How to Overcome Challenges in Geriatric Nursing

Geriatric nursing patient lying in bed
Geriatric nursing patient lying in bed

Working in geriatrics offers nurse practitioners the opportunity to serve a population in need of compassion, understanding and specialized quality care. Overcoming geriatric nursing challenges is a rewarding undertaking for dedicated practitioners. As with any patient population, geriatric patients face specific issues that require specific knowledge, understanding and attention. Obtaining an online Master of Science in Nursing degree to become an adult-gerontological nurse practitioner helps students focus their skill set to serve others through a meaningful career.

What Are Some Challenges Faced in Geriatric Nursing?

Caring for the elderly presents a few common challenges for practitioners. Below are some ways to help individuals overcome issues in geriatric care.

Struggling with Self-Care and Loss of Independence

Geriatric patients may struggle with a loss of independence. Some elderly patients maintain a high level of independence, but others find themselves increasingly needing to rely on help to manage activities of daily living such as bathing, eating, and dressing. With lessened abilities, negative feelings like anger, shame, or sadness can occur in elderly patients as they cope.

Nursing professionals working in geriatrics can help by ensuring patients are allowed the time and assistance necessary to complete tasks within their appropriate level of functioning. For instance, some elderly patients have mobility issues and may need assistance with bathing, but can still perform other tasks like brushing hair. These tasks that are in reach should be encouraged to promote feelings of independence.

Regular assessment of patients’ functional statuses will also help practitioners understand their patients’ needs. The Katz Index of Independence is a great tool to help health care providers assess patients’ functioning levels. Assessing capabilities and performance issues is essential in developing and implementing an effective treatment plan.

How Can Nurse Practitioners Help Patients Cope with Dementia?

Dementia is another common issue in geriatric care. With the loss of memory and functional ability, coping can be difficult for the patient, family, and caregivers. Individuals with dementia may become easily frustrated as they realize they have difficulty remembering and must accept help from others that they didn’t need previously. Individuals with dementia may struggle with communication. Understanding their needs requires patience, good communication skills, and observation.

Nurse practitioners can help manage the progress of certain types of dementia by prescribing medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors and try to regulate other conditions that may worsen dementia, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Providers working in geriatrics can also support patients with dementia by helping them receive physical therapy to help prevent falls, and occupational therapy to help them maintain some independence with activities of daily living.

Identifying Abuse and Neglect in Geriatric Patients

Nurse practitioners who work in geriatrics are serving a vulnerable population, and elderly mistreatment must be identified early on for prevention — this requires keen attention to detail. Not all signs of abuse are identified easily. Elder abuse may include physical, emotional, sexual abuse and financial exploitation, as well as neglect or abandonment.

In 2018, one out of every six senior citizens (age 60 years and older) experienced some form of abuse. Mistreatment can lead to serious consequences that are detrimental to health and wellbeing, including physical injuries and psychological harm.

Some cases of elder neglect are unintentional. They may result from increased care needs becoming greater than what can be provided by medically educated caregivers. These instances may involve family members who become responsible for an elderly relative but do not realize that an issue the patient displays is a symptom of neglect.

In diligently recognizing the signs of elderly mistreatment and supporting individuals coping with the effects of abuse and neglect, nurse practitioners can have a positive impact on a major issue in geriatric care.

A Part of the Solution

Working in geriatrics is a rewarding career for nursing professionals. Spring Arbor University’s online MSN in adult-gerontology provides future nurse practitioners with the knowledge and clinical reasoning skills to succeed. SAU’s flexible program allows working professionals to take one course at a time and to possibly graduate in as little as two years.

Be a part of the solution and help overcome geriatric nursing challenges with an advanced education.


Clinical Practice Guidelines for Management of Dementia.

National Institute on Aging. Elder abuse.

Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Katz Index of ADLs.

World Health Organization. Elder Abuse.