HELP comes in many forms
With the long road to medicine, it's easy to get lost in the books. As a first-year medical student, I was taking my basic science courses and craving patient interactions, a way to translate my studies into real-life applications. Neuroscience has long been a passion of mine and will hopefully be a major part of my future.
When our associate dean, Dr. Waarala, sent an email about a volunteer opportunity with the Hospital Elder Life Program at Henry Ford Macomb on the neurology/stroke unit, I knew it would be the perfect fit for me. As an internationally-recognized program that trains volunteers to prevent delirium and immobility in hospitalized patients, HELP gives me the chance to see a slice of neurology up close. This involves engaging patients in cognitive stimulating activities (cards, crosswords, word searches, Scattergories, checkers, etc.), assistance with eating, encouraging reminisce therapy and providing support with early mobility.
Our goal with every patient is to maintain their physical and cognitive function, along with independence, while decreasing readmission visits and fall risk. Older adult patients are at high risk to develop delirium and functional decline during their hospitalization. Unfortunately, this leads to longer hospital stays and patients unable to go back home with families. The Hospital Elder Life Program allows us to change the course. Volunteers get a glimpse into patients' lives, engage their memories, walk with them to enhance balance, encourage them to eat and individualize our activities to the patient's preferences.
Neurology will unfortunately come into most of our lives at one point or another. I'm grateful for the chance to positively impact those I encounter at the hospital. After a stroke, a person may experience one-sided weakness. This can cause visual deficits and entire muscle weakness--affecting not just arms and legs, but the esophagus and the ability to swallow food.
HELP volunteers make a difference to these patients in a variety of ways. For example, we give patients crossword puzzles to encourage them to pay closer attention to the impacted side. We may move their limbs for them through range-of-motion exercises to help maintain strength and flexibility. In addition, volunteers have the time to sit with patients during dinner to remind them to turn their head while swallowing because of the esophageal weakness. We ensure each patient is oriented to the time, date and current events so days don't blur together so easily. I value the opportunity to embrace empathy by sitting with patients during this vulnerable time, helping them in any way I can to improve their condition, watching their triumphs as they regain their strength, and best of all, sharing a laugh here and there. This program has allowed me to explore neurological symptoms, interact with the interdisciplinary team and comfort our elderly patients. With research opportunities available, not only have I gained knowledge and support from mentors in the hospital, but I've developed a sense of community with medical personnel and patients. I'm ecstatic that my experience at Henry Ford Macomb will not end with volunteering, as I'll be joining their team in my third year of medical school. I look forward to having a whole unit of friendly faces, and one day helping these patients as a physician.
How to volunteer
The HELP program provides trained volunteers working under the direction of health care providers with hands-on patient care experience and an opportunity to work with professionals in the field of geriatrics. Volunteers have direct contact with patients, families and other hospital staff.
To volunteer, call the volunteer services coordinator at (586) 263-2360. For questions about the program or patient enrollment, call the elder life nurse specialist at (586) 263-2969.