Although nearly 70 percent of psychologists see older adults in the course of their clinical practice, only 3 percent report that working with older adults is their primary focus in a recent survey of 1,227 APA members. The results appear in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 33, No. 5).
The shortage of full-time geropsychologists is alarming to lead researcher and psychologist Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She notes that the National Institute on Aging estimates that 5,000 full-time, doctoral-level trained geropsychologists will be needed by 2020 to accommodate the increasing demands of aging baby boomers. But, based on her survey, Qualls doubts that goal can be reached.
She does, however, suggest two solutions:
Emphasize the need for continuing education among psychologists with no formal geropsychology training.
Increase students' opportunities to work with older adults at the predoctoral, internship and postdoctoral levels.
Seventy percent of survey respondents expressed interest in more training, favoring regional workshops on geropsychology topics such as depression, dementia, bereavement/grief, caregiver stress, adjustment to medical illness and psychotherapy. About the same number said they do provide some type of psychological service to older adults, but Qualls says treatment for adults 75 and older is scarce because the number of hours devoted to older adults is very low.
"There are cultural biases toward aging," Qualls says, "and we must struggle to break that down through education and training that show the exciting opportunities."