Advances in medicine, the aging Baby Boomer population and longer life expectancies are boosting the size of the population aged 65 and older. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of older Americans is projected to nearly double to 95 million by 2060, to make up almost a quarter of the total population.
Unless your role is in labor and delivery or pediatrics, you will likely be working with patients who are 65 and older. This often means caring for people with multiple comorbidities such as dementia, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hearing/vision loss or arthritis. Nursing care becomes increasingly complex with multiple chronic conditions. Below are five tips for nurses who work with older patients.
- Assess for Sensory Deficits
Many older patients have vision or hearing loss, and they may become agitated due to their decreased ability to communicate. They may startle if they are unaware of your presence or when you do something to provide care. This can lead to stress and anxiety, with a negative impact on their health, well-being and overall patient satisfaction.
Tip: Announce when you enter the room. Let them know in advance what you will be doing. For example, say, “I am going to take your blood pressure now.”
- Acknowledge Generational Gaps
Remember that older patients may have differing opinions on certain topics due to their experiences. Recognize that they may need some additional context when discussing more contemporary topics.
What may seem like common knowledge to you could take some getting used to for others. Some older patients who have a lower comfort level with technology may appreciate your assistance. Show them how to use medication reminder apps or access the patient portal.
Tip: Slow down. Be patient. Show them how to do things more than once. Have them teach you back.
- Encourage Social Activities If Possible
Research shows a connection between social isolation and poorer health outcomes. Social isolation can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and dementia. Keeping the mind and body active as you age is an important part of overall well-being.
Tip: Encourage patients to seek out group activities if possible (group exercise classes, volunteering, movies with friends, hobby groups, etc.). Help them use technology to connect. Set up video conferencing with their family or friends.
- Watch for Depression
For many reasons older adults may feel sad or anxious: moving from a career into retirement, missing someone, losing a dream or a goal, experiencing a decline in physical mobility or sensory acuity, or dealing with a chronic illness. While it’s natural to feel upset about medical conditions, depression is not a normal part of aging. Older adults may present with different symptoms than younger people. They may not feel “sad” but instead complain of a lack of energy or physical problems.
Tip: Watch for reports of fatigue, sleep disturbances or irritability. Remember that some symptoms, such as confusion or mood swings, are sometimes attributed to brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
- Approach Palliative Care or End-of-Life Care With Sensitivity
Moving from a treatment-based approach to palliative care or even end-of-life care can be stressful, overwhelming or even confusing. Palliative care is often mistaken with hospice or end-of-life care. Geriatric palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach to relieve pain and suffering, enhance physical functioning, and improve quality of life.
Your patient may not have prepared their preferences for end-of-life care or prepared an advance directive. Five Wishes is a legal document written in plain language that is valid in almost every state. This advance directive is different from most other documents as it is easy to use and focuses on the holistic needs of patients: medical, personal, emotional and spiritual.
Tip: Allow time for grieving with changes in care. Ask patients about any discussions they’ve had with their loved ones. Know your patient’s end-of-life wishes and provide proper documentation.
The elderly population is significantly expanding in the U.S., making it vital for nurses to understand how to customize care. Some nurses may choose to specialize in geriatrics. An RN to BSN program will help you hone your communication techniques and give you additional knowledge on how to care for this unique subset of the population.
Learn more about the UL Lafayette online RN to BSN program.