Many seniors suffer cognition loss but then go back
to normal one month later
March 14, 2011 - Battling an illness, lack of sleep
and strange surroundings can make any hospital patient feel out of
sorts. For senior citizens, hospitalizations actually may cause
temporary memory loss and difficulty in understanding discharge
instructions, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.
The seniors go back to normal one month after the
hospital stay, the study found. But immediately following a
hospitalization is a critical time in which seniors may need extra
support from healthcare professionals and family, according to Lee
Lindquist, the lead author of the study, published
online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, March
Lindquist, M.D., is an assistant professor of
geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a
physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“A helper on the day of discharge could make sure a
senior understands discharge instructions and help her get home and
follow instructions safely,” Lindquist said.
“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
More than 200 seniors, age 70 and older, who lived
on their own in the Chicago area and were not 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 that was previously unrecognized.
One month later, 58 percent of those patients no
longer had low cognition. They had 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 said. 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 said. “It’s a critical time and they need extra support
and understanding from healthcare professionals and family.”
The title of the study is “Improvements in
Cognition Following Hospital Discharge of Community Dwelling Seniors.”
The National Institute of Aging funded this study.