Reporter explores the secondary health problems of elderly during hospitalization

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Heidi de Marco/KHNRon Schwarz, 79, who was hospitalized after falling in the shower, was featured in Anna Gorman’s series for Kaiser Health News on the risks that elderly patients can face when hospitalized.

Photo: Heidi de Marco/KHNRon Schwarz, 79, who was hospitalized after falling in the shower, was featured in Anna Gorman’s series for Kaiser Health News on the risks that elderly patients can face when hospitalized.

People go to the hospital to get better, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with elderly adults, who can be at greater risk of getting discharged in worse condition than when admitted. This risk not only contributes to higher overall financial and physical health costs – longer hospital stays, time in rehab, worsening memory or fragility – but also threatens a senior’s ability to continue to live at home independently.

Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Anna Gorman looked into this problem – and what’s being done to address it – in her series, Diagnosis: Unprepared. Gorman created the project as part of her Journalists in Aging Fellowship offered by the Gerontological Society of America ad New America Media. What she discovered while reporting it was a slew of secondary problems that were unrelated to the elder’s original reason for admission.

In a new How I Did It, Gorman explains that even when patient’s acute health issue is fixed, lack of proper feeding and movement, or over medication issues can leave many seniors with additional health challenges from which they never recover. Sometimes, these problems even can hasten their death. Gaining access to hospitals, and finding patients willing to discuss the issue for publication, were among several hurdles that Gorman had to overcome.

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