The geriatric patient population has unique needs that require specialized nursing care. Nurses who take care of older adults have a finely tuned skill set to call their own.
These are some of the tools required to take exceptional care our aging patient population. Don’t forget to comment and tell us what we missed!
1. A willingness to teach a patient again and again
Some aspects of care seem so simple to us: medication regiments, ambulating with an assistive device, following up with additional providers. But to an elderly patient, these instructions can come and go in a blur. Geriatric nurses take the time to explain things once, twice or as many times as needed. They do it with patience and without reproach.
2. The ability to gently set limits
Geriatric patients struggle with a sense of lost independence. Perhaps they can no longer drive or they might need help with ADLs. They may feel dependent on others for their care. They may respond by insisting on doing some of these things themselves, even when it isn’t safe, like going to the bathroom without assistance, walking with a cane or walker when one is indicated, or taking the car out for a spin. Geriatric nurses can set those limits firmly while still having compassion.
3. Expert IV skills
Geriatric nurses know how challenging placing an IV in an elderly patient can be. The elasticity of the skin decreases, bruising occurs more frequently, subcutaneous fat decreases, making veins roll and IV placement even more challenging. Nurses who care for the older patient know just how to approach IV insertion, using techniques such as these.
4. The ability to ease anxieties
Elderly patients experience numerous life transitions. Friends and family pass away at an increasing rate. They often experience a loss of independence, increased physical illness, loss of memory and dementia. These stressors can be too much for an elderly patient at times. A geriatric nurse spends a lot of time helping to ease those anxieties.
5. A pressure ulcer “sixth sense”
Geriatric nurses are pressure ulcer experts, knowing how to identify, assess and treat pressure wounds at any stage. And many geriatric nurses have a pressure ulcer “sixth sense.” They know one is coming and prevent it before it happens.
6. A UTI “sixth sense”
Another “sixth sense” developed by many a geriatric nurse: The early detection of the elusive UTI. Nurses who care for the elderly know that a UTI may not present with the telltale signs. Sometimes a decrease in appetite and an increase in agitation is all a nurse needs to suspect a UTI and stop it in its tracks.
7. The ability to provide support for the caregiver
Behind every elderly patient, even those in the long-term care setting, is a caregiver who loves and cares for that person. Caregivers are at high risk for burnout and often have little time to care for themselves. They also struggle with making the right decisions about their loved ones care. Geriatric nurses know that the caregivers are as much in need of care as the patient is.
8. A willingness to listen and hear the patient’s life story
This quote sums up nicely how life stories foster connection:
“A life without stories would be no life at all. And stories bound us, did they not, one to another, the living to the dead, people to animals, people to the land?
— Alexander McCall Smith, “In the Company of Cheerful Ladies”
Nurses who care for the elderly know that sometimes, just listening to a memorable moment in the patients life, where they’ve been, what they’ve experienced, is powerfully healing.
Geriatric nurses, what’s in your toolkit?