HELP supports elderly patients to become alert and as active as possible

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Eileen Lindsay knows better than anyone what it means to have support while you’re in hospital.

Although she is lucky to have family and friends at her side much of the time, as a senior, she has special needs. During her recent stay at McMaster University Medical Centre at Hamilton Health Sciences, a young volunteer named Hamilton Candundo helped to meet those needs and, according to Eileen, he made all the difference.

“When you start feeling better, you need emotional and mental stimulation,” said the spry 79-year-old. “To spend time with someone else, your outlook becomes a little more normal. You go back to thinking about things beyond your immediate illness.”

Simply by visiting and spending time with her, Hamilton helped Eileen regain that sense of normalcy. As part of the new Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP), Hamilton has been trained to provide older patients with mental stimulation and socialization. He also keeps them company during meals and assists them with movement and walking.

Hamilton and Eileen had fun playing a board game together called ‘Senior’s

Moments.’ It’s a memory game and Hamilton was impressed with Eileen’s recall.

“Sometimes she did better than me,” said the 20-year-old McMaster University student.

Hamilton is one of 12 volunteers who are already part of the HELP program, part of the hospital’s Elder-Friendly initiative. Eventually, more than 30 volunteers will be involved in providing support to senior patients three times a day, seven days a week.

“The Volunteer Resources department and Lenora Crawford have been a tremendous help as we have set up this pilot program,” said Anne Pizzacalla, Clinical Nurse Specialist within the HELP program, a joint initiative of the Rehabilitation & Orthopedic Program and Specialty Adult Services. “We have been heartened by the calibre of people who have come forward to volunteer. They are mature, caring people who have an important role to play on our health-care team.”

The HELP program is modeled after one developed at Yale University. It focuses on the elderly because they are particularly vulnerable to decline once they are hospitalized – 33 to 50 per cent of them will experience functional and cognitive loss during their stay.

Besides the volunteer support, patients receive care from an interdisciplinary team that includes geriatricians, elder life specialists, elder life clinical nurse specialists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, chaplains, pharmacists, discharge planners and social workers. A team from Geriatric Services, who will monitor the pilot project, is interested in how effective the program is and whether it should be continued.