WEDNESDAY, March 21, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Seniors' memory and thinking skills decline more rapidly than normal after they've been hospitalized, a new study finds.
The study included nearly 1,900 Chicago residents over age 65 whose memory and thinking skills were tested every three years for up to 12 years. During the study, 71 percent of the participants were hospitalized at least once.
On average, seniors' scores on tests of memory and thinking skills decline slightly as they grow older, the researchers noted.
This study found that seniors' overall scores declined twice as fast after a first hospital stay, compared either to their previous rate of decline or to those who had not been admitted to the hospital.
When the researchers looked at specific tests, they found that the rate of decline after a first hospital stay was more than three times faster on a long-term memory test and 1.5 times faster on a complex attention test.
The findings remained the same even after the researchers accounted for factors such as severe illness, longer hospital stays and older age, according to the study published online March 21 in the journal Neurology.
"Our study is timely, as the United States population continues to rapidly age and researchers try to identify factors that could reduce memory and thinking problems in the elderly," study author Robert Wilson, a professor of neurological sciences and psychology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a journal news release. "Understanding a possible link to something as common as hospital stays is extremely important."
"Further research may help to develop strategies to prevent medical problems in older people that lead to hospital stays," Wilson said. "It could also lead to changes in hospital inpatient and discharge policies."
Although the research shows an association between hospitalization and mental decline, it does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about memory and cognitive health.