Age-specific nursing competencies: How nurses care for patients across their lifespan


Significant developmental, physical, and healthcare needs differ between newborns, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. This article will highlight these differences and how they influence nursing care needs for patients across their lifespans.

Let’s get started!

Are age-specific nursing competencies necessary?

The Joint Commission health facilities and hospitals require medical staff to complete an age-specific competency program and demonstrate their ability to offer age-specific nursing care. For instance, you should be able to work with different age groups, which include newborns, toddlers, preschoolers, school-age children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.

Therefore, age-specific nursing competencies are essential to safe, quality, and appropriate patient care. The University of Indianapolis offers robust online nursing programs that will prepare you to offer complex nursing care for patients across their lifespans.

How nurses care for patients across their lifespans

Here is a comprehensive guide to how nurses care for patients of all ages:

Newborn (0-1 year)

Common health concerns for newborns include birth injuries, neonatal jaundice, colic, abdominal distension, vomiting, coughing, anemia, respiratory distress, fever, skin problems, oral thrush, and diarrhea.

Therefore, the nursing care approach for this age group is physical health assessment and intervention. Additionally, nurses keep immunization and medical checkups on schedule.

Toddler (1-3 years) and Preschool (3-5 years)

Children in these age groups are vulnerable to diseases including tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, chickenpox, measles, and polio, which can be prevented by appropriate immunizations.

Therefore, the nursing approach entails scheduled vaccination and routine patient assessments.

School-age (6-12 years)

Major health threats for school-age children include chronic diseases, injuries while playing sports and other activities, and conflicts with other children. Bedwetting and sleep disorders are also common.

Therefore, nursing care for this age group includes emergency preparedness, chronic disease management, behavioral health assessment, and health and safety education.

Adolescent (13-18 years)

The health concerns for adolescents are caused by depression, unplanned pregnancies, drug abuse, unintentional injuries, and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). These issues are normally rooted in behaviors that cannot be diagnosed with physical examination or laboratory tests but through open communication between the adolescent and the healthcare provider.

Therefore, the healthcare approach is centered on the need for psychological screening and counseling.

Adult (19-65 years)

Adults have high rates of homicides, injuries from automobiles, substance abuse, and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Behavioral health, such as substance abuse and mental health, is also a critical health concern for this age group. Additionally, they are at the forefront of the obesity epidemic.

Therefore, nursing care should transition to preventive care, evidence-based interventions, and behavioral health care.

Elderly (65+ years)

The elderly tend to have a higher prevalence of mental illness and physical disabilities. They are also prone to chronic diseases like dementia, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes.

Therefore, the primary nursing approach for the elderly is centered on preventing physical injury and illness, managing the aging process, facilitating healing, increasing safety, and optimizing the health and functions of body parts.

You can learn about the different types of elderly nursing care options here.


As you care for patients in different stages of life (age groups), you should understand that the nursing care needs vary by age group.

By taking age-specific competencies training, you will understand these differences and how to offer your patients more individualized healthcare.

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