UTMB Health Logo Hospitalized elderly patients who indulge in short walks seem to benefit greatly from this activity. A latest study triggered by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston claims that hospitalized elderly patients taking even short walks around a hospital unit leave hospital sooner than their more sedentary peers. It was suggested that mobility may create a tremendous impact on older people’s quality of life, independence and maintenance of healthy muscle mass.

At the time of the study, investigators thoroughly examined data collected from 162 hospitalized patients over the age of 65 years. All the patients had a pager-sized ‘step activity monitor’ attached to the ankle. This electronic device supposedly counts every step the patient takes. With the help of these monitors, authors were presumably able to track down an association between even relatively small amounts of increased mobility and shorter lengths of stay in the hospital. The link appeared after using a statistical model to adjust for the differing severities of the patients’ illnesses.

UTMB Health professor Glenn Ostir, a co-author on the paper and director of research for the university’s Acute Care for Elders unit, remarked, “This is very preliminary, but it’s leading to a lot of questions right now that I think need to be answered. We know from other research that mobility is linked to older people’s quality of life, independence, maintenance of healthy muscle mass, all these things. And so we need to look at this and say what is the impact of mobility in the hospital on the overall health of the older person once they leave the hospital — do they rebound and do better, or do they wind up in a downward spiral that leads to increased re-hospitalization? The step monitors have given us the technology to potentially do this, and we’re excited about the chance to answer these questions and make a positive difference in people’s lives.”

The importance of walking highlighted in this investigation can possibly serve as a first step towards improving hospital care for the elderly. It seems that mobility enhances older people’s independence and quality of life. Generally mobility in the hospital may be measured by an activity monitor. Further investigations can be initiated for designing a tool that determines the minimal levels of activity necessary to protect elderly patients from long-term declines in function.

The study is published in the current issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.