Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Careers in Psych

Geriatric Psychology and Its Role in Alzheimer’s Treatment

Geriatric psychology tackles emotional and cognitive aspects of many diseases.

Posted Nov 06, 2017

Guest post graciously contributed by Bianca Loyd, a graduate student in Clinical Counseling

What is Gerontology?

Gerontology is the psychological study of how the process of aging affects our mental, physical, and even social lives during the stage of late adulthood. The field tends to specialize in treating those typically 65 years and older and has grown over the years as the human lifespan continues to increase. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, arthritis, and diabetes are a few medical issues that are more common in elderly patients and well known to the gerontology field. However, many of these medical issues have a psychological as well as biological component and this is where geriatric psychology becomes critical.

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The Vital Role of Geriatric Psychology

Geriatric psychology plays a vital role in the health of the elderly population, helping older individuals cope and understand illnesses that affect them emotionally and physically. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, the destruction and death of nerve cells causes both cognitive and emotional issues such as memory failure, personality changes, and problems carrying out daily activities. As a result, many people with Alzheimer’s find themselves caught between two worlds, one in the present in which they physically exist and another in the past where their memories reside. This can cause the elderly to become completely unaware of who they are, where they are, and what is happening around them. Thus, not only do geriatric psychologists need to understand the biological aspects of the disease but the psychological effects as well. One important role of geriatric psychology has been to incorporate therapeutic techniques used in clinical counseling into the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. These include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), remote emotional behavioral therapy (REBT), and relaxation therapy (RT). The integration of these counseling techniques into the study of diseases like Alzheimer’s has allowed gerontologists to study the dynamics between emotional and cognitive components of illnesses affecting the elderly.

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Becoming a Geriatric Psychologist

If you are interested in this field, note that to become a geriatric psychologist you need a Ph.D., internship experience, and typically a postdoctoral fellowship. That being said, the medical community is beginning to pay more attention to the role of psychological health, and so the need for geriatric psychologists is sure to increase, especially in light of a growing elderly population.