An inactive hospital stay may result in poor outcomes for elderly adults, a new study finds. In-hospital risk assessment and physical therapy could address the problem, the researchers say.

Investigators followed 177 patients ages 65 years and older admitted for acute illness to a Swiss hospital’s internal medicine ward. Elders with low daytime activity and low 24-hour activity had relatively high pressure-ulcer incidence. They were also less likely to return home at discharge, reported study lead Marie Méan, M.D., and colleagues from Lausanne University Hospital. 

In fact, patients who were able to return home had significantly higher physical activity levels than their peers who were subsequently transferred to eldercare facilities. 

The results did not directly link inactivity and hospital-acquired functional decline. But the results are important nonetheless, given that one-third of elderly patients present with hospital-acquired functional decline, the researchers argued.

“[R]ecognition of low physical activity levels at admission or declining physical activity levels during hospital stay could prompt prescription of physiotherapy to address patients’ mobility issues,” they concluded.

The study was published Friday in JAMA Network Open