Journal of Clinical Nursing
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Aim: To examine the available evidence on the effects of care and support provided by volunteers on the health outcomes of older adults in acute care services.
Background: Acute hospital inpatient populations are becoming older, and this presents the potential for poorer health outcomes. Factors such as chronic health conditions, polypharmacy and cognitive and functional decline are associated with increased risk of health care‐related harm, such as falls, delirium and poor nutrition. To minimise the risk of health care‐related harm, volunteer programmes to support patient care have been established in many hospitals worldwide.
Design: A systematic scoping review.
Methods: The review followed the PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA‐ScR) (File S1). Nine databases were searched (CINAHL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane, Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed, ScienceDirect and JBI) using the following key terms: ‘hospital’, ‘volunteer’, ‘sitter’, ‘acute care’, ‘older adults’, ‘confusion’, ‘dementia’ and ‘frail’. The search was limited to papers written in English and published from 2002–2017. Inclusion criteria were studies involving the use of hospital volunteers in the care or support of older adult patients aged ≥ 65 years, or ≥ 50 years for Indigenous peoples, with chronic health conditions, cognitive impairment and/or physical decline or frailty, within the acute inpatient settings.
Results: Of the 199 articles identified, 17 articles that met the inclusion criteria were critically appraised for quality, and 12 articles were included in the final review.
Conclusions: There is evidence that the provision of volunteer care and support with eating and drinking, mobilising and therapeutic activities can impact positively upon patient health outcomes related to nutrition, falls and delirium. Further robust research is needed to determine the impact of volunteers in acute care and the specific care activities that can contribute to the best outcomes for older adults.
Relevance to clinical practice: Volunteers can play a valuable role in supporting care delivery by nurses and other health professionals in acute care services, and their contribution can improve health outcomes for older adults in this setting.
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