Older patients are at risk for loss of self-care abilities during the course of an acute medical illness that results in hospitalization. The Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Unit is a continuous quality improvement model of care designed to prevent the patient’s loss of independence from admission to discharge in the performance of activities of daily living (hospital-associated disability). The ACE unit intervention includes principles of a prepared environment that encourages safe patient self-care, a set of clinical guidelines for bedside care by nurses and other health professionals to prevent patient disability and restore self-care lost by the acute illness, and planning for transitions of care and medical care. By applying a structured process, an interdisciplinary team completes a geriatric assessment, follows clinical guidelines, and initiates plans for care transitions in concert with the patient and family. Three randomized clinical trials and systematic reviews of ACE or related interventions demonstrate reduced functional disability among patients, reduced risk of nursing home admission, and lower costs of hospitalization. ACE principles could improve elderly care in any acute setting. The aim of this commentary is to describe the ACE model and the basis of its effectiveness.
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