According to the Administration on Aging, almost 25% of the population will be over the age of 65 by the year 2040. That alone should be telling enough as to why nurses are vital in an aging population. With one-quarter of the total population being seniors, there is a real need to raise up a generation of nurses well versed in geriatrics and the various multiple issues which are common among the elderly.
From home health care to services in nursing homes, a much larger number of nurses will be required if we are to meet the needs of the current population of geriatric patients and the much larger population forecast in the coming decades. However, the sheer number of elderly patients is only one concern. There are other concerns as well. Here is some of what will be needed in the days and years ahead.
People Are Living Longer
Not only are Baby Boomers reaching senior years by the millions, but those Boomers are also living longer than at any time in the past. In recent years, the age for receiving full Social Security benefits rose from age 65 to 66 years and 2 months. As time goes on, that age will continue to rise, and this is just one indication of the fact that Americans are living longer, but are they healthier? That is a question that must be addressed.
Chronic Illnesses and Multiple Diagnoses
While people are living longer, it has been noted that seniors often are subject to chronic illnesses and often with multiple diagnoses. For example, seniors may suffer from arthritis while also being diagnosed with other ailments or impairments for which they need ongoing care. Many are unable to care for themselves with such routine tasks as bathing and dressing. Not only will home health care nurses be required, but advanced geriatric nurses will often be charged with oversight of their care.
Consider for just a moment those diseases and conditions most prevalent among the aging and you will quickly understand the great need for geriatric nurses. Among the most common issues seniors face would be the following:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Failing vision – glaucoma
- Parkinson’s disease
And those are just the most common ailments among an aging population and unfortunately, most aging patients are diagnosed with more than one of the above-mentioned conditions. This often requires the care of a highly trained geriatric nurse who is certified to give the care needed at this stage of a patient’s life.
Advanced Nursing Degrees a Must
When it comes to the daily care that geriatric patients are in need of, Certified Nursing Assistants can fill the void. However, many patients are also on several medications daily, some of which must be administered by Registered Nurses with advanced degrees such as a BSN or an MSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Master of Science in Nursing). Today’s CNAs and LPNs would be well advised to consider getting that 4-year degree so that they are prepared to meet the needs of this aging population. Schools like Baylor University in Texas offer online accelerated BSN programs to facilitate advancing your career while holding down a full-time job. You may wish to consider specializing in geriatrics because the need is great now and will be greater in the coming years.
Complex Duties of Geriatric Nurses
While the duties of a geriatric nurse are broad and varied, the one thing which is vital would be their task of helping patients live a better quality of life and with dignity. There is nothing more heart wrenching to aging people than losing the ability to do normal routine tasks that always came naturally to them. Among the duties of a geriatric nurse, these specialists would be tasked with:
- Helping patients adjust to changes in their physical and mental abilities.
- Administering medication as needed.
- Documenting vitals and keeping accurate charts.
- Seeing to healthy diets and physical fitness as required.
- Connecting patients with community resources as needed.
- Working as a liaison between the patient’s doctor, the patient, and the family.
These are just some of the duties of a geriatric nurse, but you can see just how vital each and every task is to the wellbeing of the patient.
Advocates for Geriatric Care
One of the sad issues today’s society faces is the fact that elderly patients are often literally left to fend for themselves. Adult children of elderly parents are often working a full schedule with families of their own to tend to. It isn’t that they don’t want to care for their parents, but the needs of elderly parents present a real hardship on everyone involved.
Geriatric nurses are often seen as advocates for patient care. They can assist families in finding the resources needed to care for elderly parents and they can work with everyone involved to ensure seniors get the care and quality of life they need and so deserve. This is one role that is vital in an aging population and in the absence of a social worker, many of these responsibilities are carried out by the patient’s nurse or nursing advocate.
It Is Not Too Late to Advance Your Career
Whether you are currently a practicing nurse or considering entering the nursing profession, it is not too late to advance your career. Geriatric nurses are already in high demand and that demand is set to go even higher in the decades to come. Bear in mind that within the next few decades at least ¼ of the population will be seniors, so the need is there. Nurses are needed now, but that need will be greater. The resources are there for you to get the education needed to fill these vital roles, but it is up to you to take the initiative to plan for your future. Study for a career as a geriatric nurse and you will have a career that has a solid future and is always in great demand.