HELPing create a senior-friendly hospital environment

When is the last time you had a ‘games night’? Playing Rummoli, checkers or Snakes and Ladders sounds like a rockin’ Thursday, but for hospitalized seniors it can mean much more because the mental stimulation can help prevent the onset of delirium. That’s why the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) - one of Osler’s newest senior-friendly initiatives - is using trained volunteers to engage elderly patients with mind-sharpening activities.

The HELP initiative relies on extensively trained volunteers to do activities with elderly patients, such as simple exercises, going for walks, help eating, or playing board games. These interactions keep seniors engaged and help to reduce key delirium risk factors, such as poor nutrition, dehydration, social isolation, muscle weakness and disorientation to time and place.

“Volunteers bring an additional level of personal care and are increasingly being viewed as an integral member of an interdisciplinary team,” said Aaron Yuen, Elder Life Specialist. “We are excited to support HELP as it truly aligns with Osler’s Strategic Direction 1: Create health services with an unwavering commitment to patient-inspired care.”

Geriatric patients who are at the highest risk for delirium are screened by the Delirium Stewardship Team for enrolment in HELP, which is currently being piloted on the Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) and Orthopedic units at Brampton Civic and plans to expand to Etobicoke General next year.

Patient feedback on the program has been positive. Jean Anderson, a patient on the ACE unit at Brampton Civic said that the “volunteers are wonderful. They make me feel at home and I look forward to meeting them.”

Delirium is a rapid change and fluctuation in mental status in reaction to an illness, new medication or chemical imbalance in the body and contributes 22 to 76 per cent of in-hospital mortality. In 2014, the average age of patients admitted to an inpatient unit at Brampton Civic Hospital was 64 years old. Among this demographic, 29 to 64 per cent are at risk of developing delirium.