Nursing Care for Older Adults

Older population statistics

In 2014, 46.2 million people, or 14.5 percent of the population the United States, were age 65 or older, according to the Administration on Aging (AoA). That percentage will likely reach 21.7 by 2040. This growing number of people over 65 is adding to the demand for geriatric nurses.

Geriatric nursing, also called gerontological nursing, is “the application of a body of knowledge and skills to provide nursing care that meets the unique biopsychosocial and spiritual needs of the diverse older adult population,” according to the National Gerontological Nursing Association (NGNA).

Although some nurses choose to specialize as geriatric nurses, the NGNA recommends all registered nurses learn to care for older adults. For nurses who do not yet have a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), completing an online RN to BSN program can be a step in that direction. Some programs, such as the one at Colorado Mesa University, offer a course in gerontological nursing. This course can provide a better understanding of the specialized physiological and psychosocial needs of older adults, while also introducing nurses to the financial, social, political and cultural issues that affect nursing care for the elderly.

Busting Myths About Older Adults

The NGNA stresses that older adults have diverse life experiences, values and personal goals, and as such, geriatric nurses must recognize the individuality of their patients. For example, some people are climbing mountains and running marathons well past the age of 65, while others may have severe ambulatory issues. Nurses and other healthcare providers need to avoid the myths about older adults; not all elderly people are always tired, and not all of them experience cognitive decline.

In fact, the Lippincott Nursing Center points out that, “Many of the past approaches to care used in gerontology are no longer appropriate and research has informed a wealth of evidence-based practices that all clinicians and practitioners should be routinely employing in the care they give in order to provide the safest, highest quality care possible.” It is essential that nursing education covers evidence-based geriatric practices.

Importance of Age-Appropriate Assessment

According to the NGNA, “The critical element that differentiates this population from others is the needs related to aging processes and developmental stage.” What is normal at age 80 is often not what was normal at 40 or 50. The physiological changes of aging can lead to illnesses that present differently in an older person than they would in a younger one. An older person’s body may also respond differently to treatment.

Geriatric nurses must be able to recognize what is and is not normal for an aging adult. According to the Lippincott Nursing Center, age-appropriate assessments are the foundation of good care for older adults.

Because of the importance of appropriate assessment and the most up-to-date, evidence-based practices, the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing and the American Journal of Nursing created a project called Try This. This project offers assessment tools for a variety of topics related to the care of older adults. The Lippincott Nursing Center and NGNA are also working to make more resources available to provide quality care for older adults.

Jobs in Geriatric Nursing

For nurses who want to specialize in geriatric nursing, jobs are available in hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, rehabilitation facilities, long-term care facilities, senior centers, retirement communities and patients’ homes. Some nurses work as case managers with patients who live with chronic illnesses to help them stay independent and active.

Although working with older adults offers many rewards, it also involves challenges. Before choosing a specialty, nurses need to consider their strengths, weakness and interests. Traits that help geriatric nurses include the following:

  • Being upbeat and optimistic.
  • Patience, empathy and compassion.
  • A desire to work with aging patients.
  • Listening skills.
  • Fortitude for difficult events, such as the death of a patient.

Specializing in geriatric nursing may not be the right choice for everyone; however, most nurses are likely to care for older patients at some point. Gaining knowledge in the area, whether by completing an online RN to BSN program or through other forms of professional development, can help nurses give these patients the specific care they need.

Learn more about Colorado Mesa University online RN to BSN program.


Aging Statistics. (n.d.). Administration for Community Living

The Demand for Geriatric Care and the Evident Shortage of Geriatrics Healthcare Providers. (2013, March). The American Geriatrics Society

Becoming a Geriatric Nurse. (n.d.). EveryNurse.Org

Geriatric Nurses. (2016, April 12). Omaha Magazine

Assessments and Best Practices in Care of Older Adults. (n.d.). Lippincott Nursing Center

Nursing Care of Older Adults. (n.d.). Lippincott Nursing Center

About the National Gerontological Nursing Association. (n.d.). National Gerontological Nursing Association

Try This: ® Series. (n.d.). ConsultGeri

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