The Role of the Geriatric Nurse in Health Care


December 13th, 2010

Because the number of the elderly is projected to grow rapidly in the next ten years, the geriatric nurse can expect to take on an even more active role in health care than in previous years. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor statistics projects that general medical care facilities will be pressured to discharge patients earlier due to financial reasons, which means that elderly patients could more often check into elderly-care facilities or hire geriatric nurses more often.

Simply put, geriatric nurses care for elderly patients. However, their responsibilities can vary, depending upon the needs of the patient, the medical facility, and the attending doctor. In many cases, geriatric nurses are trained to help patients who have lost their mobility; have trouble seeing, hearing, and speaking; and have the need for supervision in order to enjoy their daily lives. Geriatric nurses can work in a variety of institutions. Some are hired to care for their patients in the patients’ residency, others work in hospitals and retirement centers. They often assist doctors who are treating elderly patients, and they serve as a kind of supportive counselor to help families of elderly patients adjust to having a family member in need of geriatric care.

In order to become a geriatric nurse, students typically enroll in a nursing program. These programs can vary between two and four years and graduates of these programs earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The quality of their education will determine how much a nurse earns, usually, but most graduates of these programs qualify from an entry-level nursing job; however, higher degrees may open greater nursing opportunities down the road. In either case, from there it’s only a matter of building enough experience to advance in a nursing career. In order to gain admittance to these kinds of programs, applicants should typically have a high school diploma.

Those interested in geriatric nursing in particular should consider studying health areas particular to the needs of geriatric patients and the methods of their care. For example, geriatric nurses should be familiar with treating pressure ulcers and other skin conditions, many of which arise in the cases of bed-ridden patients. Other areas of study should include but is not limited to identifying and treating cardiovascular diseases; respiratory issues, especially in the case of a long-term smoker; and complications arising from mental degradation, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. A nurse with training in these areas can be a wonderful resource for family members, while also being able to help keep the patient comfortable.

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