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5 Tips for Nurses Caring for Older Patients

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Ageing is a natural part of life. However, it also becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the same lifestyle the patient could do when they were younger with age. Their mobility starts getting restricted, joints inflamed, and conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s become apparent. The number of Americans who will be 65 or older will double over the next 40 years, hitting almost 80 million. 

Therefore, the healthcare sector needs to respond to this growing population of senior citizens. One way to take care of baby boomers is to allow nurses to be at the forefront of providing care. As a nurse, you have the distinguished skills and training to take care of all your patients.

To be sure you’re handling older patients with the utmost care and safety, here’s what you need to do:

Be up to the task

Caring for an older patient is different from providing the same level of attention to a younger patient. The conditions you’re dealing with in senior citizens may already be in their advanced stages, which makes them susceptible to multiple treatments. Older patients are also hard of hearing and may need you to repeat or give them verbal cues so they can comprehend what you’re saying. Some may also have numerous health conditions at once, which need attention. 

This is why you must possess the skills to make you suitable for taking care of them. An extremely robust degree like an adult gerontology nurse practitioner program prepares you for your role as a specialist. You’re not only more in tune with your patients. Your specialisations inform you of what to expect. Becoming a specialist allows you to diagnose, test, treat and examine the patient for primary diseases. Unless surgery is needed or you need a physician’s second opinion, you can care for patients according to your jurisdiction. 

Accessibility arrangement 

Even with a supportive walking stick, an older patient may find it difficult to walk. If the patient has swollen feet and has extremely restrictive mobility, you cannot expect them to make it to their appointment without hurting themselves. You must know how much your patients can handle when they appear for an appointment. Ensure you have wheelchairs and an attending nurse on standby who can easily maneuver the patient on the vehicle

It would help if you also tried using an examination office closer to the entrance to prevent the senior person from tiring themselves in an attempt to reach you. If the older patient cannot move and is restricted to their bed, inform their caretaker or attending nurse to help them set up a virtual appointment. Patients with no internet connection and get confined to the bed need to get visited by you and have a home-based appointment.

Provide detailed instructions

Generally, a primary care session takes no more than a few minutes. However, when you have elderly patients to look after, you should let a routine checkup extend for longer. Older patients need time. You cannot rush them through a physical evaluation which can cause them an injury or stress them out. When discussing their health, use concise sentences, explain slowly, and repeat if you have to. Their prescriptions should have complete forms and the specific guidelines they need, don’t assume they’ll understand abbreviations. While sending reminders, ensure the patient receives them if they’re dependent on a caretaker, email details to them. 

Patients who wear smartwatches can get a mobile SMS since the watches are connected to their phones, reminding them about follow-ups. Aftercare, especially when coming home from surgery and wound cleaning, if needed, advise the patient to come to the hospital or make arrangements to pay them a visit to do it for them. The caretaker also needs to be in the loop about patient care. Walk them through their dietary needs, teach them essential physical therapy to keep their circulation going around stagnant areas like the legs, and walk them through patient medication and crushing pills for easier consumption. 

Learn effective communication

Communication is a multifaceted process. It involves your body language, verbatim, hand gestures, and tone. Active listening is also a part of your communication. When a patient comes to you, greet them warmly and pleasantly and let them adjust to the environment slightly before you begin. Patients wearing hearing aids need you to speak to them at a certain level. If you shout or yell, it can injure their eardrum. Test different ranges with a tuning fork until you find the decibel that suits them. While performing routine checkups, you can use hand gestures to indicate what you mean, like showing them what to do. 

Your physical movements may make it easier for the patient to follow. Some older people have bad eyesight, so you may need to use your words, guide them by hand or tell them what to do while holding their hand. Those who cannot hear and have no hearing aid need nonverbal cues or assistance proficient in sign language. Some senior citizens may not be native speakers. 

If you have a nurse who can help you translate, with the patient’s consent, involve them in the checkup. An alternative is using an app that listens to spoken statements and translates them. Patients with conditions like dementia may not comprehend you or communicate with you. In these cases, you need the caretaker present to assist you. 

Show empathy

It’s understandable as a nurse, that you may not always have the energy or feel burnout after dealing with numerous patients at a time. However, you still need to control your emotions and continue showing empathy to all older patients. This is a hard time for many senior folks. They have a degree of awareness that their health is not what it used to be. Episodes, strokes, and seizures are both painful and keep them on edge since the thought of dealing with another intense attack is not pleasant. Your empathy, compassion, and understanding can make this vulnerable time easier for them. Help your patients with their dressing gowns, and if they accidentally get exposed, cover them up. 

Always offer them privacy and never start your examination until the curtains or the door is closed and a blanket is nearby. Let your patent consent to your proceeding, and take your time while checking. Learn to pay attention to their complaints and follow up by inspecting the area. If your older patient cannot keep up with the treatment, provide them coping mechanisms like stress balls, water, and ice packs to ease the pain. 


Older patients need your gentle hand when it comes to healthcare. As a nurse, it’s your duty and responsibility to provide them with the best care you offer. By working on your skills, you can prepare yourself to deal with conditions no matter how hazardous they are. Ensure patients have no trouble coming to the hospital or getting a checkup at home if they can’t see you in person. 

Your communication can take you a long way. Get into the habit of aligning yourself with older patients’ needs by speaking to them in a way they can comprehend. Your instructions on paper need details. This makes it easier for them to remember what they have to do. Finally, remember that older patients can be very delicate, and your empathy makes a difference for them. A kind word always goes a long way.

Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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