The Critical Need for Geropsychologists

The Issue

According to the Administration on Aging, there is an insufficient supply of trained professionals available to provide mental and behavioral health services to older people. This shortage will become increasingly problematic as the aging population and the demand for specialized mental and behavioral health services increases. Some key facts related to the shortage follow:

  • In 1999, there were 34.5 million Americans aged 65 years or older. They represented approximately 13 percent of the population, about one in every eight Americans. By the year 2030 with the retirement and aging of the Baby Boom generation, the number of people aged 65 and older will be approximately 70 million — an increase of more than double their population in 1999.

  • Nearly 20 percent of older adults now experience some kind of mental disorder. Approximately two-thirds of nursing home patients suffer from mental disorders. The most prevalent mental disorders of older adults are anxiety, cognitive impairment (primarily due to dementia) and depression. In fact, depression is the foremost risk factor for suicide of which older adults have the highest rate in the United States. Researchers estimate that up to 63 percent of older adults with a mental disorder do not receive the services they need.

Geropsychologists Can Help By

  • Given the often complex mental and physical health problems of older adults, health care providers and families often turn to geropsychologists for their skills in neuropsychological and other assessments.

  • Assessing and differentiating between mental disorders such as dementia, depression, anxiety, delirium and adjustment reactions.

  • Determining a person’s capacity to make medical and legal decisions.

  • Using behaviorally-based treatments to address mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

  • Assisting older adults in coping with the psychological and emotional consequences of illness, loss of loved ones, relocation to new living situations and caregiving demands.

  • Addressing behavioral health issues, such as pain, insomnia, substance abuse, urinary incontinence and management of chronic conditions that significantly impact the quality of life of older adults, their families and caregivers.

The Shortage

  • According to The Action Plan for Behavioral Health Workforce Development (SAMHSA, 2007), there is an insufficient supply of trained professionals available to provide mental and behavioral health services to older adults. This shortage will become more dire as the aging population grows and the demand for specialized mental and behavioral health services increases.

  • Only 3% of practicing psychologists viewed older adults as their primary professional target. The best estimate of currently practicing geropsychologists — 700, falls far short of the current need for 5,000 to 7,500 geropsychologists (Qualls, 2002).

  • While the demand for psychologists in general appears likely to balance with supply, there is a shortage of trained geropsychologists (SAMHSA, 2007).