Report on older people in hospital sheds light on an ageing Australia's future hospital needs

A report on older people in hospitals, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) examines the reasons why older people go to hospital, the type of care they receive and how long they stay.

Report co-author, Ms Rosemary Karmel said 'It is well-known that as people get older they tend to have more health problems and so are increasingly likely to use hospital services.

'However, limited information is readily available on why and how older Australians use hospitals, or how their hospital use varies with illness, age or sex. Knowledge of these issues is an important aid for planning effective health services,' she said.

The report, Older Australians in hospital, shows that on the night of 30 June 2004, around 55,200 people spent the night in hospital and over half (53% or 29,000 people) were aged 65 and over.

In 2004-05, one-fifth of hospitalisations for both older men and women were due to diseases of the circulatory system. Cancers and tumours were the next most common cause (11%). Diseases of the digestive and respiratory systems were also common causes of hospitalisation (both around 10%), as were hospitalisations due to injuries (9%).

Older people receive different types of care while in hospital, including rehabilitation, palliative care, geriatric evaluation and management, and maintenance care. The great majority of older patients, however, are receiving acute care; in other words like people of all ages they are in hospital for short-term treatment of illness or injury.

Among people aged under 65, 98% received acute care; among those aged 65-69 years of age, 94% of hospital episodes were for acute care. Although the relative use of acute care decreases with age, even for people aged 85 and over 85% of hospital episodes were for acute care.

Older people generally have longer hospital stays than younger people. This report demonstrates how length of stay varies with illness and the overall type of care received. Older people receiving acute care generally have shorter stays than patients receiving other types of care. Among those in acute care, the length of stay tends to increase with advanced old age, and tends to be longer for women than men.

Looking at the diseases commonly causing hospitalisation, people hospitalised for digestive diseases tend to have relatively short stays (mean of 5.5 days) while those in hospital for treatment of cancer or tumours commonly had longer stays (mean of 8.4 days).

'Older patients hospitalised for injury have relatively long stays, averaging 9.3 days,' Ms Karmel said.

24 August 2007

Further information: Ms Jenny Hargreaves, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1121, mobile 0407 012 520

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 103