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Boredom could extend your hospital stay  

 

Anyone who has spent any time in hospital knows how tedious it can be. 

With little to do but stare at the walls or TV until the next meal, ward round or visiting hour, small wonder that a series of studies over the years have found half or more of all hospital patients end up bored out of their minds.

In December, a report by the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales concluded that ‘many patients feel time passes very slowly in hospital’ which ‘often leads to feelings of loneliness and depression’.

At risk: In December, the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales looked at patient depression and found a link between isolation and illness risk 

At risk: In December, the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales looked at patient depression and found a link between isolation and illness risk 

At risk: In December, the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales looked at patient depression and found a link between isolation and illness risk 

For older people especially, who might be in hospital for long periods, ‘boredom and loneliness are important quality of life issues’, the report found. 

Faced with ‘feelings of isolation [and a] lack of physical and mentally stimulating activities they will be at a higher risk of developing more serious health issues’.

Of course, money is tight in the NHS and staff hard-pressed. But boredom is a problem we can all help solve. For instance, what do you normally take when you go to visit a friend or a loved one in hospital? Flowers? Chocolates? Grapes?

But what if you surprised the patient with an unexpected gift, something that captured their interest, got their brain in gear and, crucially, helped them to throw off the grey blanket of relentless boredom?

After all, hospitals provide toys and playrooms to keep children occupied, why shouldn’t adults be given something to keep their minds active?

It could be something as simple as adult colouring books, pencils and paper for drawing or even an origami starter kit — anything, so long as it helps turn hospital downtime into an opportunity. 

Keeping busy: The data has sparked an Anti-Boredom Campaign, to keep people active

Keeping busy: The data has sparked an Anti-Boredom Campaign, to keep people active

Keeping busy: The data has sparked an Anti-Boredom Campaign, to keep people active

That’s the idea behind my Anti-Boredom Campaign, launched with the patronage of the academic and broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts and the support of a panel of experts, including Professor Morten L. Kringelbach, director of the Hedonia Research Group at Oxford University, whose research into the workings of the human brain focuses on finding ways to increase wellbeing.

Of course, boredom affects us all from time to time.

But in hospital, trapped in a bed for days or weeks, boredom can turn into unhappiness, which in turn can morph into depression.

And research shows this could have grave consequences. A study in 2014 that looked at more than 112,000 pneumonia patients in Taiwan found that those who were depressed had ‘a significantly higher probability’ of being admitted to intensive care, needing mechanical help with their breathing or even dying in hospital.

Hospital TV — an endless diet of daytime television — probably isn’t the answer. And while the obvious thing is to pick up a book, I’ve encountered so many people in hospital who would normally read yet who, distracted by their own anxieties and the alien environment in which they find themselves, are unable to concentrate.

Outcome: Refreshing activity can help shorten a patient¿s time in hospital and reduce their demand for pain relief

Outcome: Refreshing activity can help shorten a patient¿s time in hospital and reduce their demand for pain relief

Outcome: Refreshing activity can help shorten a patient’s time in hospital and reduce their demand for pain relief

I first became aware of the benefits of battling boredom in hospital during my work as a creative specialist. I have a doctorate in molecular cell biology from Oxford but, after spending three years on a research fellowship, joined the Medical Research Council as a science communicator and artist.

I was working with patients undergoing treatment at University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Care, offering distraction therapy, the chance for patients to think about and do things that have nothing to do with their illness.

I might bring along boxes of natural wonders, things such as fossils, a piece of meteorite or seashells — it’s amazing how one little object can encourage so much conversation and thought.

Obviously, people in hospital aren’t well, they are tired and find it hard to concentrate on things. But I have found that if you bring something that sparks the imagination, people can concentrate for hours and become happier.

A report by the British Medical Association (BMA) in 2011 recommended hospitals should introduce creative activities and even bingo and card games to beat boredom and improve outcomes.

There was evidence, said the BMA, that even ‘simple and inexpensive soft, non-clinical things — such as getting more daylight in, planting some trees outside the ward, or encouraging patients to wander around a bit — can help shorten a patient’s time in hospital and reduce their demand for pain relief’.

Beating boredom needn’t be an expensive burden on the NHS. We’ve set up a Facebook page where people can share ideas and pictures and we’d love to see what you come up with — so long as it isn’t grapes or chocolates, of course. 

 

 

 

 

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