A section of Calvary Public Hospital would be refurbished to establish a unit specific to elderly patients suffering delirium, under a re-elected ACT Labor government.
The $13.6 million upgrade to an unused area at Bruce would include eight beds for elderly patients experiencing acute confusion, which occurs in around 30 per cent of people over 65 during a hospital admission.
The purpose-built facility would provide an environment with reduced noise and light and more targeted care for delirium patients, whose symptoms typically include delusions, paranoia and hallucinations.
Geriatrician Mary Kulh said elderly people experiencing delirium at Calvary were currently treated the same way as other patients, which was known to be harmful.
"Often it's the actual experience of being in a hospital setting that can set this delirium off as well," Dr Kulh said.
"In an ideal world we would manage patients in an environment where they feel more at home and less scared."
Flagged to open in 2021, the ward would mimic similar delirium units common in hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne.
Dr Kuhl said the theory was that patients would be less reliant on medication in a more relaxed setting and likely to return home quickly.
She said it was believed delirium was a result of either stress at being hospitalised or the infection causing the admission altering a person's neurotransmitters and causing anxiety.
"It's almost akin to a psychosis because they get hallucination and can see ants and animals, some people can see dead bodies in the room. It can be like a horrible nightmare throughout their treatment," Dr Kulh said.
"Anything that reduces their stress helps reduce the risk of first developing the delirium and then staying in a delirious state."
Dr Kuhl said Calvary would consult support groups working with patients with cognitive impairment to establish the unit and ensure staff were properly trained to manage them.
ACT Labor Health Spokesperson Rachel Stephen-Smith said the aged-care crisis in Victoria had highlighted the need to have strategies and infrastructure in place to support older Australians.
"While the ACT government has no direct oversight over aged care, we can do more to ensure our public health facilities are better prepared for older Canberrans when they need support from our health system," Ms Stephen-Smith said in a statement.
Dr Kuhl said of the three adult wards of around 24 beds at Calvary about 80 per cent were usually occupied by over 65-year-olds.
ACT Labor also announced this week its plan to partner with Palliative Care ACT to establish a respite hub for people who wish to die at home.
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