Nobody likes going to the hospital — but for a growing number of seniors, an ordinary trip to the ER can quickly degrade into a nightmarish journey to the edge of sanity.
And some people don’t make it back.
A recent report in the New York Times looked at the rise of delirium among hospitalized seniors — and how this frightening, hallucination-filled condition often goes misunderstood or even completely undetected.
It’s one more sad example of the quiet toll being taken by common meds every single day — because believe me, drugs are behind more of these cases than anyone will ever admit.
After all, even many "healthy" seniors are on more than a few meds in the best of times. But once they’re in the hurried care of hospital doctors who barely speak to one another, it becomes a pharmaceutical free-for-all.
The Times article notes that antihistamines, sleeping pills and antidepressants can all trigger the madness of delirium. Throw in the poor sleep, uncomfortable beds, depression due to being away from home and the anxiety that comes with any hospital stay, and you have a recipe for an earth-shattering mental meltdown that can include bizarre fantasies and violent behavior.
Some delirium patients have even been known to leap from bed, tear out the IV tubes and attempt to flee the hospital.
The American Geriatrics Society says up to a third of all patients over the age of 70 suffer from delirium when they’re hospitalized — and that might even be a conservative estimate.
"We would have to build 100 more floors to keep everybody until they cleared their delirium," Dr. Julie Moran, a geriatrician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told the Times. "There are times when we could be working round the clock seeing patients with delirium."
But Dr. Moran is rare — because she actually recognizes the problem. One study published last year found that doctors miss the condition 76 percent of the time. In most cases, the doctors think their patients are simply confused, agitated or just misbehaving.
I wonder how many of them simply order more drugs or higher doses — making the delirium even worse.
Despite its name, delirium is no laughing matter. Delirious patients spend an average of six more days in the hospital, and are five times more likely to be put into a nursing home than other patients, according to the Times.
Delirious patients are also more likely to suffer from dementia later. Ten percent of them die within a month of their hospitalization, and up to 40 percent of them die within a year — making it more dangerous than a fall.
It’s one more reason to be vigilant anytime you enter the hospital, especially when it comes to meds — and to make sure you have someone on your side who can ask the questions, and act on your behalf, when you can’t do so yourself.
The time to plan for that is now, while you’re still healthy and at home. Otherwise, your next trip to the hospital could become a journey into hell.
Edward Martin is a health journalist who writes about today's most pressing health issues. He chronicles the most cutting-edge alternative methods for beating everything from diabetes to cancer and reports on the latest FDA foul-ups and Big Pharma conspiracies.