Scranton, Pa., Hospital Trains Volunteers to Help Elderly Patients with Delirium, Relieve Staff

Project staff at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, Pa., expanded a program—called the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP)—that relied on volunteers to work with geriatric patients to prevent and reduce delirium, an underreported condition that can result in higher mortality and morbidity.

With training and supervision from project staff, HELP volunteers sought to prevent delirium by providing low-tech interventions such as feeding, range of motion exercises and therapeutic activities (e.g., reading, playing cards and hand massage) at the bedside of elderly patients. Along with improving patient care, the program goals included alleviating frustration and burnout among nurses as they dealt with older patients subject to delirium syndrome. This is defined as acute reversible confusion secondary to physical causes in which consciousness is affected and disorientation results and is often associated with illusions and visual hallucinations.

Key Results

  • Project staff increased the number of HELP volunteers from 24 in early 2004 to around 50 by December 2004.

  • A total of 1,343 patients enrolled in HELP in 2004.

  • A February 2004 survey (distributed to 110 nurses, with 45 responses) showed a 64 percent satisfaction rate with HELP compared to 91 percent in December 2004 (140 surveys distributed, 44 returned).

  • The December survey also found that 68 percent of respondents said HELP allowed nursing staff "the time to do my work," while 89 percent said HELP interventions with patients were beneficial to nurses.

  • Of 137 patients or their families who responded to a survey after patients were discharged to home, 130 were satisfied with HELP.