By 2060, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is expected to increase to 95 million, up 83% from 2018, according to the Population Reference Bureau. The healthcare system isn’t ready for this rapidly aging population and their unique healthcare needs. About 15 million people 65 and older require geriatric care, but only about 5,200 physicians are certified in gerontology, according to 2016 data from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, as reported by healthcare consultancy FQHC.org. To address this disparity, geriatric health specialists and advocates are leveraging the help and expertise of gerontological advanced practice nurses, particularly adult gerontological primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs). What is gerontological advanced practice nursing, and how can nurses prepare to specialize in this field?
Gerontological Advanced Practice Nursing at a Glance
Gerontological nursing focuses on the care and treatment of adults from later adulthood to end of life. This population has unique needs. As patients age, their bodies’ ability to respond to stressors declines. The age-related changes that the maturing adult experiences can include but are not limited to decreasing respiratory strength, reduced bone density, and higher likelihoods of infections.
Gerontological advanced practice nurses provide a holistic approach to an older adult’s care. They treat and prevent illnesses and address the cultural, psychological, and social aspects of aging. With this comprehensive approach to a patient’s health, gerontological advanced practice nurses can deliver a care plan that the patient will understand and that family members or caregivers can support.
Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) are advanced nurse practitioners with specialized advanced skills. They can work with adults across the life span, starting with adolescents. As the baby-boomer population ages, AGPCNPs will play a significant role in treating the growing number of patients with complex health issues related to age and multiple co-morbidities. Multiple chronic conditions and the related complex treatment increases the risk of injury and death from polypharmacy or death from these diseases being uncontrolled, which can lead to stroke or heart attack.
Where Can AGPCNPs Work?
Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners can work in various settings associated with gerontological advanced practice nursing, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and internal medicine practices.
AGPCNPs often work as hospitalists, treating older adults. Patients are required to be supervised until they’re discharged. Depending on the required treatment, patients may be allowed to go home or may be referred to a long-term care facility or nursing home.
Long-Term Care Facilities
Long-term care facilities support older adults who are recovering from an illness or injury or who need support in their daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, and walking. Most long-term care begins with home health aides visiting patients at home during the day. Patients who require specialized equipment to move or need 24-hour care may move into a facility with AGPCNPs who provide advanced assessment, interpretation of diagnostics tests, and order or prescribe medications or therapies that the nursing staff carries out.
Internal Medicine Practices
In internal medicine practices, AGPCNPs are able to develop relationships with patients over time. Working with doctors in practice, AGPCNPs can help patients manage chronic conditions, using a systems-based approach. They help patients develop strategies to maintain and enhance their health. AGPCNPs who work in internal medicine practices typically work during normal business hours.
The Skills Needed for Effective Gerontological Nursing
Across all healthcare settings, nurse practitioners have improved the primary care of older adults, according to a study published in ScienceDirect. Alongside patience and compassion, gerontological nurses require the following skills to be effective care providers.
- Leadership – With a shortage of primary care providers for older adults, AGPCNPs need to be strong advocates for their patients. They must be positive role models for providing quality care for aging patients and encourage fellow nurses to expand their knowledge about older adult care.
- Analytical mindset – As patients age, their conditions and illnesses become more complex. AGPCNPs must have strong analytical skills to fully assess their patients’ health needs. Gerontological advanced practice nurses must thoroughly examine the patient’s health status, including looking at medical history and evaluating environmental factors, such as home care and social activities, before developing a treatment care plan. In some instances, the patient may be unable to share health information, so AGPCNPs may have to work with caregivers or family members to obtain it.
- Critical thinking – As health complexities increase with age, AGPCNPs must think through their patients’ treatment plans, constantly evaluating their health status and prescribing treatments and promoting wellness to prevent illnesses. They may also work with other health professionals, such as home care workers or physiotherapists.
- Effective communication – Gerontological advanced practice nurses must exercise various methods to communicate effectively with older patients so they can understand, to the best of their abilities, the care they are receiving. For example, AGPCNPs may have to speak slowly and spend extra time with patients who have hearing loss. Nurses must also practice patience with older adults suffering from conditions such as delirium or memory loss. They may have to repeat care directions or speak with family members.
Mastering the skills and concepts related to gerontological care requires a commitment to education. Misericordia University’s adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner certificate, one of its online post-master’s certificates in nursing, connects students with practicing gerontology nurses. Students learn to create health plans for older adults that focus on the whole patient, using evidence-based practices to identify, treat, and manage health problems.
Faculty members engage with students individually, sharing their gerontological nursing experience not only in class but also through extended virtual office hours and the Student Success Navigator program. Graduates are often equipped to step into gerontology nursing positions across all healthcare settings, promoting and enhancing the wellness of older adults.
Pursue a Gerontological Advanced Practice Nursing Career
Providing the best care for older adults’ unique needs is what gerontological advanced practice nursing continues to strive for. As more adults begin to present age-related illnesses and conditions, AGPCNPs play a significant role in improving health outcomes as leaders in the nursing profession. Learn more about how Misericordia University’s online post-master’s certificates in nursing can help nursing professionals pursue their career goals and make a difference in patients’ lives.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Adult Obesity Facts
ConsultGeri, “Age-Related Changes”
Encyclopedia Britannica, Gerontology and Geriatrics
Encyclopedia Britannica, Hospital
FQHC.org, “Baby Boomers All Grown Up — The Impact of the Aging Population on Healthcare”
Healio, “Promoting Quality Instruction in the Care of Older Adults: Core Competencies for Gerontological Nurse Educators”
Misericordia University, AGPCNP Post-Master’s Certificate
Misericordia University, Online Post-Master’s Certificates in Nursing
Population Reference Bureau, Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States
PubMed Central, “Obesity and Related Consequences to Ageing”
ScienceDirect, “International Practice Settings, Interventions and Outcomes of Nurse Practitioners in Geriatric Care: A Scoping Review”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. News and World Report, “What’s the Difference Between Types of Long-Term Care Facilities?”