Older patients need more support to get walking while in hospital, study suggests

Older hospital patients need more support to get out of their beds and walking, a new study suggests.

Even mobile hospital inpatients spend the majority of time in their beds, academics said.

Fear of missing out on meetings with medics could be why mobile patients are reluctant to leave their wards.

But inactivity during hospital spells can lead to a post-hospital syndrome – a period of vulnerability after discharge associated with general physical deconditioning.

Researchers said that this period of “increased vulnerability” may lead to hospital readmission, disability, nursing home placement, other illnesses and even death.

Their new study suggests that even slow walking for 25 minutes each day in hospital is enough to counter the detrimental physical impact of bedrest on older patients.

The optimal amount of walking around hospitals is at least 50 minutes each day, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine study.

Around 40 minutes of a mixture of physical activity, such as 20 minutes working with resistance bands and 20 minutes of aerobic activity, can also help, the authors said.

The new study, led by academics from Spain, involved 3,842 people who had taken part in 19 different studies.

After pooling the findings, the authors found that ambulation – the ability to walk without the need for assistance – was deemed “the most efficient way” for mobile patients to counter effects of bedrest.

“As little as 25min/day of slow-paced walking is sufficient to improve functional capacity and minimise adverse events in this population,” they wrote.

They found that patients who managed to stay active during their hospital stays were less likely to suffer “adverse events” after they were discharged.

The authors said that physical activity should become a “core part” of the daily routine of older adults in hospital.

“Health care practitioners in hospital settings may capitalise on the information provided to improve mobility and health outcomes of hospitalised older adults,” they added.

Carline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “Hospital admissions are not good for older people as they often have serious knock-on effects on their physical fitness and abilities.

“We know it’s important for older people to keep moving to maintain their capabilities and independence.

“This research is encouraging, in that it indicates that relatively small amounts of walking each day can help to balance out the effects of long periods of time in bed or a chair.

“However, it only included people who were able to walk unaided, so we need to make sure that older people who need support to get up and move around are also given the opportunity to do so.

“Time invested in keeping older people moving during hospital admissions will pay dividends when they return home with their independence maintained.”

It comes as a separate study, published in the journal BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care, found that peppermint oil aromatherapy may ease pain in patients after open heart surgery.

A group of 32 patients received seven bouts of peppermint aromatherapy over two days while another 32 just had distilled water.

The group who received peppermint aromatherapy reported lower pain scores. They also needed fewer pain medications and reported better sleep.

The researchers from Iran wrote: “It can be concluded that this herbal product can be safely used as a complementary treatment in relieving pain and making patients comfortable after heart surgery.”

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