Puzzles, activities and conversations


Amery, Wis. – A new volunteer program is helping prevent delirium in older patients at Amery Hospital & Clinic.

The Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) launched at HealthPartners St. Croix Valley hospitals – including Amery Hospital & Clinic – in November and patients, staff and the 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, or have a history of delirium, dementia or other cognitive issues. Patients staying for extended care may also benefit from the program.

“We are keenly aware of the risks to patients of delirium, so it is something we really want to prevent,” said Kathy Rasmussen, the Supervisor of Social Services who is heading up the program at Amery Hospital & Clinic. “This program is particularly beneficial for those patients who are here for a week or more, so that we can help keep their minds active during that time. The patients have been responding really well and are enjoying visiting with our volunteers.”

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 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.

“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.”

Since its launch at Amery Hospital & Clinic, volunteers have been visiting with two to three patients per afternoon shift. Often, they will sit and talk with the patient or offer magazines, adult coloring books, crossword puzzles and games or help the patient order dinner. It sounds simple – but it has an important goal at heart: stimulating the patient’s cognitive abilities through activities.

“It is a very rewarding experience on my part,” says Dick Herberg, of his experience volunteering with Hudson’s program. “I think the patient gets someone to talk with, play games with and keep their mind occupied during their stay. I think the patients and the volunteers get a lot out of it.”

One of the first patients to benefit from the program at Hudson Hospital & Clinic 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 on becoming a HELP volunteer at Amery, contact Ronda Knutson at 715-268-0317. 

Photo (l to r): Kathy Rasmussen, program coordinator at Amery Hospital & Clinic and Kate Bevington, one of the HELP volunteers at Amery Hospital & Clinic, with the cart full of crossword puzzles, books, adult coloring books and other items offered to patients.

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