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

p>"There are some people who advocate keeping older people out of the hospital and treating them at home. This is an interesting [idea] because it does reduce the chance of delirium and reduces health care costs in other ways," Fong said.

People with Alzheimer's disease are three times as likely to spend time in the hospital. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of Alzheimer's patients are hospitalized each year for an average of about four days, the study authors noted.

The current study included 771 patients with mild Alzheimer's enrolled at Massachusetts Alzheimer's Disease Research Center where they were regularly evaluated for neurological function. Most of the patients were either living on their own or with family.

Among this group, 367 patients were hospitalized within 18 months of a research center visit and 194 of these patients had delirium during hospitalization. Delirium was the reason for hospitalization in only 4 percent of cases; the most common causes were fainting, falls, heart problems and abdominal pain.

The study authors found that 41 percent of the patients who were hospitalized with delirium had accelerated mental decline during the year following hospitalization, which they measured using a memory and concentration test. In comparison, only 23 percent of hospitalized patients without delirium and 26 percent of patients who were not hospitalized experienced increased mental decline during this time.

Whereas hospitalization on its own did not appear to drive up the risk of mental decline, delirium among patients who were hospitalized increased the risk by 20 percent.

Most Alzheimer's patients eventually have to be institutionalized, and many of them need help within five to 10 years of diagnosis, Fong said. Patients live between eight and 10 years on average after being diagnosed, and as Fong pointed out, usually die because of complications such as pneumonia.

In this study, the risk of going into a nursin
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