10 Tips for Nurses to Effectively Communicate with Elderly Patients

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A nurse practitioner holds an elderly patient's hand.

Effective communication between providers and their patients facilitates positive patient outcomes. When caring for senior patients, this might involve providing for certain issues. Older patients may have multiple conditions, such as hearing loss, vision impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, providers may have to address sensitive topics, such as end-of-life care.

When treating the elderly, it’s important not to make assumptions about patients’ abilities and to take time to understand the conditions and circumstances that are unique to each client; patients may or may not suffer from age-related impairments. Several elderly patient care tips can help adult gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNP) effectively serve their patients. Individuals interested in becoming advanced nurse practitioners, medical or health service managers, chief nursing officers, or nurse researchers should consider pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing degree to prepare for their future careers.

10 Essential Elderly Patient Care Tips

While the following 10 elderly patient care tips might appear time-consuming, they can produce significant long-term returns in positive patient outcomes.

Tip 1: Start with the Right Body Language

A seated position directly opposite the patient improves communication by reducing distractions and sending the message that the care provider has focused on the client completely. Maintaining eye contact is also important, because this commands their attention and helps patients to decipher facial cues.

Tip 2: Exercise Patience

Care providers must exercise patience when treating seniors. Sometimes, providers have to repeat talking points several times before the patient fully understands the message. If communicating requires too much repetition, care providers should slow their speech down and speak clearer until the client can understand. Older patients may also take longer to react during conversations.

Tip 3: Show Proper Respect

While many have heard the phrase “respect your elders,” the sentiment proves indispensable during treatment. Providers should remember that elder clients may have differing opinions about contemporary topics. It’s important to acknowledge the varied experiences offered by seniors. This recognition can help to bridge generational gaps during communication.

Tip 4: Practice Active Listening

When treating seniors, it’s important to actively listen to their words and remember that both parties may have difficulty expressing ideas to each other. Care providers should also use body language, such as affirmative nods, to acknowledge receipt of communications without interrupting the client. If the care provider cannot understand what a patient is trying to say, they should ask clarifying questions.

Tip 5: Build Rapport

To build patient rapport, health organizations must make sure that all personnel create positive interactions. This starts with each employee who encounters clients properly introducing themselves and finding out patients’ name preferences. Voicing clients’ preferred names several times creates an air of familiarity and sets the groundwork for patients to participate in wellness planning. Strong rapport also leaves clients with a positive overall impression of the organization.

Tip 6: Show Sincerity

During visits, care providers should ask appropriate questions about clients’ living conditions and social circles. It’s critical that care providers understand the role that a client’s culture and beliefs play in treatment. This understanding facilitates shared decision-making. In addition to cultural literacy, it’s important to avoid ageist assumptions when offering recommendations.

Tip 7: Recognize Sensory Challenges

Distractions, such as accompanying caregivers, cognitive impairments, or hearing loss, can make communication difficult. Nearly one-third of seniors over 65 have hearing issues, and a quarter of seniors over 75 report vision problems. Ailments affect each patient differently and to varying degrees. It’s important that care providers keep these conditions in context.

Tip 8: Ensure Comfort

Physical comfort is important for both patients and their family members. Alleviating physical discomfort reduces distractions during treatment. Maintaining comfort for elder patients can prove difficult, especially for those with multiple illnesses. Care providers can ensure patient comfort with simple gestures, such as offering a blanket or sweater to cold clients.

Tip 9: Use Plain Language

As patients grow older, their physiology changes considerably. Elder clients may start to lose their hearing, sight, or short- or long-term memory, and this changes the way they absorb and process information. Using plain language makes it easier for senior clients to understand new concepts.

Tip 10: Show Empathy

Sincere empathy builds rapport. Patients should feel as though care providers understand and identify with their concerns. To communicate this sentiment, staff members can relate how they would feel given similar circumstances when communicating undesirable information. Such honest and open communication shows that care providers recognize client difficulties and genuinely care about patient circumstances.

Communication breakdowns can produce counterproductive outcomes or cause treatment to fail altogether. Care providers will treat older patients more frequently as more people live well past 65. By treating each senior as an individual, care providers can dissolve ageist stereotypes and produce positive outcomes.

MSN Specializations for Elderly Patient Care

It’s common to find several concentrations offered in an MSN program. These concentrations share a few core classes that allow students to develop strengths that universally apply to advanced nursing, such as communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills. The concentration-specific coursework allows students to gain knowledge in an advanced nursing subject and put elderly patient care tips into practice. Concentrations can include family nurse practitioner (FNP), women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP), among other specializations.

Those interested in elder care may gravitate toward becoming an AGNP, a role that can entail diagnosing and treating acutely ill elderly patients for a wide variety of medical ailments. AGNPs may also work with the elderly to create proactive health management solutions that encourage healthy living, manage chronic conditions, and minimize the threat of certain diseases. In some cases, AGNPs focus on a specific health care category, such as oncology, cardiopulmonary care, or emergency care.

Career Opportunities in Elderly Patient Care

Graduates entering the advanced nursing field are generally required to have a state-issued license to practice as a nurse practitioner. The steps to attain this license vary from state to state, and students can contact their state’s board of nursing for specific requirements. Nurses who want to provide elderly patient care can consider pursuing the following careers:

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners can apply their knowledge in a wide variety of settings, such as emergency rooms, intensive care units, clinics, and mobile care centers. They may even be able to work in a classroom, teaching future AGNPs how to make a positive impact in the health care industry. In other words, the flexibility of this specialization can lead to any of several potential career paths, all of which stem from the fundamental principle of delivering high-quality care.

AGNPs typically provide primary care for adults. They specialize in diagnosing and treating chronic and critical medical conditions. Polypharmacy management, advanced diagnostics, and pathophysiology are also essential aspects of an AGNP’s job. According to PayScale, AGNPs earn an annual median salary of around $90,100 as of April 2020.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners have the ability to provide elderly patient care as part of a family care practice. They can serve as the primary care providers for every member of a family and work in family practice environments. FNPs can also work in collaboration with other advanced practice nurse practitioners, doctors, or health care experts. They can find jobs in hospitals, the offices of physicians, outpatient care centers, or their own practices, among other medical facilities.

Similar to AGNPs, FNPs have a good amount of flexibility when it comes to their specialization, as they can work with patients from pediatrics to geriatrics. According to PayScale, family nurse practitioners across the country earn an annual median salary of around $94,700 as of June 2020.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

Nurses who take on the role of women’s health nurse practitioner work primarily with female patients. WHNPs can work with adolescent girls as well as elderly women. Advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in women’s health can assess issues related to menstruation and evaluate fertility. They can provide HPV and STD screenings as well as breast cancer screenings.

WHNPs also work with adult women going through menopause and provide elderly patient care for older women with a variety of chronic conditions. According to PayScale, WHNPs earn an annual median salary of around $91,500 as of June 2020.

Learn More

Since studies indicate people are living longer than ever before, there is a crucial need for providers who can deliver high-quality health care to the elderly. Fortunately, earning a degree through a reputable MSN program can lead students to several career path options that focus on the delivery of quality care. Nursing students can learn the ins and outs of elderly patient care by pursuing an MSN degree with an adult-gerontology concentration. See how Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program can help you meet your advanced nursing goals.

Recommended Readings
Nursing Continuing Education: Importance, Options, and Resources for Getting Started
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary, Career Outlook & More
What Is Community-Based Nursing? A Look at a Key Care Philosophy

Elite Healthcare, “2018 Nurses Salary Results by State/Region”
The Gerontological Society of America, “Communicating with Older Adults”
National Institute on Aging, Tips for Communicating with a Confused Patient
PayScale, Average Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) Salary
PayScale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Salary
PayScale, Average Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers 
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners