What my family didn’t know at the time, because the doctors did not tell us, was that this frightening transformation was a classic case of hospital delirium — a brain dysfunction characterized by sudden confusion and inattention. It’s one of the most common, dangerous and costly complications of hospital stays for the elderly.
When the elderly visit the hospital it’s simply not the same as when they were younger. No, everything is more dangerous.
The New Old Age Blog at the New York Times recently discussed a danger that is all too common, but still under the radar screens of medical and the everyday worlds alike. It’s the problem of elderly delirium.
Usually, when we talk about an elderly person no longer being themselves, we think of dementia. Nevertheless, another dramatic neurological problem is delirium and it is often, ironically, brought on by hospital visits. Here’s what happens: When the elderly are put under such heavy medication it can generate a neurological imbalance that results in dramatic disorientation, sudden confusion, and loss of attention. The list of medications that can have this affect is fairly long, including sedatives, sleeping pills, narcotic painkillers and some allergy, blood pressure and incontinence drugs. As a result, it’s not a surprise that delirium is common.
Each year 20 percent of the 11.8 million elderly patients in hospitals develop delirium. This includes some 60 percent to 85 percent of those in intensive care on ventilation and more than half of postoperative surgical patients.
The problem is that delirium also can have long-term affects, according to recent research. In the end, many hospitals may be doing long-term damage to their patients. For more information and a stirring example, read the original story here. Be sure to take a look at the checklist to help determine the difference between dementia and delirium.
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Reference: The New York Times (November 2, 2011) “Another Hospital Hazard for the Elderly