Avoid bed rest at all costs!
No one gets excited at the idea of being on bed rest. We can all agree it’s not something we would necessarily want to experience. What we may not realize is just how risky bedrest can be, especially for the elderly.
Bed rest most commonly occurs within the hospital, but can definitely happen at home as well. When an elderly person is admitted to the hospital, they typically remain in bed. While they may not have been “put on bedrest” by doctor’s orders, the outcome is that they tend to remain in bed. Our hospital system is set up in such a way that those who are admitted to the hospital largely remain in bed all day long.
The problem is that remaining in bed all day long is one of the worst ways to recover from almost anything!
Bed rest limits someone’s physical activity to little more than a few steps to and from the washroom, a few times daily. That is not enough physical activity to maintain muscle mass.
The data proves that with an alarming statistic:
For every day of bed rest, the frail elderly lose 5% of their mobility.
Consider how long an elderly person tends to be in a hospital. Once admitted, most elderly patients are hospitalized for at least a number of days, but upwards of a week or ten days wouldn’t be uncommon. After a week of bed rest, 35% of mobility is lost! If someone is unfortunate enough to be in the hospital for two weeks—which is all too common—on average they would lose 70% of their mobility.
That's a very high risk!
That could mean that prior to hospitalization, someone was living independently and walking without any aides. After two weeks in the hospital, that same person now requires a walker and struggles to get out of bed or out of a chair. That’s a drastic change in their ability level and independence. It will significantly impact the quality of daily life.
With such a high risk of losing mobility on each day of bed rest, you can see why it is critical to keep people up and moving as much as possible (unless expressly prohibited by doctor’s orders). Seniors should be encouraged to sit up and get out of bed and into a chair, stand up and sit down numerous times to keep leg muscles strong and do exercises either seated in a chair or passive exercises in the bed.
Even just sitting up straight in a chair is beneficial since it is typically easier for people to breathe deeply or cough and expel when they’re upright versus lying down. Many elderly patients are at high risk of developing pneumonia while in hospital, and failing to sit up, breathe deeply, cough and expel can increase that risk. Developing pneumonia will lengthen a hospital stay, which increases the likely number of days on bedrest—meaning more days of losing 5% mobility each day!
Unless a medical condition or injury specifically requires immobilized bed rest, remaining active in any possible way is absolutely essential to recovery and long-term maintenance of mobility and muscle mass.
Next time you’re visiting a senior in the hospital, have them sit up or get out of bed and into the chair.
You just might be helping to save their mobility and prevent the 5% daily loss!