Retirement: How the Older Adult Patient Transitions and How Nurses Can Help

By Nelah Di'Addezio

Retirement: How the Older Adult Patient Transitions and How Nurses Can Help

Many adults spend their working life dreaming of retirement. What’s not to like about extra time for relaxation, hobbies, and vacation, right? However, the reality is that adjustment to retirement can be difficult.

Prior to retirement, the individual may fantasize about his pending retirement. Upon retirement, he may initially feel elated and try to do everything he envisioned. With time, though, disillusionment often arises as he experiences restraints financially and physically. He may even feel depressed due to a loss of identity if he allowed his work role define him.

In addition to retirement, the loss of a spouse can be compounding. They are at risk for social isolation if children do not live nearby and they do not have many friendships locally or a support system in the community. Women may lose their sense of purpose if married years were spent caring for her husband and kids and not having a role outside of the home.

As nurses, we should assess the older adult patient’s needs and adjustment to these transitions. We should identify financial and physical restraints and assess for social isolation and depression.  Here’s a list of ways to help the patient adapt and overcome possible barriers:

  • Help the patient have a realistic perspective of physical limitations by discussing ways to live with and improve these limitations. Encourage rest periods, as needed, and spacing activities throughout the day.  Explain the importance of timing medications such as analgesics, diuretics and laxatives so as to allow for activities rather than hinder them.  Assess for deficits in hearing, vision, and mobility and provide solutions to allow for involvement in activities.
  • Assess whether the patient spends time alone for refreshment or due to depression. If applicable, refer the patient for counseling. Recommend support groups for those who are grieving.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle of regular exercise as advised by his physician, a nutritious diet, and maintaining routine physical examinations.
  • Help the patient explore new outlets that can be rewarding after retirement. Sometimes working part time in a new role that is less stressful is beneficial.
  • For the patient whose family does not live nearby, suggest alternative ways to connect with children and grandchildren despite distance through texts, emails, and video chats. Also, point out the value of creating memory books filled with pictures, letters, favorite recipes, etc. to pass on to future generations.  Help them identify other support systems within the community, such as churches or clubs.

As nurses we need to be careful to not stereotype the older adult. Possessing misconceptions that the aged population is ill, handicapped, confused, and not mentally sharp can be harmful when providing care. The patients may already struggle with these stereotypes and it may affect the way they view themselves. We need to assess and care for them as individuals without any preconceived notions.

The goal is for the older adult patient to maintain as healthy and as active of a lifestyle and find meaning and purpose in this stage of life. As their nurse, we need to be there advocate and help them achieve this goal.

 Look for the upcoming article which will explore the various settings in which a nurse cares for older adult patients and the nurse’s role in each of these settings. Until then, take time to sit with an older patient and listen to his story.

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