What is Geriatric Nursing?
Overview of Geriatric Nursing – by Kathy Quan, RN BSN
The field of geriatric nursing is not new, but it is one of the fastest growing specialties in nursing today. Its main goal is to provide care for the particular physical and psychological needs of elderly patients, which can include helping them learn to adapt to limitations, managing chronic illness, educating them on preventative care and being responsive to common conditions in aging patients, such as depression and dementia.
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With health care taking a major turn from a sick model to a preventative medical model, helping the aging population remain as healthy and independent as possible is an important goal. And, with those over 80 years old projected to be the fastest growing population in the next decade, the demand for health care practitioners specializing in the specific needs of older Americans will skyrocket.
What do you need to get started in geriatric nursing?
You can become involved in geriatric care as an RN or LPN working in hospitals, rehabilitative centers, nursing homes, hospice facilities and within homes as a home health care nurse.
As you continue in your nursing career, there are many ways to further specialize in gerontology from earning a certification to pursuing a master’s or advanced practice degree. For example, you can become a geriatric clinical nurse specialist, or if you are interested in advanced practice, you can earn a degree as a geriatric nurse practitioner. Nurses with doctoral degrees in geriatric nursing are in high demand to fill faculty positions and educate further generations of nurses. Overall, there is a huge need for geriatric nurses—as you specialize, you will have the advantage of advancing your career and even leading the field as gerontology continues to develop and grow.
Where can geriatric nurses work?
Beyond the walls of the hospital, geriatric care offers many opportunities for nursing careers.
Nursing homes, for both short and long term care, are a great place to find nursing opportunities. The roles for nurses can include rehabilitative care for patients suffering the effects of stroke or complications from falls or other injury. Nurses here also provide general restorative care after an illness or surgery.
Fitness and wellness for the aging population are newer areas of geriatric nursing. In this role, a nurse would educate patients and their families about nutrition, exercise, appropriate sleep patterns, and preventative care methods to ease age-related wear and tear and injury.
Home health care services provide opportunities for nurses to care for patients within their homes, completing assessments and managing chronic conditions. The field has expanded to include younger populations as well, but the majority of patients are in need of someone skilled in providing care for the elderly.
Palliative and end-of-life care are natural fits for someone in geriatric nursing (hospice care can also be included in this category). Nurses working in this area assist the elderly in maintaining their quality of life, so that they are able to die with dignity, free of pain and other symptoms. Patients requiring this type of care can be suffering from a variety of conditions including: heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, renal failure, and general debility.
Psychiatric nursing may not be the first area of nursing you think of as geriatric care, but the elderly have a unique need for psychological as well as physical care. Depression is a common condition for the aging patient. Illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, can lead to psych-social symptoms such as anxiety, hallucinations, sundowning, and combativeness—all of which need specialized pharmacology and nursing interventions to manage.
Case management also plays an enormous part in geriatric care and involves helping patients and families find access to community resources and make long term plans for care. Although this was once thought to be more of a role for social workers, geriatric nurses can present valuable insight on conditions, providing education about signs, symptoms, medications, care and preventative measures.