How to Work with Elders: Tips for Nursing Staff

As you study for your nursing licensure test and prepare to enter the profession, you must learn how to work with seniors. Nursing homes are filled with elders who are aware of their possible end-of-life. Nursing staff members need to establish a rapport with them and encourage frank discussions about the possibility of death.

Once you become a licensed nurse, working on wards or in other areas where elders comprise a significant portion of the population will be part of your job description. Working successfully requires time spent learning more about what makes an elder an elder to properly care for them, regardless of age or condition.

What Is an Elder? Why Is Elderly Care So Important?

A senior in the United States is defined as a person over age 65. In terms of public health, people who live at or above this age are considered elderly. Though they may look and act younger, they are still frail and need special care at home.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 54 million senior citizens living in the United States and a large majority of them live alone.

Seniors physically need more care than their younger counterparts because of a lack of mobility, poor eyesight and hearing, arthritis, poor circulation, and weakening body parts that have slowed down considerably since their youth.

Working with Elders in the Nursing Profession

There are many different types of nurses that work with elders. Most commonly, nurses work with those who are bedridden, or at least who have chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, but elders can come from a variety of backgrounds and be physically healthy or ill. The only common factor is that they’re old.

Seniors need to be attentive to every detail of their physical environment and how well their condition reflects on them. When someone is older, he or she won’t remember minor details easier than before. In some cases, forgetfulness may have been caused by an illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

If you are considering working with elders at some point in your nursing career, you may decide to look into the role of an adult gerontology nurse practitioner. This nurse specialty is the more advanced level of care for the elderly and includes many aspects of medical, social, and emotional care.

Another option is working with nursing home staff, adult care nurses, and others to gain an understanding of what an elder requires can help you determine how to best help them.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Hospital Nurse in the Elderly Care Setting

If you are interested in working with the elderly, especially as a nurse, you will find yourself fulfilling several different roles. All the following help to create a well-rounded nursing environment:

  • Nurse Practitioner: Provides nursing care to patients when they are admitted to the hospital. You may be on call 24 hours a day if appropriate or required. The satisfaction of helping people who are ill is an important part of your job description. If you enjoy this practice, you may want to pursue specialty education.
  • Certified Nurse’s Aide: Works as an aide in hospitals and other healthcare facilities by assisting the medical staff with patient care and assisting patients and their families.
  • Associate Nurse: Assists the licensed nurse who is directly supervising nursing care, from administering drugs to performing other necessary duties.
  • Registered Nurse: Performs direct patient care and takes care of patients, whether on an eight-hour or 24-hour shift.
  • Junior Nurse: Works in hospitals on the same level as a registered nurse providing direct patient care with minimal supervision. If productivity and quality of care are key concerns for your hospital nursing job, you may want to consider this role.

Nurses Can Support Elders in the Hospital Setting

Seniors may have a host of physical and emotional issues. You can use your experience working with elders to be a positive force in their lives. In addition to providing basic care, you may want to examine the possibility of doing the elder’s medications and following up with physician orders after discharge.

In some cases, it may be necessary to administer medication or perform procedures, such as blood draws, catheterizations, and other treatments that are beyond the scope of what a regular nurse can do. You can rely on assistance from your nursing peers for these procedures if you aren’t prepared for them.

To be a more effective caregiver to the elderly, it is important for you to first identify the older adult’s needs immediately. Physical needs, for example, may include special drinking glasses, a fluid intake chart, and other interventions.

Do not mistake confidentiality rules for having to be distant when interacting with elders. The most senior members of our society have stories that only they can tell, and they need someone close enough to hear their tales just as they are getting ready to leave this world forever.

Maintaining a Professional Nursing Relationship with Elders

A professional relationship will depend on how you conduct yourself. Elders look for someone attentive, kind, and respectful. They want to be your friend, even though they might not look like one. They become more open about their thoughts and feelings when they are comfortable with you.

To be good at your job, you must pay attention to your elders’ needs and desires. You should have a consistent schedule for visiting with them and pampering them to keep their spirits up. The best way to create a positive relationship is by being a good listener and respecting the elder’s time.

Many people who work in healthcare spend some time in the emergency room (ER). In an ER setting, you may have the opportunity to interact with elders regularly. The job of an ER nurse is to provide care for the elderly and is often the caregiver for other patients as well.

Caregiver to Elderly Patients

Elder care in the ER may not be as difficult as you might think. You will find that most of your patients will be at ease with visitors, especially if you take your time with them and talk with them about their day. Most of these people are happy to see a familiar face and someone who wants to listen to their stories.

A key part of this type of patient interaction is being empathetic towards the patient’s feelings and needs. If done correctly, you will find that the ER can be an uplifting environment that allows you to help people reclaim some of their former glory.

Medical Emergency Care for Elders

When providing medical emergency care for elders, it’s important to be able to think on your feet. This can be a challenge for someone new to the field. If you decide to pursue your career in this nursing area, prepare by taking classes about geriatric health and illness.

You should also take classes about medications and other treatments given directly or through a feeding tube. Take every opportunity possible to learn from your colleagues and practice as much as possible under controlled conditions before working in the field.

The Challenges of Working with Elders

The work environment in this field is high-stress, but it is also a high-reward career path with the opportunity to make a difference not only in the life of the elder in question but also in the lives of the senior citizen’s family too.

Elders are more likely to try tactics they normally avoid in challenging situations. It may be easier for them if they get used to being cared for and respected by a professional (like a nurse.) before getting older. If it helps, talk about your concerns or fears with a close friend or family member who can support you.

Elders who have dementia will sometimes have a false sense of security and believe that nursing care is not needed. A good caregiver will always look for ways to bring the person back to reality through reassurance.

Use tools like a communication board. You can use it to express your concerns by writing them down on the board and then discussing them with the patient to see if they understood what you were saying.

If the patient did understand but doesn’t want to discuss his or her circumstances, you can speak with their family members, who may be helpful in situations like these. Whatever you do, don’t ignore their needs or respond disrespectfully after they’ve tried different avenues.

Providing Quality Care while Working with Elders

Elders will have different wants, needs and behaviors than a typical patient. They are more likely to:

  • Use medicines that they’ve been prescribed by a doctor (if they take them properly).
  • Have life skills to manage basic needs like bathing and dressing when they can no longer do it on their own.
  • They find it hard to accept the idea of being in a nursing home or assisted living facility since they are familiar with their surrounding environment. In these types of facilities, you will be more exposed to health issues, like infections, that can affect seniors.

To ensure that you are always providing quality care for seniors, you should make use of your knowledge of geriatric medicine and keep up with the latest advancements in care for the elderly.

Working with Elderly Patients Who Are Demanding & Difficult

Depending on the situation, a patient will often try to manipulate or control you. If you find that this happens often, take time out for yourself. If you feel that you can’t maintain your professional relationship, do not be afraid to report it. This may help you avoid a breakdown in your work environment.

Working with difficult patients in any situation is never easy butworking with frail elderly people who may be angry and unreasonable creates a greater challenge because they can hurt themselves.

To help you maintain a positive work environment and avoid unnecessary conflict, you must be patient and assertive at the same time. You will want to establish yourself as a trustworthy caregiver by showing your employees that they can trust you.

When working with an elderly patient or family member who may be difficult to deal with, it’s important to remain calm and avoid taking the easy way out. It’s always best for workers to avoid getting in the middle of an argument between family members or caregivers when possible, instead of becoming involved in an argument themselves.

Working with Elders Requires Extra Tenderness & Understanding

A good caregiver to the elderly knows that the patient or patient’s family is going through a difficult time and will respect this. This can be tough because most people don’t want to see their parents or loved ones in pain.

To care for the elderly, you will need to be able to remain compassionate towards them, even though it can be difficult at times. If you are looking for a career that requires compassion, consider being a nurse who takes care of the elderly. Your patients will appreciate your efforts.

It is important to remember whether they have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of mental illness that they need special care as well as physical care. For instance, if you are taking care of an elderly person with Alzheimer’s, you will need to provide extra tenderness and understanding.

You should also be able to communicate with the patient and their family. It will help them feel more comfortable around you if they feel that you have the same concerns as they do.

Most people who take care of the elderly do not want to see their parents or loved ones in pain, but it is a natural part of getting older and, in many cases, unavoidable.


Taking care of these patients requires compassion. If you want to be a compassionate nurse, consider working with the elderly. These patients will appreciate your efforts.

This job requires compassion and patience but is also very rewarding in that you can impact someone’s life. If you want to be a nurse who makes a big difference, consider working with the elderly instead of other age groups.