NICHE lets nurses give specialized geriatric care, share best practices

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YORKTOWN — Since 93-year-old Marie Covais got home from Hudson Valley Hospital Center, she has a new attitude about taking care of herself.

Covais, who lives in Yorktown with the help of aides, drinks more water and finally agreed to use a walker.

“When she went in she said, ‘I’m not old enough for a walker,’” recalled her daughter, Joanne Conroy of Mamaroneck. “We couldn’t take it out of the closet. She would say, ‘Put that away.’”

But nurses at Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt persuaded her to shuffle around the hospital, and now she doesn’t hesitate to use the walker at home.

“When I tried it, it was wonderful,” Covais said. “It gives me strength to walk.”

Hudson Valley and White Plains Hospital are the first hospitals in the area to participate in a program called NICHE, which stands for Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders. NICHE prepares nurses to treat the growing number of patients in their 80s, 90s and beyond.

NICHE, part of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University College of Nursing, has been launched in 300 hospitals nationwide.

In addition to treating Covais for a respiratory ailment, Hudson Valley staff paid attention to simple details, such as hydration and exercise, that made a big difference in her recovery.

“Every time we went there, she was never alone; there was always a nurse around her, which made her feel really good. She didn’t feel afraid,” Conroy said.

There were 1.9 million people 90 or older in the United States in 2010. That number is expected to more than quadruple by 2050, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Meanwhile, the 65- to 89-year-old population is expected to more than double to 89 million.

In addition to learning how to care for geriatric patients, staff at NICHE hospitals also have access to an electronic library on geriatric care. It includes a database where hospitals share their best practices for dealing with sleep deprivation, pain management, delirium and other problems in the elderly.

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