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Hospitalization may contribute to cognitive decline in elderly

March 26, 2012
by Patricia Sheehan
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Older adults who are hospitalized may have an increased risk of subsequent cognitive decline, according to a new study published in Neurology.

The study, conducted by researchers Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, found that hospitalization of older adults was associated with increased memory and thinking problems.

In the study, researchers found that overall cognitive function declined more than twice as fast after a first hospital stay, compared either to the previous rate before the hospital stay or to people who were not admitted to the hospital. On specific cognitive tests, the rate of decline after the first hospital stay was more than three times faster on a long-term memory test and 1.5 times faster on a complex attention test. The results stayed the same even after considering factors such as severe illness, longer hospital stay and older age.

While cognitive dysfunction has been identified as a complication of critical illnesses that may increase the chance of hospitalization, only three percent of hospitalizations involved critical illnesses in this particular study.

“Further research may help to develop strategies to prevent medical problems in older people that lead to hospital stays. It could also lead to changes in hospital inpatient and discharge policies,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD.

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