In graduate school, much of what you learn is about yourself, more specifically, grad school asks of you to be insightful. This look inward may include a reflection on the kind of psychological services you want to provide, research you wish to conduct, and who you would most like to work with in your professional career. Many graduate students may consider working with adults, children, couples, Veterans, the incarcerated, LGBTQ, racial and/or ethnic minorities, or those who may be most vulnerable in our society. If you find that you want to work individuals that come from all those parts of life, then I have a suggestion…older adults!
You may ask, what exactly does the term “older adults” mean? Well, it generally is meant to refer to adults 55 years of age and older. Using the term “older adults” is generally received as more acceptable than “elderly,” or “senior,” but there is no hard and fast rule about which term to use. As the awareness around the culture of being an older adult grows, so do appropriate evidence-based treatments, considerations in assessment, and expectations around what “normal” functioning look like.
You may be surprised to learn that the “Baby Boomer” generation is the largest generational cohort in the United States. You will find this population experiences problems and concerns that are and are not unique to older adults:
- Life Adjustment Concerns (retirement planning, empty nest, health changes, etc.)
- Intimacy (romance, sex/sexual functioning, loss of partner, etc.)
- Financial Stressors (living on a fixed income, supporting adult kids, etc.)
- Legacy Concerns (children, work, memories, regrets, relationships, etc.)
Work with older adults is generally referred to as Geropsychology. This is an emerging specialty which has recently been recognized by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). With the growth and development of the specialty, we are sure to learn more about the specific needs of older adults, and how best to address them. For me, that is what is most exciting about this specialty, the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the life of older adults.
Much of the work with older adults takes place in settings you may never have thought of working in:
- Hospital Rehabilitation Settings
- Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs)
- Palliative Care
- In-Home Services
- Tele-Health Services
While work with older adults many times takes place in medical or multidisciplinary settings, you could find yourself working in a primary care setting or even in private practice.
If you are interested in looking further into a career in aging, or working with older adults, below are a few resources and sites that will be a great place to start to determine if working with older adults is a career that you think will be meaningful and fulfilling.
- Pike’s Peak Model
- APA Division 20
- Office on Aging
- Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs
Editor’s Note: Don’t miss part two of this series on Careers in Aging which will showcase different work settings for those considering working with this population.