Aging Without Boundaries: Addressing mental health

Image: Aging Without Boundaries: Addressing mental health

Simple strategies for delirium prevention

Aging is a fact of life. As we age, we will lose some strength, our hearing and vision may change, our appetite may not be what it once was and we may become a little more forgetful but we continue to move forward. Unfortunately, there are illnesses and diseases that may cause some older adults to seek treatment in hospital as the illness may impact their ability to function independently at home.

Delirium, or acute confusion, is surprisingly common but under-recognized in older adults. This cognitive change might be best recognized by the people that know them the best -- friends and family. As a member of a health care team, we depend on family letting us know if the individual’s thinking or behaviour has changed. We encourage family members to talk about changes in their loved one, even if no one asks.

Why do we need HELP?

We are now at a time where a lot of people who come to the hospital are over the age of 70. Research has shown that when these people come to hospital and are admitted for treatment, they are at a higher risk of losing some of their independence and developing sudden, new confusion.

Delirium is considered a medical emergency. HELP encourages family members to keep their family member engaged and supported in hospital by following some simple strategies. These include:

  • making sure the individual has their hearing aids and/or glasses,
  • encouraging them to get up and walk or do simple exercises,
  • encouraging them to drink throughout your visit as well as assisting at meal times
  • limit daytime sleeping to short naps so they may sleep better at night
  • visit often and bring activities of interest, talk about current events and surroundings

Gone are the days of lying in a hospital bed until the doctor says you are ready to go home.

Here are some of the benefits of getting out of bed in hospital:

  • improved breathing
  • improved circulation
  • improved sleep
  • reduced weakness and prevention of loss of strength

Simple strategies for you while in hospital:

  • sit up in a chair for all your meals
  • do bed exercises on your own throughout the day
  • walk around the unit either with help or if able to do so by yourself
  • sit up when you have visitors

We always encourage our older patients to continue to stay active once they are discharged home. It is important to:

  • stay active and exercise regularly -- walking and simple exercises can help maintain flexibility and good posture, keep muscles strong and joints supple, and improve circulation to the heart and lungs.
  • maintain an active social life -- stay connected to family and friends so you don’t become isolated. Keep your mind active by doing various hobbies.
  • eat well and drink well to keep the mind sharp.
  • maintain a regular sleep routine
  • if you get up at night, use a night light for safety.

Melissa Hallett is the Elder Life Coordinator for the Hospital Elder Life Program at North Bay Regional Health Centre, as well as a former acute care hospital Recreation Therapist. She has been a member of the NBRHC Elder Care Committee for 8 years and enjoys sharing her knowledge with professionals, seniors and their families at various venues on Functional Decline, Delirium and the Hospital Elder Life Program.