7 Tips for Caring for Elderly Patients

Posted On Thursday, 16 August 2018
7 Tips for Caring for Elderly Patients

Travel nurses work with people from all walks of life and all ages as well. While some nurses stick to their specialties (like pediatric nurses), others work with young adults to the elderly.

Within this group, nurses may find it a little difficult to care for elderly patients for a number of different reasons. They may have trouble speaking or articulating themselves, they may have unique health issues that take longer to diagnose and care for, or they may have hearing loss, impaired vision, or even memory issues due to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

What's more, elderly patients are often subject to more sensitive topics such as end-of-life care, which can lead to delicate conversations or assumptions about a patient's abilities that can result in hurt feelings, fear, and other negative scenarios.

In short, caring for elderly patients is not always easy, and as a nurse, you know that your job is to help and care for people in the best ways possible.

With this in mind, we'll explore how to better care for your elderly patients with just seven simple tips. Some of these tips apply to non-nurse caregivers as well. 

1) Set and Maintain Healthy Emotional Boundaries

One of the most important tips you will ever come across both in life and in your career is to set and maintain healthy emotional boundaries. As a healthcare worker, it is literally in your job description to provide care for those in need. This often means that you have a heart for others and are willing to do whatever you can to serve them and help them feel well and cared for. While this attitude is certainly noble and important, it can lead to serious problems if left unchecked. When you lack boundaries, you are more likely to do whatever is asked of you to the point of exhaustion and burnout.

When this happens, you have no care left for your patients let alone yourself, which can lead to serious emotional and even physical damage. With elderly patients especially, you may feel compelled to go above and beyond for those struggling with being able to care for themselves due to health and mental problems. Even so, you cannot and should not do this without setting up healthy boundaries first.

Not sure what kind of boundaries you should be making? Try these:
  • Leave your work life at work and your home life at home.
  • Practice self care every day.
  • Remember that others need you in addition to your patients.
  • Never ignore your deeds.

Without proper boundaries, even the best relationships can become toxic, and you especially don't want this to happen with your patients.

2) Speak Loudly, Clearly & Plainly

Elderly patients are at a point in their life where physiological changes are happening more and more each day. This means that any elderly patient may be losing their hearing, sight, or short-term/long-term memory. With this in mind, you have to be sure to accommodate these changes when interacting with your elderly patient. You never want to talk to them as if they are slow, but you do want to address them plainly, loudly, and clearly while maintaining a normal, conversational tone as well. If you speak too loudly and slowly, you may offend your patients. If you talk to them like you would your friends or colleagues, they may become confused and lost.

Find a proper balance of using normal, conversational, but plain words when speaking to elderly patients and be sure to speak loudly and clearly at all times.

3) Be Patient

Nursing requires a lot of patience in general, so this is a good tip to remember when working with elderly patients as well. As mentioned, elderly patients are slowing down both physically and mentally, which can lead to some delays in everyday activities. You may find that you need to repeat yourself when speaking, help them to and from places like the restroom, remind them of certain information, and the like.

While this can be wearing (especially with tons of other patients and responsibilities to worry about), you never want to become impatient. Keep in mind that seniors may take longer to react as well as have certain questions and concerns you may have already addressed, so patience is key when caring for this patient demographic.

4) Always Show Respect

You know that "respecting your elders" is an important rule, and it certainly applies when in a care-provider position. Though your elderly patient may need a lot of help with a lot of different things, you must never slip into a frame of mind where you look down on them. Remember that your elderly patients will have different options, ideas, and thoughts on modern topics and that you should meet these different views with respect and patience. What's more, you may even learn something new from an elderly patient thanks to their years of life experience.

5) Be Aware of Potential Challenges

For elderly patients, there are a lot of potential challenges that can get in the way of administering top-notch care. These challenges can be anything from cognitive impairments to vision and hearing loss, to distractions such as worried family members with lots of questions or present caregivers. Remember that though some things are universal, each patient is different and illnesses affect each patient differently. This means you must be aware of certain things like context and qualifiers when working with each individual patient.

6) Do What You Can to Make Them Comfortable

Comfort is an important part of healthcare because so many patients are experiencing physical and sometimes mental discomfort from their own bodies. This is especially important for elderly patients because, as their body is slowing down, they are likely experiencing more discomfort than anyone. Some aches and pains can even distract and agitate elderly patients during treatment, which can lead to other complications. What's more, simple discomforts like a room being too warm or cold can cause problems as well. If you are able to provide comfort for your elderly patient in any way, do what you can to provide it. This can be anything from a hug when they are feeling worried to a blanket or sweater when it's cold.

7) Build Rapport Through Empathy and Active Listening

Building rapport with a patient ensures closeness, comfort, and even trust over time. All healthcare providers should view building rapport with their patients as one of the most important parts of their job. You can begin building up a relationship in just a few simple ways:

  • Introduce yourself to your patient
  • Find out your patient's name (e.g. ask them, rather than refer to their chart)
  • Ask your patient how they're feeling
  • Tell your patient a little bit about you (be open)
  • Ensure your patient feels heard and respected
  • When they talk, actively listen (repeat information to show you have it, ask follow up questions, etc)
  • Practice empathy at all times (see your patient as a person!)
When you build a strong rapport with your patients and clients, you help them feel calmer, safer, and more welcome by you and your organization at large.

Aaron Alstrom, President of Healthcare Pros, Inc.

HealthCare Pros is a Nurse staffing and management company with 25 years of industry-specific knowledge, experience, and care. The company prides itself on delivering exceptional service and producing positive results for its clients.

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