Caring for an Aging Population: The Role of Nurses in Nursing Homes

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When examining the future of health care, a primary concern comes to mind: Will there be enough resources in place to meet the rising demand for services? Increased demand for patient care can be driven by large-scale public health issues, such as a pandemic. It may also stem from demographic changes.

A nursing home nurse assists an older patient using a walker.

In the United States, the population of older adults is rapidly growing. By 2030, one out of every five Americans will be 65 or older, according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2060, one in four Americans is projected to be an older adult, with a population of nearly 95 million people. As this population grows, so will the demand for health care services. The American health care system will need to significantly increase its nursing workforce to meet this projected demand.

Registered nurses (RNs) and adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) will both play a key role in delivering patient care to America’s aging population. Earning an advanced degree is a crucial step in ensuring these professionals have the education and skills to serve this growing patient demographic. Nurses in nursing homes, to give just one example, can benefit greatly from knowing which conditions are most likely to affect their patients and how to treat them.

What Health Care Issues Does America’s Aging Population Face?

As people age into late adulthood, they become more susceptible to certain health care issues, including chronic conditions and injuries. According to Rural Health Information Hub, 90% of adults who are 65 or older experience at least one, if not multiple, chronic conditions. A nursing home nurse encounters many of the following conditions when working with patients.

  • Diabetes
  • Chronic joint pain
  • Hypertension
  • Hearing loss
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Cataracts
  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Nursing homes offer a wide array of health care services that can prevent their patients from requiring hospitalization. One of the main benefits of having nurses in nursing homes is they are trained to recognize conditions that frequently affect older populations and are equipped to deliver age-appropriate treatments.

The Role of Nurses in Nursing Homes

Nursing home nurses are one of the most common types of health care professionals found in facilities that treat older adults. Nursing teams in these facilities may include certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, and nurse practitioners, particularly adult-gerontology nurse practitioners. Nurses in nursing homes deliver routine care and respond to any medical complications that may arise. During a shift, a nursing home nurse may perform any of the following duties.

  • Assist in initiating a treatment plan
  • Set up IV insertions
  • Draw blood
  • Apply wound dressings and bandages
  • Take a patient’s vital signs
  • Give injections
  • Check a patient’s medication routine

Nursing home nurses benefit from having a particular set of soft skills, considering the patient base they serve. Compassion, patience, and highly developed interpersonal skills are essential in a nursing home setting. Additionally, these nurses must be able to effectively collaborate with other health care professionals, properly execute treatment plans, and be ready to problem-solve at a moment’s notice.

What Is an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?

Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners have advanced training and education beyond those of an RN, which makes them uniquely qualified to provide a higher level of care to older patients. During their education and training, AGNPs typically choose between one of two specialties: adult gerontology – acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP) or adult gerontology – primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP).

AGACNPs diagnose and treat illnesses, provide palliative care, and are responsible for stabilizing patient conditions. AGPCNPs, on the other hand, focus on improving their patients’ overall health and providing preventive care. Regardless of specialty, AGNPs have common responsibilities, including the following.

  • Examine patients for symptoms of illness, impairment, or injury
  • Prescribe medications and track their effectiveness
  • Regularly check on patients and conduct wellness visits
  • Order diagnostic tests and analyze results
  • Collaborate with other health care professionals
  • Promote behavioral and lifestyle changes in patients that will improve their health
  • Educate patients and their families about health care conditions and treatment plans
  • Manage and update patient medical records
  • Problem-solve ethical dilemmas and advocate for patients and their rights
  • Refer patients to specialists (when applicable)

How to Become an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

AGNPs require additional education, training, and credentials beyond those of RNs and other nurses who work in nursing homes. The path to becoming an AGNP consists of the following steps.

  • Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  • Earn nursing licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN exam
  • Earn relevant experience by working with older patients
  • Earn an advanced degree — either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a concentration in adult-gerontology, or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree
  • Gain specialty training in adult-gerontology via internship, fellowship, or entry-level work
  • Earn AGNP certification

Pursue Your Career in Adult-Gerontology

Nurses in nursing homes play a crucial role in delivering health care services to America’s older adult population. Considering that this demographic is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades, qualified health care professionals must be prepared to meet the rising demand for patient care.

Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners are vital to delivering advanced care to older patients with complex and/or chronic conditions. As nursing homes continue to see their patient populations increase, the demand for AGNPs will continue to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of nurse practitioners will grow by 46% — adding nearly 113,000 new jobs — this decade.

If you wish to pursue a rewarding career in health care as an AGNP, you would do well to invest in your education. Regis College’s online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program offers six nurse practitioner concentrations, two of which are adult gerontology – primary care and adult gerontology – acute care.

Learn more about the program and begin your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner.

Recommended Readings

Telehealth Policy and Procedure: Developing Guidelines for Nurses

What Is Health Equity, and Why Does It Matter?

Why Get a BSN to DNP Online?

Example Sources:, “The Role of Nurses in a Nursing Home”

Health in Aging, Nursing Homes

Incredible Health, “Career Guide: Working as a Nurse in a Nursing Home”

Indeed, “What Is an Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?”

Payscale, Average Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) Salary

Rural Health Information Hub, Demographic Changes and Aging Population

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

U.S. Census Bureau, “65 and Older Population Grows Rapidly as Baby Boomers Age”

U.S. Census Bureau, “Demographic Turning Points for the  United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060”

U.S. Census Bureau, Older Population and Aging