Nurses work hard, and much is demanded of them, both physically and emotionally. It is hard for nurses to maintain the pace as they age. Yet there are many older nurses continuing to work in hospital wards and nursing homes. As a matter of fact, more than 800,000 nurses are between 50 and 65 in the United States. Here are 6 essential health tips for older nurses that can help them remain in the workforce, caring for patients.
Invest in Self-Care
You can’t take care of others properly if you haven’t taken care of yourself. Make sure to get at least seven hours of sleep every night, and if you can, eight hours is even better. You need at least six hours of deep sleep for your body to repair and renew itself each night, so try to improve your quality of sleep at all costs. If you work the nightshift, it would be wise to invest in a set of blackout curtains to block out the sunrays completely and prevent them from interrupting your sleep cycle mid-sleep.
Also, it is important to eat properly. Cut back on sugar, carbohydrates and caffeine, and make healthier choices at meal times. Instead of snacking, try to eat several smaller healthy meals to maintain your energy level. If you work the night shift, eat a full meal before your shift. This will give you the energy to work all night, and it eliminates the temptation to eat unhealthy snacks all night because the cafeteria is closed.
Don’t forget to exercise daily if you can. Strengthen your core to improve your flexibility and reduce your odds of injury.
Be Mentally Prepared for Work Each Day
Start each day calm, focused and ready for work. This will set the tone for the rest of the day. Set aside personal anxieties, and focus on your patients’ needs. Focus on being mindful in every situation so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the emotions of your patients, their caregivers and your peers. If you feel overwhelmed, try to take a break and just breathe. This will help you to stay focused at work and available to other nurses. Express gratitude to others, and acknowledge gratitude from others to maintain the right state of mind.
Be Realistic About Your Abilities
While you’re fully capable of working, you may not physically be able to maintain your history of 12-hour shifts. Request a reduced workload, and switch to eight-hour shifts if you can, even if the pay seems tempting. You may have to change employers to achieve this, such as moving from a hospital to a clinic. Don’t be afraid to ask for physical assistance.
If you have trouble moving patients, ask for hoists and lifts. This will help you remain on the job, and it reduces everyone’s risk of injury. Present it as a safety and health improvement, since more than half of all ICU nurses suffer back pain at least once in their lives, andtwo thirds of all orthopedic nurses suffer from back pain. However, employers are eager to take steps to keep older nurses on staff, and you’ll likely get the assistive devices once you make your case. If that’s not an option, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Don’t strain to read the screen. Request larger text on computers and other medical equipment to improve the accuracy of readings. Ask for amplifiers for phones and stethoscopes to accommodate those with poor hearing.
End Your Shift Right
When your shift is over, take time to take care of yourself and others. Invest in your professional relationships, such as mentoring a student nurse or talking to peers about your feelings. Recognize that you have years of experience and wisdom that younger nurses need to hear. Then leave work at work when you go home. When you go home, take time to relax.
If you work the night shift, don’t try to go to sleep immediately. Instead, relax and allow your body to tell you when you should go to sleep. But whatever you do, do not rely on alcohol or sleeping pills. If you want to work the night shift, gradually ease into the night shift instead of trying to shift from day shift to night shift. Allow your body to establish a circadian rhythm for restful sleep.
Move into a Less Stressful Role
You aren’t as young as you used to be. You’re still capable of working, and you offer a wealth of expertise younger nurses can draw on. Consider something less demanding like Family Nursing. What a family nurse practitioner does is similar to a primary care physician, and the pay is better than being a registered nurse. You could work in private practice, retail clinics, hospitals or urgent care centers. You’ll move into diagnosis and away from more physically demanding tasks like helping patients in and out of bed and other aspects of day to day patient care.
You could also move from the Emergency Room to outpatient surgery orthopedics. Switch units to one that is less emotionally and physically demanding. If all else fails, don’t take too many shifts per week. It is better to pace yourself than risk injury or eventual burnout. If you’re concerned about this, look for part time or contract positions. For example, you could work at the facility when they have the heaviest load but be off the rest of the time.
Management doesn’t know there is a problem unless you tell them. Inform your boss when you need to be reassigned to something less demanding if they’d like to keep you on staff. Speak up when you realize the need for new equipment. Let them know when someone needs accommodation, such as when they’ve had surgery and now can’t lift patients, or reach high enough to hang IV bags.
Experienced older nurses are an invaluable asset to the team. Employers want to keep you there, because they need you. So, ask for what you need, and you’re likely to get it.