Older adults often face persistent functional decline after being hospitalized with influenza, according to a new study. The findings highlight the need for prevention, researchers say.

Investigators followed health outcomes in 925 patients hospitalized with the flu. About 8% died, and 18% experienced clinically meaningful loss of function by 30 days post-discharge, reported Melissa K. Andrew, M.D., Ph.D., of Dalhousie University in Canada.

Fully half of the patients with long-term loss of function developed catastrophic disability, Andrew said. In addition, higher frailty at the time of hospital admission was associated with greater odds of developing functional decline, catastrophic disability and death.

“We need to think about the longer-term implications of influenza for older adults — it is not just a short-term illness,” Andrew concluded. “This impact on function in the longer-term makes it all the more important to prevent influenza in the first place, including through vaccination.” 

Full findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.