Hospital units suited to the elderly help prevent mental, physical decline

Older patients tend to be more susceptible to mental and physical deterioration in the hospital, even if they recover from the injury or illness that landed them there in the first place. However, hospital wards tailored to older patients' needs can help prevent such effects, according to NPR.

The need to address the unique challenges older patients face in the hospital is clear. One study published in 2011 cited by NPR found nearly a third of patients over age 70 and more than half of those over 85 left the hospital with greater disabilities than when they arrived.

"The older you are, the worse the hospital is for you," Ken Covinsky, MD, a physician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco's division of geriatrics, told NPR. "A lot of the stuff we do in medicine does more harm than good. And sometimes with the care of older people, less is more." 

Side effects of drugs, interrupted sleep, unappetizing food and long days spent in bed are uncomfortable for anyone, and can cost long lasting damage to the elderly. As a result, some hospitals have established separate medical units tailored to their older patients.

For example, the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center created the Acute Care for Elders ward in 2007. The ward is staffed by a health team trained in geriatrics, and focus less on the original diagnosis and more on how to get patients out of the hospital and living as independently as possible, according to the report.

Staff in the ward test patients' memory and evaluate how well they can walk and take care of themselves at home. They also encourage patients to do as much for themselves as possible, and remove catheters and IV tethers as soon as medically advisable, according to the report. The health team also encourages patients to get out of bed and have meals in the communal dining area.

While ACE units have been shown to reduced hospital-acquired disabilities in older patients, reduce length of stay and lower the number of patients discharged to nursing homes, so far, there are only 200 such units around the U.S.

More articles on facilities management:
Waynesboro Hospital breaks ground on $6M expansion
Mission Hospital $400M expansion larger than expected
Arkansas Children's Hospital plans center for childhood obesity

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