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Poor Inpatient Memory Can Undermine Teachable Moments


Memory loss is prevalent among adult hospitalized patients and can complicate hospitalists' job of teaching them about their conditions and home care, recent research suggests. But just what is behind patients’ memory impairment is not clear.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, researchers assessed the memory and in-hospital sleep habits of older adult patients to determine whether the two are linked.

"Since the hospital is considered a 'teachable moment,' and hospitalized patients have to learn about their care but also face sleep loss due to a disruptive environment and their own illness, we thought it would be interesting to see if there was an association," says study co-author Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP, a hospitalist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

Nearly half of hospitalized patients in the study showed poor memory, based on their recall of word lists and medical vignettes. The results led Dr. Arora to conclude that hospitalists need to rethink the idea of hospitalization as a teachable moment and try reinforcing techniques when teaching patients.

"When trying to teach something that hospitalized patients need to remember, consider adopting strategies that use reminders or tools that people can take home, such as written instructions or video," Dr. Arora says. She also suggests hospitalists consider involving a patient's caregiver during the teaching, to have someone who can serve as a backup for the patient later.

The study also found that patients averaged 5.4 hours of in-hospital sleep per night and below-normal sleep efficiency, with 44% of patients' sleep-quality scores measured in the insomniac range. But they saw no statistically significant association between sleep loss and memory impairment in this study, Dr. Arora says.

"Our study was observational; it may be that everyone was too sleep deprived," she adds. "We may not have enough variation in sleep to detect difference in memory."

In future studies, having some well-rested subjects might make it possible to detect the association between sleep loss and memory impairment, Dr. Arora notes.

"If we did an intervention and tried to improve sleep in half our patients," she says, "then it would be worth seeing if memory was improved because we would have two groups: one that had better sleep and one that had worse sleep." TH

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