Professor Adam Gordon
President, British Geriatrics Society
‘Deconditioning’ is a common condition, but there are things you can do to aid recovery following hospital admission.
When older people are admitted to hospital, especially for a long time, they can struggle to resume daily activities. They may be weaker, become more easily breathless and tire more easily. These can all be signs of ‘deconditioning.’
What is ‘deconditioning’?
Deconditioning is a decline in physical function and can follow hospital admission of any length. A few hours of lying on a trolley or bed can be enough to cause deconditioning. Keeping moving and eating well whilst in hospital is the best way to prevent deconditioning, but you can aid recovery by what you do at home. There can be risks with moving around but staying in bed is riskier. We can offer tips on what helps with recovery.
Exercise to recover
Aim to get 30 minutes of exercise a day. This can be spread throughout the day. It should be just enough to make you feel slightly warm inside and raise your heart rate. Exercise may have to start relatively modestly.
The key is to gradually increase the intensity and duration of each session. Standing and shifting weight during exercise will help build muscle and improve balance — dancing, tai chi and even carrying groceries can help. If you normally use a stick or frame, ask a physiotherapist about how to safely incorporate exercise into your routine.
A few hours of lying on a trolley or bed
can be enough to cause deconditioning.
Nutrition and hydration advice
We use protein — from dairy products, meat and legumes — to rebuild muscle after deconditioning. But protein is filling, and older people can struggle to eat enough. Spread protein out over the day, rather than in one big evening meal. Around six to eight cups of liquid a day is enough for most older people. Water is best, but many older people find this unpalatable. Other liquids which are more likely to be taken may be preferable.
Social interaction benefits
Social interaction is important for maintaining mental health and can motivate people to be more active. Age UK can provide details on day centres and befriending services in your area.