In the mid 1970s some of the nursing faculty at The Pennsylvania State University received a Nursing Special Project Grant to prepare a composite curriculum for levels of geriatric nursing personnel. One of our purposes was to delineate and define a field of nursing practice and research in the nursing care of older persons.
In the process of conducting this project, we found ourselves using a variety of terms for this field - geriatric nursing, nursing care of the elderly nursing care of older persons, gerontological nursing and geriatric/ gerontological nursing. Soon one of the faculty Carmen Estes, said that something was wrong in the sense that we were using such a variety of terms to mean the same thing. I agreed but had not had time to think seriously about an appropriate name.
I thought nurses did not like the term geriatrics or geriatric nursing because they have a negative image, but they said that geriatrics is the care of the sick elderly and that nurses are concerned also with the well elderly. Geriatric nursing has been ony recentfy recognized as a nursing specialty and few graduate programs were in existence until the 1970s. In addition, there were no required courses in the undergraduate programs nor was there a geriatrics nursing component in the licensure examinations.
Many nursing homes and long-term care institutions had few nurses and many had reputations for providing care of a very poor quality. Although the official name was changed by the American Nurses' Association Division of Geriatric Nursing to Gerontological Nursing, there was no change in the definition. From my perspective, changing a name does not necessarily change an image. I did not like the newly adopted phrase, gerontological nursing, because gerontology is the study of aging processes in man and animals. The phrase implied that study, as opposed to practice, would be emphasized.
We have passed through phases in nursing. In some phases, it has been popular to emphasize the academic character as opposed to the practice responsibilities in professional nursing. From my perspective, the phrase gerontological nursing appeared to be tainted with pretentiousness. Therefore, I was one who resorted to the phrase nursing care of the elderly and later changed it to nursing care of older persons.
As a result of the above brief sketches of history. Estes secluded herself in a small office for several days and came out with the word "gerontic," meaning simply of or pertaining to the aged. From the acceptance of the name, we went on to define gerontic nursing.1
Gerontic nursing is a health service that incorporates generic nursing methods and specialized knowledge about the aged to establish conditions within the client and/or within the environment that will:
1) increase health-conducive behaviors in the aged;
2) minimize and compensate for health-prejudicial losses and impairments of aging;
3) provide comfort and sustenance through the distressing and debilitating events of aging, including dying and death; and
4) facilitate the diagnosis, palliation, and treatment of disease(s) in the aged.
In addition, we defined nursing gerontology as the scientific study of the nursing care of the elderly for the purpose of providing knowledge of the aging processes to design nursing care and services which best promote health, well-being, and the highest level of functioning in the aged.
Estes and the instructional designer in the project stated that it is essential to be able to provide an illustration or model of the concepts. Otherwise, they said, if you cannot develop a model, you are not provding clear concepts. Since I was unable to provide an illustration, I talked until the project staff designed the following models.
From our perspective, these activities have enabled us to clearly illustrate and explain gerontic nursing, nursing gerontology, and the derivation of the knowledge basis and research focus for this area of nursing specialization. We ate even able to identify what is unique about this field of nursing and feel comfortable teaching and conducting research within this framework.
- 1. Gunter LM, Estes CA: Education for Gerontic Nursing, New York, Springer, 1979.