Reducing “iatrogenic disability” in the hospitalized frail elderly



Hospitalization is the first cause of functional decline in the elderly: 30 to 60% of elderly patients lose some independence in basic activities of daily living (ADL) during a stay in hospital. This loss of independence results from the acute condition that led to admission, but is also related to the mode of management.


This paper is a review of the literature on functional decline in elderly hospitalized patients. It is the first stage in a project aiming to prevent dependence that is induced during the course of care.


During a 2-day workshop in Monaco, a task force of 20 international experts discussed and defined the concept of “iatrogenic disability”.


1-“Iatrogenic disability” was defined by the task force as the avoidable dependence which often occurs during the course of care. It involves three components that interact and have a cumulative effect: a) the patient’s pre-existing frailty, b) the severity of the disorder that led to the patient’s admission, and lastly c) the hospital structure and the process of care. 2- The prevention of “iatrogenic disability” involves successive stages. - becoming aware that hospitalization may induce dependence. Epidemiological studies have identified at-risk populations by the use of composite scores (HARP, ISAR, SHERPA, COMPRI, etc). — considering that functional decline is not a fatality. Quality references have already been defined. Interventions to prevent dependence in targeted populations have been set up: simple geriatric consultation teams, single-factor interventions (aimed for example at mobility, delirium, iatrogenic disorders) or multidomain interventions (such as GEM and ACE units, HELP, Fast Track, NICHE). These interventions are essentially centered on the patient’s frailty and have limited results, as they take little account of the way the institution functions, which is not aimed at prevention of functional decline. The process of care reveals shortcomings: lack of geriatric knowledge, inadequate evaluation and management of functional status. The group suggests that interventions must not only identify at-risk patients so that they may benefit from specialized management, but they must also target the hospital structure and the process of care. This requires a graded “quality approach” and rethinking of the organization of the hospital around the elderly person.

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Lafont, C., Gérard, S., Voisin, T. et al. Reducing “iatrogenic disability” in the hospitalized frail elderly. J Nutr Health Aging 15, 645–660 (2011).

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Key words

  • Aged
  • hospitalization
  • iatrogenic disability
  • functional decline
  • geriatric assessment