FYI Daily

Does Hospitalization Cause Memory Loss?

Last updated: Dec 18, 2012


Many families have had this experience: An older loved one comes home from the hospital seeming mentally different from before he or she went in. Is it just normal aging? Or dementia that was happening anyway? In fact, the hospitalization itself -- particularly if the stay involved an intensive care unit -- may have added to the dementia risk.

Surviving a critical illness can put certain high-risk populations at risk for dementia, independently of the illness itself, research shows.

Three situations in particular might up the risk of later dementia for older, hospitalized patients, found a study of 25,000 Medicare patients ages 66 and older in the journal Critical Care, reported by They are:

  1. Infection or severe sepsis.

    These patients had a critical illness that featured an infection that led to a more severe infection.

  2. Neurological dysfunction, such as delirium.

    Delirium is a sudden, acute state of mental confusion. Very common in sick older adults, delirium nevertheless is an often missed hospital complication. It's possible to prevent delirium if you know what to watch out for.

  3. Acute dialysis. These patients had dialysis caused by acute renal failure. For these cases, the dementia risk only increased for six months after hospital discharge.

The risks rose with age, so that someone 85 had five times the odds of developing dementia following an ICU stay of those 66 to 69. Someone 75 had double the risk of the 60somethings.

People diagnosed with previous signs of cognitive impairment or dementia were not part of this study.