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Geriatric Psychology

Psychology when loosely defined is known as the “science of mind”. It is an attempt to understand the processes of the mind that affect our behaviour and consequently our quality of life.

A special type in the area of psychology is geriatric psychology. The word “geriatric”, in Greek means healing the old. Geriatric psychology deals with the psychological problems that people encounter while they are heading towards old age or at the end of middle age. This stream of psychology also focuses on treatment options. If growing can be difficult and painful, so can old age. The reasons for the difficulty might be different but the fact that each group brings with itself its own range of problems cannot be debated.

So why do we need this field?  

According to the American Association of Geriatric Psychology nearly 20% of people in the age group of 65 years and above experience psychological issues that are uncommon for their age group. What makes it worse is that people suffer in silence due to the lack of information and social support. Everyday activities like walking and socializing that were done with ease during their youth might become difficult with one’s age, resulting in the disruption of normal life. These daily changes which increase with age, also cause significant mental and emotional setbacks. Problems such as poor adjustment, low self esteem, depression, low self worth and others are not uncommon.

A psychologist’s primary job would then be to assess the physical and psychological state of the person and make the individual’s quality of life better. We move from the go getter lives of the youth to a more settled middle age where stability is the key. Work and family define the people, so as people move into old age, retirement, death, loneliness, physical immobility, cognitive and intellectual changes might be some of the issues that are staring at them. Having sessions with a psychologist and talking about their thoughts will help people come to terms with the changes happening in their lives. Coming to terms with the death of a friend or spouse, empty nest or restricted movement can be a cause of immense frustration, confusion and source of many mental illnesses. 

There are a number of nursing homes or homes catering specifically to the needs of the aged. These special facilities create a sense of belonging and comfort for the experiences of people. Research has shown that there is a high rate of suicides in the age of group of above 85 years in an American society; these numbers are not very different in other societies. Research and funding for various homes for the aged has been slow over the years but people are waking up to the social need and business opportunity that exists in this new market now.

Estimates show that 4.9 % of the Indian population is above the age of 65. With an increasing number of old people opting to live alone, psychologist’s role in helping them to choose work and activities in accordance with their capabilities is increasing. There is a greater emphasis on acceptance of the changing physical and social status. There is also a greater demand for caregivers and mental health professionals to deal with these societal changes. Slowly but steadily the medical fraternity too is waking up to this fact and announcing courses with geriatrics as a specialization. Further there is also a surge in real estate development as well; focussing on housing especially for the retired, confirming that life does not necessarily end at middle age but perhaps that is just another beginning.

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