Is geriatric nursing for you?

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The ageing baby boomer generation has created a growing need in the field of geriatric care and this is a trend that is set to continue for the foreseeable future. There is a huge demand for nurses in this specialty and jobs can be found in a variety of settings, from hospitals, senior care facilities and assisted living homes to home health agencies and community health centres.

This much-advertised demand for geriatric care nurses has resulted in many nursing students opting to specialise in this field. However, this is not a specialty for everyone. Elderly patients have unique needs and challenges and geriatric nurses need to have a range of personal and professional skills to provide them with optimal care.

Lots of patience

As people get older, they get slower, both physically as well as mentally. This means you will have to slow down your pace to match theirs when helping them. Progressive memory loss and loss of hearing loss means you have to speak slowly and clearly and often have to repeat instructions to ensure they are heard, understood and followed. All of this requires immense patience.

If you do not have the necessary patience, you should re-think your choices or could end up very frustrated in this specialty and will not be able to give your patients the care they need and deserve.

Excellent communication skills

Good communication skills are crucial in any nursing specialty and more so in geriatric nursing. It is very likely that your patient will suffer from some degree of hearing loss or they may find it difficult to speak and articulate their feelings properly. You will need to be an excellent communicator to ensure that they understand what you are saying. Keeping your language simple and your sentences short will make it easier for your older patients to understand and retain the information.

Allow extra time for communication. Give your patients time to ask questions. Most importantly, listen carefully so you know and understand what it is your patient needs.

Focus on preventive care

Preventive care is a key component of geriatric nursing. Elderly people have lower immunity and find it very difficult to fight off diseases or recover from them. Putting preventive measures in place is the best way to keep older people healthy.

Critical thinking

Both of these are absolutely essential in this specialty. Older people often develop random symptoms that may or may not be related to ageing. Critical thinking will help you discern whether the symptom is a manifestation of another disease or whether it is a part of the ageing process. This also requires that you stay up to date with your medical knowledge. Once you’ve identified the problem, you will then have to work on developing an appropriate treatment plan to address it.

The ability to deal with death

One of the biggest challenges of working in the field of geriatrics is the frequency with which you will encounter death. Moreover, there will be many instances where you may develop close relationships with your patients, which could make their passing away even more emotionally wrenching. To work in geriatric care, you have to be emotionally resilient and learn to move on and not let it affect the way you care for your other patients.

The challenges of working in geriatric nursing should not be underestimated. However if you have the necessary attributes to work in this specialty, you will find it immensely satisfying.

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