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HELP: Improving the Hospital Experience for Older Patients

The innovative Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) works to improve the hospital experience for older patients. Being in the hospital can disrupt normal routines. Coping with these changes and the stress of illness can slow patient recovery.

HELP staff and volunteers offer assistance and activities at no charge that keep patients mentally and physically active, which helps prevent confusion and preserves mental and physical functioning in older patients. This extra attention enhances patient comfort and helps them maintain their independence while hospitalized. It also lessens or prevents what is known as delirium.

Delirium is a frightening but often controllable form of confusion that is surprisingly common among older patients in the hospital. It can often result from acute illness, infections, new medications or a move to unfamiliar surroundings.

Inova uses the official standards of care developed by the internationally recognized Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) organization, founded by Dr. Sharon K. Inouye, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The HELP program was originally developed as an innovative model of hospital care for older persons at the Yale University School of Medicine.

How to obtain a HELP volunteer

Anyone age 70 or older, and on a HELP unit (see availability below), who meets the below inclusion criteria. The HELP services are provided at no charge.

Patients must have one or more of the following:

  • Cognitive deficit
  • Decrease in mobility or activities of daily living
  • Vision impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Dehydration
  • Sleep problems

The patients who are NOT eligible are those who have any of the following:

  • Inability to communicate verbally and/or in writing
  • Terminal condition with comfort care only
  • Severe psychotic disorder
  • Severe dementia
  • Isolation
  • Discharge anticipated within 48 hours of admission
  • Refusal by patient or family

Request a HELP consult from your attending physician, nurse or case manager. You may also contact the HELP Program directly at 703-776-6824. The HELP services are provided at no charge.

How our HELP volunteers decrease the risk of delirium

  • Daily Visitor Program – Patients are visited daily to ensure they are alert and oriented to their surroundings using assistive devices that assist with hearing and vision.
  • Therapeutic Activity – Activities are used to help a patient's mind and body stay engaged, including cards, trivia, reminiscing, music and reading materials.
  • Physical Activity – Early mobilization is promoted through daily exercise and walking assistance.
  • Sleep and Stress Management – Stress and anxiety-reducing techniques such as music, guided imagery and hand massages are used.
  • Meal Assistance – Volunteers sit with patients during mealtimes to encourage eating and assist as needed with meals.

Current HELP Availability

The HELP program is currently available at Inova Alexandria Hospital, Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, Inova Fairfax Hospital, and Inova Loudoun Hospital:

Inova Alexandria Hospital

  • Unit 21, 23, 25, 28, and 4N

Inova Fair Oaks Hospital

  • Medical/Oncology and Progressive Care Units

Inova Fairfax Hospital

  • North Patient Tower: Floors 4, 7, 10, PCCU, CTUS, CTUN
  • South Patient Tower: Floors 6, 8, 10, 11

Inova Loudoun Hospital

  • Medical/Surgical (MSU) and Progressive Care Units (PCU)