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Hospitalization May Cause Temporary Memory Problems for Seniors

MONDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Hospitalization of seniors may cause temporary memory loss and difficulty understanding discharge instructions, but many return to normal within a month, a new study says.

The findings suggest that seniors may need extra support from health workers and family immediately after they're released from the hospital, said the researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.

"A helper on the day of discharge could make sure a senior understands discharge instructions and help her get home and follow instructions safely," lead author Dr. Lee Lindquist, an assistant professor of geriatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

"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 re-hospitalization," she added.

The study included more than 200 hospital patients, 70 and older, who lived on their own and had not been diagnosed with dementia or any other cognitive problems. Tests conducted when the patients were discharged from the hospital showed that nearly one-third had reduced levels of cognition.

One month later, 58 percent of those patients no longer had reduced cognition and showed significant recovery in a number of areas, including comprehension, reading, writing, calculation and orientation.

"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," said Lindquist, who is also a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Screening all elderly patients for reduced cognition before they're discharged from the hospital could help identify those who require specialized hospital-to-home transitional care with more frequent follow-ups, she suggested.

The study, funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, was published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

More information

The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging has more about seniors and hospitalization.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, April 14, 2011

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