If you are a senior adult who has just completed a hospital stay in the last few days or weeks, readmission to the hospital is the last thing you want to undergo.

According to Michael Bavlsik, MD, Medical Director at Barnes-Jewish Extended Care, part of the reason for readmission is that so many seniors are dealing with multiple health issues. “We’re all living longer so, in the past, people had a single disease that put them in the hospital,” he says. “Now it’s rare to see a senior patient with less than six or seven serious illnesses. As the number and variety of illnesses increase so do the chances for readmission.”

The New England Journal of Medicine, finds that 20 percent of older adults are readmitted to a hospital within a month of their initial discharge.

Take a look below at some of the most common causes for readmission and things seniors can do to lower their risks for another hospital stay.

How to Avoid Being Readmitted to the Hospital

Be sure you understand all the instructions and recommendations from your health care professionals at the end of your hospital stay. It is a good idea to have a caregiver with you when this information is provided. Also read and keep your discharge instructions on hand.

Don’t be in such a hurry to get discharged that you fail to ask questions when something is unclear. “Older people are sometimes very fearful that something is going to happen to their house while they are gone, so they are in a real hurry to get home,” says Dr. Bavlsik. Family and friends can reduce patient stress by checking on the house and taking care of pets.

A physician might recommend a consultation with a geriatric care manager as well to determine what additional services are needed and can be provided in the home.

Also, don’t tell your hospital physician that you are fine just to get a quicker discharge if you are still experiencing symptoms. Ignoring them can mean a fast ticket back to the hospital and even more severe problems.

Dr. Bavlsik strongly recommends patients make a follow-up appointment with their primary care physician after a hospital stay. “Seeing the primary care physician is paramount. Home health nurses communicate with your doctor, but that doesn’t replace a face-to-face visit with your physician,” he says.

And failure to keep follow-up appointments is one of the biggest reasons for readmission. Call on caregivers or friends for transportation assistance to the physician’s office if needed. Also, caregivers can listen to the physician with you and take notes for later reference.

Managing multiple medications can be confusing, but it is tremendously important to aid in recovery. Patient medication errors are another major reason for hospital readmissions among seniors. You may need a caregiver to help you sort through the prescriptions and organize them so that you know when and how you should take your medications. Home health aides can also assist with medication management.

Follow physician orders and take all medications as prescribed. This is particularly important if you have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, the number one reason for hospital readmissions among seniors according to Dr. Bavlsik.

Watch for changes in appetite, comfort levels, pain, or mood. Swelling or redness around wounds, or reactions to medications should be noted, and your physician consulted.

The Positive Effects of Therapy

Therapy can make a significant difference in your health and quality of life and reduce the number of hospital readmissions. And therapy techniques and treatments keep advancing.

“Twenty years ago a broken hip was not something an elderly person recovered from,” says Dr. Bavlsik. “The patient’s immobility led to blood clots, pneumonia, and skin infections that would all prove fatal. Today, therapists get patients up and moving. Even after surgery, one of the first things they do in the hospital is walk them in the hospital hallways and do breathing exercises to prevent pneumonia. Today, many of these patients do beautifully.”

Barnes-Jewish Extended Care offers many types of rehabilitation and therapy services:

  • Physical therapy helps people walk, regain balance, and strengthen their body. All of these abilities aid in fall prevention, a significant factor for readmissions. Also, physical activity, including exercises recommended by therapists can reduce blood pressure, heart rates, and increase oxygen levels in the blood to stave off stroke, blood clots, and heart attacks.
  • Occupational therapy assists patients with day-to-day activities like bathing, feeding oneself, dressing, and moving around within a home. As patients become more proficient in these activities there is less chance of re-injury and an enhanced quality of life due to increased confidence
  • Speech therapists help people who have difficulty swallowing due to aging, brain injury, or stroke. Dr. Bavlsik also notes speech therapists perform cognitive therapy, training the mind to deal with the natural slowing of brain processes due to aging or increased medications.
  • Skilled nursing is available for wound care for patients with non-healing wounds, lymphedema therapy for edema, or swelling in the limbs. Compression pushes fluid out of the affected areas, which prevents wounds and infections.
  • Nutritionists help manage diets for specific illnesses such as heart failure or diabetes (another top reason for readmission due to its many potential complications). The facility also provides outpatient therapy.

“Follow-up care is absolutely critical,” says Dr. Bavlsik. “It comes in many forms—the support of friends as well as healthcare professionals. “With proper care, people are surviving illnesses they didn’t survive a few years ago. We know they fare better in their home, so we do everything we can to make that possible.”

If you or your senior loved one have recently suffered an injury or illness, consider rehab and therapy services to prevent future reoccurrences or complications. Contact us to learn more about rehab and therapy services offered by Bethesda for seniors in St. Louis.