With a nursing shortage on the rise in the past few years, working nurses are really feeling the strain. And as the US population ages, the need for nurses is increasing incrementally, especially for those nurses that specialize in geriatrics. If you’re a nurse, read on for more information on how the nursing shortage may be affecting the availability of geriatric care and what that means for you.
The View of Geriatric Nursing
Generally speaking, nurses that have a geriatric specialization face a lot of disrespect and overall negative attitudes. Nurses who take care of the elderly are seen as less successful, less capable, and sometimes less intelligent. Many people may compare a geriatric specialization unfavorably with other areas that are considered more respectable, like trauma, cardiology, or surgery. There is an incorrect assumption that these nurses have more knowledge or skills. However, these ideas are mistaken; geriatric nurses often face serious demands during their daily work.
The Truth About Geriatric Nursing
It may appear at first glance that geriatric patients are much easier than younger-aged patients. In truth, though, geriatric patients have their own host of issues that make working with them quite difficult. Working with these patients often requires physical strength, quick thinking, and a large capacity to learn new and challenging skills.
The Challenges of Geriatric Nursing
Despite the underlying tone of disrespect that geriatric nurses face, there are quite a few challenges that come up in geriatric nursing that other nurses don’t encounter.
- More severe health problems – The average healthy adult will certainly face normal health issues. Sprained ankles, ear infections, the flu – all of these things can come up in the regular daily life of an adult. However, for adults further along in their lives, “normal” complications become severe. The flu can easily require hospitalization or develop into pneumonia, which is much more severe for the elderly. Organs are aging along with the rest of the body and simply don’t function as well. In short, the daily challenges of geriatric nurses are comparable to treating a large amount of unwell adults.
- Mental health issues – Many elderly people live alone, as their children may have long moved out years before. Loneliness can be very detrimental to the mental health of anyone, let alone an elderly person that may not be able to physically leave their home. With the increasing likelihood of dementia and other memory-loss disabilities within a patient as they age, there is also an increase in the chance that they may not be able to live alone independently. Thus they may require more constant care, yet another demand on geriatric nurses.
- Living environment needs – Elderly patients need to live in an environment that is safe and accessible for their needs. They may need special equipment to help them get out of bed or go to the bathroom; they might even need machinery for breathing and mobility. Nurses specializing in geriatrics must know how to operate this equipment properly and make sure that nothing goes wrong.
- Family concerns – Nurses know that attending to people suffering from health problems know that the patient is rarely the most difficult challenge they will face. In younger aged patients, nurses must act as a middleman between the patient and their family or friends. They must be able to relay information in a diplomatic manner. With elderly patients, the challenge becomes even more difficult. Many people do not want to be tasked with taking care of their aging parents or have to learn a whole new set of information and equipment.
In short, the challenges of geriatric nursing are many and tiring, and they aren’t normal challenges that other nurses with different specializations encounter on a daily basis.
The Future of Geriatric Nursing
With the negative attitudes towards geriatric nurses prevailing over any favorable one, many nurses are finding their way into different specializations. Yet, as mentioned above, there is a disheartening shortage of nurses, and as more and more leave geriatrics, there are fewer tending to the growing elderly population.
It’s impossible to identify a specific solution to the problem, but it may be prudent to begin with changing the underlying attitude surrounding geriatric nursing. As nurses, doctors, and others in different specializations continue to believe and share the belief that geriatric nurses have lost self-respect or are taking the “easy” path through nursing, many geriatric nurses begin to believe that as well.
If you are a geriatric nurse, and you enjoy what you do, you should know that you are in the right field. The nursing profession, as its numbers dwindle, is in desperate need of nurses who will fight for those patients that may be seen as a “lost cause” by others, inside the profession and out of it.
People are living longer and longer with every generation. The need for nurses will only increase. The issue of negative connotations surrounding geriatric nursing will certainly become more of an issue as time goes on and nurses leave the profession and specialization. Now is the time to figure out how to fix the nursing shortage, and perhaps beginning with the stigma around geriatrics is a good start.