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Arkansas State University

Caring for Older Americans

A large portion of the U.S. population is approaching — or has already reached — retirement age. Not only are patients growing older, but so are the nurses who care for them. Because many elderly patients have severe health conditions, nurses need to be prepared in geriatric nursing. Registered nurses (RN) interested in caring for patients during the later stages of life should consider completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program to become a geriatric nurse.

What Are Some Tips for Taking Care of Elderly Patients?

While caring for older patients can be rewarding, it also comes with its share of challenges, both emotional and physical. Here are a few things to consider as you make a decision to pursue geriatric nursing.

Practice Patience and Compassion

Geriatric nurses should possess patience, compassion and a calm demeanor. They must have the ability to carefully listen to a patient’s concerns and deliver care based on patient preferences and evidence-based practices. Sometimes when providing care, geriatric nurses have to balance the needs of the patient while remaining sensitive to the family’s apprehension.

Be Prepared

As a geriatric nurse, you are caring for patients who may be at the end of their life, so be prepared for the mental strain that may cause. The end-of-life stage can be confusing for patients, their families and nurses. Patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s can present challenges for nurses.

You should have an honest discussion with family members and other healthcare providers about end-of-life care for patients. Determining a course of action before a crisis occurs is beneficial because you do not want to make a critical decision in the midst of a chaotic situation.

Ask for Help

Your first duty as a geriatric nurse is to provide safe, quality patient care. You may find yourself in a position where you do not know how to proceed. Even the most experienced nurses have questions.

Geriatric nurses have to understand that they may need help with providing patient care. They should not hesitate to reach out to all specialties involved in elder care. Nurses have a network of healthcare professionals that they can collaborate with to navigate the complex problems that are part of geriatric care.

Celebrate Life

Caring for older patients is taxing but it can be rewarding. Geriatric nurses have the opportunity to assist patients with extending their lives or easing their anxiety and pain at the end of life.

Nurses can make it possible for elders to maintain their independence and continue living in their homes. In addition, they can help elderly patients adapt to a nursing home environment and encourage them to engage in activities for socialization and mental stability. Geriatric nurses provide care to patients so they can lead fulfilling lives and preserve their dignity.

Why Are There So Many Older Patients?

The Baby Boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are starting to reach the later stages of life. According to The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060 published by the U.S. Census Bureau, “By 2056, the population 65 years and over is projected to become larger than the population under 18 years.”

Baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011 and by 2029 all of them will be 65 or older, at which point they will represent 20 percent of the total U.S. population.

What Are the Chronic Health Conditions Found in Older Patients?

Older patients are susceptible to many health conditions that younger patients are not. The longer a person lives — and human longevity has increased in recent decades — the more medical conditions will likely manifest. Here are some of the most common chronic conditions for older patients:

  • Alzheimer’s.
  • Arthritis.
  • Dementia.
  • Diabetes.
  • Cancer.
  • Heart disease.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Obesity.

How Does Patient Satisfaction Affect Healthcare Systems?

Hospitals depend on high patient satisfaction scores for reimbursements from Medicare and other insurance companies. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey is given to patients so they can rate their experience. The data collected is used to measure the performance of the hospital and staff, and it is a helpful tool for hospitals to pinpoint areas that need improvement.

Patient satisfaction is linked to positive outcomes and reduced expenses for hospitals. Patients who are satisfied may spend less time in the hospital and their chances of re-admittance are lower because they are more likely to adhere to medical treatments, follow directions and communicate well with their care providers.

What Is the Responsibility of a Geriatric Nurse?

A geriatric nurse cares for elderly patients who suffer from chronic medical conditions and mental health issues. Elderly patients are at higher risk for injuries and mental health issues, too. Geriatric nurses mainly focus on preventive care to help patients stay in their homes as they age. The following are examples of a geriatric nurse’s job responsibilities:

  • Conducting patient checkups, screenings and assessments.
  • Creating care plans for patients.
  • Administering and organizing medication.
  • Managing pain.
  • Assisting with injury rehabilitation.
  • Ensuring proper hygiene.
  • Preventing bedsores.

Geriatric nurses also advise and educate patients about protecting their personal safety, maintaining a healthy diet, committing to daily exercises, and using equipment such as blood sugar monitors or oxygen machines.

Where Do Geriatric Nurses Work?

Geriatric nurses often collaborate with a team of healthcare professionals, which may include physicians, nursing aides, physical therapists and social workers. You will find geriatric nurses in a variety of healthcare settings:

  • Hospitals.
  • Assisted living.
  • Rehabilitation centers.
  • Senior care facilities.
  • Retirement communities.
  • Private homes.

Challenges for Healthcare Systems

Healthcare systems have two major obstacles to overcome. The first is the shortage of healthcare providers due to a large portion of the workforce reaching retirement age without enough workers to replace them. The second relates to hospitals receiving Medicare reimbursements based on patient satisfaction.

Given an increasing number of elderly patients — and the shrinking number of care providers — healthcare systems are poised for changes in the delivery of patient care. They are starting to explore innovative healthcare models like patient-centered facilities with a team-based method of providing care. Mobile health and telehealth are also ways that healthcare systems can treat patients and support patient satisfaction.

Learn more about the Arkansas State online RN to BSN program.


The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: The Patient Experience and Patient Satisfaction: Measurement of a Complex Dynamic

United States Census Bureau: The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060

Discover Nursing: Geriatric Nurse Geriatric Staff Nurse

Nurse Together: Nursing Care For the Elderly: Tips in Managing Depression

American Medical Association Journal of Ethics: Patient Satisfaction Reporting and Its Implications for Patient Care

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