By 2030, the number of Baby Boomers aged 64 to 85 will top 64 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For the first time in United States history, seniors will not only outnumber children but also the adult caregivers they’ll depend on as they age. Public health leaders are currently planning for the unprecedented increase in the demand for healthcare, and the good news is that there’s a solution on the horizon: geriatric nursing.
Who are the Baby Boomers?
More than 16 million soldiers came home after World War II, according to the National WWII Museum. America was thriving economically, and couples who delayed having children due to the war began to have families. The resulting increase in birthrates from 1947 to 1964 (one of the highest in history) created a new generation over 71 million strong. Known as the Baby Boomers, they’re the largest group of healthcare consumers in the nation, and their needs are expected to double in the next twenty years.
Who will care for this growing population of seniors? That’s the question keeping policy makers busy. Not only will the Baby Boomers need more nursing services, but the number of nurses in the labor force is shrinking. The average nurse is age 50 or older, meaning that about half will be retiring when they’re needed the most. In response, a new emphasis is growing on training geriatric nurses who can help seniors manage complex health issues wherever they may be.
What is Geriatric Care?
Geriatrics is the care of aging adults, it’s a branch of medicine that approaches the needs of the elderly at a holistic level. Seniors experience a wide range of physiological, psychological and socioeconomic changes as they age. Geriatrics recognizes that older adults can expect to maintain a high quality of life, only by managing the entire spectrum of vulnerabilities as these are inexorably linked.
As the Baby Boomers approach their golden years, they have many goals. They want to live safely in their homes while remaining healthy and independent for as long as possible. With the skyrocketing price of institutionalized healthcare, that’s a win-win ambition for both seniors and communities. It does, however, require a fundamental rethinking of how care is delivered to such a large population, and it’s one in which geriatric nurses play a critical role.
The Role of Geriatric Nurses
The elderly face a perfect storm of medical issues. Chronic disease, limited mobility and cognitive decline affect every aspect of their lives, from their physical health to their ability to take care of themselves. It’s the responsibility of geriatric nurses to manage the many common conditions that affect seniors’ health and independence.
Senior Health Concerns
Today’s aging adults were born later and are living longer than their parents, and with that comes a shift in the types of illnesses they have. Persons born in the early 1900s suffered more in their old age from the residual effects of poor nutrition and communicable diseases for which there was no treatment when they were young. The chief causes of death around 1900 were gastrointestinal infections, tuberculosis and pneumonia.
Baby Boomers are more likely to have chronic illnesses associated with advanced age and an affluent lifestyle, such as type-2 diabetes, arthritis, and cognitive impairment
Type-2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin. It’s called a lifestyle disease because, with rare exceptions, it’s typically caused by factors like obesity, a poor diet and lack of exercise. In 1960, less than 1% of the US population had Type-2 diabetes, and today it’s 10% and growing.
Diabetes is a complex condition that, if not well-managed, results in serious complications, including:
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Vision loss
- Poor circulation
- Wounds that don’t heal
- Peripheral nephropathy
Management includes diet, exercise, blood sugar testing and high-risk medications such as insulin, but alone, seniors living in any setting struggle to control so many factors.
Geriatric nurses help by:
- Assessing external issues that impact what seniors eat, such as limited mobility to cook and lack of transportation or financial resources with which to buy healthy food.
- Collaborating with doctors on referrals for physical therapy or exercise programs and to simplify complicated medication regimens.
- Working with seniors’ families to ensure they get the day-to-day support they need with activities of daily living.
- Providing hands-on nursing care from bathing and grooming to blood testing and medication administration.
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the elderly, it causes pain and impairs mobility, increasing the risk of falls and making it difficult for seniors to take care of themselves safely.
But with support, aging adults with arthritis can live at home successfully.
Geriatric nurses help by:
- Recommending therapy and adaptive equipment to maximize physical function.
- Exploring home safety modifications.
- Identifying social activities that are less physically challenging.
- Arranging for in-home personal care
Mild forms of cognitive impairment, such as forgetfulness, are not unusual in seniors. However, dementia and memory loss that affect the elderly are not normal, and their effects are devastating.
The path is different for everyone, and in its earliest stages, symptoms can be vague and go unnoticed. But when cognitive loss is combined with other factors from unsafe conditions at home to limited mobility, it makes it hazardous for seniors to live at home without supervision.
Geriatric nursing addresses the full scope of factors that contribute to accidents and loss of independence in these circumstances by:
- Managing risk factors for falls and injuries, including one-on-one care.
- Monitoring for sensory changes retiring adaptive aids as hearing aids and glasses.
- Creating medication reminder systems.
- Arranging transportation for medical appointments and shopping.
- Offering assistance with personal care and financial needs.
- Working with patients’ family and friends to build a support network.
Where Do Geriatric Nurses Work?
Geriatric LPNs can work anywhere seniors need them. They’re skills are a perfect match for medically stable patients who need long-term nursing management for chronic conditions. They work in home care, hospitals, nursing homes, residential care centers, and doctor’s offices.
Geriatric nurses are playing an increasingly important role in both community-based nursing and at-home care. LPNs may work exclusively in private homes, providing supervision, transportation, personal assistance and disease management for seniors who need care but want to avoid moving into a nursing facility. Because the cost of home support is significantly less than the price of institutionalized care, it’s an affordable alternative.
Geriatric nurses working in hospitals have two distinct roles, to care for patients’ immediate physical needs and to troubleshoot issues that may prevent them from safely returning home.
In a hospital setting, LPNs work with a team of healthcare professionals from doctors to social workers to identify how best to approach not only their patients’ physical recovery but also their overall well-being and their needs for successful, long-term independence.
Nursing Homes and Residential Care Centers
More LPNs work in long-term care facilities than in any other setting. Once considered the places of last resort where seniors can go for around-the-clock care when they can no longer live at home, today’s nursing homes and residential care centers have come a long way.
Once, they had an institutional, dormitory-like atmosphere, but now, geriatric nurses help make them more like home by empowering residents physically, emotionally and socially.
In a nursing facility, geriatric nurses:
- Bathe, dress and feed patients
- Administer medications and treatments
- Troubleshoot changes in condition
- Create a private yet social atmosphere
- Encourage interaction with peers
- Work with families to meet resident needs
- Advocate for patients’ preferences
In residential care centers, also known as assisted living facilities or senior care communities, clients need less hands-on and more social support.
Here, geriatric nurses still provide a low-level of physical support, but their role is mainly to:
- Observe and report changes in condition
- Cook meals
- Assist with room cleaning and laundry
- Maintain safe conditions
- Give medications
- Discourage social isolation
- Take residents to doctor’s appointments, and shopping
With the right support, many of the elderly in residential care facilities can live safely while still enjoying a high level of autonomy.
Doctors’ offices are fast becoming hubs for community-based eldercare. Since primary care physicians are the medical professionals most able to identify long-term health concerns, they’re a seniors’ link to services.
As part of the healthcare team, geriatric nurses in private practices assist with assessing patients for needs and coordinating referrals for a wide range of services from in-home personal care to meal deliveries and transportation. It’s just one more way they help older adults, including baby boomers, protect their independence.
Baby Boomers are looking forward to better health and longevity in their retirement due to advances in medicine, but no one escapes the realities of aging. The growing number of seniors in the United States deserve the best healthcare possible, but time to plan is short. Wellness doesn’t happen by accident; it takes geriatric nurses to pave the way.
Did learning about geriatric nursing interest you? The Practical Nursing program at Gwinnett Institute provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as an LPN. Classroom theory, challenging assignments, skill labs, simulations, and clinical experiences help to prepare college graduates for an entry-level nursing position.
After graduating from the Nursing diploma program and successfully passing the NCLEX-PN licensure exam, nursing students will further their career to become a licensed practical nurse. There is an overall need for LPNs in response to the aging baby boomer population.
*While Gwinnett Institute provides test preparation and review assistance to college students, it cannot guarantee any college student will be able to take or pass any type of licensure exam. College students must be mindful throughout their entire training program that licensure is a pre-requisite for employment as a nurse and to diligently prepare themselves to meet this important requirement.
Contact us today to learn more about becoming an LPN at Gwinnett Institute.