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Why Quality of Life Matters for Older Patients and What Nurses Can Do to Help

"Growing older" in America is a rising trend. By 2030, more people in the United States will be older than 65 than younger than five. In fact, the number of people aged 65-plus is expected to reach 95 million by 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau.

There's a growing need for healthcare workers to address this specific population — and registered nurses (RNs) are part of that need. In the coming years, RNs can look forward to solid career prospects in the care of older individuals. An advanced RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree can equip nursing professionals with the training and knowledge they need to care for older individuals with chronic conditions.

Approach to Aging: Differences Among Cultures

Different cultures care for their elders in unique ways. Many Eastern countries such as Korea and China respect older adults highly and expect younger generations to assume care duties as these adults continue to age. In Greek cultures, old age is honored and celebrated — much like Indian culture.

While the approach to aging isn't ubiquitous across the board in the U.S., it's not uncommon for older Americans to enlist the help of retirement homes or assisted living facilities as they enter their advanced age. However, this doesn't mean that older individuals in any living situation should experience lower quality of life than younger populations.

Housing Options for Older Adults

As Daily Caring magazine states, "It's not enough to just be alive. Feeling satisfied and fulfilled is just as important for overall well-being as getting regular check-ups from the doctor. Having a positive view of life can help seniors have more energy, less stress, better appetite, and prevent cognitive decline."

To achieve this, one might consider the diverse housing options available, from both a "needs" perspective and a budgetary one. The following represent the varying types of housing available to older adults who have care needs:

1) Aging in Place: Individuals who are still relatively independent may be able to stay in their own home or reside with loved ones. However, they may require in-home caregivers, cleaning services or meal-delivery services to optimize this situation.

2) Independent Living: Typically, this scenario involves housing specifically designed for seniors. Think of it as mini college campuses. Resources are available to aid with maintenance and housekeeping.

3) Residential Care Home: Small, often privately-owned facilities offer personalized care to a core group of older adults, providing meal services and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).

4) Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC): This situation combines independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing availability. It is often perfect for spouses who would like to remain together, despite one or the other requiring higher levels of care.

5) Assisted Living: Slightly more involved than the CCRC setting, assisted living facilities generally offer 24/7 staff, meals, medication management, bathing, dressing, housekeeping and transportation.

6) Nursing Home/Skilled Nursing Facility: Best for individuals who need around-the-clock or complicated care, nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities are spaces where a physician or other medical professional is usually on-site.

Skills Required for Geriatric Care

In any of these environments, RNs can serve a valuable role. As the aging population has expanded, the need for nurses who specialize in geriatrics has increased dramatically. Regardless of the setting, core responsibilities of geriatric nurses include:

  • administering medications or education surrounding medication management
  • aiding in the treatment of chronic health conditions (for example: heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease)
  • educating both patients and caregivers on daily care routines, as well as coping skills required for certain age-related conditions
  • being aware of signs of potential elder abuse

These nurses also possess certain qualities specific to the geriatric population, such as a heightened knowledge of age-related conditions and the aging process, as well as the ability to read nonverbal communication cues. Of course, as with every nursing position, compassion and patience are of utmost importance.

Registered nurses who wish to pursue positions in leadership or work towards positive policy reform surrounding geriatric care will benefit from earning their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

Even if RNs prefer to stay in a more "traditional" care role, the training they'll receive in an RN to BSN program will ensure they have the knowledge and skills to perform at their highest level. For example, the RN to BSN online program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington offers a course titled Gerontological Nursing and the End-of-Life Care, which introduces students to the "functional, physiological, cognitive, psychosocial, and socioeconomic needs of older adults."

Aging Shouldn't Come at a Cost

Getting older should never be a "punishment." On the contrary, every adult deserves to live out their years with dignity, respect and with as high a quality of life as possible. Well-trained nurses play a valuable role in achieving this goal.

Learn more about the University of North Carolina Wilmington's online RN to BSN program.

 


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