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How nurses can prepare for an aging population

Written by Chelsea Idzior on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 Posted in Industry News

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the percentage of the country's entire population that was aged 55 and older in 2011 was 26.5 percent. That percentage is projected to increase to 31 percent of the population by 2030, according to AARP.org.

As we age, we tend to need more medical care. More medical care for a greater percentage of the country's population will mean a greater need for health professionals, including nurses.

Caring for the elderly when they're ill is much different than caring for someone who is younger. The elderly tend to have chronic conditions such as arthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, hearing loss or cataracts. These alone can take up a good deal of medical care. Couple these conditions with an illness or accident and the care needed can grow exponentially.

Whether you're a nurse, a hospital department manager or an executive at a healthcare facility, the time to get ready for the increasing elderly population is now.

These are some ways the elderly are different from other patients and steps nurses and their employers might want to take when caring for the elderly:

  • As mentioned above, geriatric patients could have a wealth of chronic conditions on top of any illnesses or emergencies that bring them to your facility. Be aware of this and ask questions.
  • The elderly may process information more slowly as well as move more slowly. Start training yourself or your healthcare staff to be more patient with them.
  • Dementia in a person can cause that person to lose the ability to handle stress. Any hospital visit can be stressful; add dementia or Alzheimer's to the mix and it's not hard to see how stressed and possibly testy or even belligerent an individual could become due to the stress added to his or      her already compromised ability to handle it. Work gently and patiently.
  • Many seniors have undiagnosed hearing loss. Many of those diagnosed don't wear hearing aids due to a number of factors (pride, can't afford the tools, find hearing aids uncomfortable, etc). Keep this in mind when speaking with patients.
  • Some elderly patients may not understand new technology. Try to speak in terms they can understand. Explain any high-tech procedures you wish to perform on them in terms anyone can understand. (In general, it's wise to speak in non-medical speak to all patients, regardless of age.)

If you're a nurse, what steps have you taken to prepare yourself for dealing with a greater number of elderly patients? Have you gone back for certification or training? What training programs have you participated in, if any?

Are you a nurse with the travel bug? Have you heard about how great a career working as a traveler can be? Do you have some questions? Don't hesitate to contact us here at Health Providers Choice with any questions, no matter how small you think they may be.