What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?

As baby boomers become senior citizens, the demand for nursing will grow among older populations. Although people tend to live longer, they often do so under the supervision of health care professionals trained to attend to aging patients. Whether living independently, in an assisted living environment or in a nursing home, seniors will—at one time or another—require care by a professional nurse with expertise in the physical and mental changes that come with age. These geriatric (sometimes called gerontological) nurses become a necessary presence in the final years of life. Providing healing, comfort, nutrition and emotional support, geriatric nurses toil in a vital, if sometimes thankless, profession.

Education and Training

The student seeking to become a geriatric nurse must first fulfill the requirements for certification as a registered nurse (RN). These criteria are set by state licensing authorities, but ordinarily call for a bachelor’s degree in nursing, or an associate’s degree, at the very least. Candidates must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Over the next two subsequent years, the nurse must complete 2,000 hours of clinical work with geriatric patients in addition to 30 hours of continuing education coursework. With these accomplishments in hand, the nurse can then apply for geriatric nurse certification with the American Nurses Credentialing Center. While all employers do not require this recognition, it increases the likelihood of a desired position at satisfactory pay.

Job Locations and Settings

A professional geriatric nurse can be found in numerous settings. Those aging patients who can pay for it often opt for at-home care. This allows them to deal with deterioration, decay and convalescence in familiar surroundings. Others require the occasional aid and monitoring that assisted living affords. Of course, many require the 24/7 care of a nursing home facility. Geriatric nurses are found in each of these settings and in others. Private medical practices, hospital wards and senior daycare institutions also have these professionals on staff. Although seniors are frequently associated with mental and physical decline and debilitation, many active older adults still depend on regular medical check-ups and procedures to maintain active lifestyles. Geriatric nurses, therefore, work in outpatient clinics and doctors’ offices to serve this vital segment of the aging populace.

Patients and Conditions

As patients near the end of life, the deterioration of systems, organs and tissues is a natural occurrence. Those maladies are treated and attended to by geriatric medical specialists and nurses. Syndromes may include senile dementia brought on by Alzheimer’s or cerebral hemorrhage, for which nurses must attend to the comfort and safety of the memory-impaired patient. Osteoporosis and other bone erosions mandate that the geriatric nurse take special precaution due to patient fragility. Likewise balance disorders, cataracts and deafness are common geriatric conditions for which the nurse must account when administering medications, monitoring vital signs and running tests.

Children and loved ones of aging adults worry over their health and well-being. As mobility declines and faculties diminish, life can become more difficult, depressing and even frightening. Geriatric nurses can mitigate these concerns as they provide empathetic, competent and personal health care to the elderly.