ABINGTON, PA – We have all heard the stories about “mom,” an independent, highly functioning 79-year-old who is fine before she lands in the hospital for a fairly routine inpatient hospitalization. Upon discharge, family members report a noticeable change in her. Loss of memory, confusion, change in sleep habits and maybe even despondency. The decline can be profound. Family members might say, “She was never the same after that.”
According to Mary T. Hofmann, M.D., chief, Geriatric Medicine, Abington Memorial Hospital, this can be a fairly common occurrence in the elderly who are hospitalized. “The change in environment and routine can have a very negative impact on some elderly patients. As we get older our body’s ability to return to normal after illness is decreased due to normal aging changes. It’s tougher for people to bounce back.”
In an effort to address these issues, Abington Memorial Hospital opened a new Older Adult Specialty Unit on Monday, June 18, 2012 that improves the way we care for older adults. In addition to routine medical care, our trained elder life specialists and volunteers provide cognitive stimulation, nutrition counseling and social visits. Volunteers serve as walking companions so patients can maintain daily exercise on the unit and regain confidence and independence.
“All of those working on the unit strive to prevent changes in sleep routines and address problems with appetite, discomfort, incontinence and confusion,” said Hofmann. “The risk of falling is also something we take very seriously and monitor closely in this patient population.
“Another neat thing we provide for patients are ponchos that are made by the local Girl Scouts,” Hofmann added. “These are handmade fleece ponchos worn over the hospital gown to keep patients warm and still enable clinicians easy access to examine or treat patients. Elder patients are often cold so this makes good sense.”
The Older Adult Specialty Unit is equipped with an elopement alarm system for elders who try to leave. Located on the fifth floor of the Buerger Building, the unit has 21 private rooms decorated with older adult-friendly color schemes, art work reminiscent of an early time period, and signs with large letters for easy reading. Eating is an elder-friendly experience with food trays having placemats with contrast for better visibility between the tray and eating utensils, easy-to-use soup mugs and large print menus. Patients will eat their meals in a communal setting so they can socialize and interact with other patients.
The care team for the Older Adult Specialty Unit is made up of a multidisciplinary team of attending physicians, geriatric clinical nurse specialists, nurses with advanced degrees in geriatrics, registered nurses certified in gerontological nursing and complimentary therapy, and a Geropalliative nursing team. The team will meet daily with members of physical and occupational therapy, nutrition, pharmacy, case management and a HELP elder life specialist to discuss each patient’s treatment and needs.
Patients on the Older Adult Specialty Unit – generally 70 years of age and older, with the ability to get out of bed – will be provided with care focused on maintaining or increasing functionality in order to shorten their length of stay and reduce incidence of readmission. Upon admission, patients will undergo a falls risk assessment, weight assessment and a cognitive assessment that could prompt help from the inpatient Hospital Elder Life Program, which was developed to prevent cognitive decline. Vital signs are checked daily at 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to avoid sleep disruption, along with daily consults with physicians regarding medications and IVs at night. Progress report calls will be made to family members daily.
For elderly patients experiencing geropsychiatric issues, a beautiful new behavioral health unit, located on the fourth floor of the Buerger Building, is just one floor below the Older Adult Specialty Unit.
Because falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in individuals 65 and older in the United States, a dedicated Geriatric Fracture Program is streamlining the process for elderly patients who enter the ER to immediately received priority care. The goal is to have most patients evaluated and medically cleared for surgery to repair the fracture within 18 to 24 hours.
The Muller Institute for Senior Health encompasses a myriad of award-winning inpatient and outpatient services dedicated to the treatment and wellness of older adult patients.
Our team includes fellowship-trained geriatrician, geriatric fellows in training through our Geriatric Fellowship Program and geriatric clinical nurse specialists. The team participates in clinical research for diseases related to older adults and has strong outreach with Long Term Care facilities in the community.