Nursing industry favors experience with no maximum age for nurses

Not surprisingly, the issue of mandatory age limits for nurses has little traction in an industry that will soon experience a labor crunch as the baby boom generation retires at the same time that vulnerable geriatric populations are due to expand. There are currently no age limits on enrolment in American nursing schools, although there are limits enforced in the military nurse corps. However, with a nursing population that is aging alongside the general population, there will soon be many more older nurses working in America’s hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.

Featured Programs:
Sponsored School(s)
Purdue Global Visit School's Website
Selected Program:
  • Graduate and Undergraduate Degrees and Postgraduate Certificates in Nursing
Grand Canyon University Visit School's Website
Selected Program:
  • Online Nursing Degrees
Liberty University Visit School's Website
Selected Program:
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing for the Registered Nurse
Walden University Visit School's Website
Selected Program:
  • Online Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral Nursing Programs and Certificates

Losing Your Mind?

According to the Merck online library, mental function declines after a certain age, which varies among individuals. In the absence of neurological disorders, short-term memory and learning ability are usually the first to be affected, followed by verbal abilities at around age 70 and intellectual performance at 80. Reaction time and task performance also decline.

“There are [negative] changes that happen with aging, but there are also benefits that happen with aging as well.” – Susan Hendershot Link

Does this imply that there should be a mandatory age limit on superannuated nurses who may be slower and more forgetful than their younger counterparts. Susan Hendershot Link, a nursing practice consultant with the Oregon Nurses Association, doesn’t think so. She argues that the ravages of age are often counterbalanced by the benefits of experience.

“There are [negative] changes that happen with aging, but there are also benefits that happen with aging as well,” Link says. “I think that we have to look at those for nurses, especially those who have been in the workforce for decades; they have acquired an enormous volume of experience that is invaluable to assessing situations…. I think that for a profession like nursing experience is incredibly valuable.”

“Having a backlog of decades of experience can really help a person to be more effective, so there has to be a balance here. A better kind of concept to look at would be health and health-related issues, including cognitive functioning.”

The Physical Demand

Of course, there are also physical difficulties that go along with aging, as muscles and bones weaken and joints may become subject to arthritis. Nurses are often required to lift and move patients, or stay on their feet for long 12-hour shifts, and this becomes increasingly difficult as the years progress. Link argues that while this is a problem, it should still be understood in terms of individual health rather than the number of years.

Fortunately, recent trends in the nursing industry may be making some of these concerns obsolete. Studies have indicated that shorter shifts may be better for nursing performance overall, which would be a boon to weary older nurses, and there is a trend towards greater use of lifting equipment in hospitals and nursing homes.

“More and more, nursing is really recognizing the importance of using lift equipment for patent’s safety and the safety of staff,” Link says. “The damage that results with nurses who are continually lifting can be serious.” Lifting is also detrimental to patients as the skin can be traumatized. There has been a recent move in the American Nurses Association (ANA) in supporting the widespread use of lifting equipment.

Staying Nurse Fit

How can the mental and physical effects of aging be delayed or ameliorated? Mental and physical exercise, abstinence from two or more drinks of alcohol per day, and maintaining good cardiovascular health through lifestyle and diet can bolster or support the brain’s functioning. These are, of course, also good ways to keep your body in good working order. Nurses should also regularly consult a physician, particularly when they get older. The bottom line is that if you have the passion and drive to become a nurse, there is an opportunity at any age.