Elder patient receiving care from hospital workerIf you’re not looking for candidates with eldercare experience as part of your healthcare talent management strategy, your organization may not be prepared to meet the care needs and expectations of aging baby boomers. According to the U.S. Census, 15 percent of the U.S. population is 65-plus, and that is projected to rise to as much as 23 percent by 2030.

“This shift in demographics, combined with increasing life spans, will lead to increased demands for geriatric-specific health services,” says Andrew Duxbury, M.D., a geriatrician with the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

To meet these challenges, healthcare talent managers must focus on candidates with clinical experience and behavioral attributes, specifically for eldercare.

Clinical Eldercare Experience — What to Look For

As elderly patients increasingly fill hospital beds are increasingly filled with elderly patients, you’ll want to ensure your hiring goals aim to identify candidates familiar with their ailments and potential complications. Seek employees with direct experience and/or professional training in caring for elderly patients with:

  • Cognitive Disorders: About 10 percent of people 65 and older have Alzheimer’s dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Understanding such patients’ special needs will empower staff to provide better care, enhance the healthcare experience, and improve health outcomes.
  • Multiple Chronic Conditions: Staff should have knowledge of how multiple diseases impact care provision, treatment, and quality of life. “In 2012, 45 percent of those 65 years of age and older reported having two or three chronic health conditions and 14 percent reported four more conditions,” says Cheryl Dye, director of Clemson University’s Institute for Engaged Aging.
  • Physical Limitations: A proven ability to treat and manage patients with limited mobility, visual impairments, or hearing loss is required for eldercare. Specialized skills include fall risk reduction and understanding the effects of bed rest and how to mitigate them.
  • Under-nutrition: The capacity to identify symptoms of and deliver treatment for under-nutrition is also important. Undernourishment impairs patients’ abilities to remain healthy and reduces their capacity to fight infection and to heal. Almost 10 million American seniors face the threat of hunger, says a Feeding America report.

The Merck Manual outlines additional clinical capabilities required for caring for an elderly population.

Behavioral Competencies Key to Eldercare

As important as clinical skills, so are the unique behavioral competencies that can help when caring for an older population of patients. Look and interview for these traits:

  • Compassion: Front-line hospital workers should have an understanding that seniors see themselves as independent adults — no matter how frail or impaired they may be — and a demonstrated ability to honor that while providing necessary care will go a long way.
  • Flexibility & Adaptability: The capability to be a flexible thinker and create treatment plans that truly work for patients and families is a must. “Even when there isn’t a lot of known evidence-based medicine from which to work,” says Duxbury.
  • Positivity: Employees working with elderly patients should have a positive sense of humor that allows for easy communication and laughter when facing what Duxbury calls “the thousand-and-one little indignities of aging together.”
  • Communication & Patience: “It’s important to be patient with older adults so they don’t feel rushed, which increases feelings of stress,” Dye notes. Look for new hires who can provide information in ways elderly patients can easily comprehend and recall, and who are willing to provide additional time for processing and explanation.

Finding and Identifying Candidates for Eldercare

When trying to find this blend of clinical and behavioral skills, be sure to tap your employee referral network, especially if you have employees who meet these needs. Healthcare-specific job boards are another option. Then, use scientifically validated behavioral assessments in the hiring process to identify candidates with the right attitudes to work with older adults and their families.


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Margot Carmichael Lester

About Margot Carmichael Lester

Margot Carmichael Lester is a North Carolina-based freelance business journalist who has been covering healthcare and staffing for more than 20 years. She also writes about moviemaking for the International Cinematographers Guild, specializing in action cinema. Margot co-authored the award-winning teen writing book Be a Better Writer with her husband, Steve Peha. She earned her BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and is a rabid Tar Heel basketball fan.