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"Empowering health systems to recognize, manage, and prevent delirium is a hallmark of geriatrics," notes Sharon K. Inouye, MD, MPH, who developed the original Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP), now known as AGS CoCare: HELP™. "With this critical expansion of a key program that made delirium prevention possible, we have bandwidth through the AGS to reach more health systems than ever before," Dr. Inouye concluded.
AGS CoCare: HELP™ offers virtual access to tools and hands-on guidance laser-focused on preventing loss of function and delirium, the medical term for an abrupt, rapid change in mental state. In the past, delirium has affected up to 56 percent of all hospitalized older adults, as many as 12.5 million of whom have experienced delirium-related complications annually. Preventing the condition while also promoting continued function is possible, but requires a delicate balance of resources, expertise, and support--where AGS CoCare: HELP™ excels.
AGS CoCare: HELP™ offers access to a comprehensive implementation toolkit, an online educational curriculum for staff and volunteers, a certification program, scheduling for routine coaching calls, and access to an online community available 24-7. The sum-total of these resources provides an organized system to manage markers of delirium and delirium prevention--from maintaining physical and cognitive function to maximizing independence in the transition from hospital to home.
For example, the system includes training to understand the value and use of daily patient visits, therapeutic activities, early mobilization programs, protocols to optimize sleep and hearing/vision, and opportunities for smoothing transitions between care settings. Using comprehensive HELP resources and training, whole health systems can implement delirium prevention protocols and provider education, while an interdisciplinary team of HELP staff and a network of specially trained volunteers overseen by unique on-staff Elder Life Specialists and Elder Life Nurse Specialists can work with patients one-on-one to reduce risks and prevent lengthier stays. The program ultimately promotes a growing trend toward "age-friendly health systems," so named because they promote unique expertise on geriatrics focal points: Care for the mind, medications, mobility, and what "matters most" to patients.
As a result, HELP has made health systems safer--and health care more effective. Today, for example, delirium affects more than 2.6 million older adults annually in the U.S., accounting for more than $164 billion annually in excess Medicare expenditures. But on average, delirium cases dropped by more than 30 percent among the more than 200 hospitals employing HELP, which also reduced costs by more than $7 million per year at participating hospitals (a savings of more than $1,000 per patient). In an even more recent study, patients between 70 and 85 receiving HELP care saw reduced readmission within 30 days of hospital discharge and shorter lengths of stay, a noteworthy feat for those older than 65.
"To the untrained eye, delirium can happen without warning--but there are tell-tale signs that point to risk, and proven interventions to reduce its likelihood," Dr. Inouye observes. "Health systems just need to know how, which is where AGS CoCare: HELP™ offers assistance."
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About the American Geriatrics Society
Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for more than 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Our nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.