Geropsychology is the field within psychology that applies the knowledge and methods of psychology to understanding and helping older persons and their families maintain well-being, overcome problems, and achieve maximum potential. This specialty focuses on addressing the emotional, mental and psychological needs of aging adults who may be plagued with a variety of age-related mental disorders (dementia), illnesses, depression and anxiety. To improve quality of life for the elderly, geropsychologists help design policies and services. In addition to direct care, the field also has opportunities for researchers who study psychological development and change throughout the adult years.
This burgeoning field of psychology is partially fueled by the fact that by 2029 the number of Americans 65 or older will climb to more than 71 million. This is a 73 percent increase from about 41 million in 2011. Another dire fact: current statistics reflect that 25% of people 55 and older are experiencing some form of mental health issue. Depression is top with 18.6%, followed closely by anxiety disorders at 17.1% of those over 55. The number of adults with mental disorders and behavioral health problems in 2030 is expected to reach 15 million–four times the number in 1970, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Your education path should take you to a bachelor’s degree in either psychology, social services or counseling. Next step is to proceed with a Master of Science or Arts in Psychology with an emphasis in Geropsychology. One such program is offered by Grand Canyon University which is a total of 36 credits with up to 12 eligible for transfer. The degree is offered online and evenings for working professionals. The curriculum provides you an opportunity to analyze theories and implement evidence-based strategies to improve the mental, emotional and social well-being of elderly populations. Concepts and strategies related to physical, cognitive and spiritual care at the end of a lifespan are also explored.
A similar graduate program is offered online by the University of Florida whose program is designed to equip mental health professionals to cope with the aging mind. Graduates of this master’s degree program in gerontology will be able to recognize normal cognitive aging to geriatric-related diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. These courses also provide graduates foundations in psychological assessment, the causes of poor mental health, and delivering care to older individuals and their families. This master’s curriculum delves into cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychology of the brain and care monitoring, with no clinical experience required.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, this profession has been ignited by the large numbers of older adults. The National Institute on Aging estimates that 5,000 full-time, doctoral-level geropsychologists will be needed by 2020 to accommodate the increasing demands of aging baby boomers. In 1991, slightly more than 700 psychologists who spent at least half of their time working with older adults were listed in the National Register of Health Service Providers.
Regarding employment: VA hospitals in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs employ geropsychologists to work in multiple settings including the organization’s home-based, primary-care program, and in VA community living centers- previously known as VA nursing homes. Others are needed in outpatient and long-term care facilities, full-time private practices, academic positions and research centers–such as the National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other employment opportunities exist in law firms, where geropsychologists work with attorneys on assessments of the legal capacity of older adults.
For students interested in this field and are set on taking their education to the graduate level–please read our article on the top online master’s degree programs in psychology.