Most of us working outside of healthcare may not know that nurses can specialize and receive training in caring for seniors. For seniors and their loved ones, however, gerontological nurses can make a tremendous difference in their quality of life and of healthcare. Gerontological nurses are especially suited (and trained) for working with the elderly. If you or a loved one are searching for healthcare professionals, consider looking for gerontological nurses or finding a facility with gerontological nurses on staff.
What exactly is a Gerontological Nurse?
Gerontological nurses are certified nurses who have worked for some time with seniors and who train for that purpose. Their approach, whether they work at home, in a nursing home, or a hospital, is to address the specific needs of seniors. Caring for seniors is often more complicated than caring for others, meaning that these nurses need to know how to solve complex needs in the best way possible. This might include medication management, assessing fall risks, treating symptoms more holistically rather than piling on more medications, and reducing ER trips.
Many nurses are certified and experienced in multiple areas. This could be out of necessity–moving to a new job with particular needs, for example–or out of their own interest in treating specific types of patients. Just like pediatric nurses (nurses specially trained for children) might also have certifications to work with newborn babies or children with cancer, gerontological nurses are likely trained in related areas. Their unique skills have been linked with fewer ER trips and a better quality of life for seniors in their care.
How can a Gerontological Nurse help me (or my loved one)?
Gerontological nurses are experienced and trained in complex cases of seniors’ health. For seniors, most issues are inter-related, stressful, and complicated. Many of them take multiple medications for long-term conditions and must look out for other risks, like falls, cognitive decline, high blood pressure, and depression. Seniors whose loved ones are involved with their care require nurses used to dealing with concerned family members, as well. These cases require, in short, someone who can see the entire patient in front of them, not only particular sets of symptoms. They also require extensive knowledge of how medical treatment can and will affect seniors’ unique health needs.
Take, for example, a senior with diabetes and Alzheimer’s who has chosen to age in place for as long as possible. A gerontological nurse will likely have experienced this same scenario before and will know the health benefits of aging in place, especially for those with Alzheimer’s, who might get confused in a facility with which they’re unfamiliar. This nurse will also be able to create a routine that helps support both diabetes (which requires checking blood glucose levels multiple times a day and altering diet and exercise accordingly) and cognitive decline. The routine should be healthy, meaning that the nurse will likely suggest things such as exercise and social time as well as a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep.
If you or a loved one might want to seek the support and care of a gerontological nurse, ask yourself a few essential questions:
- What are my/my loved one’s needs? Is there a way in which those needs are not currently met by healthcare providers right now?
- Are my needs tied to aging and/or likely to become more complicated/severe over time in a way that could be lessened with professional help?
Seniors with cognitive impairment due to dementia and similar conditions, for example, might find that gerontological nurses help lessen hospital trips, which can cause more episodes of confusion and aggression.
True emergencies, such as a stroke or heart attack, can receive better, faster care with someone who knows the senior’s risk and can act quickly to deliver treatment suited to a senior’s needs. If this is a risk for a senior in your life, a gerontological nurse might see signs before a nurse without specific training.
- Will this person provide the care I/my loved one might not otherwise receive? What are my hopes/expectations for care as I/my loved one ages?
- Does the senior in question run a high risk of frequent ER visits?
Gerontological nurses help reduce the rates of ER visits and emergency hospital transfers. Because of their more extensive training with seniors, they often foresee problems other types of nurses wouldn’t, like side-effects of medications or fall risks.
How can I become a Gerontological Nurse?
If you are currently a nurse interested in becoming certified in gerontological nursing, there are certifications available! Many professional nursing organizations and nursing education programs recognize that the Baby Boomer generation will create a high demand for this kind of nurse.
More from Seasons.com:
Rauch, Kate Darby. “Gerontological Nursing at the Heart of Effective Care for the Elderly.” Gerontological Nursing at the Heart of Effective Care for the Elderly | UCSF Science of Caring, May 2013, scienceofcaring.ucsf.edu/health-public/gerontological-nursing-heart-effective-care-elderly.
Rynearson, Peggy. “A Day in the Life of a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner.” Center for Aging Research and Education, 19 Oct. 2018, care.nursing.wisc.edu/2018/10/19/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-geriatric-nurse-practitioner/.
Spyder. “Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association Announces New APRN Specialty Certification.” Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA), 6 Mar. 2018, www.gapna.org/article/gapna-exam.