Elderly Hospitalization: The Cure May Be Worse than the Disease

Elderly Hospitalization

With elderly hospitalization, whether due to illness or injury, the outcome may sometimes be worse than if they had not gone in the first place. Although they may eventually recover from the illness or injury that first brought them to the hospital, chances are high that when they leave, they will be in worse shape than before they arrived at the hospital. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that about one-fourth of patients at an average age of 71 years old had an adverse health event occur either during a hospital stay or immediately afterward. The study also showed that half of those adverse health events were preventable.

The Real and Dangerous Problem of Elderly Hospitalization

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for an elderly person to go to a hospital for a minor injury (such as the complications from a fall) and leave several weeks later with a host of new problems. These new issues can range from infections or illnesses the person did not have before the hospital stay to an inability to communicate clearly. It could also include memory loss, chronic weakness, and loss of balance.

Because the problems that can arise are so diverse, and because it is difficult to quantitatively track things such as an elderly person’s ability to balance himself or herself, such hospital-related issues are often overlooked. However, a problem with an elderly person’s balance or memory is no less real or challenging than the problems that are more concrete and easy to measure such as new illnesses that the elderly person contracted while he or she was in the hospital.

The problem of elderly people coming out of the hospital in worse shape than before they went in is a serious issue. The problem could come from a number of potential causes. However, the main reasons for this phenomenon include a loss of mobility and poor sleeping habits.

Limited Movement and its Perils

A serious issue with going to the hospital—especially when the patient is an elderly person—is that many hospitals will restrict the ability of patients to get up and move around. This is done for a number of reasons. Some hospitals may claim that the patients need to rest, or that they are at a risk of injuring themselves if they move around too much. However, a more sinister motivation may simply be the hospital’s desire to avoid any potential liability if an elderly person falls.

Hospitals must worry about liability. Unfortunately, this may affect patient movement so the hospital remains protected in the event that an elderly person falls. Hospital administrators may reason it’s easier to restrict patient movement than risk the hassle of court.

Some patients have a lot of tubes running in and out of their bodies. This can restrict movement during an elderly hospitalization. When nursing staff gets overworked, it may become difficult to help an elderly person up only to have to spend time getting that person settled once more.

Whatever the reasons, restricting the movement of an elderly patient can have serious consequences on his or her health. As someone ages, his or her ability to remain ambulatory is a crucial part of maintaining well-being. An elderly person who has previously been able to stave off muscle deterioration through rigorous exercise may be unable to engage in his or her preventive exercises even after only a few weeks of restricted movement. This can tilt the elderly person into a precipitous decline in well-being. This, in turn, causes him or her to lose even more ability to move around and get much-needed exercise. This could lead to an even further decline in health.

Interrupted Sleeping Schedules

An elderly person in a hospital gets disturbed from sleep at all hours of the night. This could be for tests, medications, and for other reasons. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for the middle-of-the-night awakenings. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s simply a matter of convenience for the hospital staff.

When people enter the hospital, restful sleep allows them to heal. Extra disturbances disrupt sleeping patterns. The more disruption there is from restful sleep, the harder time they have recovering. Plus, lack of rest can leave a person more susceptible to other illnesses. A lack of sleep lowers the body’s immune defenses. This means elderly people with disturbed sleep patterns are more at risk of getting sick. Sleep loss also contributes to mental as well as physical fatigue.

Keeping Ahead of the Problem

When an elderly person needs special care, a healthcare provider may have suggestions as to how to avoid elderly hospitalization. If an elderly loved one must go to the hospital, family members should be advocates for him or her. They should also keep a close eye on the person.  Advocating for the person means insisting that the nursing staff address everything. This includes keeping the elderly person active and only disturbing the person’s rest when absolutely necessary.



Creditor, M. C. (February 1, 1993).  Hazards of Hospitalization of the Elderly. Annals of Internal Medicine, 118(3): 219-233. Available at http://medicine.emory.edu/divisions/geriatrics/education/edu_resources/modules/Hazards_of_Hospitalization1/Hazards_of_Hospitalization_of_the_Elderly.pdf. Retrieved September 6, 2016.

Forster, A.J., Clark, H. D., Menard,  A., Dupuis, N., Chernish, R., Chandok, N., Khan, A., and van Walraven, C. (March 2, 2004). Adverse events among medical patients after discharge from hospital.Abstract. Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), 170(3): 345-9. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14757670. Retrieved March 22, 2016.