How to control infection rates in the elderly after a hospital stay

How to control infection rates in the elderly after a hospital stay Twenty-five percent of seniors bring "superbugs" home from the hospital, exposing them to infection risks.

When you're the primary caregiver for an elderly parent or other loved one, it's stressful and potentially frightening when he has to go in for a hospital procedure. The elderly are more vulnerable to complications from anesthesia and because of their weaker immune system are more susceptible to surgical complications as well. 

Once your loved one comes out of his procedure with flying colors, you may think that he is in the clear. New research, however, emphasizes the need to follow up carefully during his return to home care to prevent the risk of infections.

Bringing home contaminants from the hospital 
According to a study from the University of Michigan Health System, one in four elderly patients may bring "superbugs" back home from the hospital. These superbugs are bacteria that have grown and spread throughout the medical facility. Because of the amount of antibiotics and cleaning agents used in medical settings, the germs that survive build up a resistance that makes them more likely to outlast a defensive attack by a person's immune system.

Since elderly patients are already more prone to infections, having these bacteria in their homes can be dangerous, especially during a recovery period. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that about 2 million people become infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year in America, and an average of 23,000 of them will die from the infection. The elderly are the most likely demographic to have serious health consequences from these germs.

The study found that in 357 seniors, not only were superbugs still detected on their hands for months after they left the hospital, but that over time the presence of superbugs actually increased.

Preventing superbug infections
The best way to prevent infections from these superbugs is a simple one - the patients need to maintain a regular hand washing routine. 

"We've been educating healthcare workers for decades about hand hygiene, and these numbers show it's time to include patients in their own hand hygiene performance and education," said the lead author of the study, Dr. Lona Mody, associate chief for clinical and translational research at the U-M Geriatrics Center. "People are always surprised when they see how much can grow on their hands- and how they can effectively clear these organisms by simply washing hands appropriately."

According to the CDC, proper hand washing should be done

  • Before preparing food, eating or tending to any kind of open wound
  • After preparing food, using the restroom, cleaning up, touching a pet, blowing their nose or sneezing.

Make sure that your elderly loved one knows the proper way to wash his hands. It may seem silly, but washing hands for the right amount of time is essential for making sure it is effective.

  1. Wet the hands thoroughly with cool or warm water.
  2. Thoroughly lather hands with soap, making sure to get the less obvious areas like between the fingers and under the fingernails. 
  3. Scrub the hands for at least 20 full seconds.
  4. Rinse completely under running water.
  5. Dry hands with a clean towel.

By following the CDC's steps carefully, your senior can help eliminate the harmful bacteria that he brings home with him from the hospital.