In this competitive senior living environment, hiring candidates with geriatric experience, where possible, will provide your organization with an advantage in attracting prospective residents — and keeping them.

According to the U.S. Census, 15% of the U.S. population is aged more than 65 years, and that percentage is projected to increase to as much as 23% by 2030. And by 2050, the population of people older than 65 will almost double – from 48 million to 88 million – according to PHI, a group that advocates for long-term care workers.

This significant shift in demographics, combined with increasing lifespans and an already challenging staffing environment, represents a perfect storm for healthcare organizations in general — and geriatric-specific entities in particular.

And if your senior living organization is moving from a hospitality model to more of a medical one, then you may require employees with different skill sets, education and experience.

What clinical experience should you look for?

The Merck Manual outlines clinical capabilities required for caring for an elderly population. It’s a handy compilation to help you identify candidates familiar with the ailments, potential complications and specific care needs of elderly residents, such as:

  • Cognitive disorders: Roughly 10% of people 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Understanding such people’s special needs will empower staff members to provide better care and improve health outcomes.
  • Multiple chronic conditions: Staff members should know how multiple diseases affect care provision, treatment and quality of life. “In 2012, 45% of those 65 years of age and older reported having two or three chronic health conditions, and 14% reported four more conditions,” according to Cheryl Dye, director of Clemson University’s Institute for Engaged Aging.
  • Physical limitations: A proven ability to treat and manage people with limited mobility, visual impairments or hearing loss is required for this population. 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 also is important. Undernourishment impairs older adults’ 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.

Behavioral competencies key for senior care

As important as clinical skills are, so, too, are the unique behavioral competencies important in caring for an older population of patients, including:

  • Compassion: Front-line workers should understand that older adults 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 and adaptability: The capability to be a flexible thinker and create treatment plans that truly work for residents and families is a must.
  • Positivity: Employees working with elderly residents should have a positive sense of humor that allows for easy communication and laughter to ease residents as they face what some experts call the indignities of aging.
  • Communication and patience: Look for new hires who can provide information in ways elderly residents can easily comprehend and recall, and who are willing to provide additional time for processing and explanation.

Finding and identifying the right candidates for senior care

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

High-quality care for older adults, many of whom have multiple complex chronic conditions, requires healthcare professionals with a diverse range of skills to address this population’s physical, mental, cognitive and behavioral needs. Your recruitment strategies should evolve to reflect this reality and enable your evolving organization to meet the needs of the growing population of older Americans.