August 29, 2014
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
Old age comes with its own unique set of problems, both physical as well as mental. No matter how healthy and fit the individual, their body inevitably starts to slow down as they get older. The many major and minor physical restrictions during this stage, combined with family and social issues that arise at this age, can impact an older person’s mind as well.
Alzheimer’s, dementia, delirium and depression fall under an umbrella of disorders that strike many older adults. Their special needs call for nurses with expertise in aging issues.
Geropsychology or geriatric psychology is an important subspecialty of psychology that focuses on the mental, emotional and physical problems faced by elderly individuals. This involves studying and researching the numerous problems that tend to occur with advancing age.
For instance, the number of physical limitations that a person faces at this time can be very upsetting. Even older people who are considered to be generally healthy typically notice that they cannot do the things that they once found easy to do. Moreover, many older people begin to watch their friends and spouses pass away, which can often lead to grief and depression.
Earlier, only the physical problems of old age used to be addressed. While the problems that elderly people faced mentally and emotionally weren’t necessarily dismissed, they weren’t given much importance either. It was considered ‘a natural state of things’ and for the most part just ignored. Family members and healthcare professionals only focused on keeping the elderly physically comfortable. However, the new thinking is that taking care of the physical comfort of an elderly person is not enough. Treating their mental and emotional disturbances is just as important. Studies have shown that elderly individuals that are cared for in this manner are more likely to become or stay independent with a lowered risk for depression.
The most important attribute for a geriatric psychologist is to be sensitive to the special needs of elderly individuals and their families. This means being patient, understanding, caring and compassionate. This is a delicate time in a person’s life and it must be handled as such.
As a geropsychologist, you could choose to work directly with the elderly individuals themselves or you could choose to work primarily on research into issues of the elderly.
Geriatric psychologists who choose to do research focus on studying and researching the cognitive functions of the aging brain. This might include research on changes in memory and behavioural patterns or it might include research on mental illnesses that become increasingly more prominent with advancing age. Research is often performed by observing, interviewing and recording elderly individuals and their families.
A clinical or counselling geriatric psychologist, however, works directly with elderly individuals to help them overcome a variety of different mental disorders. Some of the more predominant mental problems encountered during this stage of life might include confusion, depression, mood swings and grief. Geriatric psychologists working with individuals suffering from minor problems will often be able to help them through counselling and therapy. While one-on-one counselling is often very effective, some elderly individuals also benefit from group therapy.