How Nurses Care For Patients Of All Ages

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Nurses play an important role in their patients’ lives. Whether they are providing acute care or serving as an empathetic ear for health questions throughout a patient’s life, nurses build just as much rapport with their patients as primary care providers, and often even more. With that power comes a lot of responsibility, including adapting care tactics to better suit the patient in question. One of the most common methods of doing so involves dividing patients by age group and remembering unique care needs to be kept in mind for each group. 

With that in mind, this article will explore how nurses can adapt their care for all members of the family, from infants to the elderly. More specifically, we will break down care objectives for the main age groups, which are: infants and toddlers, younger children, older children, adolescents and young adults, middle and older-aged adults, and the elderly. Let’s take a closer look! 

Infants and toddlers (from 0 years to 3 years)

Toddlers and infants experience rapid growth both mentally and physically. Nearly every part of their body and mind changes daily, impacting their social interactions. Some infants and toddlers can be scared when it comes to interacting with medical professionals, which means that nurses must understand how to interact with them in a non-threatening manner. 

Nurses should emphasize calm communication when working with infants or toddlers. Nonverbal cues are important here. Any direct interaction with a child should be cautious and involve plenty of time to allow them to become accustomed to the healthcare professional in question. 

Young children (from 4 to 6 years)

While younger children also experience rapid growth, but the pace slows down as their age increases. Young children refine the skills and abilities they learned when they were toddlers at this point. This includes fine motor skills as well as emotional and social cues, which tend to become much more complex in this age range. 

Because young children can vary so widely in terms of how they interact with each other as well as their families and strangers, nurses must be observant when working with them. Some children develop independence and can often be approached directly, but others might be less inclined to interact with strangers. It’s especially important for nurses to be sensitive in their approach toward the latter group. They should be as gentle and predictable as possible with their movements as well as their words. 

Regardless of a child’s confidence and independence levels, nurses should make sure to praise them throughout the process and encourage them to ask questions, while offering information about their health and feelings. 

Older children (from 7 to 12 years)

In this age group, children become known as “doers”. This means that they experience quick mental growth along with physical growth and start learning how to “do things”. Understanding cause and effect, grasping math, and possessing both reading and writing abilities make children at this age eager learners. They also begin to become keenly aware of their social place and often want to find somewhere to fit in and might demand increased independence steadily as they grow. Nurses must be aware of this and keep it in mind when interacting with older children.

More specifically, older children might be less likely to share health information with care providers, especially if they deem it embarrassing. Make sure to always emphasize that, as a care provider, nothing they have to say could surprise you. Reassure them that you can help them through whatever their health problems might be – they need to know that they aren’t in trouble and that problems can be addressed if they are open to talking.

Adolescents and young adults (from 13 to 39 years)

Adolescents are prone to rapid development similar to that experienced as infants and toddlers but in smaller spurts instead of a continuous stream. Patients will become physically mature in this age group, and honest and frank conversations about sexual health are common. Don’t hesitate to be straightforward with patients, but also avoid scaring them. Remember that adolescents typically want control over their health and their actions. This translates into knowing about the procedures and tests they’ll be undergoing and what future healthcare might look like depending on the results. Women and men will begin their annual visits for reproductive health at this time. 

Young adults experience a lot of social change very quickly. Many of them are transitioning out of university and beginning families while also starting their careers, which leads to busy schedules and, sometimes, decreased time for medical care. Because of this, nurses must be ready to allow patients to choose how they want to be treated, if at all. In this age group, nurses can’t force treatment upon a person – all they can do is provide them with the information they need to make an informed decision and then respect what they decide to do. 

Overall, interacting with adolescents and young adults is typically easier than it is with younger age groups and often consists of routine check-ups and common health conditions. 

Middle and older adults (40 to 79)

Middle-aged adults experience noticeable aging, especially toward the latter end of the age range. New health issues may arise, including chronic health problems such as lung disease or heart disease. Hormonal changes in women and men will also become common health complaints. Nurses must be aware that patients in this age range have likely not yet adjusted to the reality that they must be more cautious about their health and might have difficulty accepting the shift.

Older adults experience many of the same concerns that middle adults experience, but on a larger scale. They will begin to notice aging more significantly toward the end of the age range and might experience the loss of family, friends, and potentially even spouses. This period is one of constant change and growth as relationships evolve and loved ones begin to pass. Nurses must be ready to monitor patients’ moods and perspectives, with an increased emphasis on mental health as well as practical concerns, such as bathtub grips and ramps, along with medication safety guidelines.

The elderly (80 years and more)

The elderly require more care than younger patients. Chronic illnesses in this age group become more common and cognitive ability sometimes goes into decline. Lost mobility is another common concern in this age range. Nurses must be aware of the challenges this age group faces and be especially vigilant about signs of dementia or depression. Nurses must be prepared to support their patients as they approach the end of their lives and enhance their independence as much as possible. 

Universal guidelines for good patient care

At this point, you probably have a good idea about what constitutes good care for patients in specific age ranges. There are a few things that the aspiring nurse must keep in mind beyond these, however, including universal guidelines about patient equality, privacy, and safety. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can master these tips and become a proactive nurse fighting for your patients’ rights, consider completing an online BSN program in Virginia, such as the one offered by Marymount University. Working with a respected educator ensures that your degree pulls its own weight and prepares you for a future in healthcare.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at some of the things nurses should be doing for every patient, regardless of their age and health concerns. 

Treating patients equally

While there are unique factors to consider when treating patients in specific age groups, such as those described above, there are also some things that should be universal in scope. The first of these is to treat patients equally. You might think this sounds obvious, but having a cordial and respectful relationship with a patient can be incredibly important in treating them effectively.

Remember that the way we behave sometimes isn’t a conscious choice – it is often the result of unconscious biases. Even if you don’t consciously think that you treat some patients differently, be aware of this potentiality and resolve to monitor your interactions with all patients. Spend the same amount of time with patients (depending on their specific health needs, of course) and give all of them the same level of respect and dignity. 

Always remember that these are people striving to feel better and maintain their health and treat them as individuals. This will go a long way towards building positive rapport with all of your patients, regardless of their age groups. 

Keeping patient information confidential

When you see dozens of patients a day, it is easy to view them more as a work responsibility than as people. While there are myriad issues with this, one of the most important of them is simple: When you stop seeing someone as an individual and instead lump them into a group, you stop giving them the level of respect and consideration they deserve. In a medical setting, this could easily spell disaster. 

More specifically, seeing patients in an “us versus them” mentality can quickly see their rights flounder. Remember that you are expected to uphold patient rights and protect them, including their privacy. Nursing is not an area where you can let off some steam by sharing funny stories about the people in your care. You don’t work in an office setting where interacting with customers doesn’t require the use of personal medical information – you work in a hospital setting with some of the most vulnerable people in society. Avoid commenting on any part of your interaction with patients on social media, too. You might think that the reference is veiled enough to cover yourself legally or that the patient will simply never know, but as we’ve seen in the past, these stories tend to make their way to the public slowly but surely. 

Above all else, maintain a professional boundary between you and your patients. Avoid handing out too much personal information and don’t talk about inappropriate things with them. Note that in this context, “inappropriate” doesn’t necessarily mean vulgar. It can also mean talking too much about your personal life or other patients. 

Regularly reflect on your own behavior

Regularly assess your behavior and any comments you’ve made (or have considered making) to ensure that you are treating your patients as people and are protecting their rights. Have you been saying the right things and offering your patients truly objective care? Don’t hesitate to change your behavior with patients over time. If you realize that you’ve been too informal, subtly steer the dynamic to more professional lines. Mistakes happen; the important thing is that you don’t keep perpetuating the mistake once you recognize it and instead push yourself to make more conscious decisions moving forward.

The good news is that this checks-and-balances system tends to become easier the longer you work as a nurse. Experienced colleagues in the field can give you tips about how to better handle your stresses to keep your patients secure and protect your own career from legal remedies.

Professional boundaries you shouldn’t cross

We’ve talked a lot about keeping things professional between patients regardless of circumstance, but we haven’t spent as much time talking about what that means. The National Council of State Board of Nursing (NCSBN) defines professional boundaries as spaces that maintain a firm line between patients’ vulnerability and their nurse’s inherent power. Both patients and nurses are at risk when these boundaries are crossed, and the relationship is subverted in some way. 

Here are some of the most common instances of crossing professional boundaries when interacting with patients:

  • Sharing intimate information
  • Flirting
  • Sharing personal information
  • Showing favoritism
  • Keeping secrets for or with the patient
  • Taking sides in familial disputes
  • Becoming “super nurse” and implying that no one can care for the patient as well as they can
  • Complaining about coworkers
  • Offering favors beyond your scope of work

While this is not an exhaustive list, it is a good start to better understand some of the frequent mistakes nurses make when interacting with their patients. While the issues described above revolve mainly around becoming too involved with patients, remember that it is possible to be under-involved, too. Patients do need care, protection, and support, and failing to provide that can have just as many harmful consequences as providing too much of it.

Finally, it’s important to emphasize that crossing boundaries can sometimes happen innocently and accidentally. You are not a bad person or a bad nurse if you realize you have crossed any of these boundaries or can see yourself potentially crossing these boundaries. Not every mistake is intentional or implies intentional malice on the part of the provider. Sometimes these are just human errors. Be aware of your actions and if you have concerns, reflect on your behavior or talk to a colleague.  

Different healthcare focuses for different ages

Healthcare is a huge field, and nurses often interact with a wide range of patients. As patients develop over their lives, there are a variety of factors that need to be thought about when it comes to their care. From young children’s rapid development to teenage regression and hormones to older patients’ battle against the loss of independence with aging, it’s important for nurses to understand patients’ concerns. Having this understanding can help nurses adapt care suitably to ensure their patients receive the best care. 

Keep our tips in mind as you embark on your professional journey. If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, you can use this information as you research degrees and ensure that any potential programs you are considering cover the bases necessary to set you up for a successful career.

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The chief editor here at Billboard Health, wife and Mother of 1, Nutritionist and goal getter.

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