Registered nurses who work at elderly care facilities specialize in an area of medicine called geriatrics. They focus not only on the physical ailments associated with aging, but also with mental impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Many of these nurses have only general nursing training, while others hold advanced degrees or certification in geriatric nursing.
To work at nursing homes, retirement communities and assisted living facilities, registered nurses need at least an associate degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in nursing. To hold supervisory positions, they sometimes need a master’s degree or certification in nursing management or geriatric nursing. For example, some pursue graduate degrees to become gerontological nurse practitioners or geriatric clinical nurse specialists. Nurses can also earn certification in gerontological nursing through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
The duties for a registered nurse in an elderly care facility vary by the facility. Duties might include basic assistance such as helping patients bathe, dress themselves, get up and down, walk, and use wheelchairs or walkers. RNs also monitor patients’ conditions and assess their vital signs, noting any physical or mental decline and reporting back to the doctor. In addition, they administer medications and other treatments and help patients manage common age-related conditions such as incontinence, sleep disturbances or loss of mobility.
The term “elderly care facility” can apply to a diverse array of health care institutions. This includes everything from senior living communities where residents live independently to skilled nursing facilities where patients require 24-hour care. Like nurses in other specialties, geriatric nurses often spend long hours on their feet making their rounds. In addition to the physical toll, they often encounter emotional stress, especially when interacting with patients who have severe cognitive decline and may be angry or fearful. They also face the eventual loss of most of their patients, which is especially painful after they’ve cared for them for several years.
Salary and Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses in all types of care facilities earned a median annual salary of $64,690 as of 2010. The website Explore Health Careers notes that registered nurses specializing in geriatrics earn an average salary of $54,457. However, salaries vary widely depending on type of facility, geographic location, education level and experience. For example, a director of nursing at an assisted living center will earn significantly more than a staff nurse. Explore Health Careers also anticipates increasing demand for elder care nurses because Americans are living longer and require more intensive health care. Geriatric nurses who speak Spanish and English are in especially high demand.