If you are an individual who has the utmost compassion for the elderly community and you would like to pursue a career path related to this field that interests you, then you have several choices to consider. Perhaps one of the best choices is to work in the career field of geriatric psychology, which is sometimes referred to as geropsychology. This branch of psychology works with individuals or groups in settings like nursing homes or healthcare facilities to provide them with valuable counseling and other necessary services. For instance, as a geriatric psychologist you will be helping individuals or groups deal with issues such as anxiety, depression, bereavement, lack of independence, and other health related issues. In this capacity, you may also be responsible for diagnosing and assessing signs of aging such as dementia.
It is important to note that this branch of psychology is a fairly new and developing area of psychology. Due to this fact, it may be difficult for you to find post-secondary colleges or universities that offer a degree program in this area. However, if you are certain that this is the area that you want to pursue, a college that offers a degree program in clinical psychology will also provide you with the training and expertise you will need to adequately perform your job functions. Regardless of which of these educational paths you decide to travel you will most likely be required to complete an internship, along with specialized training specifically with geriatric populations. This is likely to make it easier to earn a passing score on the state examination that you must successfully complete in order to obtain licensure.
As a geriatric psychologist you will be spending much of your time evaluating elderly patients in order to distinguish between normal aging concerns and issues that have led to more serious issues, such as anxiety or depression. In order for these elderly patients to receive the best and most appropriate care for their situation, it will be critical that you can accurately diagnose them and identify a path of treatment. Most often, you will use the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) in order to assess your patients. This is a survey that will require your patients to answer yes or no, but that will provide you with valuable information regarding your elderly patient’s mental health. Typically, if a patient answers a minimum of five of the fifteen questions with a negative answer then he or she is diagnosed as depressed. It is also common for the Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI) to be used to gauge thoughts and feelings of depression within the elderly community. Although this assessment tool is also in the format of a survey, it requires more in-depth answers from the patient than simply yes or no.
After completing an assessment of a patient it will also be the responsibility of the geriatric psychologist to determine an appropriate treatment plan. Keep in mind, mental issues that your patient may be experiencing are highly situational and will be likely to be influenced based on emotional, physical, or social factors. It is also important to understand that, often, the environment that the elderly person is surrounded by can be a major contributing factor to the mental issues that he or she is dealing with. In order to be successful in this career field, it will be very important that you can consider the variety of factors that your patient is dealing with, apply what you know about sociocultural issues that may be present, and adjust and focus therapy accordingly.