Importance: Hospitalizations for infections among nursing home (NH) residents remain common despite national initiatives to reduce them. Cognitive impairment, which markedly affects quality of life and caregiving needs, has been associated with hospitalizations, but the association between infection-related hospitalizations and long-term cognitive function among NH residents is unknown. Objective: To examine whether there are changes in cognitive function before vs after infection-related hospitalizations among NH residents. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study used data from the Minimum Data Set 3.0 linked to Medicare hospitalization data from 2011 to 2017 for US nursing home residents aged 65 years or older who had experienced an infection-related hospitalization and had at least 2 quarterly Minimum Data Set assessments before and 4 or more after the infection-related hospitalization. Analyses were performed from September 1, 2019, to December 21, 2020. Exposure: Infection-related hospitalization lasting 1 to 14 days. Main Outcomes and Measures: Using an event study approach, associations between infection-related hospitalizations and quarterly changes in cognitive function among NH residents were examined overall and by sex, age, Alzheimer disease and related dementias (ADRD) diagnosis, and sepsis vs other infection-related diagnoses. Resident-level cognitive function was measured using the Cognitive Function Scale (CFS), with scores ranging from 1 (intact) to 4 (severe cognitive impairment). Results: Of the sample of 20698 NH residents, 71.0% were women and 82.6% were non-Hispanic White individuals; the mean (SD) age at the time of transfer to the hospital was 82 (8.5) years. The mean CFS score was 2.17, and the prevalence of severe cognitive impairment (CFS score, 4) was 9.0%. During the first quarter after an infection-related hospitalization, residents experienced a mean increase of 0.06 points in CFS score (95% CI, 0.05-0.07 points; P <.001), or 3%. The increase in scores was greatest among residents aged 85 years or older vs younger residents by approximately 0.022 CFS points (95% CI, 0.004-0.040 points; P <.05). The prevalence of severe cognitive impairment increased by 1.6 percentage points (95% CI, 1.2-2.0 percentage points; P <.001), or 18%; the increases were observed among individuals with ADRD but not among those without it. After an infection-related hospitalization, cognition among residents who had experienced sepsis declined more than for residents who had not by about 0.02 CFS points (95% CI, 0.00-0.04 points; P <.05). All observed differences persisted without an accelerated rate of decline for at least 6 quarters after infection-related hospitalization. No differences were observed by sex. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, infection-related hospitalization was associated with immediate and persistent cognitive decline among nursing home residents, with the largest increase in CFS scores among older residents, those with ADRD, and those who had experienced sepsis. Identification of NH residents at risk of worsened cognition after an infection-related hospitalization may help to ensure that their care needs are addressed to prevent further cognitive decline.
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