A Guide to Geriatric Care: Addressing the Unique Needs of Older Adults

May 22, 2023
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A Guide to Geriatric Care: Addressing the Unique Needs of Older Adults

A Brief Guide to Geriatric Care: Addressing the Unique Needs of Older Adults

Geriatric care is a specialized field dedicated to addressing the unique healthcare needs of older adults. With an aging population, it is increasingly important for healthcare providers and caregivers to understand the complexities of caring for elderly patients. This comprehensive guide will provide insights into critical aspects of geriatric care, including common health concerns, communication strategies, and interdisciplinary teamwork, to ensure that older adults receive the best possible care.

Background of Geriatric Care

The number of Americans over 65 is projected to double, reaching nearly 100 million by 2060. Geriatrics, as a medical field, has existed since the 19th century and focuses on patient-centered care, addressing older adults' specific needs and preferences. However, despite its importance, geriatric care has struggled to gain traction within the medical community, with a decline in geriatric professionals over recent years.

Importance of Geriatric Care

As older adults are prone to complex medical, psychological, and social needs, specialized geriatric care is vital in assessing and creating effective care plans. Geriatric care aims to preserve functional capacity, maintain independence and quality of life, reduce hospitalization, alleviate pain, and moderate personal costs. Care decisions should be individualized based on the patient's overall health context, comorbid conditions, functional status, life expectancy, and personal preferences.

Geriatric Interdisciplinary Teams

Effective geriatric care often involves interdisciplinary teams of practitioners from different disciplines collaborating to provide coordinated, integrated care with collectively set goals, shared resources, and responsibilities. This team-based approach ensures patients move safely and efficiently between care settings and practitioners, reduces duplicated maintenance, and ensures comprehensive care delivery.

Typical geriatric interdisciplinary teams include physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, social workers, psychologists, and other specialized professionals. These teams must communicate openly, regularly, and in a coordinated manner to create, monitor, or revise care plans.

Communication Strategies with Older Adults

Effective communication is a crucial aspect of geriatric care, as age-related hearing loss and cognitive declines can create barriers to understanding. Consider the following techniques when caring for elderly patients:

  1. Get their attention: Gently touch their shoulder or say their name before providing necessary information.
  2. Reduce background noise: Turn off music or televisions and avoid crowded areas during conversations.
  3. Speak clearly and slowly: Enunciate words and maintain a moderate pace to ensure comprehension.
  4. Repeat and clarify information: Older adults may nod in agreement even if they did not fully understand the message.
  5. Ensure adequate lighting: Facial expressions and body language are more easily discerned in well-lit environments.

Common Health Concerns in Older Adults

Geriatric care providers must know common health concerns among older adults, as these conditions can affect assessment and treatment plans. Some prevalent health concerns include:

  1. Cardiovascular diseases: Conditions such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease can cause fatigue and reduced physical strength.
  2. Dementia: In addition to memory loss, dementia patients may experience paranoia, aggression, agitation, and self-care deficits.
  3. Delirium: Symptoms include shaking, shortened attention span, and extreme mood swings.
  4. Depression: Depression is common among older adults, with symptoms including sadness, irritability, fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness.

Making the Home Safe for Older Adults

Safety is a priority in geriatric care, especially for older adults living independently or with family members. To reduce the risk of falls and other injuries, implement the following safety measures:

  1. Remove throw rugs and place non-skid strips on hardwood and tile floors.
  2. Install safety rails in showers, tubs, and near toilets.
  3. Lower water temperature to below 120°F (48.9°C) to prevent scalding.
  4. Clear clutter and move furniture to create broad, accessible paths.
  5. Install nightlights throughout the home and on staircases.

Patient, Family Member, and Caregiver Participation in Care

Involving patients, family members, and caregivers in the care process is essential for person-centered care. This approach respects patient preferences, coordinates care, and involves family and friends in decision-making.

  1. Include patients and caregivers in team meetings: Actively involve them in discussions and decision-making processes.
  2. Respect patients' preferences and goals: Align care plans with their values and priorities.
  3. Provide information and education: Ensure patients and caregivers understand treatment options and potential outcomes.
  4. Encourage open communication: Foster honest discussions to prevent misunderstandings and ensure patient satisfaction.

The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers

Caring for older adults can be emotionally and physically demanding. It is crucial for caregivers to prioritize their well-being to remain focused and efficient. To maintain self-care, consider the following strategies:

  1. Prioritize sleep: Establish a routine to promote restful sleep.
  2. Practice mindfulness: Engage in relaxing activities such as yoga or tai chi.
  3. Maintain a balanced diet: Consume healthy foods and limit alcohol intake.
  4. Stay connected: Seek support from friends, family, or local support groups.

Adapting to Changing Needs in Geriatric Care

Geriatric care plans must remain flexible as older adults' needs may change. Regularly assess the effectiveness of care plans and modify them to accommodate evolving health conditions or personal preferences.


Geriatric care is an essential aspect of healthcare as the number of older adults grows rapidly. By understanding the unique needs of this population and implementing effective communication strategies and interdisciplinary care teams, healthcare providers can ensure that older adults receive comprehensive, patient-centered care. As geriatric care continues to evolve, healthcare professionals must remain adaptable and prioritize the well-being of both patients and caregivers.