PITTSBURGH (CBS) — A new study shows many ICU patients who survive a life-threatening illness may leave the hospital with cognitive problems similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

At just 46, Lisa Uribe struggles with her memory. Her problems started after a long stay in intensive care after developing sepsis.

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“I just have a tremendous problem multi-tasking,” said Uribe. “The confusion, the getting lost, being somewhere and not knowing why you are there.”

New research shows many patients like Uribe with no history of learning or memory problems can leave the hospital with long-term cognitive impairment.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University looked at about 800 ICU patients.

They found 74 percent developed delirium in the hospital which made them more likely to have a dementia-like disease even a year after discharge.

“What nobody has ever shown before is that in a general surgical ICU population that three out of four people are leaving the hospital with profound cognitive impairment that looks a lot like Alzheimer’s disease or traumatic brain injury,” Dr. Wesley Ely, of Vanderbilt University.

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Researchers say patients may benefit from rehabilitation that exercises the brain. They suggest a change in ICU care, including weaning off sedatives earlier.

“Have patients more awake and alert in the ICU and walking,” says Dr. Ely.

It’s been more than a year and a half since Lisa left the hospital, and she says her symptoms haven’t really improved.

“The hardest part for me is the expectation that I have upon myself,” said Uribe. “Every day I wake up and I keep thinking this is the day I’m going to go back to my old life.”

Doctors are recommending cognitive rehabilitation for Uribe, and they’ve even prescribed a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease to keep what brain function she currently has.

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