Anyone with an aging parent knows how frustrating it can be for that parent to be released from the hospital after a few days confined mostly to bed. Even if a mother or father is in pretty good shape and not terribly ill, regaining previous mobility and strength can take ages, not because of the illness but due to the lack of exercise in the hospital.
Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a geriatrics expert at the University of California at San Francisco described this condition as “hospital-associated disability,” in an October 2011 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. In the Medline abstract the researchers note:
This hospitalization-associated disability occurs in approximately one-third of patients older than 70 years of age and may be triggered even when the illness that necessitated the hospitalization is successfully treated. In this article, we describe risk factors and risk stratification tools that identify older adults at highest risk of hospitalization-associated disability.
Now I understand that sometimes patients cannot get up and walk for medical reasons. But my hunch after observations in a number of hospitals with my parents over the past several years, is to get them out of bed.
I also need medical professionals to back this up. Physicians and nurse should encourage parents (and me, should be hospitalized) to get up and walk around. They can read the JAMA article. Even if walking isn’t always comfortable, a little exercise goes a long way, and if an elderly individual needs a companion, it’s a great opportunity for a hospital volunteer.
I started thinking about this subject after reading Out of Bed! Hospitals Aim to Keep Elderly Strong in the March 9, 2012 edition of Boston.com (The Boston Globe). The article mentions Dr. Covinsky’s research and describes the experiences of several patients and pointing out how much better they were once released from the hospital.