Health Care

Why is compassion key to effective geriatric healthcare?

People who go to a gerontology nurse or are admitted to a hospital in need of geriatric care are often vulnerable to the effects of aging. Even medical events that would be considered small for the majority of the population, such as a fall or changes in medication, can have a significant impact on seniors. Although compassion is at the heart of all medical care, ensuring that the older members of society are treated with dignity and respect is something that professionals need to bear in mind. As parents, grandparents, friends, and carers, elderly patients should be appreciated for the contribution they have made to society and treated as individuals.

Geriatric nursing is about more than prolonging life, it’s also important to understand that seniors want to live better and make the most of their retirement. By showing compassion, nurses can give seniors the confidence and emotional support they need to prevail during periods of ill health. This thoughtful approach can ensure that elderly patients do not feel rushed, ignored, or devalued when they are in a healthcare environment. As a result, they are better able to prepare for their recovery or medical procedure. Moreover, when they are cared for optimally with targeted interventions, there is less chance of an elderly person experiencing the kind of functional decline which is often associated with a period of hospitalization.

Teaching nurses to empathize with their elderly patients

At university, as part of their graduate training, nurses are taught empathy in various ways. Often the most effective method is to ask students to imagine themselves in their patient’s situation. Part of compassion in care is also about getting to know patients, understanding how they express pain or discomfort, and ensuring the ward does not become a lonely place. 

Nurses who enjoy caring for the elderly can progress their careers through additional qualifications, although traditional routes often do not fit in with their busy lifestyles. That’s why institutions such as Wilkes University, have established a series of courses that provide more accessible routes to higher education. At Wilkes University, the MSN Geriatric Nursing Programs offer affordable training to Registered Nurses (RNs) who are planning to move into a more senior role in the field of gerontology. The program combines an extensive program of online learning with nearby rotations and mentorship, equipping graduates to work autonomously in a range of primary care positions. 

Why do the elderly need compassionate care?

Like most areas of the developed world, the US has an aging population and seniors are one of the key users of healthcare services and hospitals. They have diverse medical needs, often as a result of suffering from multiple or complex ailments. This can be a challenge in health settings where the focus is on treating a single disease, as the elderly tend to benefit from a more holistic approach. According to research, at its core, patient-centered care relies on compassion. It is a response to caring for others which demonstrates empathy, sensitivity, and a willingness to prioritize a patient’s wellbeing.

Patient-centered, compassionate care is about more than managing a senior patient’s physical problems. When they enter the clinic or hospital, an older person may be experiencing additional stress that is related to being away from their home, finances, or family. Some elderly people may fear hospitals because they have heard of friends or relatives who had a bad experience or suffered an injury while admitted. Therefore, healthcare professionals must pay attention to each patient’s emotional state as well as their physical wellbeing.

What does compassionate care look like in practice? 

Showing compassion can make all the difference to a senior patient. Nurses simply need to be mindful of this and the feelings of others when they speak and act in a professional setting. Finding out whether a patient feels happy with their care and comfortable only takes a few moments, but compassion can have a huge impact on patient satisfaction. Luckily, it can be conveyed through the smallest and seemingly most insignificant forms of response.

From making eye contact and addressing people as per their preference, to smiling with every greeting, the little things do count. Furthermore, a few kind words, a reassuring hand on the shoulder of a concerned patient, and a listening ear are all gestures that should not be underestimated when it comes to compassion. Nurses who take a moment to respect their patients’ choices, share anecdotes, and demonstrate sensitivity to their needs can dramatically improve their patient’s mental state.

What are the skills involved in compassionate geriatric care? 

Here is a closer look at some of the compassion-related skills nurses are taught and will refine as they become more experienced in gerontology.

Connecting through emotional intelligence

Interpersonal relationships are always more successful when a nurse has emotional intelligence. Understanding another person’s emotions ensures a nurse communicates optimally and can engage with elderly patients. This includes listening to the stories of their life and encouraging them to share their feelings openly.

Critical thinking regarding the patient’s situation

Thinking logically, not making snap judgments, and considering bias, will allow a nurse to accurately assess a patient’s situation. By taking the time to appraise the evidence, asking questions of their patient and interpreting their findings, nurses are more able to solve problems and get better results for those in their care. Finding good solutions quickly supports excellent patient outcomes and is part of compassionate care.

Adapting to the changing needs of an aging patient

The aging process involves many changes and fluctuations in a person’s health. To remain compassionate, the geriatric nurse will be adaptable and show flexibility in their approach. Sometimes the needs of an elderly person will change over the course of a day, as they tire or react to their medication. They will often have days when they feel great and days when they struggle to accomplish basic tasks. By taking each day as it comes, nurses can ensure their patients stay on track, feel comfortable as they recover, and enjoy the best outcome possible. 

Having cultural awareness and respecting differences

The elderly population is as diverse as any other, with people from all different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and religions. By being cognizant of factors such as their communication style, language preference, and perspective, nurses can provide effective person-centered care. Furthermore, medical professionals can respect the cultural practices of their senior patients. They may have certain rituals or traditions which bring them comfort, and, by recognizing these, a nurse can avoid causing the patient unnecessary discomfort or anxiety.

Understanding what the aging process involves

A geriatric patient is affected by the aging process in several ways. As well as their ability to hear and see clearly, they may have difficulty communicating. Moreover, some older people are living with several health conditions at once. By understanding emphasizing and being kind, nurses are better placed to help their patients deal with aging.

Using enhanced communication skills 

Communication is fundamental for nurses in any specialism, but it can be especially significant in elder care. From memory loss to visual impairments and being hard of hearing, some elderly people have many challenges when it comes to making themselves understood. Nurses have to speak at a volume that their patients can hear or use hand gestures. Furthermore, they can provide information in large print and ensure the light is bright enough for the patient to read. A geriatric nurse will often need to spend more time explaining a treatment to ensure an elderly person understands. It is also crucial to listen to what they have to say and take these concerns seriously. 

Picking up on non-verbal communication

Elderly people will also show a range of non-verbal tells that skilled nurses should pick up on. Observing a patient’s body language is especially useful as it offers clues as to their overall health. Sometimes older people are not particularly vocal in the hospital due to tiredness or feeling unwell. Therefore, a nurse will watch for clues that allow them to spot when a person’s condition is worsening or if a new issue has arisen.

How can nurses improve their compassion when caring for senior patients?  

Compassionate care requires careful thought and a degree of planning, but for experienced nurses, it should not be difficult. Most will already be practicing this in their role on a gerontology ward. Nevertheless, recognizing how important compassion is to the elderly in a healthcare setting and understanding the skills needed ensures that patients have reliably positive interactions with their caregivers. Here are some of the ways compassion can be shown by nurses.

Considering the best way to speak with a patient 

Nurses who are managing the care of elderly patients should be mindful of what the person is trying to express. Becoming ill and entering a hospital means they have an entirely new set of surroundings to deal with. Therefore, if a patient seems nervous or concerned, a nurse should address that. This is also true when they are speaking with the family members of an elderly person, who may have fears for their parent or partner. Compassion involves treating families with care, responding empathetically, and addressing any anxieties they have honestly. 

Expressing interest in a patient’s life outside the hospital

Elderly people who are frail and have trouble with their hearing and eyesight can feel very isolated on a ward. Nurses can counter this by taking steps to treat each person as an individual, rather than just checking off boxes on their electronic health records. The practitioner might ask the patient about their family, where they used to work, and what hobbies they have. As most people enjoy talking about the people and activities they love, this can be a good way to help them feel less anxious and divert their attention to something positive. Moreover, by listening and showing an interest in what they say, a nurse can help to put the patient’s mind at ease, as well as establish a good relationship.

Ensure that each patient’s feelings are respected

Seeing people who are ill, injured, or suffering from a serious condition is part of day-to-day life on a ward. For nurses, dealing with situations that others would find unnerving comes with the job. However, they will never forget that for the individual patient who is perhaps experiencing a set of symptoms for the first time, the situation is anything but ordinary. 

Nurses understand that for the elderly person involved, the circumstances are distressing, and they are likely to have significant fears for the future. Therefore, they will always strive to use language that helps people see that their feelings are valid. Phrases like ‘I understand’ can be affirming and reassuring to a patient. Furthermore, by offering to listen to a person’s fears, agreeing to chat with their family, or simply sitting with them, a nurse shows compassion. This can go a long way to improving a patient’s emotional state and smoothing the path to their recovery.

Behaving in a way that shows patience

Nurses often have a busy day with lots of unexpected calls and a wide range of duties to perform. Sometimes when it comes to patient care, they can feel stressed or keen to get through a particular process as quickly as possible. However, rushing tasks that involve routine care, such as assessments or providing medication, can compromise their ability to communicate with patients. In turn, this makes it harder to build a relationship of trust and important symptoms can be missed. Even on tough days, nurses who are dealing with elderly patients should not show any frustration in their voice, as interactions like these can quickly harm the rapport they have built with a patient.

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