N.S. Health hiring more staff to keep elderly patients moving while in hospital

·2 min read
Patients can quickly lose their ability to walk if they stay in bed the whole time they are in the hospital, says the developer of a new health program for frail seniors. (Shutterstock - image credit)
Patients can quickly lose their ability to walk if they stay in bed the whole time they are in the hospital, says the developer of a new health program for frail seniors. (Shutterstock - image credit)

A new program soon to be rolled out at regional hospitals across the province aims to get frail seniors out of hospital sooner with their mobility intact.

The early maintenance mobilization project is an initiative of the Frailty and Elder Care Network at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, created in 2021 with the goal of improving care for the province's aging population.

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"Functional decline is one of the leading complications of hospitalization in older people," said Karen Nicholls, director of policy and planning for the network.

Working with the four health zones, the network approached the province with a proposal that's led to the creation of 45 new positions to be spread among regional hospitals. The new staff trained in recreation or rehabilitation therapy should be in place by September and each health zone will also have a new frailty coordinator.

The goal is to identify older patients who are frail — which Nicholls defines as "a state of increased vulnerability" — but who are still mobile.

Declining mobility

"When they come in, lot of them have the idea, 'I need to rest to get better.' So they lay in bed," said Angela Stairs, director of rehabilitative, seniors and long-term care for the eastern zone of the N.S. Health Authority.

"But then what we've discovered, after they've been in the health-care system for a week or two ... when we actually go to discharge them their mobility has greatly declined," said Stairs, who helped develop the program.

Holly Conners/CBC
Holly Conners/CBC

According to research conducted by the Frailty and Elder Care Network, 20 per cent of older adults who were able to walk before being admitted to hospital were no longer able to walk without assistance upon discharge.

At that point, they may be referred to rehabilitation services.

"And it then prolongs their stay in the hospital," said Stairs, "which then can make their mobility issues worse.... And we're trying to undo what's kind of happened while they were recovering from their illness."

The goal is to meet those patients within 48 hours of admittance, while they are still mobile, and encourage them to get up and moving, taking part in activities that are tailored to their interests.

"It may be as simple as — if somebody is typically goal-oriented — it may be setting up a bell at the end of the hallway and saying, 'Our goal is by the end of the week you're going to get to walk to ring that bell.'"

Or there could be a space designated for arts and crafts, or horticulture, or pet therapy.

"But we're not going to bring them to your room. You actually have to get up and go to the area where this is available," said Stairs.

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