Seniors at highest risk of hospitalization in winter


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As northeast Florida plunges into the heart of the winter season, the risk of local seniors being hospitalized spikes to its highest of the year. This despite the fact that almost half of these hospitalizations (49 percent) can be avoided with proper prevention.

According to a new study of nurses who work primarily with seniors, January, February and March are the height of hospitalization season for seniors due primarily to respiratory infections, such as flu or pneumonia, and other winter hazards.

The critical factor in reducing this spike in area hospitalizations this winter is family involvement. Nearly all nurses (99 percent) surveyed say that the role families play in keeping seniors out of the hospital is just as important as the role of the medical community.

Knowing that a hospital stay can actually lead to more serious health declines, local senior care experts are mounting an informational campaign to educate families and decrease hospitalizations so that seniors may remain at home and healthy year-round.

"Keeping seniors safe at home and out of the hospital starts with family intervention," said Mary Beth Johnson, of Home Instead Senior Care. "It could be as simple as making sure your parents are using assistive equipment to avoid falls or suggesting they see a doctor for any new aches or symptoms."

The most common action by seniors that puts them at risk of hospitalization is waiting too long to seek medical attention, according to the nurses surveyed. They estimate that nearly half of all seniors (47 percent) put off medical appointments or have problems accessing medical care.

"Not following doctor's orders also puts seniors at risk," Johnson said. "Families play a critical role in making sure they fully understand and comply with medical instructions."

Here are some common risk factors and the steps that families can take to help ensure a healthy lifestyle.

The recommendations include:

  • Make sure the senior is taking preventative health measures – like getting a flu shot or shingles vaccination
  • Encourage the use of assistive equipment
  • Monitor and/or assist with medications
  • Attend doctor's visits and be a medical advocate for your senior
  • Assess your senior's balance
  • Make sure your senior is able to safely drive
  • Check in on aging loved ones regularly

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