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 Group Wants More Psychologists Specialized in Treating Older Adults

A recent article in the American Psychological Association (APA) journal, “Monitor on Psychology,” focuses on the scarcity of psychologists trained to treat older adults and an initiative to improve those numbers. Currently, only 1.2 percent of psychologists specialize in geropsychology, the article says.
To help remedy the problem, the psychology profession is boosting its efforts to prepare more psychologists to treat older adults by not only creating specialists, but also by training all psychologists on the special needs of the older adult population, the article says.
“This training is particularly essential as the country continues to move toward “age-friendly health systems,” an approach that focuses on the 4Ms: mobility, medications, mentation/mental activity, and what matters, the article says. The John A. Hartford Foundation, which provided the link to the study, is spearheading the age-friendly health system movement.
Erin Emery-Tiburcio, PhD, co-director of the Center for Excellence in Aging, Rush University Medical Center, and chair of APA’s Committee on Aging, said that the initiative has a goal of having 20 percent of all health systems in the United States age-friendly by 2020.
“That’s an aggressive rollout, and we need to make sure psychologists—including generalists and those in subfields that regularly work with older adults such as rehabilitation psychology, clinical neuropsychology, and clinical health psychology—are involved with this and informing the whole health care team about how to meet the mental health needs of older adults,” she said.
In the article, the authors stress the need for more mental health specialization and awareness for older adults based mainly on sheer numbers. “By 2050, nearly 84 million Americans will be age 65 or older, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. Most of these adults will continue to enjoy stable mental health—in fact, historically, the rates of mental health disorders for this group are lower than those of younger adults,” the authors said.
However, they said, one in four older adults will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety, and the physical and cognitive changes some people experience as they age can make these issues even more challenging.
“In addition, as some people age, their risk of suicide increases: The suicide rate for men age 85 years and older is nearly 39 percent higher than that of any other age group, according to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the authors said.
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