This summer Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale expanded a volunteer program that brings teenagers and older patients together.
It’s designed to help the patients avoid delirium, a common condition that can make hospital stays unpleasant and even frightening.
During a typical day for volunteers in the Tender Loving Care-Advanced program, they fan out into patient rooms bringing cards, magazines, dice, books and newspapers.
They get a list of patients from one of the coordinators of the program with some details about who they’re visiting. They learn who’s going home, who just had a procedure and who might especially need some attention.
But before these teens ever walk into a patient’s room, they get pretty extensive training in several areas, including reminiscence therapy. The idea behind reminiscence therapy is that talking about happier times in a patient’s life helps take the focus off their current situation.
During these visits, students also work to re-orient patients who may be confused. They tell them what day it is and go over current events. Medical research shows that when elderly people stay in a hospital, they’re at risk of developing delirium.
“It happens quickly, and it’s reversible," said Candice Hickman, a nurse and one of the program coordinators. “Usually what happens in a hospital situation is when you take an older adult from their home environment and bring them to the hospital, a new environment, new medications, new routines, it’s just confusing, even for younger people, but especially older adults.”
Hickman, who also works at Holy Cross as a clinical practice specialist, modeled the program after the Hospital Elder Life Program which was developed at Yale University and uses adult volunteers. When she modified it for Holy Cross, she decided to focus on teenagers -- more highly-trained versions of the old candy stripers.
Will Hinson is in 11th grade at Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale. He remembers how one patient reacted after they spent an an hour-and-a-half talking.
“He’d had surgery on his foot," said Hinson. "He had to have his toes removed. It was a sad deal ‘cause of his diabetes. But he said as we were leaving, 'You guys have no idea how much you've helped', and he said he’d forgotten totally about the pain during the duration of our talk. That’s their typical reaction when you get to spend time with them.”
Alice Albert is a registered nurse. She says the program makes a real difference to the patients on her floor who often don't have any family nearby.
"They have really no one here, so it just fills a gap that the nurses can't do," said Albert.
She says the nurses just don't have enough time to sit with the patients as long as they would like, and the patients enjoy the interaction with the teens.
"The patients love it," said Madison Herin, a junior at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. "They love having someone visit and just help them with whatever they need. It makes me smile, if they smile."
Herin says she'd like to be a doctor and feels that the program is good training.
The Tender Loving Care-Advanced program has helped so many patients now after being in place for less than a year that the hospital plans to expand it.
Holy Cross is looking for more volunteers. While most of those who help are teenagers, adults are also welcome to apply. The hospital especially needs them to supplement their efforts now that school is back in session.
Anyone interested, should write Candice Hickman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (954) 492-5798.