Understanding and Managing Post-Operative Delirium in Older Adults

Post-operative delirium in older adults is more common than you may realize, and important to understand to know how to help.

Going into the hospital for surgery is never something we look forward to, although it is a relief to know that a problem is going to be addressed and the necessary care will be provided for healing. What’s not as widely known, however, is that there’s a common and concerning condition that can arise as a result: post-operative delirium.

How Do Hospitalizations Lead to Post-Operative Delirium in Older Adults?

There are actually several factors behind this phenomenon. Geriatrician Sharon Inouye of Harvard Medical School refers to the condition as “ICU psychosis.” According to Inouye, hospital-related delirium is both “underrecognized and underdiagnosed.” Not only that, but in as many as four out of ten instances, the condition could have been prevented, as it is believed to be brought on by the difficulty sleeping in such an active, bright, environment, or the result of medication side effects that are commonly prescribed for older adults after surgery, such as anti-anxiety or painkilling drugs.

Duration of the hospital stay is also a likely factor, according to research. The longer the stay, the better the chance that delirium will occur. These effects can be long-lasting and severe, as well. As many as 80% of adults in the ICU displayed significantly lower scores on cognitive functioning tests than typical for their age and education predictors, even though as few as 6% showed any cognitive decline at all prior to being hospitalized. In fact, the level of impairment was as severe as noted in someone with a traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease in as many as 2/3 of all cases.

How Can You Prevent Post-Surgical Delirium in an Older Loved One?

Surgeries and hospitalizations can be necessary and beneficial for a variety of health care needs. There are steps you can take to help prevent post-operative delirium, however. Inouye explains a program created called HELP, which can be found in hospitals around the country. It involves the use of trained volunteers who visit seniors during hospital stays to help them stay oriented.

Assessing the level of delirium is also important. The Confusion Assessment Method, or CAM scale, is used to determine how disoriented a person is, and to help determine the possible cause. It’s also recommended that older adults be given alternate methods to help with anxiety instead of strong medications, such as the comfort of a companion.

A referred care provider from American, Advocate, and Whitsyms In-Home Care can help older adults before, during, and after a hospitalization in a variety of ways. A caregiver makes a great companion to sit and talk with the person and help instill a sense of calm. They can also help ease the transition from hospital to home by picking up prescriptions and groceries, preparing meals, taking care of light housekeeping, and providing medication reminders. Not only that, but they can monitor for any changes in condition and report them immediately, to help prevent a re-hospitalization.

To find out more about the home care services, including post operative care, offered by the referred care providers at American, Advocate or Whitsyms In-Home Care, reach out to the office closest to you.

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