Despite decades of awareness and significant healthcare system changes, hospital‐associated disability remains common for vulnerable elders – and the problem is ripe for solutions. 

That’s according to the authors of a new study and accompanying editorial recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. Yale researchers found that seniors treated for acute, non-critical illness were too often saddled with new disabilities one month after hospital discharge.

Fully 30% had a new disability in taking medications, and 43% had a new disability in their ability to walk a quarter of a mile, for example. And while most regained their abilities over time, many had not fully recovered at six months. At that time, 43% continued to need help with medications, 24% were still unable to walk a quarter mile, and 45% were still not driving, reported Kumar Dharmarajan M.D., MBA, and colleagues.

To address the problem, elders require support that goes beyond the initial post-discharge transition and often beyond the scope of benefit reimbursement timelines, wrote editorial author Cynthia J. Brown M.D., MSPH, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Brown recommends that several factors be addressed:

  • Functional status assessment must become part of routine care, with interventions like physical therapy, encouragement of ambulation, and attention to nutrition.
  • Transitions of care should ensure that older adults can return to their prior level of function.
  • The Acute Care for Elder model should be utilized across the whole hospital, rather than being confined to one unit. 

“We have made strides toward reducing hospital‐associated disability, but we have more to do,” Brown concluded.