BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Could a dose of art be as helpful as a spoonful of medicine?  New research from UAB suggests it can certainly make an impact when it comes to patient health and well-being.  “We studied the artist intervention of poetry and storytelling on our unit here–the Acute Care for Elders Unit at UAB Highlands–to see if it improved patient outcomes including delirium,” explained Dr. Katrina Booth, Medical Director of the unit.

Many hospitalized patients, but especially older adults, are at risk to develop delirium during a hospital stay.  Doctors describe delirium as being acute confusion that can have both short and long-term impacts–like cognitive defects.  Booth estimates that the average cost of a patient who gets delirious at the hospital is about $2,500.  UAB Arts in Medicine approached the ACE unit about participating in a three month study that pulled from a group of 50 patients. 

“We found that the patients who got 15 minutes of intervention with an artist through storytelling or poetry actually had lower delirium scores at discharge compared to their baseline,” explained Booth.

Booth said these non-pharmalogical interventions can promote sleep and enhance cognitive stimulation.  That can reduce incidents of new confusion or delirium in the hospital by about 40%.

Elizabeth Vander Kamp is an Artist in Residence with UAB’s Institute for Arts in Medicine.  She is a bedside storyteller, who aims to tell about 10 stories each day.  Vander Kamp was also part of the pilot program for UAB Arts in Medicine back in 2013. 

“I’ve actually seen…it seems like there is a sweet spot where people kind of go…oh,” Vander Kamp explained of her interactions with patients.  “Their respiration changes.  They kind of sink into the chair more.  It’s almost like [they know], oh it’s okay.”

Vander Kamp said her favorite part is when the walls of the hospital fade away, and she and the patient can have time to share stories.  “Why do we tell stories?” she said.  “What can they do for us?  I think they help us make sense of the world.  In the hospital, people are trying to make sense of the world around them–the strange world.”

Coordinators hope that the research will provide support to grow the Arts in Medicine program–and lead to more studies and revelations, nationwide.  Booth said, ideally, arts intervention would become a routine part of care. 

Want to learn more about the program?  Visit their website here!

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Many hospitalized patients, especially older adults, are at risk of developing delirium, for which there are no proven medications. Performing arts programs that include bedside storytelling and poetry by an artist-in-residence may be beneficial in lowering that risk, suggests a study from UAB. The UAB Arts in Medicine program, initiated in 2013, is a partnership between UAB Medicine and UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.