6 Actions That Can Help Seniors Avoid Preventable Hospitalizations

Who wants to spend time in the hospital?


Easy question, right?

We, including our senior loved ones, try to live our lives in a healthy way, doing those things that will keep us well to avoid needing the services of a hospital.

In 2010 seniors over 85 were only 2% of the population but accounted for 9% of hospitalizations (counted as discharges) but all seniors over 65 were 40% of those hospitalized (counted as discharges). The rate of hospitalization for those over 85 was more than five times higher than the rate for those under 65!

Valuable Services We’d Rather Not Use

Don’t get me wrong, the hospital is quite a handy place when you need it because it is filled with caring, skilled professionals who can heal us when we get injured or help us recover when we need it the most.

At the same time, they are the people or the place we really don’t want to need but are thankful they are there when we need them.

There are actions that family caregivers can take to help their senior loved ones avoid needing to stay in a hospital and those activities are especially helpful for us to pursue!

When seniors are hospitalized, it can lead to more serious declines in their overall health and may impact their ability to return home.

Many seniors lose their independence and find themselves in a facility after being hospitalized. But with prevention steps, we can help our senior loved ones avoid many hospitalizations.

Common Causes of Hospitalization for Seniors

It might be a good idea to learn a little about why seniors most often visit a hospital as a patient so that we can make a plan to help prevent these visits.

Seniors who are hospitalized are more likely to be in the hospital more days than younger people. Most senior hospitalizations begin from an emergency room visit.

Unfortunately, seniors are more likely to die during a hospital stay than younger adults.

In 2010 the most common diagnoses for hospitalized seniors over 85 were:

  • congestive heart failure
  • pneumonia
  • urinary tract infections
  • septicemia
  • stroke and heart disease
  • hip fracture

Four common procedures carried out on seniors in the hospital are

  • cardiac catheterization
  • angioplasty
  • insertion or removal of cardiac pacemakers
  • coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)

These procedures exceeded the number of knee replacements, hip replacements and other problems related to osteoporosis.

Prevention Tips

Family caregivers are very good at encouraging their seniors to be healthy. Sometimes they need reminders to stay on track.

Taking some precautions could help you be proactive so that you don’t end up taking them to the emergency room or visiting them in the hospital.

Here are 6 actions that could help you help them prevent health problems.

1. Prevent falling and hip fractures as well as keeping senior’s bones strong

Be sure their home is safe and all areas have been updated to remove obstacles and potential trip and fall hazards.

Remind your senior to use their adaptive equipment, such as canes or walkers, even inside their home.

Always wear proper fitting footwear in the house.

Be sure they are staying active to maintain their muscle strength and balance.

Eat a varied, healthful diet including dairy foods for calcium, potassium and protein.

Talk with your senior’s doctor about osteoporosis and the need for supplementation or other treatments.

2. Prevent congestive heart failure (CHF) exacerbations

Many seniors who have congestive heart failure are at risk for a relapse. Follow the treatment plan from the doctor, including careful sodium intake, adequate but not excessive fluid intake, record weight daily and taking all medications as prescribed.

Don’t wait to seek treatment, this will lead to hospital stay when a medication change or other treatment at home could have prevented a serious illness.

Go to all scheduled doctor appointments for proper medical follow-up.

3. Prevent urinary tract infections (UTI) with adequate fluid intake

Seniors who aren’t drinking enough fluid during the day can be at risk for urinary tract infections. These can often get worse and become systemic infections requiring hospitalization.

Drinking throughout the day, keeping the water within reach and completing good hygiene practices will help avoid a UTI.

There are prophylactic measures your senior can take, such as daily cranberry tablets, so discuss these with their doctor.

4. Improve continence

According to the CDC, bladder incontinence (involuntary loss of control) may be caused by conditions such as age-related changes in the lower urinary tract, urinary tract infection, and conditions not directly related to the genitourinary system, such as diabetes, cancer, stroke, cognitive impairment, and mobility impairment.

According to the NHANES study, of participating seniors over 65 who were noninstitutionalized (living at home), almost 44% had urinary leakage.

Incontinence has a serious impact on quality of life for seniors. It can lead to avoidance of adequate fluid intake trying to avoid bladder incontinence and falls when getting up to go to the bathroom frequently becomes urgent.

5. Get flu and pneumonia vaccines as scheduled

In 2014, 69% of those over 65 received their flu shot. Family caregivers also need to receive their flu vaccine to allow you continue to be a caregiver but also to prevent your senior from becoming ill if you do.

In 2014, 61% of seniors over 65 ever received a pneumococcal vaccine.

The numbers say a majority of seniors received the vaccine but there are still many left exposed.

6. Wash hands to prevent spread of germs leading to illness

Proper and frequent handwashing will help everyone in the family avoid opportunistic illness. When caregivers wash their hands often and encourage their senior loved ones to do the same, they can prevent the spread of germs.

Stop Health Issues Before They Happen

Family caregivers who are with their senior loved ones routinely can observe them for any signs of the beginning of a health issue. The faster you get your senior medical care, the more likely it will be that you both can avoid hospitalization.

Taking medications as prescribed, staying physically active and following the treatment plan of your senior’s healthcare team will also help keep seniors’ health on track.

Keeping our senior loved ones out of the hospital through prevention efforts will improve their quality of life while they remain independently aging in place.

Because life expectancy rates after a senior reaches 85 continue to increase from 4 to 7 years (and climbing!), it is important to help them remain well and independent as long as possible through maintaining a healthy lifestyle.