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Continued: Hospitals fight delirium with volunteer help

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 17, 2013 - 10:55 PM

Those are the two most common requests, she told him, and she can’t grant either.

Jones, a retired organic chemist from Brooklyn Park, said he’s confident he’s in full “control of his faculties,” but he enjoys the visits anyway. “This could be kind of down place if nobody came and nobody talked to you,” he said.

Patients don’t have to participate, but few turn it down, Duncan says. Methodist recently expanded it to almost all units of the hospital.

Shorter stays

The results, Desai says, have been “pretty impressive.” In a 2011 study of nearly 1,000 patients 70 and older, Methodist found that only 2.5 percent of those in the HELP program developed delirium, compared to 8 percent in a control group.

Another hospital — the Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff, Wis. — reported even more dramatic results at a conference last week hosted by Minnesota’s Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. It found that the HELP program reduced the average hospital stay for elderly patients by nearly a full day and cut their fall rate to almost zero.

One reason, Desai said, is that delirious patients take longer to recover. Delirium makes it harder, for example, to do physical or occupational therapy and “get them stronger to get out of the hospital.”

Delirium isn’t just an inconvenience, says Dr. Fred Rubin, a geriatric specialist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who has collaborated on the national HELP program. It not only makes people weaker, he said, but it can take months for people to fully recover — if ever.

“Every hospital ought to do this,” he said. “But it’s a culture change, and it’s a financial commitment.” Although it runs on volunteers, he notes, the hospitals need staff to coordinate and train them.

At Methodist, Desai said, they know they can’t prevent delirium entirely. But if they can spot it early, they can intervene sooner. Either way, she said, “you’re really going to have better outcomes.”

For more information on the HELP program, go to

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

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