Sepsis is a medical emergency in which an infection overwhelms the body. Unless antibiotics and life support are delivered quickly, the condition can lead to organ failure and death. Most of those who recover do so gratefully and move on with their lives. However, elderly people who survive a bout of sepsis may not be so lucky.
Research published Tuesday suggests, for the first time, that sepsis can leave some elderly individuals with long-term physical or cognitive problems. Researchers analyzed data from 1,194 elderly patients who were hospitalized with severe sepsis and compared them with 4,517 elderly people who experienced a hospitalization but did not have sepsis. Examining data from up to eight years after the hospitalization, the researchers found sepsis patients had a threefold higher risk for developing cognitive problems, such as forgetfulness, compared with the people who were hospitalized for other reasons. Moreover, the sepsis patients were more likely to have at least one new physical limitation, such as walking, dressing or bathing, after the hospitalization.
"[A]n episode of severe sepsis, even when survived, may represent a sentinel event in the lives of patients and their families, resulting in new and often persistent disability, in some cases even resembling dementia," the authors wrote.