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Puzzles, activities and conversations helping prevent delirium

Cyndy Folie, a volunteer at Westfields Hospital & Clinic, sits with patients and talks or offers activities to stimulate cognitive ability.(Submitted photo)1 / 3
Jane Rosauer, a volunteer at Westfields Hospital & Clinic, volunteers with HELP twice a week and believes it’s a valuable way to ensure patients feel connected. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Stillwater patient Becky Hanson in the Winter Garden at Hudson Hospital & Clinic. She was one of the first patients to benefit from the launch of the HELP program in the St. Croix Valley hospitals. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

A new volunteer program is helping prevent delirium in older patients at Westfields Hospital & Clinic.

The Hospital Elder Life Program launched at HealthPartners St. Croix Valley hospitals — including Westfields Hospital & Clinic — in November and patients, staff and volunteers are already seeing the benefits.

HELP is based on an award-winning international delirium prevention model developed at the Yale University School of Medicine. Through HELP, volunteers connect with patients identified as being at risk for developing delirium during their hospital stay. Typically, these patients are over 70 years old, or have a history of delirium, dementia or other cognitive issues. Patients staying for extended care may also benefit from the program.

"I just think it's a really good program," said Jane Rosauer, a volunteer with the program at Westfields, who admits she wasn't sure how valuable her impact would be prior to starting.

"I wondered if it was really that strong as a preventative program, but now I can see it really engages people and works. It's very eye-opening and I can see the value."

Delirium, which can develop in hours, is a sudden change in mental status or sudden onset of confusion.

It is more common among older people who are admitted to a hospital; the national occurrence rate ranges from 29-64 percent. Potential complications are serious. Delirium has been linked with higher mortality, decline in mental abilities, increased rates of dementia, increased health care use and costs and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Since its launch at Westfields Hospital & Clinic, volunteers have been visiting with three to five patients per shift. Often, they will sit and talk with the patient, offer magazines, crossword puzzles and adult coloring books, play games or help the patient order lunch. It sounds simple — but it has an important goal at heart: Stimulating the patient's cognitive abilities through activities.

"At Westfields, a majority of our inpatients are at risk for delirium, due to the aging population of the community we serve," says Renee Dennis, volunteer coordinator for the HELP program at Westfields Hospital & Clinic.

"Our volunteers will play a very important role in impacting their stay in the hospital, as well their recovery time at home. Our volunteers have found that our patients have really enjoyed their HELP visits, and most of the time they prefer to sit and chat."

One of the first patients to benefit from the program launch at the St. Croix Valley HealthPartners hospitals was Becky Hansen, of Stillwater. She was in the hospital for six weeks for a foot condition. In between visits from family and friends, said Becky, the HELP volunteers provided welcome company.

"I thought if the volunteers were willing to play Scrabble with me and take my mind off my day — that's wonderful," she added. "I think the healing process involves your mind and your body, and they certainly take care of you here; you heal better when you have that kind of interaction."

For more information about becoming a HELP volunteer at Westfields, call volunteer coordinator Renee Dennis at 715-243-2793 or send an email to Renee.e.dennis@westfieldshospital.com.

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