How to Understand and Work with the Elderly

Elderly man and his dog

Understanding the Needs and Diversity of the Elderly

The attitude of many students in healthcare and psychology is that they prefer not to work with the elderly. This demographic of the world’s population is viewed as being debilitated and boring and only resides in a nursing home facility or other institutional settings. Although they are not as blunt, unfortunately, many licensed practitioners feel the same way.

The truth is that at some point in a medical clinician’s career they will have to work with the elderly population unless they limit their practice to only working with young children and teenagers.

Even marriage counseling experts and family therapists are likely to find that more of their caseloads are in regard to adult children worrying about elderly parents. Some of the issues they may be presented with are:

  • Should their parents be driving at their age?
  • Can they stay home alone safely?
  • Are they making the wrong financial decisions?

Demographic information has been consistent over the past several decades indicating that the elderly segment of the population is the fastest-growing population. In fact, the age group over 75 has increased, and the 85 and over group has more than doubled over the past few decades.

Current older generations are more open to psychotherapy as a beneficial process. This is likely due to the fact that they are more educated and healthier than previous generations.

Are There Barriers to Working with the Elderly?

It is unfortunate that most counselors and therapists have had little to no direct contact in their professional careers with older adults. Because of this lack of experience, many therapists show little to no interest in helping this population.

This can also result in societal myths about the elderly and stereotypes that impact a clinician’s attitude towards someone who is elderly. For example, one of the most common misconceptions is that most elderly people are in nursing homes. In reality, less than 10% of seniors reside in long-term care facilities. Many seniors live independently successfully.

Another barrier to working with the elderly is the belief that the elderly do not benefit from marriage counseling or therapy. However, many studies have concluded that the rate of improvement from issues like depression and anxiety is similar to the rate of younger adults.

In addition, interventions focused on family members or nursing home staff can also result in improvements, even in patients with dementia.

Aging Successfully

One of the most popular trends that are occurring in clinical work with the elderly is placing less emphasis on the negatives associated with getting older and placing more emphasis on successful aging. Early intervention and prevention now have even larger roles in helping to optimize quality of life and life satisfaction. There seems to be a little truth to the observation that is often made by seniors, that if they would have known they would have lived this long, they would have taken care of themselves better when they were younger.

It is important that a multidimensional approach is taken for the elderly to achieve an optimal quality of life. Many have also suggested that positive aging has also been responsible for the avoidance of disability and disease, and the maintenance of high cognitive function.

There is one finding that is often ignored in the mental health profession. Affiliating with religion is one of the most common ways for seniors to participate in an organized event and socialize with their peers.

  • The first tip is to remain active. Get involved in a social activity that will take you out of the house at least two days a week.
  • Her next recommendation is to know the medications you take. Also, make sure that everyone who is on your health care team is also aware of your medications. This includes physicians, pharmacists, nurses, family members, and caregivers.
  • A sedentary lifestyle is very dangerous for an elderly person. It places them in a higher fall risk category and can contribute to a rapid decline in health.
  • Finally, she recommends that seniors begin the end-of-life conversations with their families. Although adult children tend to shy away from this type of conversation, seniors need to be open and honest with their doctor and their family.

 

Counseling the elderly can present a range of challenging and complex issues. However, this can be a fulfilling career for counselors who are willing to be advocates for this special population.

 

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