Storytelling May Help Elderly Patients

Dr. David DekriekCommunication, Community, hearing health, hearing loss, research

Storytelling May Help Elderly Patients

A recent study that was published in Innovation in Aging, found a potential link between bedside storytelling or poetry reading and a decreased risk for delirium in elderly hospital patients. The study was conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham at the UAB Highlands Hospital. The study helped to advance research into the positive potential of increasing Arts in Medicine programs to hospitals across the country.

What is Delirium?

Delirium is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a serious disturbance in mental abilities that results in confused thinking and reduced awareness of the environment” ( https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/delirium/symptoms-causes/syc-20371386). Delirium is most often caused by chronic illness, medication, surgery or even drug or alcohol withdrawal. Delirium usually has a rapid onset, happening in a few hours or days and the symptoms typically consist of a reduced awareness of the environment and poor thinking skills. Delirium and dementia such as Alzheimer’s can often be confusing to distinguish, however, delirium typically affects attention while dementia affects memory.

People with a hearing loss have a higher risk for developing both dementia and delirium and treating hearing loss has been known to reduce this risk (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4970597/).

About the Study

This pilot study included 50 adults over the age of 65 who opted into the program at the UAB hospital in 2016. During their hospital stay, these participants were visited once per day for 15 minutes of bedside storytelling or poetry reading by one of two artists-in-residence at the hospital.

During this 15 minute period, patients were asked to choose whether they would like to be read a story or a poem, and were also given the opportunity to choose the genre of the reading. Choices included legends and myths, religious pieces, humor or folk and fairy tales. Part of the session included interaction with the artists, where patients were given the opportunity to discuss the reading and how it connected to their own lives. Patients with severe or profound delirium, those who used medication to control their delirium or patients who did not want to participate were not included in the study results.

Results of the Study

Study results were based on delirium screening and patient satisfaction scores upon discharge of the hospital. The results indicated that patients who participated in the artists-in-residence storytelling or poetry readings had a lower delirium score at discharge than those who did not have the opportunity to participate. These results remained statistically significant even when researchers adjusted for other factors such as cognitive score upon admittance, age, and overall health and wellness.

Maria Danila, M.D, lead researcher of the study stated, “The results of our study suggest that the arts in medicine program was well-received and may assist patients with their recovery”. She feels hopeful about the results of the study and continued, “such arts in medicine programs may be beneficial to patients across the health system, and are an exciting addition to the UAB’s healing opportunities” (https://www.uab.edu/news/research/item/9635-storytelling-may-help-reduce-delirium-in-hospitalized-elderly-patients).

Arts in medicine programs like the one at the University of Alabama is a patient-centered approach to improve the quality of life of hospitalized patients. Increasing the availability of these types of programs has the potential to help a lot of people, including the health care system. It is estimated that for every case of prevented delirium, the health system could save $2,500 (https://www.uab.edu/news/research/item/9635-storytelling-may-help-reduce-delirium-in-hospitalized-elderly-patients).

Hearing Loss and Other Health Conditions

Delirium is not the only health condition that is connected to hearing loss. Hearing loss has also been correlated with an increased risk for developing dementia, suffering depression, and experiencing difficulty in relationships and social isolation.

If you have noticed changes in your hearing, you are not alone. Hearing loss is the third most common physical issues that affects older Americans and is the number one most commonly reported workplace injury. Don’t let another day go by without taking care of your hearing health. If you live in the Cerritos area, our team at Fidelity Hearing Centers would love the opportunity to work with you.