Hospital Uses Wall Color to Orient Elderly Patients

Although it’s not often well understood by the public, healthcare professionals are all too aware that elderly hospital patients are at an increased risk for developing delirium.  Recognizing this danger for older adults, especially those with poor vision and hearing, depressive symptoms or mild cognitive impairment, hospitals are working to create environments that will reduce incidences of this serious mental disturbance.  London Health Sciences Center’s Victoria Hospital is using simple approaches including paint colors to help patients more easily identify their surroundings and reduce confusion or emotional changes.

According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, delirium is the most common surgical complication among older adults and nearly a third of general medical patients over the age of 70 have delirium; an acute confused state that is often accompanied by agitation.  Elderly patients who may be taking multiple medications, including drugs to treat pain, can easily become disoriented during a hospital stay when it may be difficult even to determine the time of day.  And delirium poses a risk for not only a longer hospital stay, but it can also increase the risk for long-term cognitive impairment, a slower recovery or even result in a move to a long-term care facility.  Delirium also increases the risk of death.

Hospitals like the one in London, Ontario are using paint color to help patients identify their room along with a large, visible digital clock that lets patients know the time and day of the week.  Research has also found that exposure to natural sunlight can help prevent delirium; rooms should be well-lit during the day and dark and quiet at night to preserve a natural circadian rhythm.  These simple and low-cost measures could make a significant impact on the recovery of older hospital patients.

Caregivers can also help elderly patients recover better after illness, injury or surgery by making sure they have and use prescription eyeglasses as well as hearing aids or dentures.  Older patients should be encouraged to get out of bed and walk, drink plenty of fluids and eat a nutritious diet.  Visiting family can also help provide orientation and reassurance.  

Learn more about delirium, it’s symptoms and causes along with treatment by following this link to the Mayo Clinic’s Patient Care and Health Information webpage.