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  • Writer's pictureAllan Rowe

What is Geriatric Counseling?

Updated: Feb 7

In the healthcare field, the term "geriatric" refers to the care of the elderly. Usually they are defined as individuals being 65 years of age or older, although sometimes that age range may be expanded as young as 55. As people age, the may begin to face unique issues and diagnoses not commonly seen in other age groups. Even when they are diagnosed with a more common illness such as depression, age-related issues such as isolation can be to blame.

Geriatric counseling is simply put, counseling directed towards the aging population and their specific needs. It addresses mental health concerns, substance abuse, and access to resources. Geriatric counselors provide psychoeducation and work with families and caregivers to address their needs as well.

An elderly African-American man has his arm around presumably his wife. They are smiling and standing in a garden center.

Addressing the Unique Concerns of the Elderly

As mentioned above, there are some very unique issues that aren't too often seen in younger adults. Some of those issues are dementia, role-reversal, and home and safety concerns.

Dementia: Many individuals have little understanding of dementia. They often describe it as forgetfulness. They may also say it is similar as Alzheimer's Disease. In reality, dementia is a group of diseases that affect more than just memory. It affects behavior, emotions, language and speech, motivation, spatial awareness, and so much more. Alzheimer's Disease is one of the many illnesses that cause dementia. Other illnesses include Huntington's Disease and Parkinson's Disease.

As many forms of dementia are irreversible, geriatric counseling involves teaching the family how to manage behaviors and set up a safe living environment. It will also involve providing reminiscent therapy to the client with the illness. This is a type of therapy that involves showing pictures to bring up pleasant memories.

Role-Reversal: Various circumstances will lead to what is called "role-reversal." This is when an adult child takes on a caregiver role towards their aging parent. This can be frustrating for the parent as they see their independence slipping away. It can be embarrassing at times for both parties as the adult child may have to help their parent bathe and use the restroom.

The geriatric counselor may find outside help with caregiving duties. This can alleviate the caregiver stress and reduce the embarrassment faced by everyone involved. The counselor may also use typical counseling techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to normalize or improve the feelings associated with role-reversal. CBT examines how thoughts and behaviors affect moods and looks to see if moods can be improved by changing the way the client thinks or behaves.

Home and Safety Concerns: As people age, some mild cognitive decline is usually expected. More serious decline is usually indicative of a more serious concern such as dementia. People also experience a physical decline. These changes associated with aging can make living independently unsafe.

Geriatric counseling address these safety concerns by teaching the family and the client how to improve the safety in the house, how to improve independence, and how to make decisions to include in-home health or move into a nursing home. Geriatric counselors also provide education to help the family understand the difference between a group home, assisted living, short-term nursing facility, and long-term nursing facility.

Addressing More Common Problems Through a Geriatric Lens

Of course, older adults can face many of the same issues as their younger counterparts. These issues can include depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse. While these may be some more common diagnoses, the circumstances can still be very unique to this population.

Let's take look at depression. Depression is usually marked by intense periods of sadness and loss of interest in hobbies. Sometimes clients are able to identify the sources of depression. Sometimes they are unable to do so. In the geriatric population a common source of depression is isolation.

As people age, their adult children become focused on their own families, hobbies, and careers. They lose contact with many of their friends. Loved ones pass away. Retirement leads to a further loss of day-to-day interactions with their peers.

More traditional interventions for depression such as CBT can be useful in alleviating symptoms, however, when a geriatric lens is applied, a counselor knows to look out for isolation. If isolation is an underlying issue, the counselor can address this directly. The counselor can refer the client to a day program or senior citizen program that will allow them to increase their social life and find fulfillment.

Helping Families Through Geriatric Counseling

An elderly Caucasian man and his son smile as the son hugs his father from the side.

Caring for a loved one as they age can take its toll on an otherwise healthy individual. Family members are often blindsided by this need to step up and take care of a relative. The additional strain on their daily schedule is called caregiver stress.

Caregiver stress can develop into depression, anxiety, and substance use. It can cause burnout. This can lead to elderly abuse and neglect. Geriatric counselors work with the family members to prevent this stress from spiraling. They help teach the family coping skills, self-care, and deal with issues like the guilt of placing a love on in a nursing home.

Caregivers may receive counseling in conjunction with the services of their elderly family member, or they may reach out on their own.

Geriatric counselors also help the families navigate difficult systems. They help them understand the differences in legal jargon such as guardianship, conservatorship, and power of attorney. They help families understand when a legal document may or may not be in effect. They help families find placement in nursing homes and understand the differences between nursing homes and assisted living, as well as how they are funded.

As noted above, geriatric counseling is simply put, counseling directed towards the needs of the geriatric population. The needs, however, are often much more complex. A geriatric counselor or therapist can help simplify those needs for you and your family. They can help bring relief and comfort when you need it most.

If you would like to know more about geriatric counseling, please feel free to schedule a no-cost consultation by clicking the "Request an Appointment" button at the bottom-right corner of your screen.

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