Doctors are trying to find out why some older patients in hospitals get well physically but never seem to recover emotionally.

"The illness gets better, but the patient gets worse," said Robert M. Palmer, a geriatrician at University Hospitals of Cleveland.Palmer and Dr. C. Seth Landefeld recently received a $485,000 grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation to study elderly patients affected by "dysfunctional syndrome."

The doctors said some patients who are hospitalized can no longer perform simple tasks, such as walking, bathing and dressing, when there seems to be no physical reason.

Landefeld said up to 30 percent of patients over 75 lose some ability.

Part of the grant was used to remodel a hospital unit to determine whether a change in atmosphere can reduce the incidence of the syndrome.