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Hospitalization May Be 'Tipping Point' for Alzheimer's Decline
Date:6/19/2012

By Carina Storrs
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) -- For people with Alzheimer's disease, a stay in the hospital could lead to accelerated mental decline and increase the risk of going into a nursing home or dying, according to a new study.

The investigators also found that those who experienced delirium, which is a state of heightened confusion or unusual mood or behavior, while in the hospital were even less likely to go back to the way things were after hospital discharge.

For the study, researchers followed nearly 800 people with mild Alzheimer's disease, about half of whom went to the hospital over the course of the study period due to falls, infections or other problems. Being hospitalized was associated with nearly twice the likelihood of having a poor outcome, including mental decline and death, and being delirious while hospitalized increased the risk by about 12 percent.

The study was published in the June 19 online issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Previous research found that hospitalization and delirium can speed mental slipping in older adults and patients with Alzheimer's, but the current study is the first to dissect the risks associated with having delirium on top of being hospitalized on outcomes including institutionalization and death, according to background information in the study.

"Delirium can be quite a problem for patients even with mild Alzheimer's disease, and preventing it may be a more effective treatment strategy than the current medications," said Dr. Tamara Fong, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study.

A number of steps can help prevent delirium in hospitalized patients, such as visiting with a family member or a familiar person, having eyeglasses or hearing aids available, getting out of bed for walks and not taking medications such as painkillers that can worsen confusion.

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