New study finds graduating nurses ill-prepared to care for the elderly

August 17, 1999

A recent study conducted by the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing and published in the Journal of Professional Nursing revealed a major concern to add to our already understaffed hospital crisis. The study found that the majority of nurses working in hospitals and nursing homes across the country have never been adequately trained to care for their elderly patients. Many of these nurses have never even taken a single course in geriatrics.

This is alarming news when you consider that today, a nurse's typical patient is an older adult. Although elderly people (65 years and older) represent only 12.8 percent of the American population, they account for more than 60 percent of ambulatory adult primary care visits, 80 percent of home care visits, 48 percent of hospital patients, and 85 percent of residents in nursing homes. Thus, an ever-decreasing staff of nurses are caring for the fastest growing segment of the population-- the elderly - without being properly trained to do so.

According to Dr. Mathy Mezey, EdD, RN, FAAN, co-author of the study, a nationally-renowned authority on issues of the elderly and elder care, and director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University, only one in four baccalaureate nursing schools even require a course in the care of the elderly.

"We must raise the nation's awareness of nurses' critical role in the care of the elderly," said Dr. Mezey. "We should consider this study a wake-up call for introducing more geriatric education into nursing programs."

It is critical that nurses be prepared to deal with the unique health-care needs facing the elderly, such as: functional and mental status assessment of the elderly, prevention and assessment of falls, the use of physical restraints, the management of urinary incontinence in elderly patients and the treatment of pressure ulcers.

"The problem begins with the fact that only one in three nursing schools have faculty prepared to teach gerontological curriculum," says Dr. Mezey. The study asked baccalaureate nursing programs in the United States about their gerontological curriculum and found that the majority have no full or part-time faculty members certified in gerontology.

Study participants were asked to explain why this situation exists and the number one answer was "Curriculum already overloaded." Given the demographic trends in health care today, the present "overloaded" nursing curriculum won't be able to fulfill our future health needs.

"State-mandated curriculum in gerontological care is an option," said Dr. Mezey. "We need to focus on preparing nurses to provide what the elderly in our society deserve: optimal and humane care."
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The John A Hartford Institute Foundation for Geriatric Nursing at New York University - The Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at NYU seeks to shape the quality of the health care that elderly Americans receive by promoting the highest level of competency in the nurses who deliver that care. By raising the standards of nursing care, the Hartford Institute aims to ensure that people age in comfort and with dignity.

The Hartford Website can be visited at www.nyu.edu/education/nursing/hartford.institute . The email address is: hartford.ign@nyu.edu

New York University Division of Nursing

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