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After Hospital Discharge, Other Ills May Land Seniors Back in Again
Date:1/9/2013

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 9 (HealthDay News) -- The days and weeks after hospital discharge are a vulnerable time for people, with one in five older Americans readmitted within a month -- often for symptoms unrelated to the original illness.

Now, one expert suggests it's time to recognize what he's dubbed "post-hospital syndrome" as a health condition unto itself.

A hospital stay can get patients vital or even life-saving treatment. But it also involves physical and mental stresses -- from poor sleep to drug side effects to a drop in fitness from a prolonged time in bed, explained Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

"It's as if we've thrown people off their equilibrium," Krumholz said. "No matter how successful we've been in treating the acute condition, there is still this vulnerable period after discharge."

Disrupted sleep-wake cycles during a hospital stay, for instance, can have broad and lingering effects, Krumholz writes in the Jan. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Sleep deprivation is tied to physical effects, such as poor digestion and lowered immunity, as well as dulled mental abilities.

"The post-discharge period can be like the worst case of jet lag you've ever had," Krumholz said. "You feel like you're in a fog."

There's no way to eliminate what Krumholz called the "toxic environment" of the hospital stay. Patients are obviously ill, often in pain, and away from home. But Krumholz said hospital staff can do more to "create a softer landing" for patients before they head home.

Staff might check on how patients have been sleeping, how clearly they are thinking and how their muscle strength and balance are holding up, Krumholz said.

Involving family members in discussions about after-hospital care is key, too. "Patients themselves rarely re
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