An Epidemic of ImmobilityAfter Elders Are Hospitalized

img_7673-e1551535541217.jpgThe last time my elderly father was in the hospital he was attached to an IV and heart monitor, and an alarm attached to his bed. Though he has rarely experienced a fall — throughout his whole life — Dad was considered a fall risk and told that he could not get out of bed without help.

Apparently this is common in hospitals. Elderly people often walk in on their own and then, after being confined to bed, are consigned to rehabilitation facilities because they were kept in bed and could not walk out on their own.

Take some time to read Overzealous in Preventing Falls, Hospitals are Producing an ‘Epidemic of Immobility’ in Elderly Patients, a Kaiser Health News article that appeared in the October 13, 2019 Washington Post. Reporter Melissa Bailey describes how people lose mobility merely because hospitals consign them to bed for the duration of a hospital stay.

And the problem gets worse when bathroom access is figured into the equation. Elders are told they cannot get up, even to use the toilet, unless a hospital staff member is present and instructed to press the help button. Trouble is, when the help button is pressed, it may take time for a nurse or aide to arrive, perhaps too long for an older person who has to use the bathroom.

If the individual gets out of bed, often an alarm sounds. Then people come running and the staff members are irritated with the patient. An acquaintance once told me that when her mother, a patient in a well-respected hospital, tried to get out of bed to use the toilet (after no one came to help her in a timely manner) the alarm sounded, and the nurses were clearly irritated. She overheard one person talking about restraints.


Best Quotes from the Article (but do read the entire article)

  • … hospitals have become so overzealous in fall prevention that they are producing an “epidemic of immobility,” experts say. To ensure that patients will never fall, hospitalized patients who could benefit from activity are told not to get up on their own — their bedbound state reinforced by bed alarms and a lack of staff to help them move.
  • … walking even a little can pay off. Older patients who walk just 275 steps a day in the hospital show lower rates of readmission after 30 days, research has found.



2 thoughts on “An Epidemic of ImmobilityAfter Elders Are Hospitalized

  1. Part of the problem is that physical therapists are under-supplied in the hospitals. If more priority were placed on staffing sufficient physical therapists, and providing more physical therapy while patients are in hospital this situation might be improved.


    • Yes, I agree, that more people are needed, but they do not even need to be physical therapists. Hospitals could come up with plans to use student nurses or aides, thereby ensuring that any patient that is mobile can get some modest exercise each day. It is inexcusable that people walk into hospitals but cannot walk well when they leave.


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