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What does a Geriatric Psychologist do?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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A geriatric psychologist provides mental health care for older adults. Specially trained in therapeutic practices, individuals working in this field are able to diagnose and treat a variety of psychological issues affecting the elderly. A geriatric psychologist may also communicate with an elderly patient’s caretakers and medical doctors in an effort to assure that physical challenges related to mental health are properly treated or monitored.

As humans age, a variety of physical changes and emotional issues may have an adverse impact on mental health. As a result, older adults may require the help of a geriatric psychologist to cope with aging matters. Professionally trained to identify common problems among the aging, such as depression and dementia, a geriatric psychologist is often the first person to identify the underlying causes of certain behavioral changes and refer a patient to another doctor for medical care when needed.

Some of the distinct issues a geriatric psychologist may assist with are age-related depression, anxiety, psychosocial changes and grief management. Declining geriatric mental health is often related to chronic pain and illness. A geriatric psychologist is specially trained to recognize these issues and help patients discover healthy ways of coping with pain and illness.

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A geriatric psychologist may work with a patient one-on-one or may provide counseling to a group of patients. In fact, it is not uncommon for these professionals to be found working in group care facilities, such as nursing homes. Some also work with family members and caretakers in creating strategies to help patients maintain a sense of purpose and vitality.

Psychologists specializing in geriatric care have published books and other written materials to help society better understand the aging process. Often, the elderly are depicted as helpless or useless in some parts of the world. These harmful stereotypes contribute to the fear and depression that some people face while aging, but many experts in geriatric care work to counteract these misconceptions by promoting strategies for healthy aging and emphasizing the importance of elderly citizens in society.

A geriatric psychologist may also work closely with medical doctors specializing in geriatric psychiatry. If a patient’s mental health requires prescription drug treatment or other medical therapies, a geriatric psychiatrist is better suited to offer mental health care, as these professionals are trained in psychology as well as medicine. For instance, in severe cases of depression or another mental illness, a psychiatrist may be more heavily relied upon for medical treatment as individuals specializing only in geriatric psychology are not trained in medical procedures or geriatric medicine, in general.

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