Challenges of Geriatric Care Nursing
In May 2016, a 100-year-old former teacher set an unofficial time record for the 100-yard dash. She broke the record that was formerly held by another centenarian. One elderly South African woman celebrated her 100th birthday by going skydiving, and a few days later, she went shark diving.
The number of people living to be 100 is growing. In 1980, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there were 32,194 people aged 100 or over. That number increased in 2010 by 68.5 percent when there were 53,364 centenarians alive. This was a greater increase than that of the general population, which increased by only 36.3 percent. There were 330 “supercentenarians,” those aged 110 or over. By 2040, more than 20 percent of the population will be at least 65 years old.
Baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, are retiring in record numbers as they turn into official senior citizens, which is age 50 and older, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), or age 60, based on the dictionary definition of a senior citizen.
For purposes of geriatric nursing, there is no set age for patients to fit in this category. It simply means “older” patients. No matter what a person’s age, as more and more people are living longer lives, they develop medical problems that need attention. They also need the passion and understanding that only a trained geriatric nurse can provide.
Challenges for Geriatric Nurses
A geriatric nurse is one who has had special training in dealing with and caring for elderly patients. It takes a special skill to meet the myriad of challenges that face those caring for older patients. Some specific types of challenges include:
- Adapting to the setting. Elderly patients reside in a number of different environments. Some live at home with various family members as caregivers. Others live in group homes with a number of other senior citizens. Some live in assisted living facilities when they can take care of most of their own needs, but have minimal nursing care needs. Others live in nursing homes and need a lot of daily nursing attention. No matter what setting the patient is in, the nurse needs to ensure that the ambulation and mobility needs of the patient are met. For example, bathrooms need to be specially equipped so the senior is safe while getting in and out of the shower and getting on and off the toilet.
- Deal with family or caretaker issues that may arise. There is sometimes tension among family member caretakers as some feel the load is entirely on their shoulders and other family members criticize the caretaker. Conversations about end-of-life care issues need to be discussed.
- Ranging array of needs. Their needs range from periodic assessments to end-of-life care.
- Patients are likely to suffer from more than one ailment. As people age, they begin to suffer from more than one problem and have genuine multiple aches and pains. They may be taking several different drugs. The geriatric nurse has to make sure the patients are taking their medicines as prescribed and pay attention to possible drug interactions. A geriatric nurse is trained in adjusting medication and prescribing therapies, such as physical therapy, when needed.
- Patients are likely to need more assistance. As people age, they develop maladies such as osteoporosis and suffer from general back problems or gain weight, so they need more help with activities of daily living. They may need help getting in and out of the shower, help standing up from a sitting position and assistance while taking a simple walk. This means geriatric nurses need to have physical strength in order to assist their elderly patients who have mobility problems.
Challenges for Geriatric Nurses to Become Advocates for Their Patients
Nurses often spend more time with a patient than any other person, including family members. Nurses need to have patience and empathy during stressful times in order to build positive relationships with the elderly patient. The needs of the patients need to be respected and their desires complied with as much as possible. Do 99-year-old patients really need to have a low-salt diet when one of their main pleasures in life is eating? One 110-year-old attributes her longevity to drinking three beers a day and one glass of whiskey. Is there a reason not to allow her to continue that practice?
There are times in which the goal of healing the patient is supplanted by the goal of keeping patients comfortable while treating them with dignity and respect. The nurse helps them have the best quality of patient care possible.
Rewards of Being a Geriatric Nurse
Many who become geriatric nurses have already had experience taking care of an elderly loved one. Those who are particularly suited to this profession will find joy and satisfaction as they learn different perspectives on issues and listen to stories told by their patients, all the while gaining in wisdom.
Geriatric nurses can make a decent salary. Those who specialize in geriatric nursing will earn from $49,000 in Hawaii to $94,000 in Washington D.C. The salary range varies based not only on geographic location, but on experience and level of education.
As one author has made clear, geriatrics is not for everyone and may tug at the heartstrings from time to time. It may be your best personality fit. The reward you will gain from tending to your new people is an intrinsic one that no one will ever be able to understand.