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Is older people's nursing a specialism?

Posted by:

7 May, 2012

Is older people’s nursing a specialism? What do you think?

Nurses who work predominantly with older patients are still not seen as specialists, despite the increasingly complex nature of care in this area, according to a study on international nursing opinion.

Angela Kydd, a senior lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, highlighted that historically working with older people was viewed as a “menial job”.

Her study set out to explore modern attitudes to caring for older people across Scotland and five other countries: the US, Slovenia, Germany, Sweden and Japan.

Nurses and healthcare assistants, including those that worked predominantly with older patients, were asked to complete a 20 question survey. In total 4,791 responses were analysed.

Dr Kydd said: “The results showed that although health care professionals and assistants in America reported a sense of professional esteem, the majority of the respondents in the five remaining countries did not.”

She said a “large number” of respondents stated that other people did not view those working with older people as specialists.

“It would appear that working with older people is still viewed as a job and not as a specialism,” she said. “Further studies are needed to explore methods necessary to improve the image of those who work with older people.”

The findings were presented on Tuesday at the Royal College of Nursing’s international research conference in London.

Readers' comments (14)

  • I have noticed a definite snobbery concerned with working with the elderly. I have been working on an elderly care ward where we have a real pride on the way we care for our patients, and their families show real gratitude in all that we do. Many of them have dementia, which requires specialist nursing, but this is not taken into account by either the management or other staff in our hospital, who it appears " look down " on the work we do, and have referred to the patients as "smelly, dirty old people "!

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  • If care of the elderly nursing isn't seen as a speciality then why do we need dedicated wards with highly trained staff?

    Of course it's a specialism and nurses working in this area should feel proud of the care they give.

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  • It is vital that nurses fully understand how to communicarte with someone with dementia. I spend a lot of time training both nurses and carers on dementia awareness. It is key that the different between the logical and emotional memories of people with dementia because without this understandin the patient will become agitated and the nurse frustrated.
    Roma Felstein. Safe and Sound Training

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  • it is a specialty, Gerontology, with several sub-specialisations, all of which require specialised training for doctors, nurses, HCAs and other medical and nursing assistants, other supporting professions including dieticians, social workers, OTs, physios, nuritionists, etc and anybody else involved with the care of the elderly, regardless of what people think otherwise patients cannot be provided with an adequate service for any complex medical/nursing/care problems.

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  • tinkerbell

    non verbal communication is essential

    eye contact
    vocal intonation
    facial expression

    As i mostly used to have a 'dead pan'(allegedly) expression, i have really had to work on making myself much more animated as far as expressions and gestures are concerned with the elderly.

    We have to find the meaning behind the missing words. My body is my tool. I have become a mime artist.

    It is suggested that @ 97% of communication is non verbal anyway regardless.

    I don't make a very good poker play anymore.

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  • Little One

    I went into nursing wanting to work on an elderly care ward and definitely think it is a specialty, albeit an unrecognised one, especially as our Trust now have no dedicated Geriatric wards.

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  • It cannot be assumed that all old people requiring medical care are retarded or suffering from dementia!

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  • Working with the elderly is clearly a specialty. Elderly patients usually present with multimorbidity of more than one or multiple chronic conditions. To demote the care of the elderly to be led by lesser skilled carers denies the complexity which is nearly always present.
    Caring is complex and, according to Roach (1993), who developed the Five Cs of caring (Compassion, Competence, Confidence, Conscience and Commitment), knowledge, skills and experience make caring unique.

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  • Anonymous | 13-May-2012 4:03 pm

    I was interested in you reference which I had not heard before and Googled it so that i could read more about it and download to my computer. Discovered that three more have been added:

    Courage, Culture and Communication

    Contemp Nurse. 1998 Sep;7(3):156-60.

    Eight 'Cs' of caring: a holistic framework for nursing terminally ill patients.

    Pusari ND.


    School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, Flinders University of South Australia.

    you say that caring is unique, which presumably means unique as an activity or profession, and I would add to that for the sake of completeness, although this may be self-evident, it is also unique to every carer and to every patient.

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  • "Is older people's nursing a specialism?"

    I am not sure why this question is even been asked!

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  • Yes it is a speciality. Older people, as has been said above, often have multiple conditions, are often taking numerous medications, often live alone and are often vulnerable.

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  • Anonymous | 14-May-2012 12:13 pm

    we know all this but it doesn't seem to alter anything!

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  • "Is older people's nursing a specialism?"
    Yes, it clearly is a specialism. Many of these people are totally reliant on our knowledge, we need to utilise an abundance of skills to ensure that they achieve quality standards. We need to advocate for them, and empower them to enable them to make decisions. To listen to them and encourage them to maintain there independence and manage there care where possible.The elderly population is increasing and this needs serious consideration.

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  • many nurses have the skills or the potential to provide expert care at all levels including the elderly and willingness to develop them so why aren't they permitted to put them to good use instead of being hampered in their work by lack of adequate resources and poor management who often demonstrate a total lack of acceptance or understanding of the diverse and highly specialised role of nurses.

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