Tips for Nurses Who Care for the Elderly

By: Sandy Darson1

Caring for the elderly is one of the most rewarding jobs that a nurse can have. Typically, nurses can care for the elderly in a hospital, assisted living, and rest-home setting. However, there are those who care for elderly clients through in-home care programs. Yet, the opportunity to have contact with such patients is the very reason many nurses get into the profession. However, there are a few things that nurses who care for the elderly should know and consider in order to administer the best possible treatment.

It is important to know the current medications of all patients, but this information is extremely vital when caring for the elderly. Typically, elderly patients are on a mix of different medications each with distinct schedules that need to be followed. You want to know this information in order to ensure that they are not given any new medicines that should not be taken with their current medications. Knowing their medications also give you an idea of the types of side effects to look for, in the event that they have unexplained or new symptoms.

If you work in a structured setting, such as hospital, make sure you know and understand any procedures and policies that are geared toward elderly care. If you are an in-home care nurse, you need to have a written contract before you begin service to your elderly patients. These precautions spell out exactly, what is expected of you, to prevent any future misunderstanding about the type and level of care that you provide. This type of document should also address the issue of compensation and the service schedule. If you are a sole proprietor, as a nurse this may seem a bit too formal. However, it is better to make sure these types of topics are addressed and clarified upfront.

It is also a good idea to meet all necessary relatives or anyone else that is close to your patient. Make sure they understand what you will be doing and why you are doing it. Family members can give you more background on your patients and their family medical history. This valuable information will help you treat your elderly patient. However, family members can also be extremely critical in the event that the worst does happen. Unfortunately, for many in the medical community, grief can turn into misplaced blame, which can lead to a lawsuit. Meeting relatives or caregivers is an important step for all nurses; it is vital for those working within a patientís home or assisted living community. In this situation, it is a good idea to have the necessary individual sign your contract, written agreement, or service agreement. However, it is important to remember that your job as a nurse is to do what is best for your patients. Often times, family members want to guide or influence the treatment and care of elderly patients.

Learn how to handle the tough conversations. However, discussing the options and alternatives to life support are difficult conversations to have, and can actually be attributed to other population groups in addition to the elderly. It is important that you understand that these types of conversations are needed more often with the elderly than other age groups. True, no one can ever be totally prepared for these difficult conversations or the decisions that must be made. You need to realize that they are a part of treating elderly patients. You may also want to learn more about medical power of attorney and medical additions and or clauses inside wills. However, refrain from giving any legal advice.

Keep copies of contact information for organizations and agencies that provide resources and assistance for seniors. Not all of your elderly patients have relatives close by that can help them wade through the red tape of Medicare or assist them with daily activities. Having these numbers handy, is a great way to ensure that patients can get the help that they made need after they leave your care; or, while in your care depending on the situation.

Preserve the dignity of your patients. This is not only one of the core competencies within the nursing code of ethics, but it is key when caring for the elderly. Treat your elderly patients, as you would wish to be treated. This includes assisting with hygiene related needs, talking to them about their condition, medications, and any new developments that may arise. Do not talk down to or yell at the elderly patients in your care. Be sure to show respect. Explain and make sure that they fully understand any tests that are needed.

Nurses who care for the elderly have a huge responsibility regardless of whether this care is given in a structured hospital or home setting. The elderly have special needs that need to taken into account. Yet, with this enormous responsibility comes enormous job satisfaction.

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Sandy Darson is a freelance writer who writes about the nursing profession. Ms. Darson often writes about specific items used in nursing such as nursing scrubs.

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