Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP)

"I have volunteered at other hospitals prior to beginning the H.E.L.P. program, and I think that this program has allowed me the most hands-on interaction with patients.  The program comes with many more responsibilities including completing an online chart for each patient that I see which is also more than I have experienced at any other volunteer positions."

UPMC Shadyside
5230 Centre Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Contact Person: Help Volunteer Office,, 412-623-4357, Stacy Hunter,

Areas of Interest:  Developmental psychology, Geriatric psychology, Delirium, Dementia
Description: HELP is a quality improvement program designed to prevent delirium in patients age 70 and older who are hospitalized at UPMC Shadyside 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 Friday 8am-12pm, noon-4pm or 4pm-8pm, seeing approximately 20 patients each shift, interacting with the patient’s care team, and providing feedback in a data base regarding the patient. Shift times are set around the patients’ scheduled meals.  Volunteers ensure that the correct meal was delivered by the hostess and that each patient is properly situated to eat, with their food and tray accessible. Structured training is provided regarding delirium, the hospital setting, HELP’s electronic data base 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 120 volunteer hours over one or two semesters. 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, or engage the patient’s interest using an iPad. Some students may learn to perform limited range of motion exercises with the patient.

Additional Site Requirements:

Recruitment and selection for this experience is typically finalized a full semester in advance, so please apply early;

  • Please send an e-mail to the contact email address (  explaining your interest in HELP, specifying your major at the University of Pittsburgh, your phone number & best email address to reach you;
  • Indicate during which future semester you hope to participate. If you have made arrangements with your Advisor to pursue HELP for course credit at the University of Pittsburgh, please specify if you will be receiving 1, 2 or 3 credits (2 or 3 credits requires two shifts per week, 1 credit requires 1 shift per week);
  • 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, 16 hours of training that counts toward your volunteer hours, and 4 take-home tests of your knowledge about the hospital and program.
  • Volunteers who are NOT receiving course credit are offered free parking & a meal ticket for each 4-hour shift at Shadyside Hospital.

Terms Offered: Year round in fall, spring, & summer terms

Number of Students:  A total of 75 weekday shifts are offered to students at area universities.