WARNING: Checking into the hospital could put you in diapers

I see it happen all too often: A vital and active senior checks into the hospital for a condition that should be completely treatable. But he checks back out as a sickly old man.

Sure the condition might be better... but everything else is worse.

Too many seniors who spend even a few days in a hospital emerge suffering serious, debilitating and independence-robbing functional decline.

It's like visiting a mechanic who fixes your engine, but destroys your tires.

Older folks who could walk just fine before their hospital stay emerge with a walker or even in a wheelchair.

Seniors who had never had a urinary problem in their life are sent home in diapers.

And patients who were once completely independent end up needing help with life's most basic functions such as eating, bathing and getting dressed.

I wish I could tell you this was highly unusual. But new research confirms what I've seen with my own eyes: It's shockingly common.

A third of seniors over the age of 70 who go into the hospital for something that shouldn't cause mobility problems -- for example, an arrhythmia -- are sent home battling reduced function.

And one month later, half of them are STILL fighting those problems.

The study spots the causes, too, and they're easy enough to fix.

The urinary problems can be caused by catheters, which are often completely unnecessary. Shockingly they're often put into place simply for the convenience of nursing staff, so they don't have to constantly help you walk to the bathroom.

If a catheter isn't medically necessary, you can -- and should -- decline it (especially since they can also cause infection).

Mobility problems are often due to too much time spent in bed, which can cause aging muscles to quickly lose strength. Your doctor knows this, which is why he will tell you during his daily visit to be sure to get up and move around.

But when you're connected to machines and drips, you have to wait for a nurse to come and help -- and let's face it, in some hospitals you'll be lucky if you get a 10-minute session a day, which just isn't enough.

Obviously, there are times when you'll need to go into a hospital, especially if you're suffering from something such as an arrhythmia.

When you're there, remember the old adage about the squeaky wheel. If you want to get up so your joints can stay greased -- if you want to remain independent -- make sure you speak up until you get the help you need to stay mobile so you can check out of the hospital just as healthy and vital as when you checked in.