What Do Geropsychologists Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Geropsychologists are clinical specialists who focus on mental health concerns faced by older adults. They might work in clinics or independently and can offer services to nursing homes, hospitals and long-term care facilities. To work as a geropsychologist, it usually is necessary to have an advanced degree in psychology, with special training in geriatric patients and the distinctive needs and issues of people who are more than 65 years old. This work can be diverse, interesting and challenging, although some geropsychologists also find it emotionally stressful.

Geropsychologists focus on the mental health of older people.
Geropsychologists focus on the mental health of older people.

Aging brings about many life changes, some of which can be traumatizing or stressful. Older adults might fear death or infirmity, two inevitable risks of old age, and can be at increased risk of anxiety and depression. A geropsychologist might be able to offer therapy to help the patient adjust to the changes that occur with aging. For patients who start to experience limited mobility or who are forced to relocate to a nursing home, geropsychologists can be helpful during the adjustment period, making the patient feel more comfortable in his or her new life.

Geropsychologists often help seniors starting to experience a loss of mobility.
Geropsychologists often help seniors starting to experience a loss of mobility.

Psychologists who work with the elderly address not just physical changes associated with aging, but emotional changes as well. Friends and family members might die or move away, and some older adults feel very isolated. Adults who relocate to assisted-living facilities and pursue other kinds of care options might have difficulty adjusting to the change in independence levels as well as the new setting. Geropsychologists at long-term care facilities engage in activities such as coordinating events, counseling patients and developing protocols to help the facilities support their residents.

Geropsychologists need specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with geriatric patients and their caregivers.
Geropsychologists need specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with geriatric patients and their caregivers.

Some older adults might be resistant to therapy and intervention. Geropsychologists sometimes need to talk to their patients about what they do and how they can help before they even start an assessment or intervention. Other geriatric patients might actively seek out psychological help. The geropsychologist can address feelings of helplessness, fear, depression and uncertainty. He or she might work with care providers such as doctors and nurses to develop communication techniques that are more effective and appropriate and can make the care providers aware of issues that are specific to older patients.

Assisted living facilities sometimes employ counselors with a specialty in geropsychology to combat emotional issues common in seniors.
Assisted living facilities sometimes employ counselors with a specialty in geropsychology to combat emotional issues common in seniors.

Good communication skills are important for geropsychologists. Older patients might have hearing loss and vision impairments, and a geropsychologist must be able to address the abilities and comfort level of the patient. Cognitive impairments can also develop in old age and might lead to issues such as repeating words or phrases, not understanding spoken communication or speaking slowly and uncertainly. Patience can be a useful trait for a geropsychologist, because older patients might struggle to communicate in some settings.

Elderly people who are isolated and depressed may want to consult a geropsychologist.
Elderly people who are isolated and depressed may want to consult a geropsychologist.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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