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“Post-Hospital Syndrome” Impact on Elderly

By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Oct 15, 2018

Many family members worry about their elderly loved ones and the risk of a serious personal injury. Sometimes we think about how these risks can play out in a nursing home setting due to the result of elder abuse or neglect, while in other cases we might consider the ways in which medical malpractice can cause especially devastating injuries to older adults. Generally speaking, when seniors suffer injuries, it is more difficult for them to recover physically and emotionally. According to a recent article in The New York Times, hospitalization of the elderly may not always be a good thing.

As a society, we want to believe hospitals are a place to be treated so that the patient can return home in better health. For older adults, however, hospitalization frequently results in reduced sleep, weight loss, and other health problems that are linked to something known as “post-hospital syndrome.” What do seniors and their families need to know about post-hospital syndrome and the risk of personal injuries after receiving care in a hospital setting?

Hospital Environment Impact on Patients – Dangers of Post-Hospital Syndrome for the Elderly

As the article emphasizes, many seniors end up in the hospital to treat a disease or an injury. In particular, a fracture or broken bone can result in several days in the hospital along with the use of painkillers like oxycodone. For a large percentage of elderly patients, this time spent in the hospital is extremely stressful. This stress, along with the “disruptions of hospitalization,” can result in “interrupted sleep, weight loss, mild delirium, [and] deconditioning caused by days in bed.” For example, older patients may have their blood drawn and vital signs recorded before dawn, and meals are served frequently outside of standard meal times. As such, seniors’ immune systems are less able to fight illnesses after an extended stay in the hospital, which means they may be less physically able to prevent injuries like a fall.

As one geriatrician explained, “these hospitalizations can lead to big life changes,” which are rarely for the better. In fact, many older adults who are discharged from the hospital and who lived independently beforehand, end up living with an adult child or other caregiver — or they end up moving into an assisted-living facility or a nursing home.

How Hospitals Can Make the Environment Safer for Patients to Avoid Injuries After Discharge

The term “post-hospital syndrome” first appeared in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. A cardiologist at Yale University created the phrase to refer to the illnesses and injuries suffered by seniors after a hospital discharge, in connection with high rates of readmissions. While hospitals are penalized under the Affordable Care Act for 30-day readmissions—a tool designed to encourage hospitals to develop and promote better patient safety practices—a significant number of seniors continue to suffer from post-hospital syndrome.

What can hospitals do to make the setting a safer and less stressful place, especially for elderly patients? Hospitals can take steps to become “less destabilizing, [and] more conducive to healing.” How can they do this? Physicians suggest that older patients could remain in their own clothes, only have lab tests done when necessary, avoid having blood drawn before dawn, and choose their own meal times. Until hospitals begin instituting these practices, family members can help by bringing food from home to seniors in the hospital and accompanying them for short walks to get out of the hospital bed.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If an elderly loved one in your family recently suffered injuries in the hospital and you are concerned, you can speak with a medical malpractice attorney about your questions. Contact the Law Offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth for more information.

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