Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 10:15 UK

The chair keeping elderly patients safe

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

When Katerina stands up her chair asks her to sit down and wait until help arrives

Katerina Hristovska is frail and not meant to get up from her chair or bed unaided.

She speaks little or no English and also has dementia. She is confused and hallucinates and regularly forgets to ask for help.

Last year while the nurses treating her for an infection were away she got up unaided, slipped and broke her hip.

Today she is back in another hospital for two weeks while medics at Hammersmith Hospital, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London, treat her for a urine infection.

Alerting staff

But her daughter Violeta Lozanoska, from Acton, says an ingenious, but simple chair device is helping to keep her mother safe.

Costing around £180 each, the chair is fitted with a pressure pad device which is activated when Katerina tries to get up, triggering a recording, made by Violeta in Macdeonian and telling her 82-year-old mother to wait for the nurse.

Before if she wanted to go to the toilet she would just get up, but this means that she does not have to be watched all the time
Violeta Lozanoska

Meanwhile an alarm rings in the nurses station warning them that Katerina is moving and they can rush to her side before she is injured.

The chair alarms are just part of a whole series of devices to be installed over the last few weeks across the elderly wards in St. Mary's, Hammersmith and Charing Cross.

They have also installed special door alarms which are triggered by a wristwatch device worn by a vulnerable patient, and set to go off when that patient strays within 50 yards of the exit.

Falling risk

Dr Edward Dickinson, consultant in elderly medicine at the trust, said the chair alarms should help cut the number of falls in hospital, which account for 33% of all hospital incidents across the NHS.

"Elderly people in hospital have a greater risk of falling," he said.

"We have adopted a multi-pronged approach, which includes the use of new technology but have also increased staff awareness and education.

Violeta Lozanoska
Violeta feels happier about leaving her mother in hospital

"Within the last year or so we have had a big push in getting the technology across the trust where people are at risk particularly the elderly medicine wards."

He said being able to record a personal message was a useful addition.

"West London is very multi-cultural. We have patients in hospital with a very wide variety of languages and mother tongues so that is a very useful facility."

Training behaviour

Dr Frank Miskelly consultant in elderly medicine who was involved in originally developing the technology, which was pioneered at the trust, said the chair device had been shown to have a positive effect on behaviour.

"For the first few days the patient will probably get up lots of times, after a while their risk behaviour changes, a Pavlovian response.

"After a few days they don't tend to get out of the chair so often because they realise that every time they get up a voice tells them not to, so you can then often lose the chair alarm.

Clinical practice educator Vicky McGauley said that devices, first piloted at the hospital a couple of years ago and now generally available, had led to a decrease in falls.

"They reassure patients and the family who feel something positive is happening," she said.

"We can show that we are assessing the risk of the patient and proactively doing something to prevent it.

"We have noticed a decrease in serious injuries. We are not trying to remove their independence, but make sure a nurse knows when they are potentially at risk, and can go and help them."

She said that as well as the technology staff were also creating a safer environment by moving vulnerable patients to more visible locations and checking their medication.

Violeta, said the increased technology has certainly made her feel happier.

"This device is very helpful to people like my mum because of the message.

"Before if she wanted to go to the toilet she would just get up, but this means that she does not have to be watched all the time."

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