It may seem inevitable for seniors, especially those with a chronic illness, to spend a fair amount of time in the hospital. And, relatively routine hospital visits may seem to be nothing more than an inconvenience. There’s an unexpected danger to be aware of, however, that is growing at an alarming rate: hospitalization delirium.
Affecting as many as 7 million hospitalized Americans each year, the triggers for developing delirium seem to be related to heavy sedation and use of ventilators in intensive care units, as well as longer hospital stays; but delirium is occurring among those recovering from routine and easily treated conditions as well. Other potential causes include use of anti-anxiety medications, and perhaps even the hospital environment itself. And, it can linger on for months after a patient is discharged.
Coined “ICU psychosis” 30 years ago by Sharon Inouye, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, studies focused on hospitalization delirium prevention are now underway, since it’s estimated that as many as 40% of cases are preventable, and, according to Inouye, “There still aren’t good treatments for it once it occurs.”
Effects from the delirium can be severe, in both memory and cognitive issues but also commonly displaying as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, with flashbacks and hallucinations. For the elderly, these symptoms are particularly troubling, as they may not have the capacity to describe what happened to them or how they’re feeling, and can result in a misdiagnosis of psychosis or dementia.
The good news is that hospitals are recognizing and taking steps to reduce the potential for delirium, by more carefully prescribing certain anti-anxiety medications and tranquilizers, limiting use of restraints, and creating a more soothing environment with less light and quieter alarms to ensure more normalcy in patients’ sleep-wake cycles. Nursing and medical schools nationwide are also including delirium training as part of their curriculum, and a number of hospitals have implemented the HELP program (Hospital Elder Life Program) for their senior patients, offering visits from trained volunteers to provide companionship and help with staying oriented.
If you’d like to learn more about delirium and the ways in which it’s different from dementia, call Regency Home Care of North Atlanta. And if your senior loved one struggles with issues related to either condition, we can help. Our compassionate North Atlanta caregivers are all fully trained and certified, and under the leadership of a registered nurse. Contact us any time at 678-999-2446 and ask to schedule a free in-home assessment.