Nov. 29, 2005 -- More U.S. elders were hospitalized for infectious diseases in recent years compared with a decade ago, researchers report.
The "slight" increase could snowball as America ages, write the CDC's Aaron Curns, MPH, and colleagues.
They urge people to take good care of themselves throughout life, and they call for scientists to develop new ways to prevent infections.
The report appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Americans are living longer. That's boosting the ranks of older adults, who are 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 the next quarter century, write Curns and colleagues.
Age can make people more vulnerable to infections. It "should be a high priority" to lower infection-related hospitalizations in seniors, the researchers 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 from 2000 to 2002.
During that decade, infection-related hospitalizations rose 13% among older adults. The grand total was more than 21 million infection-related hospitalizations for older adults from 1990 to 2002.
People aged 85 and older were most likely to be hospitalized for infections compared with those aged 65-84, the study shows.
Infectious diseases account for a "substantial proportion" of all hospitalizations among older adults, write the researchers.
Most Common Infections
Infections of the lower respiratory tract accounted for almost half of the hospitalizations and nearly half of the hospitalized elders who died from infectious 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 as artificial 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 adults hospitalized with infections.
In the early 1990s, eight out of 100 older adults hospitalized with infectious diseases died while in the hospital. Ten years later, that figure was 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).
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 more common, such as knee replacements and heart-related surgeries