Hospital Delirium- why hospitals are hazardous for the elderly?
Hospital stays pose additional hazards for the elderly and one of which is hospital delirium. This is a type of brain dysfunction characterized by sudden confusion and inattention and is considered as one of the most common complications of hospitalization for the elderly. Despite its seriousness, doctors and nurses are still not able to recognize and prevent it as effectively as it can be.
American Society of Geriatrics estimates that one third of hospitalized patients over 70 years old suffer from hospital delirium. The prevalence is even much higher for patients requiring intensive care and surgery. Its exact cause is unknown. However, primary contributing factors include a long list of sedatives, narcotic medicines, allergy and blood pressure drugs and procedures like catheterization. Sleep interruptions, changing rooms or being without eyeglasses and dentures may trigger anxiety consequently delirium. Also, Day et al.(2012) found out that isolation of patients where they are twice more likely to suffer from delirium.
Most doctors think that hospital delirium is acceptable because of the decline in the cognitive functions of the elderly. This should not be allowed since premature death often occurs among 35- 40 percent of those with delirium each year. Elderly patients who suffer from delirium also has longer hospitalization by six days and more likely to be placed in nursing homes after discharge.
The good news is that 40% of delirium is preventable. And as part of the family, we can help how to prevent or limit the occurrence of this complication by orienting the elderly to the environment, people, place and time; conducting stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles, card games etc.; making their environment familiar by taking few family photos and their favorite objects; staying close to them during the hospitalization and make them feel not isolated, insist on their use of sensory aids and simply prevent unavoidable hospitalizations.
Hannah R. Day, Eli N. Perencevich, Anthony D. Harris, Ann L. Gruber-Baldini, Seth S. Himelhoch, Clayton H. Brown, Emily Dotter, and Daniel J. Morgan, “The Association between Contact Precautions and Delirium at a Tertiary Care Center.” Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 33:1 (January 2012)