Caring for the aging population: Plan for the future

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Quality improvement

By 2030, there will be more than 72 million Americans over 65 years old—almost 20% of the population (He et al, 2005). Are your nurses educated and prepared to care for them?

“Our geriatric population is growing with baby boomers, so we need to change how we treat and support them,” says Kelly Holt, RN, MSN, administrative director for patient care services at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, IL. “We need to adjust our thinking with treatment plans because the baby boomers are not the 70-year-olds of the past.”

At Alexian, staff members have recently implemented several initiatives to better meet the needs of the aging population, but Holt says she is planning for even more changes.

The new initiatives include:

  • The patient’s plan of care. Organizations traditionally consider age-specific interventions when they are developing a patient’s plan of care. However, many care plans do not extend beyond developmental levels.

“We need to gather more information on the patient before developing their plan of care, such as neu-rological deficits and baseline mobility information,” says Holt.

Alexian recently implemented a program involving patient care techs, who are now known as the mobility team. The patient care techs visit patient units every day to help elderly patients walk. These patients do not meet criteria for physical therapy but still need movement assistance so they don’t debilitate to the point where they need therapy, says Holt.

“The staff nurses on the floor appreciate their assistance, and the patients get another pair of hands to help them,” says Edith Schultz, RN, director of the surgical unit.

  • Functional assessment. Alexian staff members, such as clinicians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and dietitians, are helping improve geriatric patients’ plans of care. They are moving toward conducting functional assessments on each patient to review mobility and improve the overall assessment on admission.

When a geriatric patient is admitted to the facility, a functional assessment will be conducted by observing the patient’s ability to walk with a steady gait, sit and rise from a chair without difficulty, reposition him- or herself in the hospital bed, and navigate between the bed and the bathroom safely.

The results of the functional assessment will assist staff members with the proper implementation of fall precautions, mobility support, and other safety activities for the patient’s plan of care. (See “Online geriatric care resources” below to further assist staff members in caring for geriatric patients.)


He, W.; Sengupta, M.; Velkoff, V.; and DeBarros, K. (2005). Current Population Reports: 65+ in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Government Printing Office.



Adapted from The Staff Educator, March 2009, HCPro, Inc.