FRIDAY, March 22, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Seniors who are hospitalized for pneumonia are at high risk for long-term physical and mental problems that can impair their ability to care for themselves, according to a new study.
The study looked at data on about 1,400 adults older than 50 who survived more than 1,700 hospitalizations for pneumonia, heart attack or stroke. The effects of pneumonia were comparable to those seen in people who survive a heart attack or stroke, the researchers said.
Patients who required hospital care for pneumonia -- including those hospitalized just once during a nine-year period and those who did not require critical care -- had a more than two-fold increased risk of a decline in mental abilities. The effects could be so severe that they led to disability and admission to a nursing home.
The study also found that patients hospitalized for pneumonia had a nearly two times increased risk of depression, and were at increased risk of losing the ability to do routine activities such as walking, cooking and using the bathroom without assistance.
The findings were published online March 15 in the American Journal of Medicine.
"Pneumonia is clearly not only an acute life-threatening event, but also a profoundly life-altering event," study senior author Dr. Theodore Iwashyna, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.
"The potentially substantial chronic care needs and diminished quality of life for survivors are comparable to the effects of heart disease, yet we invest far fewer resources in pneumonia prevention," he said.
Prevention methods include timely and proper use of antibiotics, vaccination against the flu and screening older adults for depression following pneumonia.
Each year in the United States pneumonia in seniors leads to nearly 400,000 hospitalizations, which cost Medicare more than $7.3 billion, according to the news release. Those hospitalizations are expected to double by 2040.
Although the study found an association between pneumonia hospitalization and increased risk of decline in seniors, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about pneumonia.