As the population in the United States ages, healthy aging is going to become a concern for a growing segment of people and the healthcare teams that care for them. September’s Healthy Aging Month designation brings an awareness for nurses who want to offer appropriate care for their aging patients and who also want to be mindful of healthy aging practices for their own health.
Dr. Sharon Bronner, DNP, MSN, ACHPN, GNP-BC, RYT-500, is a member of the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA), and she shared some insight with Minority Nurse about how gerontological nurses play an essential role in helping folks age with a focus on health and wellness.
“Gerontological nurses can promote healthy aging by assessing and evaluating the body, mind, and spirit of each individual older adult,” says Bronner, who has been a gerontological nurse for four decades. “The keys to promoting healthy aging start with food choices, healthy life choices, movement of the body, and socialization.”
Gerontological nurses also adapt their approach to tune into the ways older adults thrive, she says. For instance, older adults respond to compassionate listening, social engagement, complementary alternative modalities, and holistic care. Promoting healthy aging means that gerontological nurses want to acknowledge cardiovascular and cognitive decline and give patients information and education to help them in those areas.
“Physical activity daily can go a long way with facilitating healthy aging,” she says. “Some physical activity can include walking, mindfulness movements, yoga, qigong, light weight training, and movement of the body energy. Movement that is conducted three times a week would be ideal for healthy aging.”
For example, Bronner says, yoga can assist with regulating the autonomic nervous system, which can decrease anxiety, increase spinal flexibility, and correct spinal imbalances. Strengthening and protecting the spine can help reduce falls, which often become a traumatic event for older adults.
As the nation faces an increasingly older population, Bronner says the biggest challenges in the new millennium are nurses not prepared to work with older adults and a shortage of nursing staff in nursing homes and hospitals. “Older adults have complex medical conditions and a multitude of chronic conditions that often are not managed appropriately,” she says.
And nurses and families can introduce the idea of planning for healthcare emergencies with advance directives. These plans, she says, are often not discussed until there is a crisis or end of life is approaching. This lack of direction can cause upheaval for both the older adult and other family members who might not be sure what to do.
Families and healthcare teams can also help promote healthy aging with the implementation of telehealth monitoring of blood pressure, weight, blood oxygen level, and virtual assessment. Keeping a close eye on conditions with remote telemonitoring, whether in a skilled nursing facility or in a private home improves the patient and provider relationship while also allowing quick intervention for chronic conditions. “Monitoring geriatric conditions and symptoms can aid in the prevention of falls,” she says, “while assessing nutrition could assist with promotion quality of life.”
For nurses considering gerontological nursing, Bronner says the specialty has offered her a nursing career she loves. “Gerontology has been a love of mine for many decades,” she says, “and I am able to holistically incorporate many modalities to assist with healing. The joys that resonate in my entire soul include the autonomy in my practice and the connection with the interdisciplinary team during the development of care plans.”
As a gerontological nurse, Bronner often works closely with an older adult’s loved ones and forms close bonds. That kind of support can help families if they need to navigate the end-of-life stage. “I enjoy when a family member gives hugs and appreciates the compassionate care at the end of life,” says Bronner. “The trauma of death is hard for each person involved. Providing comfort, education, and stillness (mindfulness) is a skill that I feel helps individuals through these difficult times.”
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