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Many studies document cognitive decline following specific types of acute illness hospitalizations (AIH) such as surgery, critical care, or those complicated by delirium. However, cognitive decline may be a complication following all types of AIH. This systematic review will summarize longitudinal observational studies documenting cognitive changes following AIH in the majority admitted population and conduct meta-analysis (MA) to assess the quantitative effect of AIH on post-hospitalization cognitive decline (PHCD).
We followed Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Selection criteria were defined to identify studies of older age adults exposed to AIH with cognitive measures. 6566 titles were screened. 46 reports were reviewed qualitatively, of which seven contributed data to the MA. Risk of bias was assessed using the Newcastle–Ottawa Scale.
The qualitative review suggested increased cognitive decline following AIH, but several reports were particularly vulnerable to bias. Domain-specific outcomes following AIH included declines in memory and processing speed. Increasing age and the severity of illness were the most consistent risk factors for PHCD. PHCD was supported by MA of seven eligible studies with 41,453 participants (Cohen’s d = −0.25, 95% CI [−0.02, −0.49] I2 35%).
There is preliminary evidence that AIH exposure accelerates or triggers cognitive decline in the elderly patient. PHCD reported in specific contexts could be subsets of a larger phenomenon and caused by overlapping mechanisms. Future research must clarify the trajectory, clinical significance, and etiology of PHCD: a priority in the face of an aging population with increasing rates of both cognitive impairment and hospitalization.