Humanizing Elderly Patients: Look Closer
March 18, 2014
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Working in an elderly nursing facility can be difficult. The daily routine of checking patients, helping them into and out of bed, administering medication and noting every aspect of their condition on the chart can be monotonous and distancing. That's why it's important for nurses to remember that elderly patients are people who have lived full lives and are often just as dulled by the monotony of their care as you are. Humanizing elderly patients can make life for everyone much more enjoyable.
How to Put Humanity Back Into Nursing
You can reintroduce some dignity and humanity into your nursing practice by adopting the maxim of treating others as you would have them treat you. To ensure you are treating patients with the same respect and empathy as you expect for yourself, remember to do the following:
- Listen to what a person has to say. Let them do the talking and put yourself in their shoes while you listen. Ask questions when you don't understand, can't hear or want to know more. When you're busy, instead of making your patient feel like she is slowing you down, tell her so. She understands that nurses are busy, but has no idea what is behind impatient behavior.
- Think about your appearance. People want to trust nurses, but expect a level of professionalism before they believe you are genuine.
- Think of a patient's needs beyond checking their vital signs. If you know that Mr. Davis used to play baseball, help set him up to watch the World Series. If making afghans was her hobby, give Mrs. Johnson a crochet hook and some yarn. Getting to know your patients and their histories, hobbies, losses and achievements will help you see the whole person.
- Be kind, employ empathy and be genuine.
In 1966, a Scottish nurse named Phyllis McCormack wrote "Crabbit Old Woman," a poem also known as "Look Closer." Speaking from the perspective of an elderly patient, the poem is a beautiful reminder that dignity extends throughout a person's life, from infancy to old age. Some nursing schools require students to watch a film adaptation of the poem. The ending the poem is the key to humanizing elderly patients: "So open your eyes, nurse, open and see. Not a crabby old woman, look closer, see me."
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