Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP)

West Penn Hospital
4800 Friendship Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Contact Person: Autumn Corcoran,, 412-337-8263

Areas of Interest:  Developmental psychology, Geriatric psychology, Delirium, Dementia

Description of Site: HELP is a quality improvement program designed to prevent delirium in patients age 70 and older who are hospitalized at West Penn Hospital. Volunteers spend quality time interacting with patients, offering services to improve the quality of the patient’s stay, while watching for signs of delirium. Student volunteers work an assigned weekly shift or shifts, Monday through Sunday 8am-12pm, noon-4pm or 4pm-8pm, seeing approximately 15  patients each shift, interacting with the patient’s care team, and notating their interactions in our charts. Shift times are set around the patients’ scheduled meals.  Volunteers ensure that the correct meal was delivered and that each patient is properly situated to eat, with their food and tray accessible. Structured training is provided regarding delirium, the hospital setting, and delirium prevention techniques.  

Duties of Students: Students must be reliable, compassionate and interested in working in a hospital setting with patients age seventy and older.  Students must speak English clearly. The HELP program requires a minimum commitment of 124 volunteer hours over one or two semester, and participation can be for course credit, or as a volunteer experience. Once a student accepts an assigned shift(s), reliable and punctual attendance is required each week during the semester.

There are six risk factors which put the hospitalized elderly at risk for developing delirium. These risk factors are:  Cognition impairment (such as memory loss, diminished speed of processing information, dementia); dehydration; drug or alcohol withdrawal, and vision, hearing and mobility impairment.

Students learn specific protocols to address these risk factors, including orienting patients, encouraging fluids, offering a magnifier or an assistive hearing device to the patient. Students may also play a board game or cards with the patient, amongst other therapeutic activities. Some students may learn to feed patients or perform limited range of motion exercises with the patient.

  • Recruitment and selection for this experience is typically finalized in advance, so please apply as early as possible.
  • Send an e-mail to the contact person explaining your interest in HELP, indicating that you are a Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Provide your phone and email information, and a resume if you like.
  • Indicate during which semester you hope to participate.
  • Upon selection there is a criminal background check and a TB test, both paid for by the hospital, paperwork to be completed and processed in advance, 8-12  hours of training that counts toward your volunteer hours, and PowerPoints and a quiz to be reviewed and completed.

Terms Offered: We offer shifts year round: Spring (January-April), Summer (May-August), and Fall (September-December)

Number of Students Each Term: We have space for 21 students each term.