Memory loss afflicts hospitalized seniors

NORTHWESTERN (US) — Being hospitalized can cause seniors temporary memory loss exacerbating the difficulty they may have with discharge instructions.

While memory usually returns after about a month, the findings highlight the need for extra support from healthcare professionals and family, according to a new study published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“A helper on the day of discharge could make sure a senior understands discharge instructions and help her get home and follow instructions safely,” says Lee Lindquist, assistant professor of geriatrics at Northwestern University.

“If a patient is by herself the day of a hospital discharge, it’s possible that she won’t comprehend complicated medical instructions, increasing medication errors and chances of re-hospitalization.”

More than 200 seniors, age 70 and older, who live on their own in the Chicago area who had not previously been diagnosed with dementia or other cognitive problems, took part in the study.

At the time of discharge, cognition tests were administered to examine mental status. Almost one-third had low cognition previously unrecognized. One month later, 58 percent of those patients no longer had low cognition and showed significant improvement in areas of orientation, registration, repetition, comprehension, naming, reading, writing, and calculation.

Healthcare professionals need to be more aware of seniors’ thought processes on the day they are released from the hospital, Lindquist says. Screening all seniors for low cognition before they leave any hospital could help doctors and nurses flag patients in need of specialized transitional care with more frequent follow-ups in the days after hospitalization.

“When the senior is no longer sick enough to be in the hospital, it doesn’t mean they’re 100 percent ready to be on their own,” Lindquist says. “It’s a critical time and they need extra support and understanding from healthcare professionals and family.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Aging.

More news from Northwestern University: