Infections Hospitalize More Elders

Slight Increase Seen in Past Decade as U.S. Population Ages

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 28, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 29, 2005 -- More U.S. elders were hospitalized for infectious diseasesin recent years compared with a decade ago, researchers report.

The "slight" increase could snowball as America ages, write theCDC's Aaron Curns, MPH, and colleagues.

They urge people to take good care of themselves throughout life, and theycall for scientists to develop new ways to prevent infections.

The report appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Aging Population

Americans are living longer. That's boosting the ranks of older adults, whoare 65 and older by Curns' definition.

Consider these numbers from Curns' study:

  • Today, older adults account for 13% of the U.S. population.
  • By 2030, older adults are expected to make up 20% of the U.S.population.

The oldest old -- those aged 85 and older -- are expected to double in thenext quarter century, write Curns and colleagues.

Age can make people more vulnerable to infections. It "should be a highpriority" to lower infection-related hospitalizations in seniors, theresearchers write.

Who Was Hospitalized

Data came from a large, annual study of patients discharged from U.S.hospitals. The researchers compared records from 1990 to 1992 to those from2000 to 2002.

During that decade, infection-related hospitalizations rose 13% among olderadults. The grand total was more than 21 million infection-relatedhospitalizations for older adults from 1990 to 2002.

People aged 85 and older were most likely to be hospitalized for infectionscompared with those aged 65-84, the study shows.

Infectious diseases account for a "substantial proportion" of allhospitalizations among older adults, write the researchers.

Most Common Infections

Infections of the lower respiratory tract accounted for almost half of thehospitalizations and nearly half of the hospitalized elders who died frominfectious diseases.

"Dramatic" increases were also seen in three other areas:

  • Infections of the heart
  • Infections after surgery
  • Infections and inflammation after receiving prosthetic devices (such asartificial joint)

Shorter Stays, Fewer Deaths

Elders spent about five days in the hospital for infections in 2000-2002.That's two days less than a decade earlier, the study shows.

The researchers also report slightly fewer deaths among older adultshospitalized with infections.

In the early 1990s, eight out of 100 older adults hospitalized withinfectious diseases died while in the hospital. Ten years later, that figurewas seven in-hospital deaths per 100 older adults in the same situation.

The oldest adults with infections were most likely to die in the hospital(nine per 100 for those aged 85 and older).

Avoiding Infection

According to the researchers, these steps may help prevent infections:

  • Healthful eating
  • Physical activity
  • Management of diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases
  • Increased coverage of vaccines against flu and pneumococcal disease

They also call for medical advances, including:

  • New vaccines
  • Therapies that target infection-causing microbes
  • Techniques to avoid infections after surgeries that have become morecommon, such as knee replacements and heart-related surgeries

Show Sources

SOURCES: Curns, A. Archives of Internal Medicine, Nov. 28, 2005; vol 165: pp 2514-2520. News release, JAMA/Archives.

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