Geriatric Nursing: 5 Must-Have Skills to Master

geriatric-nursingBy Moira K. McGhee, Contributor

As the country’s aging population continues to grow, the demand for nurses specially trained in geriatric nursing also continues to rise. Elderly patients make up the largest group of people seeking care at many health care facilities. These patients have unique needs and present unique challenges that require highly attentive care from skilled geriatric nurses. Provide your geriatric patients with optimal care by mastering these must-have skills.

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5 skills to master in geriatric nursing

You need lots of patience in geriatric nursing. It’s a skill most frequently mentioned by geriatric nurses and other health care professionals. Four other skills you must master to provide your elderly patients with the best possible care include understanding the aging process, empathy, nonverbal communication and stress management.

Understand the aging process

“Geriatric nursing, although not as glamorous as other fields of nursing, is a challenging and rewarding specialty area,” says Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, at RegisteredNursing.org. “To be successful, nurses must be highly skilled in disease progression and processes for the aging. Our bodies change significantly as we age; geriatric nurses must know how medications affect the aging body and brain.”

“You have to ask yourself if you’re prepared to provide the best care for your older patients,” advises Dr. Adeline Peters, MBBS, lead physician and head of the medical panel at DoctorOnCall. “It’s very important to have knowledge on how elderly people act as they grow older. You must understand normal aging and be familiar with different ways an older patient may present with distinct clinical changes.”

Patience and empathy

“I believe the single most important skill set you can have when dealing with geriatric patients is empathy and patience,” states Shannon E. Stewart, MSN, RN, APRN, FNP-C, CCRN, owner of the White Coat Woman nursing blog and author of “GRIEF: 5 Lives | 5 Stories | 1 Need … Acceptance.”

“In our hectic, fast-paced nursing world,” Stewart explains, “we have to remember that elderly patients are slowing down. Thought processes slow, movement slows, eating slows and more. Being an empathetic nurse means understanding how patients are feeling and putting ourselves in their shoes, as well as giving them the emotional support they need so they don't feel like a burden. This requires patience, and it requires you to literally slow down.”

Nonverbal communication

Good communication is critical in every aspect of nursing, but in geriatric nursing, nonverbal communication skills are even more important to building a successful relationship, states GeriatricNursing.org.

Geriatric nurses must master body language, such as facial expressions, posture, eye contact and gestures, which are often the starting point of communication. Due to their age and disability, older patients are more limited when it comes to interaction. Without the ability to recognize nonverbal cues, you can’t be as effective as a health care provider.

Compassion, communication and connection

Dr. Nikola Djordjevic of MedAlertHelp.org has been a practicing physician focusing on geriatric care for almost two decades. In Dr. Djordjevic’s opinion, the most crucial skills geriatric nurses need to succeed are “compassion, patience, stress management and excellent communication skills.”

“It’s important for nurses to understand that geriatric patients are suffering from multiple diseases and feeling different types of symptoms, which can cause them to be grumpy and difficult patients,” Dr. Djordjevic explains.

“Successful geriatric nurses must practice patience,” Burger adds. “They must realize and appreciate that the patient needs time to move and to think. They must also value the time spent hearing the important stories that so many elderly patients need to tell. This connection is crucial to the health of the geriatric population."

While the health care industry continually suffers from a nursing shortage, this shortage is often even more prevalent in geriatric nursing. Working with elderly patients offers many intangible rewards, including the knowledge that you’re truly making a difference in their lives, which is why many nurses choose this profession.

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