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Helping keep delirium at bay   

Volunteers Judy Lavery and Bevan McKenzie

15 March 2023

Every Wednesday morning, Judy Lavery and Bevan McKenzie have a schedule. As volunteers of Grampians Health’s Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP), they seek to prevent delirium by visiting the wards to chat with patients and keep their minds active by doing puzzles, playing games, reading the paper or whatever interests them. When able, they also take the patients on a walk down to the sun room since mobilization is really important.

“I realised from my working background that nurses don’t have time to do the little things with patients, like spending time to chat. When I heard about the HELP program I thought this is what they need, to have an extra pair of hands to help on the wards,” said Judy.

The volunteers are given specialised training to support patients to improve food intake, activity levels and social engagement during their inpatient stay.

As World Delirium Awareness Day is celebrated today across the globe, HELP at Grampians Health continues to work hard to reduce the incidence of hospital acquired delirium for our older patients.

Some of the common causes of delirium include infection, pain, medication and even dehydration. Nearly 66% of delirium cases go undiagnosed across the world when the condition is actually preventable in a third of all cases, according to figures from American Geriatric Society Co Care Delirium facts and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in healthcare.

The HELP program – which is a globally renowned delirium treatment and prevention program – was rolled out in Ballarat in July 2021. Grampians Health Ballarat is now a recognised site under the auspice of the American Geriatrics Society Co Care and is the first HELP site in Australia. To date, the program has enrolled 1,207 patients, and the volunteers have made over 5,672 visits, and spent over 2,592 hours in total.

“If the patients come from Emergency Department, they usually don’t have their glasses, hearing aids and often don’t have their family close by. We are all just a support person to go in and pick up what their needs might be or hold their hands when they are upset,” Judy said.

But most importantly, the volunteers help the patients to be oriented and ensure they have everything they need.

“Patients really appreciate being able to talk to a volunteer because they are not in a clinical role, so they feel like they can talk about their personal matters.” said Robbin Moulds, Interim Program Manager.

“One of our patients [was admitted to hospital] after lying on the ground for two hours calling out for help when she was doing her gardening. She didn’t want to tell their family because she did not want them to worry but wanted to talk about it, and so felt she could speak with the volunteer”.

Currently, the HELP program in Grampians Health Ballarat has 23 volunteers. The program is looking to onboard more volunteers and will soon be holding a training session.

To know more about HELP program in Grampians Health Ballarat, please contact the HELP team on 0459 982 480.