LAWRENCE — By focusing on strengths, a University of Kansas-pioneered program aims to help high-risk elders reduce instances of re-hospitalization. Based on research that’s demonstrated a reduction in depressive symptoms for older adults with chronic illness, program leaders hope it can become a model for hospitals and communities across the nation.
Rosemary Chapin, professor, and director of the Office of Aging and Long Term Care at KU’s School of Social Welfare, and Lawrence Memorial Hospital are partnering on the Peer Support and Wellness for Older Adults Program. The program will match community volunteers age 55 and older with individuals who have a chronic disease and have been identified as being at a high risk of being re-hospitalized after a hospital stay.
“We’re going to help these individuals make a link to community resources,” Chapin said. “Essentially we’re going to build a bridge from the hospital to the community via volunteers.”
Volunteers for the program will receive training to help participants assess their strengths, identify resources and set goals for wellness. An action plan will then be developed and implemented. The program is a 10-week intervention in which volunteers and participants meet twice a week.
The program is modeled on a previous research-based program from the Office of Aging and Long Term Care. Volunteers in that program, which was developed in collaboration with the Area Agencies on Aging, and the Kansas Department on Aging, met for 10 weeks with frail older adults who were experiencing depressive symptoms. By focusing on their strengths, the volunteers helped individuals set goals that ranged from being healthy enough to play golf to being able to attend a grandchild’s wedding. They then assisted in identifying resources in the community that could help improve health and make the goals attainable. They also helped to implement plans to attain the goal. That program started in three Kansas locations, then went statewide, and a similar model will soon be implemented in Germany.
“We found that depressive symptoms significantly decreased and quality of life related to their health and functioning significantly increased in the individuals who took part in the program,” Chapin said.
An article detailing the program and research findings related to it was published recently in the journal The Gerontologist.
The Peer Support and Wellness for Older Adults program will follow the basis of that program, the strengths-based approach. In addition to focusing on barriers that may hinder recovery, volunteers will also assess an individual’s strengths and how they can aid in achieving goals such as being healthy enough to remain in the home, thereby reducing the chance of re-hospitalization and reducing overall dependence on health care, while improving quality of life. “We know from the professional literature that depression and lack of community support can exacerbate chronic illness,” Chapin said.
If the pilot program proves successful, sbe said she hopes to share the findings with hospitals nationwide to help reduce the number of older adults who experience repeated re-hospitalizations.
Volunteers will have a chance to make a real difference in people’s lives. They will receive strengths-based training and learn about the many resources for older adults in Lawrence. Anyone who would like to be a “high impact volunteer” in the Lawrence-based program should contact Allyson Leland at 785-505-3141 or Sarah Landry at 785-864-3823.
“The volunteers will help them put together a plan to reach their goals,” Chapin said. “Everyone will have their own goals, and the relationships with the volunteers will help people reach those goals. This intervention is designed to help improve quality of life and reduce health care costs. We’re very hopeful.”