Aging and Geriatric Issues
Aging is a natural process, but that does not mean it will not present challenges--both for the aging person and for their family. Older adults may have great difficulty:
- transitioning to retirement
- facing their mortality
- dealing with frailty or medical conditions
- adjusting to the deaths of friends, peers, and partners
- avoiding isolation in the wake of many such deaths
- finding enjoyable, meaningful activities,
- taking care of their own basic needs in the presence of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, which affect approximately one in ten Americans of retirement age.
Therapy can help older adults who may have difficulty with the transitions of aging to manage their emotions, find new sources of enjoyment and meaning, and find new support systems. It can help people face their fears of death, if they have such fears (and who doesn’t?) and deal with grief over the passings of friends and family. It can also assist family members who may be caretaking their elder relatives – assist them in dealing with their emotions, communication issues (especially likely if an elder has some form of dementia), and community resources. Possible diagnoses associated with aging might be the various forms of dementia (although these are technically medical, not strictly psychological disorders), and in some cases depression or anxiety.
One of the challenges of dealing with aging is distinguishing the normal challenges of growing older from signs of actual physical or mental illness. Many people older than age 65 live happy and healthy independent lives. Some changes in cognition are a normal part of the aging process. Researchers have found that healthy older adults experience mild decline in the areas of:
- visual and verbal memory
- visuospatial abilities
- immediate memory, or the ability to name objects.
- mild hearing loss
- increased frailty of the body
- diminished sleep
- mild to moderate changes in appetite and energy level
A professional therapist can help older adults to dealing with these kinds of changes, and to distinguish them from a serious health condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease (a referral to a psychiatrist or internist may be necessary).
Rosa, 72, is brought to therapy by her daughter, Maria. Maria has been visiting her mother every day for five years, ever since Maria’s father/Rosa’s husband died, leaving Rosa alone. Maria helps Rosa shop and cook and clean, and keeps her company. But lately, Rosa needs more and more help, and Maria feel she cannot meet her mother’s needs anymore. Rosa is irritated by this and angrily tells her daughter “you don’t even care about me.” The therapist takes a thorough personal history of the family, and suspects Rosa is suffering from a form of dementia. A referral to a physician confirms this. The therapist works with Maria to find appropriate, affordable, professional services for Rosa, including an Adult Day Center and an in-home nurse that Rosa’s insurance covers. The therapist also helps Maria and Rosa understand the symptoms of Rosa’s illness, helps Maria deal with feelings of guilt as well as communication difficulties, and facilitates joint sessions to help the two talk about what Rosa is going through.
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Last updated: 07-03-2015