Nurses’ Day: Helping older people ‘get busy living’

12 May 2024

Stacey Finlay is a proud Older People’s Nurse and Deputy Manager of an Intermediate Care Centre in Northern Ireland. She tweets @staceylou_18 Dr Gary Mitchell MBE is Reader at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. He tweets @GaryMitchellRN

Stacey Finlay

My name is Stacey Louise Finlay and simply, and selfishly, I am a Geriatrics fanatic.

Selfishly as ageing is inevitable and I, like everyone else, have getting older in my future. When I do, I want to be able to access excellent health care that is tailored to my individual needs as an older adult. 

Simply as once one begins to know about the magic of geriatric medicine and nursing, it is a no-brainer for one to want to become expert in the wizardry and wonder of it. 

I recall on a training course once I was talking with another nurse and we, of course, got on to the subject of specialties.  I was in my mid to late twenties at the time and when I told her I specialised in the care of older people, she was a mixture of appalled and horrified - because of my age. Working with older people we know how rife ageism can be in healthcare, but that was the day I realised that sometimes this also extends to people’s perceptions of which clinicians should be looking after older people.  She went on to quantify her absolute shock horror by saying that it must be so sad, surrounded by frailty and death.  The horror dissipated but the shock remained when I responded with the fact that our specialty is about maximising quality of life and independence in older age, and said that the majority of the time, the work we do is uplifting, rather than sad.  The shock turned to reflection and recognition when I described the heterogeneity of older people. I told her that not too infrequently I encounter people in practice who are many years older than me and also significantly more fit than I am. I said that more often than not, we improve people’s lives and ability to live independently more often than we hold their hand at the end of life.

We are older people’s nurses.  We work with the people whose needs are too complex for other specialties to heal, manage or rehabilitate them, and we enable them to live as well as possible for as long as possible.  We, like our patients, value quality of life over quantity.  With our specialist skills, we carefully assess and implement interventions to prevent, or at the very least, reduce progression of frailty.  We strive to improve healthcare for our older people who are often forgotten, overlooked or written off by society because we know that excellent care for older people means excellent care for all people.  We make magic happen for our patients and their families.  We are older people’s nurses.

Dr Gary Mitchell MBE

I have the privilege of shaping the next generation of healthcare professionals who will care for our ageing population. This is a responsibility I take immense pride in. Too often, older people are viewed through the lens of vulnerability and decline. But the reality is that many older adults are vibrant, capable, and eager to live life to the fullest. As nurses, it's our duty to challenge these negative stereotypes and celebrate the wisdom, resilience, and unique perspectives that come with age.

One of the core principles I try to instil in my nursing students is the importance of recognising older people as the true experts on their own needs and experiences. Through education, advocacy, and meaningful patient and public involvement (PPI), we can help to empower older adults to take an active role in their care and ensure their voices are heard. Living well as an older person is not just about managing physical health and delivering healthcare interventions. It's about supporting the whole person - their psychological, social, and spiritual needs. Our role as nurses is to help older adults "get busy living," as the famous line from Shawshank Redemption suggests. It's about fostering independence, promoting social engagement, and nurturing the human spirit.

Nursing care of older people goes beyond the confines of a hospital bed or a care home. It's about empowering older people to live their best lives, to feel valued and respected, and to know that their experiences and perspectives are essential to creating a more inclusive and compassionate society. So, if you're considering a career in nursing (or fancy a change of specialty), I encourage you to explore the rewarding world of older people's care. It's a journey of learning, growth, and the profound joy of helping others to "get busy living".


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