Deciding on a career working with older adults, or perhaps more specifically Geropsychology involves understanding the types of settings where you might find this population. Perhaps the best place to start is in long-term care, as it is usually what people imagine when they think of Geropsychology (I will hopefully inform this notion a bit better!)
Long-term care facilities are, in a nutshell, places where anyone who may need skilled nursing services can live with the level of care they need. This means that you might encounter residents who are not older adults, but they are in need of nursing care. Not only is nursing care provided, but commonly social work, dietary services, recreational services, chaplain services, psychological services, and of course holistic medical care.
Long-term care homes are typically referred to as skilled nursing facilities or SNF’s (pronounced “sniff’) by those working in these integrated care settings. Yes! That’s right! Working with older adults in these settings is considered integrated care. This is another advantage to doing this type of clinical work, not only do you get exposure to work with older adults, you also learn about functioning in your professional role within a group of other providers from various disciplines. Check out Psychologists in Long-Term Care (PLTC) as this is a great place to start exploring this option and they provide a wealth of resources about this very special work.
Another setting you may find yourself considering in work with older adults is a rehabilitation unit in a hospital. Small private hospitals, VA’s, large public hospitals, hospitals attached to medical schools, or anywhere! These units are usually home to patients in need of services for a set amount of time, or in transition to a higher level of care, often from their home. Some patients might be on the unit post-acute care (injury/illness/surgery), or maybe they need some support to stabilize their medical status, or it could be recovery after elder abuse (malnutrition/neglect). Whatever their reason for being admitted, the stay is time-limited and they receive the full resources of the unit to make a successful transition, no matter the destination. Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Geriatrics and Extended Care for more information about these services.
The last setting I will cover is hospice and/or palliative care. These services are offered at times separately and together. It can be offered in a medical setting, or as in-home services. Typically in a medical setting, hospice care is end of life care, where comfort is key. This may include highly organized multidisciplinary support, medical interventions aimed at pain reduction and overall comfort, as well as coordinating visitation by family, friends, and pets.
This work can be emotionally demanding and consideration of a work-life balance and fit for the field are critical. Additional reading on death, grief, and loss along with instruction may be appropriate prior to entering in to this training and/or work. I mention this, because it is not only necessary to be competent for clients, but to understand where you are yourself in your understanding of your own mortality. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization is a good place to find resources if considering this career setting.
These descriptions are meant to be brief and hopefully they will inspire you to do a bit more research on your own. There is no hard and fast rule for what services are provided in these settings, or the types of professionals that you’ll find in these settings. Many of these sites have their own way of supporting the older adults they serve; some offer more and some offer less. You find that the culture on these types of units is varied depending on whom they serve and where they are located. It’s important to understand the culture of any site that you may choose to train or work in, because it’s all about fit!
Editor’s Note: See part one of this two-part series on Careers in Aging: Considering a Career in Aging.