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September 06, 2023

New volunteer program brings lasting impact for elderly patients at IU Health West

IU Health West Hospital

New volunteer program brings lasting impact for elderly patients at IU Health West

A new volunteer program at IU Health West aims to support elderly patients during their hospital stay and give clinical team members more time to care for patients.

The program, called Companion Assistance for Recovering Elders (CARE), is an evidence-based model where volunteers support elderly patients in ways that maintain their mental and physical wellbeing during their stay. Volunteers communicate and socialize with patients through playing games, reading, coloring, listening to music or talking with them during mealtimes.

The idea is to keep their mind sharp. More specifically, the goal of the program is to prevent delirium, which is a sudden state of confusion and is one of the most common complications for hospitalized elderly patients. It is estimated that at least 20% of patients over 65 years of age will experience delirium.

“The aim for the volunteer is to communicate and socialize with the patient to prevent confusion and maintain cognitive functioning throughout hospitalization," says Sami Biddle, the clinical nurse specialist who leads this program alongside fellow clinical nurse specialists Erica Newkirk and Ann Allison. "The interaction of the volunteer with the geriatric patient is meant to stimulate and maintain brain functioning and physical well-being. These interactions can seriously help our patients.”

With this support from volunteers, Biddle expects to see an increase in patient satisfaction, a decrease in patient falls and a decrease in overall length of stay. The volunteers will also alleviate some workload for clinical staff, giving them more time to care for patients in need.

“CARE volunteers are essential to the healing process and in helping our geriatric patients improve and maintain their functioning while hospitalized.” Biddle says. “Not only does this role help patients but it also helps our clinical team members. Our team members care for a variety of patients at any given time. When a volunteer can make sure that this particular demographic of geriatric patients is getting extra time and social attention, it's really reassuring to the clinical team and gives them more time to do other important tasks.”

Arthur Ssendawula is a CARE volunteer on the weekends. He’s new to the role, but he’s already seeing the impact firsthand.

"The CARE program is great, especially for elderly patients with memory loss," he says. "When patients are just lying in bed all day, the brain can deteriorate very quickly. When I'm there with them and we solve a puzzle together, talk, or even do some coloring, it helps keep their brains active.”

Ssendawula joined as a CARE volunteer about a month ago and is a former volunteer with the American Red Cross.

“This program is really interesting,” he said. “You get to listen to people's stories, interact with them and make their lives better, so it is really rewarding.”

Interested volunteers must first complete an online application by visiting CARE Program volunteers do not need clinical experience. Interested but have more questions? Please contact Sonya Peitz, manager of Guest Relations and Volunteer Services, at