What's key to improving health-care treatment for older adults? Often, it's whether an older person's health-care professionals work and communicate well as a team, said Peter Lichtenberg, PhD, who reported on the progress of the Task Force on Integrative Healthcare for an Aging Population (IHAP) during a session at APA's 2007 Annual Convention.
APA President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, convened the task force last October as one of her presidential initiatives.
Lichtenberg, who directs the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University, suggested that psychologists keep these principles in mind while working as members of integrative health-care teams:
Be sensitive to ageism. Students often see older adults as uniform, frail and debilitated, but recognizing the strengths of older adults is critical to their treatment, said Lichtenberg.
Know the other team members' roles. Understand, for example, that models of assessment and intervention, such as medical versus psychosocial models, may differ widely across professions and lead to different thinking about patient care and outcomes.
Know that conflict among team members is inevitable. However, the way members handle tensions can strengthen or weaken the team's functioning. Psychologists' resolution skills can prove invaluable.
Prepare to work in virtual teams. Electronic medical records and the increased use of telehealth mean that psychologists must learn to communicate in diverse ways with team members they may never meet face-to-face.
Be culturally aware. Increase sensitivity to and awareness of multicultural issues and marginalization among older adults. For example, Lichtenberg encourages practitioners to understand stereotypes and their triggers.
Assess and reassess treatment progress and goals. "In most of these complicated cases, no one plan is going to work forever," said Lichtenberg.
The IHAP Task Force members, led by co-chairs Toni Antonucci, PhD, and Antonette Zeiss, PhD, announced a forthcoming report on the topic, Blueprint for Change: Achieving Integrative Health Care for an Aging Population. Available early next year, the report will inform psychologists about how to work within an integrated team that cares for older people. For more information, see page 5 and visit APA's Office on Aging.