Wellness is important at all ages, but it is critical for older adults navigating chronic medical conditions and trying to retain health and independence. They often benefit from additional guidance and attention from nurses who can encourage healthy living and wellness through patient education.
Why Is Wellness Important for Geriatric Patients?
The likelihood of acquiring multiple chronic conditions increases as patients age, affirming the importance of healthy lifestyle and disease management practices. The National Center for Health Statistics estimated that 14.4% of individuals ages 55 to 64 have at least three chronic conditions. For individuals ages 65 and over, that figure jumps to 23.1%.
Although the above data points are based on a 2008 survey, they indicate a trend that newer studies like one reported in 2018 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health confirms. The paper states, “Given America’s current demographics, wherein 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day from now through the end of 2029, it is reasonable to expect that the overall number of patients with comorbidities will increase greatly.”
Many of these health conditions can make it challenging for patients to continue to live on their own or participate in hobbies and activities they enjoy. Even nurses who do not specialize in geriatric nursing will likely encounter elderly patients frequently. According to Population Reference Bureau’s bulletin, Aging in the United States, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is expected to nearly double between 2018 and 2060 — rising from 52 million to 95 million. This age group may eventually account for one in every four patients, resulting in many opportunities to engage them in wellness education.
How Can Nurses Promote Wellness?
Here are some ways for nurses to promote wellness in older patients:
Dispel myths. Nurses can help debunk common notions about the aging process, treatment plans and lifestyle recommendations. For example, mental decline and physical degeneration have often been accepted as the natural progression in later life. Nurses have the opportunity to address those myths and share evidence-based research about disease onset causes and preventive practices.
Perform health assessments. A key aspect of nursing involves performing comprehensive health assessments. While these are completed for patients of any age, there are special considerations when evaluating the elderly. In addition to determining linguistic and cultural needs, the assessment screens for fall risks, cognitive function, living situations and access to familial and community support or resources. Based on the findings, nurses can more accurately advocate on the patients’ behalf, target educational services and refer them to outside agencies if necessary.
Take a holistic approach. Patient wellness extends beyond just physical health. Nurses who address the mind-body-spirit connection may prove to be a greater source of support and encouragement, particularly for patients working through the loss of loved ones or their own concerns surrounding death and dying.
What Health Advice Can Nurses Provide to Older Adults?
Although much of the same health advice applies to people of all ages, there are targeted suggestions for older adults:
Consume nutrient-dense foods. As patients age, they require fewer calories, but still need many of the same vitamins and minerals. Nurses can encourage patients to prepare meals and snacks ahead of time so that nutritious food is readily available on days when cooking is not possible. Joining the community’s meal assistance or meal delivery programs if cooking has become too challenging is another way to ensure proper nutrition.
Be active. It is never too late to become more active, even for older patients who have physical limitations or require the use of a cane or walker. Nurses should encourage patients to adopt a sustainable exercise regimen and provide resources such as workout modifications as needed. Physical activities should aim to improve aerobic fitness as well as strength, balance and flexibility.
Maintain a sleep schedule. Sleep is vital to continued health. Adults who sleep fewer than seven hours per night are at increased risk for heart attacks, asthma and depression. Discuss the benefits of following a consistent schedule and incorporating sleep hygiene practices.
From counseling patients on recommended self-care to addressing the barriers preventing healthful decisions, nurses are integral to guiding older adults on their wellness journeys. By offering educational services, support and encouragement, nurses can help patients maintain autonomy and extend quality of life.
Learn more about Southern Utah University’s online RN to BSN program.