In 2008, adults aged 65 and older made up just 12% of the population. By 2016, that number grew to 15%. This increase reflects projections that the senior population will grow to over 98 million by 2060. In all, adults 65 and older account for up to 20% of all emergency department visits and 36% of all hospitalizations. Subsequently, all predictions point to the unsustainability of demands for care by 2050. There’s also an added risk for seniors. Hospital stays often result in an increased risk of functional and cognitive challenges. In this article, we share the reasons and effects of geriatric hospitalizations, as well as our best tips for preventing geriatric hospital admissions.
The Top Reasons for Geriatric Hospital Admissions
In 2012, AARP listed these reasons for geriatric admissions in order of descending frequency:
- Medication problems (1.9 million)
- Stroke (892,300)
- Pneumonia (886,000)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – (822,500)
- Coronary atherosclerosis (753,000)
- Congestive heart failure (751,000)
- Diabetes (655,000)
- Cardiac arrhythmias (593,000)
- Infection (137,000)
The Effects Of Geriatric Hospital Admissions
Falls send more than 2 million seniors to hospitals each year and are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among the elderly. Falls and other accidents can also cause head trauma, bone fractures, and mobility challenges.
Many seniors receive pain prescriptions as a result of their hospital stays. The potential for misuse of (especially) opioid pain medication remains high among previously hospitalized seniors. In fact, opioid-related hospitalizations increased by 34% between 2010 and 2015 for seniors. Many would be surprised to learn that there actually is a growing problem of drug abuse in our elderly population.
Hospital admissions also led to weight issues. Malnutrition led to weakened immune systems, muscle weakness, and longer recovery periods. Meanwhile, excess weight raised the risk of diabetes, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, and heart disease.
The Secondary Effects of Geriatric Admissions
Geriatric patients are at increased risk for secondary infections, due to age-related immune system dysfunction. Additionally, when geriatric patients have multiple chronic conditions, treatment of secondary infections undeniably leads to greater complications. Today, the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant infections like C. diff and C. Auris also adds new challenges in treating geriatric patients.
In a study involving 246 geriatric patients, almost 20% of patients suffered the recurrence of bacterial UTI (urinary tract infections). The main causative agent was E. Coli in 73.3% of instances.
In addition to putting the elderly at greater risk of secondary infections, geriatric admissions also result in functional and mobility challenges. About 30% of patients over 70 and more than 50% of patients over 85 leave the hospital more disabled than when they arrived.
The Good News About Reducing Geriatric Hospital Admissions
While the picture for geriatric admissions is somewhat bleak, there is some good news. Undoubtedly, it is within our power to avoid or reduce hospitalizations. Almost 40% of heart disease and stroke deaths and 20% of cancer deaths are preventable with simple lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes that promote optimum quality of life and reduce hospitalizations also reduce the risk of secondary infections. Additionally, these changes also help prevent the psycho-physiological effects of prolonged hospital stays.
Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Prevent Geriatric Hospitalizations
- If your parent smokes, encourage them to quit this habit. Also, help your loved one avoid environments which increase exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Help your loved one adopt a more plant-based diet, with reduced fats and sugars. An example is the Esselstyn Diet, developed at Johns Hopkins or the Nutritarian Diet promoted by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
- Help Mom or Dad commit to a weight loss or weight maintenance program, especially when abdominal fat is an issue.
- Encourage daily walks.
- Begin or maintain a program of balance-oriented exercises like yoga or tai chi. Your parent can also work with a physical therapist to increase balance and strength.
- Help your parent find ways to spend time with family or friends or a community of like-minded people.
- Encourage your parent to practice a more positive outlook on life and to interact with people of like mind.
That last item may be a game-changer! A study published in the Journal of the National Medical Association reports that health status is a significant factor in predicting geriatric hospitalizations. Seniors who perceive their health status as poor are 3 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who think they are healthy. So, a positive attitude is critical to a senior’s well-being.
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