age 70 and older) experienced problems with memory after they were released from the hospital. The study was conducted under the direction of Lee Lindquist, an assistant professor of geriatrics and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The study participants included 200 seniors in the Chicago area who did not have a diagnosis of dementia or other cognitive problems. All the participants had been admitted to acute medical care for more than 24 hours and consented to their own procedures.
After the participants were discharged, each one was surveyed face-to-face at home and tested using the Mini-Mental Status Examination, Backward Digit Span, and 15 Word Immediate and Delayed Recall Tests. The tests were repeated one month later.
The investigators found that when the patients were discharged, 31.5 percent showed previously unrecognized low cognition. One month later, 58 percent of these patients did not show the same memory problems and showed significant improvement in orientation, repetition, comprehension, reading, writing, and calculation.
Lindquist explained that “A helper on the day of discharge could make sure a senior understands discharge instructions and help her get home and follow instructions safely.” Patients who do not get some assistance immediately after discharge from the hospital may have difficulties understanding complicated medical instructions, which can increase the chance of medication errors and the need for re-hospitalization.
This study shows that hospitalization results in temporary memory problems for some elderly individuals. The authors suggest screening the elderly for low cognition before they leave the hospital could identify patients who need special transitional care, including more frequent follow-ups once they return home.