We have taken parents to the hospital and discovered that the hospitalization process seems to facilitate disorientation. We have also observed incidental dementia. In essence, a frightened aging parents is sick, frightened, and disoriented and loses touch with reality.
One of our parents, who was already experiencing some dementia but was living securely in the present, experienced incidental dementia. She spent seven hours in the emergency room before she was admitted to the hospital. During that time she remained alert, but gradually traveled back in time to her small Ohio town in the 1930′s, and she stayed there for about 24 hours. Mother recognized her son, my husband, but not me, her daughter-in-law. The next day after discharge, she returned to the present. However, after that hospital visit the intensity of her dementia increased.
This February 23, 2010 article in Business Week, Hospital Stays May Spur Brain Decline in Seniors, reports on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that may explain our experience. Researchers found an association between hospitalization for critical and acute care and dementia.
The JAMA article, Association Between Acute Care and Critical Illness Hospitalization and Cognitive Function in Older Adults, is highly technical and filled with statistics. It will need to be read at a library unless you have access to a JAMA subscriber. The link connects to the article abstract.