In middle age, most people begin to notice or attend to the natural aging process. This increased attention may be sparked by changes in the way one’s body looks and feels. Around age 50, gray hair may be noticeable, metabolism may slow down, and sleep habits may shift. Middle aged adults may start to need reading glasses, and mild hearing difficulties or memory changes may be noticeable.
Aging is a natural part of life and there are many things one can do to move through the process in a healthy manner. One can protect and improve mental health through rich social connections. Engaging in physical activity is important for optimal health, and can be as simple as yard work, house work, or a walk through the neighborhood. Working to reduce stress and make time each day to relax helps with positive aging, and mental sharpness may be protected by keeping the brain active and learning new things.
Even with these proactive measures, there are stressors that commonly arise in later life that may impact the mental health of older adults. Older adults may find themselves struggling to manage new medical issues, physical limitations, and chronic pain. They may find themselves caring for a partner who is ill, experiencing heightened stress due to changes in economic circumstances, or confronting changes in level of independence or living situation. They may be facing the loss of loved ones, including the death of parents and same aged friends, and perhaps the ending of a long time career that created a sense of life value and purpose. These stressors can result in a sense of loneliness and isolation, as well as depression, all of which may put older adults at risk for functional decline and premature mortality. Psychotherapy can help older adults navigate these stressors, as well as assist in the process of finding one’s best trajectory through the aging process.
Psychotherapy is advantageous for older adults in other ways as well. Therapy can help those in the early stages of disease or dementia cope with their diagnosis, and help them maximize their function for as long as possible. It can help minimize suffering and distress when faced with chronic or terminal illness, and can assist in end of life planning. Therapy aimed at the management of newly diagnosed health conditions may serve to reduce disability and prevent hospitalization. Sleep issues, common in older adults, can be addressed through behavioral therapies. As older adults may be more susceptible to medication side effects, psychotherapy is a particularly appealing treatment approach for this age group.
Many psychologists conduct psychological and cognitive assessments, another valuable resource for the older adult population. Such assessments can assist in differential diagnosis, for example identifying depression in those suffering from dementia. Assessments are also helpful for evaluating changes in cognitive and mental status over time, as a result of medical conditions or in response to prescription medications. Assessments can assist in treatment planning, and in identifying capacity for independent decision making.
There are several types of therapy that are well matched for older adults, and the best therapeutic approach will depend upon the client’s particular concerns.