How To Ease Hospital Adjustment

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When the daily lives of older adults are interrupted by illness and hospitalization the result can be mental confusion and disorientation. Known as delirium, this can be a distressing situation for an individual’s loved ones. However, programs such as HELP (Hospital Elder Life Program) at Inova Fairfax Hospital have been established to prevent delirium.

The HELP program seeks to maintain cognitive and physical functioning of high risk adults throughout hospitalization and ultimately enhance their independence when discharged. A primary goal for the program is assisting with one’s adjustment from hospital to home to prevent unplanned hospital readmissions.

Delirium, although a common problem, is under-recognized among hospitalized older adults. Individuals who are delirious have trouble focusing, thinking clearly and paying attention. If left untreated, delirium can have serious consequences for recovery. However, there are many solutions when it comes to preventing or handling delirium.

HELP achieves its goals through a multi-component intervention strategy. Its innovative volunteer model works to provide personal and supportive attention to vulnerable older patients. HELP features a structured curriculum that instructs its volunteers to delivery daily orientation, early mobilization, feeding assistance, therapeutic activities, a non-pharmacological sleep protocol and hearing/vision adaptations.

Members of the HELP Team include an elder life nurse specialist, the elder life specialist, geriatrician, program director, interdisciplinary support staff and volunteer services.

In a clinical trial that tested HELP, known as the Yale Delirium Prevention Trial, 852 older patients (age 70 and above) were enrolled. While half of the patients received the HELP intervention, the remainder received usual hospital care. The HELP interventions were proven successful with a significant reduction in the development of delirium.

The program has been successful in returning older adults to their homes or previous living situations with maintained or improved ability to function.

The following is qualitative feedback discussing the additional benefits of HELP:
This innovative program prevents decline in older patients and decreases human suffering for patients and their families.
Provides a venue for hospitals to become recognized as centers of excellence in the provision of geriatric care.
Personal attention and support are caring services that are valued by patients and their families. Patient satisfaction and outcomes improve.
Hospital nursing staff appreciate HELP because it improves patient care without adding to their responsibilities. HELP creates opportunities for many departments to become educational sites for geriatric care.
Provides good, cost-effective care. It’s a win-win-win-win for patients, HELP staff, hospital staff and hospital administration.
HELP creates opportunities for a broader type and number of volunteers, thereby strengthening the hospital’s linkage to the community.
Provides a constructive, concrete experience to prepare families, communities and our health care system for our aging society.

Information used from hospitalelderlifeprogram.org. Notice – Sharon K. Inouye M.D., the Hospital Elder Life Program, Yale University School of Medicine, and the Institute for Aging Research, Hebrew SeniorLife assume no responsibility for any injury or damage resulting from the use of this website or its contents.

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