Skip to main content
Herzing University

Herzing Staff

Geriatric Nursing: Meeting the Complex Needs of Older Adults

Whether a Primary Care or Acute Care AGNP, caring for the elderly goes beyond just medical procedures.

As healthcare continues to evolve, so must the training and processes for every specialty. With the national life expectancy to be approximately 75 years for men and 80 years for women, having expert care specific to issues that develop as patients age is necessary. In the past, there were separate designations for Adult Nurse Practitioners (ANP) and Geriatric Nurse Practitioners (GNP) to help focus attention on specific versus general care. Now, the two roles have been combined into Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP). This new designation reflects a deeper understanding of the complex needs of aging populations and underscores the importance of holistic care.

What is an AGNP? 

There are two common types of adult gerontology nurse practitioners: those who specialize in primary care, and those who specialize in acute care. While both specialties target the adult patient population, there are some key differences to keep in mind.

  • Primary Care AGNPs (AGPCNP) are responsible for providing continuous, comprehensive medical care for patients across the adult lifespan. An AGPCNP works mostly in outpatient care facilities, helps patients through their healthcare assessments and manages long-term chronic illnesses. With their expertise in general adult health, AGPCNPs act as “big picture” managers of a patient’s healthcare and connect with specialized care teams when necessary. AGPCNPs are great communicators and collaborative team members, often facilitating care across different specialties to help ensure the long-term care plans and health needs of their patients. 
  • Acute Care AGNPs (AGACNP) care for patients with sudden acute conditions, chronic conditions that have worsened or complex diseases that need additional focus and care. Aside from basic nursing duties, AGACNPs also have additional responsibilities, such as performing physical exams, ordering and reading lab tests, diagnosing medical conditions, developing treatment plans and prescribing medications. AGACNPs may also focus on a particular area of medicine, such as cardiology, pulmonology, neurology, or critically ill patients and may be required to perform additional procedures, such as intubation, casting injuries and administering anesthetics or sedatives. 

Caring for the Whole Person 

Whether a Primary Care or Acute Care AGNP, caring for the elderly goes beyond just medical procedures; it embodies a holistic approach that acknowledges the interconnectedness of physical, emotional and social aspects of health as we age. AGNPs are uniquely trained to navigate this intricate medical area with compassion and finesse. AGNPs recognize that quality care goes beyond symptom management to include emotional support, personal connection, and preserving dignity for the patient.

In terms of physical care, AGNPs are stellar multi-taskers, managing many health concerns common for aging patients, such as chronic illnesses and mobility issues. Whether conducting comprehensive health assessments, devising personalized care plans, or collaborating with various doctors and health care teams to ensure optimal health coverage and care, AGNPs know how to use their specialized skill set to anticipate age-related issues, such as hearing or sight loss, cognitive disruption and mobility issues, to prevent complications and promote healthy aging and recovery through preventive measures and lifestyle considerations.

While AGNPs use their medical prowess to tailor elder patient care, what makes the AGNP stand out from other nursing positions is the focus and attention paid to the emotional experience and well-being of the patient. Aging can bring numerous psychological and emotional challenges for the patient, including loneliness, anxiety, fear and depression. Being able to offer compassionate support, patient guidance and genuine connection to elderly patients is the hallmark of an AGNP’s role. The AGNP is the patient’s advocate and caretaker during a time that can be scary, frustrating and overwhelming.

One of the trickier elements of geriatric care is making sure the dignity and autonomy of the patient is preserved and acknowledged. Respecting the person and their lifelong perspectives and experiences goes a long way to earning the patient’s trust and respect, making for a more complete care experience. The AGNP advocates for their patients' rights, preferences and values, ensuring that care is person-centered and aligned with individual wishes. They also work with advance care planning teams to make sure all are aware of any end-of-life preferences and goals of patient care. For an AGNP, it is their duty to honor the perspectives, wishes, and wisdom of each elderly patient, thereby creating an environment of dignity, compassion and respect. 

At a time in life when a person can feel most vulnerable, especially when dealing with health issues, having a supportive, warm, compassionate person in your corner can mean the world to a patient, both emotionally and physically. 

Becoming an AGNP is an enriching field of nursing, blending clinical expertise with a profound understanding of both adult and geriatric healthcare and compassion. An MSN-AGNP program equips aspiring practitioners with a diverse skill set and patient-focused knowledge tailored to address the unique challenges faced by elderly patients. 

Whether you are looking for ways to expand your nursing skill set or want to further your career with an advanced degree, Herzing offers accredited program options and support teams to help you succeed at every stage of your education.

Learn More About Our Nurse Practitioner Programs


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Request Information
Ready to get started?

Contact us to request more information

Opt-In to Receive SMS Messages

By selecting this button you agree to receive updates and alerts from Herzing University. Text HELP to 85109 for help, Text STOP to 85109 to end. Msg & Data Rates May Apply. By opting in, I authorize Herzing University to deliver SMS messages and I understand that I am not required to opt in as a condition of enrollment. By leaving this box unchecked you will not be opted in for SMS messages. Click to read Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.
Subscribe to Our Blog Newsletter

Get the latest news you need to know, from study hacks to interview tips to career advancement. Have it delivered right to your inbox biweekly.