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How Important is it to Have Empathy as a Geriatric Nurse?

Having genuine empathy is perhaps the most vital attribute of a geriatric nurse. Working with the elderly requires understanding patients on a deeper level to provide truly person-centred care. Beyond clinical skills, an empathetic nurse enhances the physical, mental and emotional well-being of every patient through respect, compassion and dedication.

In the UK, the majority of care homes are in the private sector. Here are some facts:

Here are some key statistics on private care homes in the UK:

Around 89% of care home beds in the UK are provided by private and voluntary sector care homes rather than local authorities. This equates to over 400,000 beds in over 11,300 care homes.


The majority (around 75%) of residents in care homes pay for their own care privately, either funded by their own assets or savings or by family members.


Only around 12% of care home places are commissioned directly by local authorities. The remaining 13% is jointly funded by both the individual and the local authority.


The UK care home sector is dominated by for-profit providers; around 84% of all beds are run by private companies. The other 16% are run by charities or voluntary organisations.


The largest private care home providers in the UK include HC-One, Four Seasons Health Care, Barchester Healthcare, and Bupa Care Homes. Many smaller providers operate just one or two care homes.


Private care home fees averaged £847 per week for a place in 2020, an increase of 4.5% from 2019. Fees in London were 33% higher than the UK average.


Demand for care home places will likely continue to rise with an ageing population. This is driving growth amongst private providers catering to self-funding retirees.


So, in summary, the vast majority of care home facilities and residents in the UK are catered to by private sector providers. The independent sector has expanded significantly to meet demand, though costs remain a major issue.

Building Trusting Relationships

At the core of empathy is forming meaningful connections with patients. An empathetic nurse takes time to build rapport and gain patients' trust. This provides a safe space for elderly patients to open up about concerns that impact their health. By actively listening and validating fears or anxieties, the nurse can then offer tailored reassurance and support. This enhances the patient's comfort and cooperation with treatments. Respectful, caring relationships enable even patients with conditions like dementia to feel understood.

Understanding Life Experiences
Empathy also involves appreciating patients' perspectives based on their diverse life experiences. For example, geriatric nurses must be aware of potential challenges faced by LGBTQ+ elderly patients who may have experienced prejudice or patients who worked manual jobs may downplay symptoms of pain or mobility issues. An empathetic nurse identifies potential barriers and then guides patients to necessary care or assistance. They advocate for patients' needs by educating colleagues on social factors affecting health.

Supporting Emotional Needs
Mental and emotional needs are as important as physical ones for the elderly. Retirement, losing loved ones, and health changes can take an emotional toll. An empathetic ear helps patients process difficult feelings like grief, loneliness or fear, which may otherwise manifest as aggression or withdrawal. Where appropriate, the nurse introduces counseling referrals or support groups. Small gestures like conversation, reminiscence and encouragement have a huge impact on emotional wellbeing.

Respecting Dignity and Independence
Maintaining dignity and independence are key concerns for the elderly that empathetic nurses respect. They involve patients in care decisions rather than dictating. By explaining procedures, they help patients feel in control. Where able, they encourage patients to self-care, only assisting when truly necessary. They are vigilant about covering patients during care and speak respectfully, not condescendingly. Respecting patients' dignity enables more open, cooperative care.

Facilitating Family Involvement
Caring for the elderly often involves their loved ones. An empathetic nurse keeps family members informed and involved. They patiently address concerns and questions from distressed relatives. Where appropriate, they teach families how to provide aspects of care to keep patients comfortable at home. They also watch for signs of caregiver stress and connect families to support services. This holistic approach provides vital emotional support alongside clinical care.

Individualised Care Plans

Truly personalised care requires understanding patients at an individual level. An empathetic nurse looks beyond medical needs to each patient's preferences and quirks. They get to know their hobbies, interests and routines, then incorporate these into their care plans. Accommodating little personal preferences, like serving tea in a favourite cup - makes patients feel valued. Care plans based on empathy consider the whole person.

Watching for Non-Verbal Cues
Empathetic nurses understand that patients may be unable or unwilling to express their needs verbally. They watch closely for non-verbal indicators of discomfort like agitation or withdrawal. Years of experience equip them to interpret signs that something is wrong even when patients cannot verbalise it. They then evaluate potential issues to address the underlying problem. Catching issues early on improves recovery and saves critical escalations.

Managing Challenging Behaviours
Certain conditions, like dementia, may cause aggressive or repetitive behaviours. An empathetic nurse manages these with understanding and patience. They look for triggers to avoid escalation. Where incidents occur, they redirect patients calmly without judgement. Familiarity with each patient's personality helps predict and prevent behavioural issues that disrupt care. This protects patients' well-being and safety.

Encouraging Mental Stimulation
Preserving cognitive function is vital for mental health. Empathetic nurses notice when patients are withdrawn or low in mood. They motivate patients with activities, conversation and mental exercises tailored to individual interests and abilities. Supporting patients' hobbies, from knitting to sports, gives a sense of purpose. Reminiscing taps into long-term memory. Positive stimulation improves mood and slows cognitive decline.

Recognising Progress
For elderly patients, small wins represent major progress, which empathetic nurses recognise. Simple accomplishments like walking a few steps or eating a full meal deserve genuine praise. Empathetic nurses understand how much effort went into each gain. Acknowledging progress, however small, motivates patients to keep trying through recovery setbacks. Celebrating wins makes praise feel authentic, not condescending.

Attending To Non-Medical Needs
Addressing only clinical needs overlooks factors affecting patients' comfort and dignity. An empathetic nurse considers the person holistically. They notice if a patient needs fresh pyjamas, a shower or their hair washed. They fulfill small requests like getting a favourite blanket or playing preferred music. Helping patients feel clean, comfortable and entertained enhances their wellbeing.

Conclusion
In geriatric care, empathy directly impacts patient outcomes and satisfaction. An empathetic nurse is more observant, understanding and dedicated to each patient's total well-being. Their ability to form trusting connections enables personalised care. They look beyond medical needs to treat the whole person. With deep empathy, nurses can enhance physical, mental and emotional health to improve in later years. Their understanding and compassion provide comfort even in the most challenging circumstances. For geriatric nurses, empathy is not just ideal - it is fundamental to providing exemplary person-centred care.

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