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GAPNA’s Dr. Carolyn Clevenger Shares Tips to Avoid Senior Hospitalizations

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Unplanned senior hospitalizations can occur for a variety of reasons—many of them preventable. Home Instead, Inc. asked the president-elect of the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA), Carolyn Clevenger RN, DNP, GNP-BC, to discuss how to mitigate the major risk factors involved in senior hospitalizations. Dr. Clevenger contributed her expert knowledge to Home Instead, Inc.’s Prevent Senior Hospitalization program  and its guide 5 Ways to Prevent Senior Hospitalizations. Here’s a summary of her recommendations.

1. Help seniors adhere to medical advice.

Apathy or a cognitive decline may make it difficult for seniors to follow medication regimens or otherwise comply with the medical advice they’re given.

“Watch for red flags (such as missed doctor appointments, worsening of chronic conditions or unused prescription medications), help serve as an advocate for older adults and build a support system around the senior,” said Dr. Clevenger.

2. Don’t ignore symptoms of illness or disease.

According to Dr. Clevenger, when one local hospital partnered with a home health agency to look at readmissions, “Here’s what they saw happening: the home health aide would call the senior to say they were coming by at 1 p.m. The older adult would say they didn’t want a visit because they weren’t feeling well. The next day that senior would be in the emergency room.”

Routine visits and symptom monitoring are crucial for the senior’s caregivers to carry out consistently.

3. Help seniors stay physically and mentally active

Seniors with good functional ability—such as that required to perform ADLs—may translate to better balance and higher ability to comply with medical advice.

“Research has shown that people who remain active over a lifetime decline for a shorter span of time,” Dr. Clevenger said. “The more of that lifetime you can be active and doing the things you consider functional means the shorter decline at the end of life.”

4. Educate seniors and their families about the importance of appetite and nutrition to senior well-being

Many seniors go into the hospital each year due to simple malnutrition. Help your clients avoid this by educating them about senior nutrition and the importance of mealtime companionship.

“When you eat with others, appetite is better and emotional well-being is improved,” said Dr. Clevenger.

5. Teach fall prevention

How many of your clients have wound up hospitalized due to a fall? If you’re a typical senior caregiver, you’ve probably seen it far too often. And while environmental factors definitely can play a role in causing seniors to fall, a fall itself should be heeded as a symptom.

“A fall is a warning sign,” said Dr. Clevenger, “and is considered a symptom of other potential health issues.”

Free guide helps seniors prevent hospitalizations

To help seniors avoid unplanned hospitalizations, download this free 16-page guide: 5 Ways to Prevent Senior Hospitalizations []. It’s packed with risk factors and warning signs, along with nearly a dozen tools and resources seniors and their families can use to help avoid a trip to the emergency room. Among the tools highlighted in the guide:

Free medication tracker via 
Interactive Hospitalization Risk Meter at
Activity suggestions from
Nutrition information and recipes at

Many other resources are included in the guide. Download a copy today.

Last revised: February 4, 2015

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