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Aging impacts all of us – this includes our own personal aging experiences along with those of our family and friends. Because of advances in healthcare, many people are living longer and longer. In fact, it is estimated that well over 30% of U.S. children in preschool right now will live to 100!!
Positive Aging versus Ageism
Negative (and sometimes extremely over-positive) stereotypes and biases about aging individuals (“ageism”) are pervasive in society. Ageism often goes unrecognized yet influences expectations (what we expect for ourselves and what others expect for us) and opportunities. Despite the misconceptions and societal pressures that exist, living into one’s 70s, 80s, and beyond provides important benefits. Older adults have much to contribute to their family, friends, and communities, and are more likely to be involved in volunteer activities than those who are younger. As we age, we are likely to have survived stressful life events and learned how to draw upon our personal strengths and values. Compared to those who are younger, therefore, aging individuals have stronger positive coping responses during very challenging circumstances. When new difficulties arise, it can be helpful to remember the strategies that were used to successfully cope in the past.
Differences Among Older Adults
As we grow older and accumulate experiences across a lifetime, we become more different from each other in our interests, attitudes, and abilities. Our specific chronological age (e.g., 65, 79, 94) provides less information than the details of our health and how we are managing daily life. Because of disparities in healthcare access, some people in their 50s may have more chronic illnesses and disabilities than others in their 70s and 80s. We are never just the sum of our age; we are also different in many other ways that all inter-relate with each other (such as race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, veteran status, rural vs. urban living). Assessment and attention to the details of each person are thus very important features of mental health care for aging individuals.
Mental Health Concerns
Most older adults are less likely than younger adults to have common mental health conditions (such as clinical depression, PTSD, and substance use disorders). There are, however, some life circumstances that are especially challenging for aging individuals and that may lead to behavioral health care.
Research-Supported CBT can help with (among other concerns):
- Physical health problems that have impacted quality of life
- Chronic Pain
- Sleep Concerns
- Family Caregiving Stressors (for a spouse, parent, disabled adult child, grandchildren)
- Brain Health Concerns (desire to promote brain health; recognizing and responding to normative age-appropriate cognitive changes; brain health problems that indicate a neurocognitive/brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s Disease)
- Recurring Anxiety and/or Depression triggered by new life stressors
Opportunities to Grow
The good news is that older adults benefit from mental health interventions as much as younger adults do! Whether the plan is for individual psychotherapy or a series of brief sessions as a part of primary-care treatment, CBT interventions can lead to skills that improve quality of daily life. There are specific things that aging individuals can and should expect when receiving mental-health care. Providers should demonstrate an understanding of best practices in working with older adults. This is evident in a variety of ways (e.g., age-appropriate assessment measures, written materials that are in an accessible font type and size, among others). For a list of treatment providers in your area, check out ABCT’s Find-A-Therapist: http://www.findcbt.org/FAT/; to refine the search, you can try “Aging” as a specialty or “Adults 65+” in populations.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
AARP provides information and resources on many issues, including long-term care, financial and legal concerns 1 – 888 – 687 – 2277; aarp.org
Eldercare Helpline/Area Agencies on Aging
State and local area agencies on aging (AAAs) help older adults remain at home and in the community 1 – 800 – 677 – 1116; eldercare.acl.gov
Friendship Line: Institute on Aging
Friendly telephone visits available anytime 1 – 800 – 971 – 0016; ioaging.org/services/all-inclusive-health-care/friendship-line
Well Connected Groups for positive activities via telephone and internet 1- 877 – 797 – 7299 covia.org/services/well-connected