How to help your staff develop geriatric sensitivity

Denise Bodart
Denise Bodart

The importance of geriatric sensitivity in healthcare workers who deal with elderly patients cannot be overstated. Studies show that by attempting to recognize and empathize with elderly patients, providers can improve the odds of a variety of successful healthcare outcomes, from increased reports of symptoms and concerns and increased diagnostic accuracy to decreased illness duration and severity and increased resident compliance and satisfaction.

Most importantly, being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of geriatric patients improves their quality of life – and there are no second changes when it comes to providing quality care for elderly patients.

However, geriatric sensitivity is not an innate ability for everyone. For some caregivers, geriatric sensitivity is a skill that must be taught and nurtured, even in the workplace. New employee training is provided for other workplace activities and requirements, after all, so why not include staff development opportunities on a topic that will not only help caregivers gain a more positive view of older adults and build empathy for older adults in their care, but ultimately help them become a more effective caregiver?

Where to begin

From personal care tasks like tooth-brushing and hair-combing to standing up from a seated position and opening a door, elderly patients' days are often filled with physical challenges that can be simulated in training and orientation sessions to better understand what their patients are experiencing. Consider setting up several “geriatric experience” stations in which caregivers have to:

  • Wear thick gloves while writing, dialing a phone or tying a shoe to simulate joint stiffness and loss of sensation in hands

  • Look through foggy or soap-smeared glasses, wear sunglasses indoors or wear glasses with an incorrect prescription to simulator visual impairment

  • Wear ear plugs while carrying on a conversation to simulate hearing loss

  • Breath only through a straw to simulate fatigue

  • Don an age simulation suit, such as the RealCare™ Geriatric Simulator by Realityworks, to experience decreased mobility, range of motion, joint stiffness and more

Consider following up these simulation stations with discussion about how the experience made each caregiver feel. What difficulties did they experience? What surprised them about the difficulties? What changes did they observe about themselves and others? How has the experience changed their feelings or behavior towards elderly individuals? Encourage participants to reflect on these questions and share their experiences with their colleagues.

Every day, 10,000 baby boomers retire and become one step closer to needing long-term care and other health and retirement benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that careers in geriatrics and gerontology will increase by 20% in the next five years alone. Right now, it is more important than ever to ensure that healthcare workers and geriatric caregivers have the skills they need to provide quality care for elderly patients – and that includes not only academic and technical skills, but geriatric sensitivity.

Denise Bodart is the RealCare Product Manager.

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