Assessing the Negative Impact Extended Hospital Stays Have on Seniors

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDFebruary 21st, 2020
Senior Woman in Hospital

The population of seniors in the U.S. is growing rapidly. In fact, by the year 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that the population of individuals over the age of 65 will rise to a whopping 83.7 million—almost double 2012’s elderly population of 43.1 million. But as the population of elderly individuals grows, so does the prevalence of high-acuity disabilities and diseases. Consider the implications of this fact for healthcare, and even more specifically, for your senior living community. Are you prepared for the rapid growth of the elderly population and their health concerns, considering that seniors account for the largest percentage of hospitalizations relative to their population size? And also considering the vastly negative impact that extended hospital stays have on the elderly, affecting not merely their cognition and physical capabilities but also their ability to function independently after they return to your community?


Cognitive Repercussions

If an elderly individual didn’t have cognitive issues before an extended hospital stay, statistics show that it’s likely they will upon their return home. In fact, one study showed that cognitive declines more than doubled after a hospital stay, with the effects worsening depending on age, duration of the hospital stay, and severity of illness.

This is often due to delirium, a state of poor mental function brought on by illness or stress. Delirium is very common among hospitalized seniors, usually affecting about half of the population. And it’s linked with both short and long-term negative impacts: Short-term problems include a greater probability of a fall and a longer hospital stay, and long-term consequences include faster cognitive decline—sometimes even progressing to full-scale dementia.

Unfortunately, hospital staff don’t always spot delirium in hospitalized seniors; it doesn’t always present with restlessness and/or fidgetiness. Sometimes, delirious seniors simply seem “spaced out” or quiet, making it difficult for harried and overworked hospital staff to diagnose. The results are deeply negative not only for seniors, but also for their caretakers upon their return home.

Physical Decline

As if one high-acuity illness wasn’t enough, extended hospital stays often breed new issues for seniors to contend with. In fact, about a third of hospitalized seniors over 70 and half of hospitalized seniors over 85 leave the hospital even more disabled than they were when they arrived.

Inadequate diet, interrupted sleep, and general poor care from often overworked nurses can result in delirium, infection, and pressure ulcers. Aside from these, bed rest can weaken elderly patients enormously, making it difficult for them to return to an autonomous life upon discharge. Cognitive impairment and weakened strength can result in a greater risk of falls, which are the leading cause of injury among seniors in the U.S.

The extreme physical decline that many seniors face after an extended hospital stay often results in readmission.

One in every six Medicare patients will be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge for a medical condition, triggering a vicious cycle that begins the worsening of cognitive function and physical capabilities anew.

The Inability to Return to Normal Health

Perhaps the most staggering statistic about the negative impact extended hospital stays have on seniors is this: A study performed by UC San Francisco and the UT Southwestern Medical Center found that, even among long-term acute care hospitals, about one of every five seniors admitted for an extended stay were alive five years later. Statistically, this means that hospitalization provides a worse prognosis for seniors than advanced cancer.

Unfortunately, this prognosis isn’t such a surprise when considering the many ways that hospital stays affect seniors negatively—and the extent to which those effects linger, even after discharge. After returning home or to their senior living community, recently discharged seniors usually have a very difficult time re-adapting to their former daily routines. This is largely due to weakened physical states and hospital stay-induced cognitive dysfunction. Stress levels are bound to rise as seniors return home to unfamiliar lives, frustrated by their health and lack of autonomy. Senior living communities also feel this frustration; many directors are actively seeking traditional care service alternatives that wreak less havoc on caretaker and patient alike. That’s where DispatchHealth comes in.

How DispatchHealth Can Help

DispatchHealth offers the house call of the future. We understand the many problems that traditional care services cause, and we’re here to offer a solution. We provide in-home treatment for high-acuity illnesses and disabilities, helping your senior community residents avoid trips to the ER. Within a few hours of receiving a request, we’ll arrive at your doorstep with nearly all of the medical equipment you’ll find in the emergency room.

UTI Blog

With DispatchHealth as a partner, you’ll be able to keep your residents out of the deeply negative impact of long-term hospital stays. Contact us today to learn more about how your community could benefit from in-home medical care from DispatchHealth.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

Related Content

DispatchHealth’s APP Fellowship Program Receives Accreditation

DispatchHealth Earns Accreditation with Distinction for Advanced Practice Provider Transition to Practice Fellowship

In sickness & in health

Couple’s Embrace of Home-Centered Healing