Seniors facing a hospital stay may be risking their memory unnecessarily, according to recent research.

A study conducted by researchers from Rush University Medical Center has discovered that hospitalization may cause a senior's cognitive ability to deteriorate faster than normal. Results indicated that even a short stint in a hospital could result in mental decay that is two times faster than a person's rate prior to hospitalization.

Researchers also found that an elder's long-term memory is likely to be the hardest thing hit by a trip to the hospital. A single visit could cause as much as a three-fold acceleration in the decline of a senior's long-term memory capacity.

Study author Robert Wilson, Ph.D., feels that these results highlight the importance of keeping seniors out of hospitals whenever possible. "Further research may help develop strategies to prevent medical problems in older people that lead to hospitals stays. It could also lead to changes in hospital inpatient and discharge policies," he said in a press release.

Making sure a senior doesn't go in

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has recently initiated a plan designed to cut down on the number of hospitalizations of Medicare and Medicaid recipients who reside in nursing homes. CMS research indicates that as many as 45 percent of hospitalizations occurring among this population are avoidable.

According to a press release, the new program, called the Initiative to Reduce Avoidable Hospitalizations among Nursing Facility Residents, focuses on delivering more of what CMS former Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner calls "person-centered care," to nursing home residents with the hopes of keeping them out of the hospital.

For seniors living on their own or with a family caregiver, preventing a trip to the hospital could be as simple as making sure medications are being taken as prescribed or taking steps to reduce the risk of falling (a leading cause of hospitalization for seniors).

Making sure a senior doesn't come back

Hospital readmission is a huge problem in the elderly population. Twenty percent of Medicare beneficiaries find themselves back in the hospital within 30 days of being discharged, according to CMS figures.

A senior may be readmitted to the hospital due to a variety of different factors. But often it is the result of an adverse drug reaction or an improperly administered follow-up test—incidences that could easily be avoided.

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Hospitals have a vested interest in making sure their elderly patients do not return too soon. In 2012, Medicare began financially penalizing hospitals with higher rates of readmission.

As a result, hospitals have implemented their own initiatives aimed at making sure that seniors receive the post-discharge care they need to stay healthy. Things like follow-up telephone calls and visits by nurses are becoming more common, particularly when a senior's healthcare situation is complex.

A study conducted on elderly people who were hospitalized for heart failure at Baylor Medical Center in 2009 and 2010 found that a program comprised of a pre-discharge meeting with a nurse as well as a minimum of eight follow-up house calls was able to lower readmission rates by 48 percent.

Preliminary research on these programs indicates that they are effective at reducing the number of seniors forced to return to the hospital for care.