Among the many reasons hospitals can be dangerous to your health, if you’re an old person: all that time spent in bed.

As we and our loved ones age, we put a lot of effort (and resources) into making sure a hospital bed is available when needed. New research shows that while that hospital bed may sometimes be necessary, getting up and out of it as quickly as possible is key to recovery. As it turns out, the hospital bed is a huge contributor to old-age infirmity, as studies prove that bed-rest and immobility slow healing and stunt recuperation.

A recent New York Times column, “The New Old Age” covered the results of a study conducted by University of Texas physician, Dr. Steve Fisher. Using a step activity monitor (a fancy pedometer), the Texas team found that just an extra 600 steps a day, or about 12 total minutes of slow walking, could significantly shorten hospital stays. Although Dr. Fisher calls for further study, he still offered his optimism, “It’s encouraging to think that small changes can be of broad benefit.”

Though physicians may have advised nursing staff to help the patient ambulate, nurses and aides frequently have little time for these tasks and the patient may not get up and walk enough. Dr. Fisher recommends that family members take the initiative and ask about getting a physical therapist involved early on and about whether the family is permitted to help the patient walk.

One obstacle to an aggressive mobility plan is the risk of falls. Not only are they a valid concern for you and your loved one, but also for the hospital. Since 2008, a fall is grounds for Medicare to refuse to reimburse a hospital for a patient’s care. So, it’s understandable that the hospital might be overly cautious about families helping elderly patients walk. Nonetheless, Dr. Fisher still encourages families to look for safe ways to help elderly patients get up and walk. While falls can indeed be dangerous, the consequences of prolonged immobility may be worse.

 

 

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