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Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP)

The Hospital Elder Life Program at Highland Hospital is designed to make hospital stays safer and more pleasant for older adults. Developed at the Yale School of Medicine, this program brings together hospital staff and volunteers to provide regular assessment, supportive visits and recreation and exercise opportunities for seniors at risk of delirium and other cognitive or physical difficulties.  The program is a welcome addition to seniors’ hospital stay and very effective – it’s been shown to reduce delirium rates by as much as 30 percent.

A Few Hours Of Your Time Can Make A World Of Difference

Between 30 percent and 50 percent of seniors experience a decline in their physical and mental abilities during a hospital stay. One of the most common problems they face is delirium, a sudden confused state of mind. Delirium can be distressing for the patient and his or her loved ones, and makes it more difficult for patients to recover from illness. Because delirium often interferes with sleep and appetite, and increases the risk of falls, it is a safety hazard as well.  

Fortunately, simple steps such as daily visits to an older patient can help prevent delirium. The Hospital Elder Life Program helps patients most at risk for delirium to:

  • Maintain their mental and physical functioning throughout their hospital stay
  • Remain as independent as possible when they leave the hospital
  • Make a smooth, safe transition from the hospital to their home, or another care facility
  • Prevent unnecessary hospital readmissions

What Do HELP Volunteers Do?

  • Volunteers receive training and work closely with hospital staff, patients and families. Your activities would include:
  • Daily visits – providing wonderful support and socialization for seniors and help keep them oriented to their surroundings.
  • Recreational activities – playing simple word games and puzzles with patients, you’ll help them stay mentally focused and provide recreation to make their hospital stay more pleasant.
  • Meal program – assisting seniors with their meals, opening cartons and providing encouragement so they will receive the fluids and nutrients to maintain their strength.

What Is Delirium?

  • Delirium is an under-recognized, but surprisingly common problem, particularly among older adults who are hospitalized. People who are delirious have trouble thinking clearly, focusing their thoughts and paying attention. Delirium is different than the long-term confusion seen with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Delirium can come on within hours, and may come and go throughout the day.

Will I Receive Training?

  • Yes. Volunteers receive 8 hours of classroom instruction which includes teacher instruction, small group demonstration, role playing and case discussions.
  • This is followed by 8 hours of supervision while you carry out your volunteer activities. You’ll be partnered with a staff member or an experienced volunteer while you interact with patients.

How Much Of A Time Commitment Is Required?

  • Volunteers are asked to commit to at least one 4-hour shift per week for a minimum of 4 months.

How Do I Learn More?