When you go to a hospital, you hope to leave in better health than when you arrived, but unfortunately, many of us end up getting sicker when we have a hospital stay. While this situation can confront any one of any age, our age group is at increased risk because we may have less robust immune systems that leave us more vulnerable to a variety of infections.
We also tend to visit the hospital more frequently than our younger counterparts. The longer the stay, the greater the chance something negative will happen.
I believe three hospital related illnesses or conditions pose the greatest health risks to boomers.
The first of these, and one that I have previously written on here at Sixty and Me, is sepsis. It kills more people annually than breast cancer, opioid overdoses, and HIV/AIDS combined.
Sepsis occurs when chemicals released in the bloodstream to fight an infection trigger inflammation throughout the body. Think of it as our immune systems going into overdrive to battle the infection, whether it be bacterial, fungal, or viral. The resulting inflammation can end up damaging our organs and causing them to fail.
Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, fast heart rate and mental confusion. Treatment generally includes antibiotics and intravenous fluids. Many patients who survive severe sepsis recover completely, and their lives return to normal. But others may have permanent organ damage.
The second threat to our health in hospitals is healthcare-associated infections or HAIs. Unlike other infections, such as the common cold, that we may pick-up in our day-to-day lives, we get HAIs by virtue of being in healthcare settings such as a hospital, renal disease facility, or long-term care facility.
Unfortunately, hospitals are breeding grounds for infectious agents such as bacteria. And bacteria and other pathogens can be found literally anywhere in a hospital – even in places that we may not consider to be risky. One example of this are hospital floors, which most of us expect would be almost clean enough to “eat off of” as the familiar saying goes.
One recent study, for example, found that the floors of patient rooms are quickly contaminated shortly after they are cleaned. Of course, outside of a sealed sterile environment, some contamination is inevitable. But what researchers found is that the bacteria and other pathogens on the floors of a patient’s room can readily be transferred to other patients, increasing their risk for a variety of infections.
They also can make their way to hospital staff, to visitors and even to other parts of the hospital by hitching a ride on anything that touches the floor (think television remote, chairs, purses, bed linen, and the nurse call button).
The third condition that we can acquire because of a hospital stay – and especially a prolonged one – is delirium. This condition is defined as the sudden onset of confusion and can happen to anyone. People older than 65 are especially at risk and often misdiagnosed as having dementia. (Dementia develops gradually and worsens progressively, whereas delirium is sudden and fluctuates during the day.)
Delirium cases may be preventable because they are usually triggered and worsened by large doses of anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines and the hospital environment. Patients developing this condition have a higher risk of mortality and dementia.
What is truly scary is that delirium may go unrecognized and undiagnosed during a hospital stay, and symptoms – such as hallucinations, delusions, and inability to focus – can persist for months.
The good news is that there are steps we can take to reduce our risk of leaving the hospital worse off than we arrived.
The first is to do all we can to make sure our immune systems and general health are in the best possible shape before we check-in. And while I appreciate that not all hospital visits are planned, there are many things we can do to put us in a better position when we need urgent care or the emergency room.
It is always important to get regular nutrient tests to ensure you are getting necessary nutrients and in the right amounts. If the test identifies any imbalances, and especially in immune-boosting nutrients such as zinc, vitamins C and D, and selenium, you can work with a competent healthcare practitioner to achieve balance before you go to the hospital.
You can also proactively reduce your risk of sepsis, an HAI or dementia while you are in the hospital by doing the following:
By taking the steps necessary to keep our bodies as healthy as possible and taking some common-sense steps, we can greatly increase our chances of leaving the hospital healthier than when we arrived.
Have you or anyone you know ever gotten sick from hospital stay? If so, what happened? Was it sepsis, an HAI, delirium, or something else such as a fall? Did you, your doctor or hospital staff take steps before and during your stay to help keep you healthy? If so, what were they?
Tags Medical Conditions