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Patient Assessments Throughout the Lifespan

From pediatrics to geriatrics, nursing care begins with health assessments. Nurses use a range of skills to assess the health of their patients. This includes everything from asking questions to performing head-to-toe exams. As step one in the nursing process, health assessments are the foundation for appropriate care at every stage of life.

Research from the Institute of Medicine — now known as the National Academy of Medicine — shows that RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or higher have better patient outcomes. A BSN prepares RNs with advanced knowledge and stronger skill sets to provide higher-quality care. Assessment techniques are one example.

BSN programs typically emphasize health assessment as the foundation of nursing practice. The online RN to BSN program from Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), for example, includes coursework that covers assessment of patients across the lifespan.

How Do Health Assessments Change Across Age Groups?

Health assessments are the first step in developing or modifying a care plan. Like advanced practice nurses and physicians, RNs need to adjust assessment techniques based on various factors, such as age and stage of development.

Age groups range from infants to older adults, with four distinct age groups from birth to five years alone. Take neonates or newborns, for example. Labor and delivery nurses assess them based on the APGAR score. This standard test provides a quick measure of the baby’s health to determine post-delivery care.

Assessment at the other end of the lifespan requires different skills and knowledge. As an American Nurse Today article on geriatric assessment points out, RNs must have knowledge of geriatric health problems to provide optimal care for older adults.

Understanding the aging process in between these stages is just as important. As one example, RNs assessing the growth and development of a toddler need to understand how the child’s nutritional requirements would differ from those for school-aged children who typically require more calories during growth spurts. Providing parent or guardian education is part of age-appropriate assessments for children.

Routine patient assessments can help RNs track changes over time. Again, this requires using the right assessment techniques and tools as patients move from one age group to another.

What Are Special Concerns With Vulnerable Populations?

America’s population is aging, so much so that by 2030, older adults are on track to outnumber children for the first time. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five residents will be 65 or older. Appropriate assessment of elderly patients can improve health outcomes for this vulnerable population.

American Nurse Today also notes the importance of understanding normal changes related to aging, along with changes caused by illness. Performing a fall risk assessment, for example, can help prevent serious, even fatal, injuries. Social activity and support can enhance the quality of life for older adults, making this an important assessment piece as well.

Specific skills may also be required for health assessments with other at-risk populations, such as in rural and underserved areas. A Health Resources and Services Administration report on the role of nurses in population health management notes that RNs may be the only providers in these areas. In this case, broad knowledge, with a “cradle-to-grave perspective on health care” can help RNs perform health assessments with rural health issues in mind.

Health assessment is part of nursing care at every stage of life — from infancy to old age. Learning to perform skillful assessments can help RNs achieve the ultimate goal of their profession — to provide the best possible care.

Learn more about the TAMIU online RN to BSN program.


NCBI: The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

American Nurse Today: Geriatric Assessment: Essential Skills for Nurses

United States Census Bureau: Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in U.S. History

National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP): Preparing Nurses for New Roles in Population Health Management

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