Psychology and Aging
Psychologists Make a Significant Contribution

Addressing Mental Health Needs of Older Adults

People 65 years of age and older are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. An increasing number of older adults are immigrants or members of ethnic or racial minority groups. More than 5 million older adults were below the poverty level or classified as "near poor" in 2001.

Most older adults enjoy good mental health. However, it is anticipated that the number of older adults with mental and behavioral health problems will almost quadruple, from 4 million in 1970 to 15 million in 2030. Mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, adversely affect physical health and ability to function, especially in older adults. Some late-life problems that can result in depression and anxiety include coping with physical health problems, caring for a spouse with dementia or a physical disability, grieving the death of loved ones, and managing conflict with family members.

Addressing these problems and treating often overlooked mental health conditions results in decreased emotional suffering, improved physical health, lessened disability, and a better quality of life for older adults and their families. Increasing access to mental health services for older adults will reduce health care expenditures by lowering the frequency of primary care visits, medical procedures, and medication use.

Psychologists play a significant role in addressing the mental health needs and supporting the strengths of our growing population of older adults. Collectively, psychologists provide more than 50,000 hours of care each week to older adults, and 70% of practicing psychologists provide some services to older adults. Studies show that the majority of students in psychology doctoral training are interested in working with and expect to provide clinical services to older adults during their careers.

Psychologists provide services to older adults in a variety of settings, including health care facilities, community-based private or group practices, and places where older adults reside—in their homes, longterm-care and assisted-living facilities, and hospices. Psychologists work both independently and as members of interdisciplinary teams. As team members, psychologists collaborate with a variety of professionals, including medical and other mental health care services providers, to ensure comprehensive care.