What is a Geriatric Psychologist?

Geriatric Psychologist

Geriatric psychologists specialize in treating people in the later stages of life for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and more. Geriatric psychologists have to possess a doctorate degree in psychology with a focus in geriatrics in order to practice as a geriatric psychologist. Geriatric psychology differs from traditional psychology since elderly people often experience age related issues such as memory loss, learning difficulties, and lack of coordination. Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D. has been practicing as a geriatic psychologist since 2007 and has helped many people in the field.

What are the Emotional Needs of Geriatic Patients?

Most geriatric patients suffer from loneliness related to old age. As we age, it is common to lose loved ones and friends, therefore, losing your emotional support network. In fact, males over the age of 85 are the highest risk age group for suicide in the United States. Another area of concern for geriatric psychologists is the loss of memory. Memory loss affects people in the later stages of life causing confusion, shame, and anger. It is helpful to work with a geriatric psychologist that understands how elderly people are feeling and can prescribe treatments and methods to improve the overall quality of life.

How can an Elderly Person Improve their Mental Health?

Just like any other age group, there are day to day activities that geriatric patients can do to improve their mental health and overall quality of life. These include:

  • Playing mind games such as doing puzzles or quizzes.
  • Physical exercise with bonus points for doing it outside.
  • Staying connected with friends via mail, phone, or in-person.
  • Continuously learning by taking classes or picking a new hobby.
  • Volunteering in their local community.
  • Caring for a pet.
  • Living with fresh plants.
  • Work with a geriatric psychologist on a regular basis.

Can Geriatic Patients Benefit from CBT?

CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients by changing the way they think rather than the way they feel. CBT also seeks to improve well being and reach goals through actionable plans. CBT, founded in the 1960s, has been used successfully to treat a variety of mental health disorders including geriatric psychology according to the BC Medical Journal. There have been a number of studies showing that CBT is effective in treating depression in older adults and has lower dropout rates than other treatment forms.

What Modifications Need to be made When Using CBT to Treat Older Adults?

While the core values and goals of CBT remain the same when treating different age groups, there are some minor differences for treating geriatric patients with CBT. Geriatric psychologists should also address physical health and spiritual or religious wellbeing. This is why it is important to not only seek treatment from a CBT therapist but specifically a geriatric psychologist.

At What Age are you Considered Geriatric?

You qualify for geriatric medical and psychological services at the age of 65. However, some people do not begin using geriatric services until the age of 80. While the term geriatric is related to old age, it is not synonymous with being old. A geriatric patient must also have some kind of impaired overall function, such as chronic illness(es), physical impairment, or cognitive impairment. This is also referred to as frailty. Frailty, as described by Fried, consists of the presence of five indicators: weakness, slowness, exhaustion, low physical activity, and unintentional weight loss. Most of these indicators are also closely associated with depression.

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