As one of the largest generations in the United States begins to age out, the need for skilled nurses to care for this aging population has never been more dire. And it’s not only the Baby Boomer generation moving into care facilities and assisted living. Today’s elderly population is composed of a good many older adults who are living well into their 80’s and 90’s.
Entire campuses of housing-from independent living, to assisted living to rehabilitation and long-term care facilities are being built in communities all over the country, creating a demand for qualified nurses. In order to accommodate an ever-growing aging population, it’s necessary for nurses to understand the skills involved in elder care.
Much like any specialty in the medical field, caring for the aging population has it’s own unique skill set. You likely covered gerontology when you were practicing your clinicals, but you may need a refresher to bring your skills up to date. Here is what you need to know to up-skill your training to care for an aging population.
Focus on Preventative Care
The elderly, especially those who have debilitating chronic conditions, are significantly more prone to illness and injury. Your primary focus, in caring for an aging population, will be on preventative care. Brittle bones, bedsores and ulcers, compromised immune systems, malnutrition, dehydration, and poor muscle tone present endless possibilities for injuries and illnesses, which can become life-threatening. As a nurse you’re responsibility to your geriatric patient involves keeping them safe and free from injury as much as you possibly are able. Instruct the patient in the best way to prevent injury and illness, and also include the family and primary caregiver so that your orders are enforced.
Hone Your Communication Skills
You’ll need to gage for yourself the basic cognitive abilities of your patient and when possible include a family member in your conversation. Observe how the close family member or friends of the patient converse and communicate. Not every person over the age of 65 is hard of hearing, so there’s no need to talk loudly or even slow down your speaking for fear the individual won’t understand. Be clear and concise when you communicate with a member of the aging population. Never condescend or be disrespectful. And remember a large part of communication involves listening to what the other person is saying.
Coordinate Care and Advocate for Your Patient
As a geriatric nurse part of your duties may involve coordinating your patients care. This means you’ll need to have a clear understanding of the facility’s protocol when the need arises to intervene. Many facilities have on-staff personnel to assist with insurance and administrative needs, but the need to calm your patient’s fears, seek treatment for certain conditions that may go unnoticed by family members (UTI’s are a common, almost chronic affliction of the elderly and present much differently than with younger patients), and stay on top of follow up procedures and appointments is the duty of an excellent geriatric nurse.
Management of Chronic Conditions
Chronic conditions among the elderly are extremely common. Arthritis, diabetes, COPD and other lung diseases, and hypertension force many in our aging population to give up their independence. Managing these diseases is crucial and, as the aging person experiences cognitive difficulties, it can become difficult to stay on top of blood sugar, breathing treatments, and medication. As a nurse caring for the elderly, you will need to step up your skills when it comes to management of these common afflictions of the geriatric set. Know what to look for and how to assess your patient. It’s likely you covered many of these conditions in your clinical, but many of the protocols have changed as medicine advances.
Understand End-of-Life Care
It’s a fact when you’re caring for an aging population that you will likely experience the need to practice end-of-life-care. This includes pain assessment, pain management, communication, and a whole slew of additional skills. There are programs available to nurses that can help you. In fact, you may be required to complete a course in this type of care by your employer. If you find this too difficult or uncomfortable, speak to your recruiter about other types of nursing positions which may have less need for you to be familiar with this aspect of caregiving.
Caring for The Aging Population
It takes a special individual to care for the aging population. Patience is probably the most important skill you can possess. When working with the elderly-and often their loved ones-it becomes essential for you to practice patience as never before. Yes, it can be taxing physically and emotionally, but caring for the aging population can be rewarding in so many ways.