A large number of hospitalizations of people with dementia may be preventable, according to a study from the University of Washington.

Researchers found that elderly people with dementia had a 78% higher risk of being needlessly hospitalized due to avoidable illness than seniors not suffering from dementia.

Additionally, 86% of those stricken with dementia were admitted to the hospital at least once over the course of the study. A full two-thirds of these hospitalizations were for mostly preventable ailments such as dehydration, congestive heart failure, bacterial pneumonia, and urinary tract infections (UTI).

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Hospitalizations Negatively Impact Seniors

Hospitalization can be traumatic for any senior, regardless of whether they have dementia or not. But, research has shown that cognitive impairment can make the ordeal infinitely worse for an older person.

Avoiding unnecessary stays in the hospital has the potential to significantly enhance the quality and even the duration of life for an elder with dementia. Trips to the hospital increase a seniors risk of hospital-induced delirium, exposure to infection, and decreased mobility. Only seriously ill seniors who can not be successfully treated elsewhere should be hospitalized.

While not all trips to the hospital can be averted, there are a few things a caregiver can do to help prevent some of the causes of hospitalization mentioned in this research:

  1. Medication: A senior with dementia can easily forget to take their medication, leading to a variety of health complications including infection, and congestive heart failure. Preventing medication non-adherence is an important part of a seniors care plan. Reminders can range from leaving a note on the fridge for an elderly person who lives by themselves or setting up a pill box with an automatic dispenser or alarm reminding them to take their prescription to hiring in-home care to address medication management.
  2. Hydration: Older people are more prone to becoming dehydrated than younger people and their thirst impulse becomes deadened, so it's important for a caregiver to monitor their elderly loved one in order to ensure that they are getting enough fluid. An elder who doesn't drink enough is at an increased risk for things like urinary tract infections.
  3. Vaccination: Keeping an elder up-to-date on their shots for pneumonia, shingles and the flu is an easy way to reduce the risk that a senior will require treatment or hospitalization for one of these common senior health issues.
  4. Observation: Most health problems don't occur out of the blue. A caregiver should keep their eyes open for changes in an elderly person's behavior as these changes might be an indication of impending health problems that could be caught before hospitalization is required.