Psychology for the elderly, or geriatric psychology, is a crucial part of taking care of our aging populations. As people live longer and populations skew toward having a larger percentage of older people, and as research continues to highlight the special needs of older adults, careers in geriatric psychology are on the rise. A geriatric psychologist may wear many different hats, but here are a few careers in psychology that involve working with the elderly:
Probably the most visible and familiar psychology career working with the elderly is counseling. Older people and their families may need assistance dealing with grief of lost loved ones, declining health, the depression and confusion that often come along with aging, and concerns primarily affecting elderly people, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Counselors may work one-on-one with the elderly, or work with groups of patients, or with a patient and their family. They may work on skills to help older people keep their minds sharp, offer support in tough times, and teach coping skills to help deal with difficult emotions and health situations.
Another career working in psychology with the elderly is in education. Psychological education for the elderly may involve teaching elderly people skills they need to stay sharp and age well, teaching family members what to expect with their aging family member and how to best support them, and teaching paraprofessionals how to provide a safe and supportive environment to best meet the needs of their elderly clients.
Another career in psychology working with elderly people is in psychological testing. Neuropsychological testing is important for achieving the correct diagnosis and establishing a treatment plan. Elderly people are prone to Alzheimer’s, dementia, general cognitive functioning issues, and may need other types of exams to determine their mental status, such as competency exams to determine if they can make their own medical decisions. Some testing involves administering an established battery of test questions, while others may require observations or more in depth interviews potentially involving family.
Advocacy and Consulting
In addition to providing support and education directly to the elderly and their immediate caregivers, psychologists may work to indirectly improve the lives of the elderly through helping to create appropriate living situations and societal programs. These types of careers can be found in day centers, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. to make sure the environment and programming is appropriate, or in advocacy with government or non-profit agencies, trying to ensure elderly people have the support they need with housing, medical care, and other safety net programs.
Careers working in psychology with the elderly can be found in private practice settings, hospitals, day centers, nursing homes, hospice, or a number of other settings. Often psychologists wear multiple hats, with one professional offering a combination of counseling, testing, education, advocacy, and/or consulting. Many careers working with the elderly offer variety in day to day work, offering an enriching experience while providing crucial services to older adults.