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Spotlight on Geriatric Nurses

Geriatric nurses are equipped with the skills and training needed to help meet the physical and mental health care needs of older adults. More subtly, they also help meet the emotional needs of older patients by providing a caring touch to a population group that is often left for long periods of time by family and friends in long-term nursing or hospice care. These skilled nurses are projected to be one of the most in-demand nurses over the next 20 years within a profession that is already high in demand.

So why are geriatric nurses expected to be so high in demand well into the future? The answer is contained in two words—Baby Boomers. The entirety of this particularly large U.S. population group will be over the age of 65 by 2030, meaning 1 in 5 U.S. residents will be 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As older adults are more at risk for medical problems and make a good deal more visits to doctor's offices and hospitals, nurses who are trained to work with geriatric patients will be even more in demand down the road than they are today. It also means there will be a lot more older adults needing skilled nursing care, hospice care and in-home nursing care.

So what exactly do geriatric nurses do? Much of the focus of these nurses is on physical rehabilitation of the elderly, or helping them regain, retain and maximize their functional abilities. Geriatric nurses know that it often takes longer for older adults to recover from illnesses and injuries, and patiently work with older adults until they make a complete or partial recovery. This is because the immune systems of older adults are not as strong as those of younger individuals. Secondly, the elderly are more susceptible to broken bones because aged bones lose the ability to resist cracking and cannot withstand as much pressure. Bones are also slower to heal in older adults.

The other side of geriatric nursing is treatment and management of mental health issues in older adults, who are more at risk for Alzheimer's, dementia, strokes and other problems affecting mental function. These geriatric nurses often work in long-term care and are responsible for making sure patients' needs for physical activity, proper nutrition, social interaction and medication are met. They also make sure the patient is not a danger to himself or others due to a mental disability.