Worldwide, there are approximately 900 million individuals over the age of 60. Although 15% of this population suffers from a mental disorder, only about 3% of older adults report seeking help for their symptoms. “Why this percentage is so low,” you ask? Well, there are actually several possible reasons why so few older adults seek mental health treatment. The biggest reason is that older adults often attribute their symptoms to aging and assume they are normal. However, their symptoms are much more likely to be associated with a variety of mental disorders that are commonly experienced by adults in this age range. The most common mental disorders experienced by this population are dementia, depression, anxiety, and substance use. Additionally, this population has one of the highest rates of suicide; specifically, men aged 85 years and older have the highest rate of suicide of any other age group in the United States. Another reason this population may not be seeking treatment for their mental health is that they are hesitant. Mental health is viewed in a very different light by this generation; it tends to be seen as a sign of weakness, which further decreases the likelihood of older adults admitting that something may be wrong with their current level of functioning. They may fear that if they admit something is wrong, they will lose their independence by being sent to an assisted living facility that cannot help manage their psychological symptoms. An additional reason is that older adults find it difficult to access the necessary resources for their mental well-being when they do seek services. Perhaps, they are unaware of who geropsychologists are and that they are devoted to providing care and assisting older adults in finding the resources they need.
Okay, so now that we know about geropsychology and we know that its focus is on improving the mental well-being of our elderly loved ones, we should also know how geropsychologists use their knowledge to care for this population. Although this is a fairly new career that falls under the umbrella of clinical psychology, it specializes in understanding and treating the challenges that come with aging. First and foremost, geropsychologists are well-versed in adult development and the normal biological, psychological, and social aging process. This means that they can quickly notice when something is abnormal and can pinpoint what type of services may be needed, such as testing for a certain diagnosis. They are also familiar with the behavioral and mental health illnesses that appear in late life, like dementia. Geropsychologists possess more knowledge of the disorders commonly experienced by this population and can quickly step-in to preserve or improve how well the individual’s mind is working. Geropsychologists also understand the types of psychological tests that can be used to look at how well an individual is able to complete their daily tasks and changes in mood, decision making, and thinking. Additionally, they understand the challenges this population faces that others do not, such as family caregiving strains, adjusting to aging-related stresses in marriage, and end-of-life care. Most importantly, geropsychologists seek to help this population in any way possible by providing them with therapy, collaborating on developing skills to manage symptoms, and by connecting them with resources in their community that may help with difficulties like transportation.
By connecting with someone who specializes in the difficulties associated with mental health that this population faces, older adults may feel more comfortable seeking treatment for their psychological symptoms. But what if my grandma doesn’t know where to go or how to find someone who can help her with the symptoms she is experiencing? Great question! Luckily there are several resources available to educate grandma on the importance of mental health and on geropsychology, a specialty that focuses on her and her needs. Attached are helpful resources that can be passed on to the older adult in your life if they are looking for more information about their symptoms or are simply looking for resources.