What's the Meaning of Geriatric Nursing?
If you’ve ever spent time in a hospital, you know firsthand how much a great nurse can enhance your entire experience. They are savvy, caring, efficient and incredibly hardworking. Although nurses play a remarkable role when it comes to your healthcare, they are often overlooked. National Nurses Week aims to correct that by celebrating the profession and educating the public about nurses’ role in healthcare.
In honor of National Nurses Week this year, we are shining a spotlight on geriatric nurses, which is a specialty field within the industry. Barbara Madison, owner of the St. Louis, Missouri, Right at Home office and veteran registered nurse, and her Nurse Manager, Amelia Aubuchon, who is also an RN and working toward becoming a geriatric nurse, have a combined 40-plus years of nursing experience between them. We asked them some of the most frequently asked questions about geriatric nursing to highlight the specialty and illustrate how a geriatric nurse might be able to help you or your loved ones one day.
The Top Geriatric Nurse FAQs
1: What is the difference between a nurse and a geriatric nurse?
Geriatric nurses are more focused on the aging process — they help clients better understand and prepare for their next chapter in life. While some types of nursing involve little patient interaction, geriatric nurses need to step out of their own world and into the world of the patient. Typically, this means that a geriatric nurse has a skillset that is unique to the needs of their aging patients.
2: Why would someone hire a geriatric nurse?
Geriatric nurses are qualified to help older adults with health-related issues such as medication management, maintenance of personal hygiene, and active education and prevention of diseases and conditions that affect the elderly.
“When people first return home from the hospital, they need a lot of education and help to ensure they don’t relapse and return to the hospital,” says Barbara. “Geriatric nurses try to set them up for success.”
3: What happens once I hire a geriatric nurse?
A geriatric nurse will meet the client in person to perform an initial assessment of the client’s care needs. Amelia is one of two nurses in Barbara’s office who does initial assessments for new clients.
“I always pay attention to not just their physical needs, but also their environment as a whole and their family dynamic (if any),” Amelia says about the assessment process. “Holistic care is key, because in home health, there are a lot of moving parts. You have to look at each part individually and how they all fit together with the patient/client.”
4: What are the biggest misconceptions about geriatric nursing?
Barbara said one of the biggest misconceptions is that the field only operates within palliative care, hospice care or nursing homes — “Geriatric nurses are capable and qualified to help older adults at various stages of their lives, not just at the end,” says Barbara. “Whether you’ve been recently diagnosed with a disease that you are learning to manage, want to return home after a prolonged stay in the hospital, or are even struggling with incontinence care — geriatric nurses do it all.”
5: What are some of the most common reasons to hire a geriatric nurse?
The diagnosis of a new disease or condition can bring along many challenges, such as managing a new medication regimen, post-procedural care and making lifestyle changes to help keep the new condition under control. “We can help coax people back to what feels like their normal routine to help them fully recover,” says Amelia.
“Education is also a huge part of the process,” adds Barbara. She points out that geriatric nurses can educate clients about simple things to keep them safer in the long run, such as medication management and getting enough fluids to avoid the perils of dehydration.
6: How involved are geriatric nurses with doctors and family members?
A communication gap may pop up between doctors and a patient at times. Geriatric nurses can bridge that gap and serve as the patient’s advocate, as geriatric nurses work closely with everyone involved in the patient’s care. Geriatric nurses can make sure that everyone on the care team is on the same page and honor the patient’s wishes for their own course of treatment.
7: What is something that geriatric nurses can do that people don’t expect?
“We are uniquely qualified to help our clients with nutrition and hydration education and hands-on prep,” says Barbara. “It’s not uncommon for seniors to go to the emergency room for dehydration. And many clients have processed foods in their cabinets and freezers that seem healthy but are packed with sodium and sugar, which often don’t go hand in hand with their treatment requirements.”
“We also can help people bring more activity into their lives and encourage them to keep moving,” adds Amelia. “Whether it’s encouraging a client to do leg lifts in their chair three times a day, or taking a walk with them around the block, we help them redefine what ‘active’ means.”
8: What is the biggest benefit to hiring a geriatric nurse?
Geriatric nurses have a unique understanding and perspective on caring for people through the aging process. They can also be knowledgeable about what the caregiver experience is like, taking a holistic approach to improving the lives of everyone involved in a treatment and care plan for an older loved one.
“I was a caregiver in the field before becoming a nurse,” says Amelia. “So I can put myself in the shoes of a caregiver when assessing a patient — I can understand what caregivers would want and need to know to successfully care for the patient.”
9: What types of accreditation or licensing does a geriatric nurse have to have?
There is a range of accreditations that nurses could have — they could become certified nursing assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs) or nurse practitioners (NPs). Geriatric nurses are typically RNs who seek additional education and training in the field of geriatrics.
“I am in the process of getting my master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner who focuses on geriatrics,” says Amelia. “There are about three semesters that cover adult and geriatric care and diagnostics as part of the program, but then I have to complete 100 clinical hours of hands-on work with the older adult population for my concentration in geriatrics.”
10: How can I find a geriatric nurse in my area?
There are a variety of ways you can find a geriatric nurse in your area, but you can start by contacting your local Right at Home office. Many local offices have geriatric nurses on staff or could provide you with trustworthy resources to find the right nurse for your needs.