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Cart full of fun helps seniors ACE their hospital stay

Toronto, March 21, 2017

By James Wysotski

Volunteer Pauline Aarons hands items from the seniors’ activity cart to Maria Raso
Volunteer Pauline Aarons hands items from the seniors’ activity cart to Maria Raso, a patient in the Acute Care of the Elderly Unit. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

For patients on St. Michael’s Acute Care of the Elderly Unit, the new activity cart helps pass time more enjoyably.

For their caregivers, it contributes to getting the seniors home sooner.

Full of newspapers and magazines, colouring books, radios, large-print novels and games like bingo, cards and dominos, the cart features activities to stimulate the mind and keep patients engaged, said Joanna Stanley, a physiotherapist from the Regional Geriatric Program who works on the unit. In keeping with the unit’s philosophy of designing care around seniors’ needs, the cart also offers specific activities tailored to each patient, such as embroidery or knitting, if they've been requested.

“Some of the activities on the cart help keep the patients oriented, and that’s important because it can help prevent delirium,” said Stanley.

Along with RGP occupational therapist Lisa Vandewater and PT/OT assistant Edma Apostol, Stanley helped create the cart in November 2016, a month after the ACE Unit opened on 8 Cardinal Carter South. Created for the Volunteers Involving Seniors in Activities – or VISA – Program, which has been running at St. Michael’s for several years, the cart allows volunteers to engage patients in activities and conversation during friendly visits.

Each day, the trio sets up the cart for the volunteers and provides a list of patients for them to visit. Equipped with fresh newspapers and sometimes an iPad, the volunteers discuss current events or search for images such as places where the patients grew up. Since many of the patients have short-term memory impairments, these activities help to provide mental stimulation through reminiscence.

   
“Keeping patients engaged in activities helps to keep them oriented and reduce the incidence of delirium, which can contribute to a shorter length of stay.”
– Joanna Stanley, a physiotherapist from the Regional Geriatric Program

“It's a good launching point for further conversations,” said Stanley. While the VISA visits help with orientation, they also improve the patients’ hospital experience.

Passing time more enjoyably is another benefit.

“Interactions with the volunteers help reduce the stress and anxiety related to being in the hospital environment,” said Vandewater.

There’s also the added benefit of more time spent sitting up or out of bed, both of which further therapy goals, said Stanley.

While many of the items on the cart were on the unit before its inception, Stanley said Volunteer Services has also been a huge support by offering funds to make rooms more senior-friendly, as well as providing new cart items to improve the patient experience.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.