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Memory Loss Common in Seniors Just After Hospitalization

In the days following a hospitalization, seniors may experience a temporary loss of memory and have a difficult time understanding discharge instructions, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Notably, many seniors do go back to their original mental state approximately one month after hospitalization; but the first weeks are a critical time in which these patients may need extra support from family and medical professionals.

“When the senior is no longer sick enough to be in the hospital, it doesn’t mean they’re 100 percent ready to be on their own,” said lead author Dr. Lee Lindquist, assistant professor of geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“It’s a critical time and they need extra support and understanding from health care professionals and family.”

For the study, over 200 hospitalized seniors (age 70 and older) were evaluated; all were living on their own in the Chicago area and had not been diagnosed with dementia or other cognitive problems.

Cognition tests were given at the time of discharge to assess mental status. The results showed that nearly one-third had low cognition that had been previously unrecognized. One month later, 58 percent of those seniors were back to normal. They experienced significant improvement in areas of orientation, registration, repetition, comprehension, naming, reading, writing and calculation.

The study suggests that healthcare professionals should be more attentive to the mental state of senior patients on the day they are released from the hospital, Lindquist said. Screening all seniors for low cognition before they leave the hospital could help identify those individuals in need of special transitional care, including more follow-ups in the days after hospitalization.

“A helper on the day of discharge could make sure a senior understands discharge instructions and help her get home and follow instructions safely,” said Lindquist, a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“If a patient is by herself the day of a hospital discharge, it’s possible that she won’t comprehend complicated medical instructions, increasing medication errors and chances of re-hospitalization.”

The study is published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, March 2011.  It was funded by The National Institute of Aging.

Source:  Northwestern University

Memory Loss Common in Seniors Just After Hospitalization

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Memory Loss Common in Seniors Just After Hospitalization. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 19 Apr 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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