Older Adults


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Older Adults

  1. 1. REPORT OF THE ASSOCIATION Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Older Adults American Psychological AssociationI n recent years, professional psychology practice with older adults has been increasing, due both to the chang- ing demography of our population and changes inservice settings and market forces. For instance, federallegislation contained in the 1987 Omnibus Budget and perceived need for psychologists to acquire increased prep- aration for this area of practice, recent legislation in Cali- fornia has made graduate or continuing education course- work in aging and long-term care a prerequisite for psychology licensure (California State Senate Bill 953,Reconciliation Act (OBRA, 1987) has led to increased 2002). In addition, the 2003 Congressional appropriationaccountability for some mental health issues. Psycholo- for the Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program ingists’ inclusion in Medicare has expanded reimbursementopportunities. For example, whereas in 1986 psychologicalpractice in nursing homes was rare, by 1996 as many as a Editor’s note. This document was approved as policy of the Americandozen large companies and numerous smaller organizations Psychological Association (APA) by the APA Council of Representatives in August, 2003.were providing psychological services in nursing homes. Correspondence regarding this document should be directed to theAs well, clinicians and researchers have made impressive Practice Directorate, American Psychological Association, 750 Firststrides toward identifying the unique aspects of knowledge Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242.that facilitate the accurate psychological assessment andeffective treatment of older adults, and the psychological Author’s note. These guidelines were developed by the Division 12/literature in this area has been burgeoning. Unquestionably, Section II (Section on Clinical Geropsychology) and Division 20 (Divi-the demand for psychologists with a substantial under- sion of Adult Development and Aging) Interdivisional Task Force on Practice in Clinical Geropsychology (TF). The TF cochairs were Georgestanding of the clinical issues pertaining to older adults will Niederehe, PhD (National Institute of Mental Health), and Linda Teri,expand in future years as the older population grows and PhD (University of Washington). The TF members included Michaelservice demands increase, and as cohorts of middle-aged Duffy, PhD (Texas A&M University); Barry Edelstein, PhD (West Vir-and younger individuals who are attuned to psychological ginia University); Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, PhD (Stanford Univer- sity School of Medicine); Margaret Gatz, PhD (University of Southernservices move into old age (Gatz & Finkel, 1995; Koenig, California); Paula Hartman-Stein, PhD (independent practice, Kent, OH);George, & Schneider, 1994). Gregory Hinrichsen, PhD (The Zucker Hillside Hospital, North Shore- General practice psychologists as well as those spe- Long Island Jewish Health System, Glen Oaks, NY); Asenath LaRue, PhDcifically identified as geropsychologists are interested in (independent practice, Richland Center, WI); Peter Lichtenberg, PhDthis area of practice. Relatively few psychologists, how- (Wayne State University); and George Taylor, PhD (independent practice, Atlanta, GA). Additional input on the guidelines was provided by mem-ever, have received formal training in the psychology of bers of the APA Committee on Aging during 2002 and 2003, includingaging as part of their generic training in psychology. A John Cavanaugh, PhD; Bob Knight, PhD; Martita Lopez, PhD; Leonardrecent survey of American Psychological Association Poon, PhD; Forrest Scogin, PhD; Beth Hudnall Stamm, PhD; and An-(APA)-member practicing psychologists indicated that the tonette Zeiss, PhD. The TF wishes to extend thanks to the working group established byvast majority (69%) conduct some clinical work with older the Council of Representatives to offer recommendations about an earlieradults, at least occasionally, but that fewer than 30% report version of these guidelines for their thorough and thoughtful review andhaving had any graduate coursework in geropsychology, editorial suggestions. In addition to TF members Taylor (working groupand fewer than 20% any supervised practicum or internship convener) and Niederehe, the working group included Lisa Grossman,experience with older adults (Qualls, Segal, Norman, Nie- PhD, JD; Satoru Izutsu, PhD; Arthur Kovacs, PhD; Neil Massoth, PhD; Janet Matthews, PhD; Katherine Nordal, PhD (Board of Directors); andderehe, & Gallagher-Thompson, 2002). Many psycholo- Ronald Rozensky, PhD. APA staff liaisons for the working group in-gists may be reluctant to work with older adults, feeling ill cluded Geoffrey Reed, PhD (APA Assistant Executive Director for Pro-prepared in knowledge and skills. In the above practitioner fessional Development), and Jayne Lux. The TF also wishes to acknowl-survey (Qualls et al., 2002), a high proportion of the edge and thank the many other APA colleagues who have offered consultation and comments on earlier drafts of these guidelines, Sarahrespondents (58%) reported that they needed further train- Jordan (APA Office of Divisional Services) for staff liaison assistance, theing as a basis for their work with older adults, and 70% said Board of Directors of Division 12/Section II and the Executive Committeethat they were interested in attending specialized education of Division 20 for support throughout the process of guideline develop-programs in clinical geropsychology. In other research, ment, and these Boards and those of Division 12 (Society of Clinicalover half of the psychology externs and interns studied Psychology) and Division 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) for endorsing prior versions of the guidelines document.desired further education and training in this area, and 90% This document is scheduled to expire as APA policy by August 31,expressed interest in providing clinical services to older 2010. After this date, users are encouraged to contact the APA Practiceadults (Hinrichsen, 2000). As another indication of the Directorate to confirm that this document remains in effect.236 May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist Copyright 2004 by the American Psychological Association 0003-066X/04/$12.00 Vol. 59, No. 4, 236 –260 DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.59.4.236
  2. 2. American Psychological Association Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Older AdultsAttitudes Guideline 1. Psychologists are encouraged to work with older adults within their scope of competence, and to seek consultation or make appropriate referrals when indicated. Guideline 2. Psychologists are encouraged to recognize how their attitudes and beliefs about aging and about older individuals may be relevant to their assessment and treatment of older adults, and to seek consultation or further education about these issues when indicated.General Knowledge About Adult Development, Aging, and Older Adults Guideline 3. Psychologists strive to gain knowledge about theory and research in aging. Guideline 4. Psychologists strive to be aware of the social/psychological dynamics of the aging process. Guideline 5. Psychologists strive to understand diversity in the aging process, particularly how sociocultural factors such as gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability status, and urban/rural residence may influence the experience and expression of health and of psychological problems in later life. Guideline 6. Psychologists strive to be familiar with current information about biological and health-related aspects of aging.Clinical Issues Guideline 7. Psychologists strive to be familiar with current knowledge about cognitive changes in older adults. Guideline 8. Psychologists strive to understand problems in daily living among older adults. Guideline 9. Psychologists strive to be knowledgeable about psychopathology within the aging population and cognizant of the prevalence and nature of that psychopathology when providing services to older adults.Assessment Guideline 10. Psychologists strive to be familiar with the theory, research, and practice of various methods of assessment with older adults, and knowledgeable of assessment instruments that are psychometrically suitable for use with them. Guideline 11. Psychologists strive to understand the problems of using assessment instruments created for younger individuals when assessing older adults, and to develop skill in tailoring assessments to accommodate older adults’ specific characteristics and contexts. Guideline 12. Psychologists strive to develop skill at recognizing cognitive changes in older adults, and in conducting and interpreting cognitive screening and functional ability evaluations.Intervention, Consultation, and Other Service Provision Guideline 13. Psychologists strive to be familiar with the theory, research, and practice of various methods of intervention with older adults, particularly with current research evidence about their efficacy with this age group. Guideline 14. Psychologists strive to be familiar with and develop skill in applying specific psychotherapeutic interventions and environmental modifications with older adults and their families, including adapting interventions for use with this age group. Guideline 15. Psychologists strive to understand the issues pertaining to the provision of services in the specific settings in which older adults are typically located or encountered. Guideline 16. Psychologists strive to recognize issues related to the provision of prevention and health promotion services with older adults. Guideline 17. Psychologists strive to understand issues pertaining to the provision of consultation services in assisting older adults. Guideline 18. In working with older adults, psychologists are encouraged to understand the importance of interfacing with other disciplines, and to make referrals to other disciplines and/or to work with them in collaborative teams and across a range of sites, as appropriate. Guideline 19. Psychologists strive to understand the special ethical and/or legal issues entailed in providing services to older adults.Education Guideline 20. Psychologists are encouraged to increase their knowledge, understanding, and skills with respect to working with older adults through continuing education, training, supervision, and consultation.the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Bu- education and training to increase their knowledge, skills,reau of Health Professions included funding specifically and experience relevant to this area of practice, whendesignated as support for training in Geropsychology as a desired and appropriate. The specific goals of these guide-public health shortage area (“Congress Triples Funding,” lines are to provide practitioners with (a) a frame of refer-2003). ence for engaging in clinical work with older adults and (b) The present document is intended to assist psycholo- basic information and further references in the areas ofgists in evaluating their own readiness for working clini- attitudes, general aspects of aging, clinical issues, assess-cally with older adults and in seeking and using appropriate ment, intervention, consultation, and continuing educationMay–June 2004 ● American Psychologist 237
  3. 3. and training relative to work with older adults. These for clinical work with older adults. The Task Force in-guidelines build on, and are intended to be entirely consis- cluded members with expertise and professional involve-tent with, the APA’s (2002a) “Ethical Principles of Psy- ments in adult development and aging as applied to diversechologists and Code of Conduct” and other APA policies. areas within professional psychology; they represented not The term guidelines refers to statements that suggest only the specialty formally designated as clinical psychol-or recommend specific professional behavior, endeavors, or ogy, but also clinical neuropsychology, health psychology,conduct for psychologists. Guidelines differ from stan- and counseling psychology, related areas of interest such asdards in that standards are mandatory and may be accom- rehabilitation psychology and community psychology, andpanied by an enforcement mechanism. Thus, these guide- licensed psychologists who engage in independent psycho-lines are aspirational in intent. They are intended to logical practice with older adults and/or their families.facilitate the continued systematic development of the pro- Consistent with its composition, the Task Forcefession and to help assure a high level of professional adopted an inclusive understanding and use of the termpractice by psychologists in their work with older adults clinical. Thus, these guidelines use clinical work and itsand their families. These guidelines are not intended to be variants (e.g., working clinically) as generic terms meant tomandatory or exhaustive and may not be applicable to encompass the practice of professional psychology by li-every professional and clinical situation. They are not censed practitioners from a variety of psychological sub-definitive and are not intended to take precedence over the disciplines—including all those represented within thejudgment of psychologists. Federal and state statutes, when Task Force and, potentially, others. This usage is similar toapplicable, also supersede these guidelines. that of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid These guidelines are intended for use by psychologistswho work clinically with older adults. Because of increas- Services (formerly Health Care Financing Administration),ing service needs, it is hoped that psychologists in general which, under the Medicare program, recognizes as a clin-practice will work clinically with older adults and continue ical psychologist “an individual who (1) holds a doctoralto seek education in support of their practice skills. The degree in psychology; and (2) is licensed or certified, on theguidelines are intended to assist psychologists and facilitate basis of the doctoral degree in psychology, by the State intheir work with older adults, rather than to restrict or which he or she practices, at the independent practice levelexclude any psychologist from practicing in this area or to of psychology to furnish diagnostic, assessment, preventiverequire specialized certification for this work. The guide- and therapeutic services directly to individuals.”lines also recognize that some psychologists will specialize Task Force members considered the relevant back-in working clinically with older adults and will therefore ground literature within their individual areas of expertise,seek more extensive training consistent with practicing as they saw fit. They participated in formulating and/orwithin the formally recognized proficiency/practice empha- reviewing all portions of the guidelines document andsis of Clinical Geropsychology,1 identifying themselves as made suggestions about the inclusion of specific contentgeropsychologists. and literature citations. The initial document went through The guidelines further recognize and appreciate that multiple drafts, until a group consensus was reached, andthere are numerous methods and pathways whereby psy- suggested literature references were retained if they metchologists may gain expertise and/or seek training in work- with general consensus. The draft document was subse-ing with older adults. This document is designed to offer quently circulated broadly within APA several times inrecommendations on those areas of knowledge and clinical accordance with Association Rule 100-1.5 (governing re-skills considered as applicable to this work, rather than view of divisionally generated guidelines documents).prescribing specific training methods to be followed. Comments were invited and received from APA boards, committees, divisions, state associations, directorates, of-Guidelines Development Process fices, and individual psychologists with interests pertinent to this area of practice. At the time of their consideration ofIn 1992, APA organized a “National Conference on Clin- the document, both the Board of Directors and the Councilical Training in Psychology: Improving Services for Older of Representatives arranged for special reviews by guide-Adults,” which recommended that APA not only “aid pro- lines consultants who made recommendations about con-fessionals seeking to specialize in clinical geropsychol- tent, formatting, and wording. The Task Force carefullyogy,” but also “develop criteria to define the expertise considered each round of comments, and incorporated re-necessary for working with older adults and their familiesand for evaluating competencies at both the generalist and visions intended to be responsive to the suggestions.specialist levels” (Knight, Teri, Wohlford, & Santos, 1995;Teri, Storandt, Gatz, Smyer, & Stricker, 1992). Section II 1 In 1998, at the recommendation of the Commission for the Recog-(Clinical Geropsychology) of APA Division 12 (Society of nition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional PsychologyClinical Psychology) and Division 20 (Adult Development (CRSPPP), the APA Council of Representatives formally recognizedand Aging) jointly followed up on this Training Conference Clinical Geropsychology as “a proficiency in professional psychology concerned with helping older persons and their families maintain well-recommendation by forming an Interdivisional Task Force being, overcome problems, and achieve maximum potential during lateron Practice in Clinical Geropsychology, charged to address life” (archival description available at http://www.apa.org/crsppp/the perceived need for guidance on appropriate preparation gero.html).238 May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist
  4. 4. Minor financial support for mailing expenses and the the effects of taking multiple medications, cognitive orcosts of other Task Force operations (e.g., conference calls) sensory impairments, and history of medical or mentalwas provided by Division 12/Section II and Division 20. disorders. This complex interplay makes the field highlyPrior drafts of the document were reviewed and formally challenging and calls for clinicians to apply psychologicalendorsed by the executive boards of these organizations, as knowledge and methods skillfully. Education and trainingwell as those of Division 12 and Division 17 (Society of in the aging process and associated difficulties can helpCounseling Psychology). No other financial support was ascertain the nature of the older adult’s clinical issues.received from any group or individual, and no financial Thus, those psychologists who work with the aged canbenefit to the Task Force members or their sponsoring benefit from specific preparation for this work.organizations is anticipated from approval or implementa- While it would be ideal for all practice-oriented psy-tion of these guidelines. chologists to have had some courses relating to the aging These guidelines are organized into six sections: (a) process and older adulthood as part of their clinical trainingattitudes; (b) general knowledge about adult development, (Teri et al., 1992), this is not the case for most practicingaging, and older adults; (c) clinical issues; (d) assessment; psychologists (Qualls et al., 2002). In the spirit of continu-(e) intervention, consultation, and other service provision; ing education and self-study, psychologists already in prac-and (f) education. tice can review the guidelines below and determine how these might apply to their own knowledge base or need forAttitudes continuing education. Having evaluated their own scope ofGuideline 1. Psychologists are encouraged to competence for working with older adults, psychologistswork with older adults within their scope of can match the extent and types of their work with theircompetence, and to seek consultation or competence, and can seek consultation or make appropriatemake appropriate referrals when indicated. referrals when the problems encountered lie outside their expertise. As well, they can use this information to shapeA balancing of considerations is useful in pursuing work their own learning program.with older adults, recognizing both that training in profes-sional psychology provides general skills that can be ap- Guideline 2. Psychologists are encouraged toplied to the potential benefit of older adults, and that special recognize how their attitudes and beliefsskills and knowledge may be essential for assessing and about aging and about older individualstreating some older adults’ problems. Psychologists have may be relevant to their assessment andmany skills that can be of benefit to and significantly treatment of older adults, and to seekincrease the well-being of older adults. They are often consultation or further education about thesecalled upon to evaluate and/or assist older adults with issues when indicated.regard to serious illness, disability, stress, or crisis. They Principle E of the APA Ethics Code (APA, 2002a) urgesalso work with elders who seek psychological assistance to psychologists to eliminate the effect of age-related biasescope with adaptational issues; psychologists can help older on their work. In addition, the APA Council of Represen-adults in maintaining healthy function and adaptation, ac- tatives in 2002 passed a resolution opposing ageism andcomplishing new life-cycle developmental tasks, and/or committing the Association to its elimination as a matter ofachieving positive psychological growth in their later APA policy (APA, 2002b). Ageism refers to prejudiceyears. Some problems of older adults are essentially the toward, stereotyping of, and/or discrimination against peo-same as those of other ages and generally will respond to ple simply because they are perceived or defined as “old”the same repertoire of skills and techniques in which all (Butler, 1969; T. D. Nelson, 2002; Schaie, 1993). Ageistprofessional psychologists have generic training. Given biases can foster a higher recall of negative traits regardingsuch commonalities across age groups, considerably more older persons than of positive ones and encourage discrim-psychologists may want to work with older adults, since inatory practices (Perdue & Gurtman, 1990).many of their already existing skills can be effective with There are many inaccurate stereotypes of older adultsthese clients. that can contribute to negative biases and affect the deliv- On the other hand, because of the aging process and ery of psychological services (Abeles et al., 1998; Rode-circumstances specific to later life, older adults may man- heaver, 1990). These include, for example, that (a) with ageifest their developmental struggles and health-related prob- inevitably comes senility; (b) older adults have increasedlems in distinctive ways, challenging psychologists to rec- rates of mental illness, particularly depression; (c) olderognize and characterize these issues accurately and adults are inefficient in the workplace; (d) most older adultssensitively. In addition, other special clinical problems are frail and ill; (e) older adults are socially isolated; (f)arise uniquely in old age, and may require additional diag- older adults have no interest in sex or intimacy; and (g)nostic skills or intervention methods that can be applied, older adults are inflexible and stubborn (Edelstein & Kal-with appropriate adaptations, to the particular circum- ish, 1999). Such views can become self-fulfilling prophe-stances of older adults. Clinical work with older adults may cies, leading to misdiagnosis of disorders and inappropri-involve a complex interplay of factors, including develop- ately decreased expectations for improvement, so-calledmental issues specific to late life, cohort (generational) “therapeutic nihilism” (Goodstein, 1985; Perlick & Atkins,perspectives and preferences, comorbid physical illness, 1984; Settin, 1982), and to the lack of preventive actionsMay–June 2004 ● American Psychologist 239
  5. 5. and treatment (Dupree & Patterson, 1985). For example, ated with normal aging (Knight et al., 1995; Santos &complaints such as anxiety, tremors, fatigue, confusion, VandenBos, 1982). Moreover, given the likelihood thatand irritability may be attributed to “old age” or “senility” most practicing psychologists will deal with patients, fam-(Goodstein, 1985). Likewise, older adults with treatable ily members, and caregivers of diverse ages, a roundeddepression who report lethargy, decreased appetite, and preparatory education encompasses training with a life-lack of interest in activities may have these symptoms span-developmental perspective that provides knowledgeattributed to old age. Inaccurately informed therapists may of a range of age groups, including older adults (Abeles etassume that older adults are too old to change (Zarit, 1980) al., 1998).or less likely than younger adults to profit from psychoso- Over the past 30 years, a substantial scientific knowl-cial therapies (Gatz & Pearson, 1988), though discrimina- edge base has developed in the psychology of aging, astory behavior by health providers toward older adults may reflected in numerous scholarly publications. The Psychol-be linked more to provider biases about physical health ogy of Adult Development and Aging (Eisdorfer & Lawton,conditions associated with age than to ageism as such (Gatz 1973), printed by APA, was a landmark publication that& Pearson, 1988; James & Haley, 1995). Older people laid out the current status of substantive knowledge, theory,themselves can harbor ageist attitudes. and methods in psychology and aging. It was followed by Some health professionals may avoid serving older Aging in the 1980s: Psychological Issues (Poon, 1980) andadults because such work evokes discomfort related to their more recently by Psychology and the Aging Revolutionown aging or own relationships with parents or other older (Qualls & Abeles, 2000). The successive editions of thefamily members, a phenomenon sometimes termed gero- Handbook of the Psychology of Aging (Birren & Schaie,phobia (Verwoerdt, 1976). As well, it is not uncommon for 1977, 1985, 1990, 1996, 2001) and various other compila-therapists to take a paternalistic role with older adult pa- tions (e.g., Lawton & Salthouse, 1998) have provided antients who manifest significant functional limitations, even overview of advances in knowledge about normal aging asif the limitations are unrelated to their abilities to benefit well as psychological assessment and intervention withfrom interventions (Sprenkel, 1999). Paternalistic attitudes older adults. On its home page, APA Division 20 presentsand behavior can potentially compromise the therapeutic extensive information on resource materials now availablerelationship (Horvath & Bedi, 2002; Knight, 1996; Newton for instructional coursework or self-study in geropsychol-& Jacobowitz, 1999) and reinforce dependency (M. M. ogy, including course syllabi, textbooks, films and video-Baltes, 1996). tapes, and literature references (see http://aging.ufl Positive stereotypes (e.g., the viewpoint that older .edu/apadiv20/apadiv20.htm).adults are “cute,” “childlike,” or “grandparentlike”), which Training within a lifespan-developmental perspectiveare often overlooked in discussions of age-related biases usually includes such topics as concepts of age and aging,(Edelstein & Kalish, 1999), can also adversely affect the stages of the life cycle, longitudinal change and cross-assessment and therapeutic process and outcomes (Kimer- sectional differences, cohort differences, and research de-ling, Zeiss, & Zeiss, 2000; Zarit, 1980). Such biases due to signs for adult development and aging (e.g., Bengtson &sympathy or the desire to make allowances for shortcom- Schaie, 1999; Cavanaugh & Whitbourne, 1999). Longitu-ings can result in inflated estimates of older adults’ skills or dinal studies, where individuals are followed over manymental health and consequent failure to intervene appro- years, permit observation of how individual trajectories ofpriately (Braithwaite, 1986). Psychologists are encouraged change unfold. Cross-sectional studies, where individualsto develop more realistic perceptions of the capabilities and of different ages are compared, allow age groups to bevulnerabilities of this segment of the population and to characterized. However, individuals are inextricably boundeliminate biases that can impede their work with older to their own time in history. People are born, mature, andadults by examining their attitudes toward aging and older grow old within a given generation (or “cohort” of personsadults and (since some biases may constitute “blind spots”) born within a given period of historical time). Therefore, itby seeking consultation from colleagues or others, prefer- is useful to combine longitudinal and cross-sectional meth-ably from others who are experienced in working with ods in order to identify which age-related characteristicsolder adults. reflect change over the lifespan and which reflect differ- ences in cohort or generation (Schaie, 1977). For example,General Knowledge About Adult older adults may be less familiar with using scantron an-Development, Aging, and Older swer sheets to respond to questionnaires or personality inventories, compared to college students of today. RatherAdults than varying by stage of life, differing political attitudesGuideline 3. Psychologists strive to gain may reflect various age cohorts’ different experiences withknowledge about theory and research in World War II, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, or theaging. Gulf War. Appreciating an older adult’s cohort can be an integral aspect of understanding the individual within his orAPA training conferences have recommended that, as part her cultural context (Knight, 1996).of their knowledge base for working clinically with older There are a variety of conceptions of successful agingadults, psychologists acquire familiarity with the biologi- (Rowe & Kahn, 1998) and of positive mental health incal, psychological, and social content and contexts associ- older adults (e.g., Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986).240 May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist
  6. 6. Inevitably, aging includes the need to accommodate to rale, and express enjoyment and high life satisfaction forphysical changes, functional limitations, and other losses. the perspectives and experiences (including decreased so-P. B. Baltes and Baltes (1990; P. B. Baltes, 1997) describe cial expectations) that accompany later life (Magai, 2001;the behavioral strategies involved in such adaptation in Mroczek & Kolarz, 1998). Despite the multiple stressesterms of “selective optimization with compensation,” in and infirmities of old age, it is noteworthy that, other thanwhich older adults set priorities, selecting goals that they for the dementias, older adults have a lower prevalence offeel are most crucial or domains where they feel most psychological disorders than do younger adults. In workingcompetent, refine the means to achieve those goals, and use with older adults, psychologists have found it useful tocompensatory strategies to make up for aging-related remain cognizant of the strengths that many older peoplelosses. Another key aspect of a lifespan-developmental possess, the many commonalities they retain with youngerviewpoint is to emphasize that aging be seen not only adults and with themselves at earlier ages, and the oppor-according to a biologically based decrement model, but tunities for using skills developed over the lifespan foralso as including positive aspects of psychological growth continued psychological growth in late life.and maturation (Gutmann, 1994; Schaie, 1993) Such the- In older adults, there is both a great deal of continuityories of the normal aging process have applicability for of personality traits (Costa, Yang, & McCrae, 1998; Mc-clinicians who strive to build a lifespan-developmental Crae & Costa, 1990) and considerable subjective changeperspective into their interventions (Gatz, 1998; across the second half of life (Ryff, Kwan, & Singer, 2001).Staudinger, Marsiske, & Baltes, 1995). Of particular interest is how sense of well-being is main- tained. For example, although people of all ages reminisceGuideline 4. Psychologists strive to be aware about the past, older adults are more likely to use reminis-of the social/psychological dynamics of the cence in psychologically intense ways to integrate experi-aging process. ences, to maintain intimacy, and to prepare for death (Web-As part of the broader developmental continuum of the life ster, 1995). Dimensions of well-being that are useful forcycle, aging is a dynamic process that challenges the aging psychologists to consider include self-acceptance, auton-individual to make continuing behavioral adaptations omy, and sense of purpose in life (Ryff et al., 2001).(Diehl, Coyle, & Labouvie-Vief, 1996). Many psycholog- Later-life family, intimate, friendship, and other social re-ical issues in late life are similar in nature to difficulties at lations (Blieszner & Bedford, 1995) and intergenerationalearlier life stages— coping with life transitions such as issues (Bengtson, 2001) figure prominently in the agingretirement (Sterns & Gray, 1999) or changes in residence, process. One influential theoretical perspective suggestsbereavement and widowhood (Kastenbaum, 1999), cou- that aging typically brings a heightened awareness thatples’ problems or sexual difficulties (Levenson, one’s remaining time and opportunities are limited, leadingCarstensen, & Gottman, 1993), social discrimination, trau- to increased selectivity in one’s goals and social relation-matic events (Hyer & Sohnle, 2001), social isolation and ships, and a growing concentration on those that are mostloneliness, or issues of modifying one’s self-concept and emotionally satisfying (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles,goals in light of altered life circumstances or continuing 1999). For these and other reasons, older adults’ voluntaryprogression through the life cycle (Tobin, 1999). Other social networks often shrink with age, showing a progres-issues, however, may be more specific to late life, such as sive focusing on interactions with family and close associ-grandparenting problems (Robertson, 1995; Szinovacz, ates. Families and other support systems are critical aspects1998), adapting to typical age-related physical changes, of the context for most older adults (Antonucci, 2001;including health problems (Schulz & Heckhausen, 1996), Antonucci & Akiyama, 1995). Working with older adultsor needs for integrating or coming to terms with one’s often involves dealing with their families and other supportpersonal lifetime of aspirations, achievements, and failures or, not infrequently, their absence. Psychologists often ap-(Butler, 1963). Older adults also routinely experience the praise the social support context in detail (Abeles et al.,effects of social attitudes toward the older population, 1998) and typically seek to find interventions and solutionsincluding societal stereotypes about the aged (Kite & Wag- to problems that strike a balance between respecting thener, 2002), and often are coping with particular economic dignity and autonomy of the older person and recognizingand legal issues (Smyer, Schaie, & Kapp, 1996). others’ perspectives on the older individual’s needs for care Among the special stresses of old age are a variety of (see Guideline 19).significant losses. Loss—whether of significant persons, Though the individuals who care for older adults areobjects, animals, roles, belongings, independence, health, usually family members related by blood ties or marriage,or financial well-being—may trigger problematic reactions, increasingly, psychologists may encounter complex, var-particularly in individuals predisposed to depression, anx- ied, and nontraditional relationships as part of older adults’iety, or other mental disorders. Among the elderly, losses patterns of intimacy, residence, and support. This docu-are often multiple, and their effects cumulative. Neverthe- ment uses the term family broadly to include all suchless, confronting loss in the context of one’s long life often relationships, and recognizes that continuing changes inoffers unique possibilities for achieving reconciliation, this context are likely in future generations. Awareness ofhealing, or deeper wisdom (P. B. Baltes & Staudinger, and training in these issues will be useful to psychologists2000; Sternberg & Lubart, 2001). Moreover, the vast ma- in dealing with older adults manifesting diverse familyjority of older people maintain positive outlooks and mo- relationships and forms of support.May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist 241
  7. 7. Guideline 5. Psychologists strive to mothers raising grandchildren (Fuller-Thomson & Minkler,understand diversity in the aging process, 2003). Women’s issues frequently arise as concerns to beparticularly how sociocultural factors such as dealt with throughout the processes of assessing and treat-gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ing older adults (Banks, Ackerman, & Clark, 1986; Trot-sexual orientation, disability status, and man & Brody, 2002). Consideration of special issues af-urban/rural residence may influence the fecting older men is similarly germane, though many ofexperience and expression of health and of these have not been sufficiently researched (Bengtson,psychological problems in later life. Rosenthal, & Burton, 1996). It is critical also to consider the pervasive influence ofThe older adult population is highly diverse, including cross-cultural and minority factors on the experience ofconsiderable sociocultural, socioeconomic, and demo- aging (Jackson, 1988; Miles, 1999). The population ofgraphic variation (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001). Ac- older adults today is predominantly White, but by the yearcording to some research, the heterogeneity among older 2050, non-White minorities will represent one third of alladults surpasses that seen in other age groups (Crowther & older adults in the United States (Gerontological Society ofZeiss, 2003; E. A. Nelson & Dannefer, 1992). The psycho- America Task Force on Minority Issues in Gerontology,logical problems experienced by older adults may differ 1994; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993). Earlier life expe-according to such factors as age cohort, gender, ethnicity riences of older adults were often conditioned by racial orand cultural background, sexual orientation, rural/frontier ethnic identity. Many older minority persons faced discrim-living status, differences in education and socioeconomic ination and were denied access to jobs, housing, healthcare,status, religion, as well as transitions in social status and and other services. As a result, older minority persons haveliving situations. Clinical presentations of symptoms and fewer economic resources than majority persons. For ex-syndromes in older individuals often reflect interactions ample, 47% of Black women aged 65 to 74 years live inamong these factors and specifics of the clinical setting poverty. As a consequence of these and other factors,(such as the nursing home or the homebound living con- minority older adults have more physical health problemstext). In addition, adults in the relatively earlier stages of than the majority of older persons and they often delay ortheir old age often differ considerably from the very old in refrain from accessing needed health and mental healthphysical health, functional abilities, living situations, or services (Abramson, Trejo, & Lai, 2002; Vasquez &other characteristics. Clavigo, 1995; Yeo & Hikoyeda, 1993). An important factor to take into account when pro- In addition to ethnic and minority older adults, thereviding psychological services to older adults is the influ- are sexual minorities including gay, lesbian, bisexual, andence of cohort or generational issues. Each generation has transgendered persons (Kimmel, 1995; Reid, 1995). Theyunique historical circumstances that shape that generation’s have also suffered discrimination from the larger society,collective social and psychological perspectives throughout including the mental health professions, which previouslythe lifespan. For the current group of older Americans, the labeled sexual variation as psychopathology and utilizedeconomic depression of the 1930s and World War II were psychological and biological treatments to try to alter sex-formative early life experiences that built a strong ethic of ual orientation. Guideline 12 of APA’s Guidelines forself-reliance (Elder, 1999; Elder & Hareven, 1994). Like- Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clientswise, these individuals may have been socialized in com- (2000) discusses particular challenges faced by older adultsmunities in which negative attitudes toward mental health in this minority status.issues and professionals were prevalent. As a result, older Aging presents special issues for individuals withadults may be more reluctant than younger adults to access developmental and other longstanding disabilities (e.g.,mental health services and to accept a psychological frame mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, seizure disor-for problems. ders, traumatic brain injury) as well as physical impair- A striking demographic fact of late life is the prepon- ments such as blindness, deafness, and musculoskeletalderance of females surviving to older ages (Federal Inter- impairments (Janicki & Dalton, 1999). Nowadays, givenagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 2000), which available supports, life expectancy for persons with seriousinfuses aging with many gender-related issues (Huyck, disability may approach or equal that of the general popu-1990). Notably, because of the greater longevity of women, lation (Janicki, Dalton, Henderson, & Davidson, 1999).on average the older patient is more likely to be a woman Many chronic impairments may affect risk for age-associ-than a man. This greater longevity has many repercussions. ated changes (e.g., Zigman, Silverman, & Wisniewski,For example, it means that, as they age, most women will 1996) and/or may have implications for psychological as-provide care to infirm husbands, experience widowhood, sessment, diagnosis, and treatment of persons who areand be at increasing risk themselves for dementia and other aging with these conditions.health conditions associated with advanced age. Moreover, Aging is also conditioned by a multiplicity of envi-the current generation of older women was less likely to ronmental and ecological factors (Scheidt & Windley,engage in competitive employment than successive gener- 1998; Wahl, 2001) including rural/frontier issues and relo-ations and therefore has fewer economic resources in later cation. Place of residence affects access to health serviceslife than their male counterparts. Financial instability may and places obstacles to providers in delivering services.be particularly salient for the growing numbers of grand- Older adults residing in rural areas often have problems242 May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist
  8. 8. accessing aging resources (e.g., transportation, community Because older adults so commonly take medicationscenters, meal programs) and as a consequence experience for these conditions, it often is useful to have knowledgelow levels of social support and high levels of isolation about various aspects of pharmacology. For example, phar-(Guralnick, Kemele, Stamm, & Greving, 2003; Russell, macokinetic and pharmacodynamic changes tied to agingCutrona, de la Mora, & Wallace, 1997). Rural elders also affect older adults’ metabolism of and sensitivity to med-have less access to community mental health services and ications, leading to consequent considerations about dos-to mental health specialists in nursing homes compared to ing. It is helpful to be familiar with medications typicallynonrural older adults (Burns et al., 1993; Coburn & Bolda, used by older adults, including psychotropic medications,1999). Homebound older adults also find it particularly and potential interactions among them (Levy & Uncapher,difficult to obtain psychological services since there are 2000; Smyer & Downs, 1995). Numerous problems seenfew programs that bring such services to older adults’ among older adults can stem from the multiplicity of med-residences. ications they often are taking (so-called polypharmacy is- sues; Schneider, 1996).Guideline 6. Psychologists strive to be Psychologists working with older adults may findfamiliar with current information about behavioral medicine information useful in helping olderbiological and health-related aspects of adults with lifestyle and behavioral issues in maintaining oraging. improving their health, such as nutrition, diet, and exercise (Bortz & Bortz, 1996). They can help older adults achieveIn working with older adults, psychologists often find it pain control and manage their chronic illnesses and asso-useful to be informed about the normal biological ciated medications with greater compliance (Watkins, Shi-changes that accompany aging. Though there are indi- fren, Park, & Morrell, 1999). Other health-related issuesvidual differences in rates of change, with advancing age that are often encountered include preventive measures forthe older individual inevitably experiences such changes dealing with the risk of falls and associated injury, man-as decreases in sensory acuity, alterations in physical agement of incontinence (K. L. Burgio & Locher, 1996),appearance and body composition, hormonal changes, and dealing with terminal illness (Kastenbaum, 1999). Be-reductions in the peak performance capacity of most havioral medicine approaches have great potential for con-body organ systems, and weakened immunological re- tributing to effective and humane geriatric health care andsponses and greater susceptibility to illness. Such bio- for improving older adults’ functional status and health-logical aging processes may have significant hereditary related quality of life (Siegler, Bastian, Steffens, Bosworth,or genetically related components (McClearn & Vogler, & Costa, 2002).2001), about which older adults and their families may For example, while many older adults experienceoften have keen interests or concerns. Adjusting to such some changes in sleep, it is often difficult to determinephysical changes with age is a core task of the normal whether these are inherent in the aging process or may stempsychological aging process (Whitbourne, 1996, 1998). from changes in physical health or other causes. SleepWhen older clients discuss their physical health, most complaints in older adults are sometimes dismissed as partoften their focus may be on changes with significant of normal age-related change, but can also signal depres-experiential components, such as changes in vision, sion or other mental health problems (Bootzin, Epstein,hearing, sleep, continence, energy levels or fatigability, Engle-Friedman, & Salvio, 1996). Sleep can often be im-and the like. In such contexts, it is useful for the psy- proved by implementing simple sleep hygiene procedureschologist to be able to distinguish normative patterns of and by behavioral treatment, including relaxation, cogni-change from symptoms of serious illness, to recognize tive restructuring, and stimulus control instructions (An-when psychological symptoms might represent a sideeffect of medication or the consequence of a physical coli-Israel, Pat-Horenczyk, & Martin, 2001; Older Adultsillness, and to provide informed help to older adults with and Insomnia Resource Guide, 2001).respect to coping with physical changes and managingchronic disease (Frazer, 1995). Clinical Issues Over 80% of older adults have at least one chronic Guideline 7. Psychologists strive to behealth condition, and most have multiple conditions, each familiar with current knowledge aboutrequiring medication and/or management. The most com- cognitive changes in older adults.monly experienced chronic health conditions of late lifeinclude arthritis, hypertension, hearing impairments, heart Numerous reference volumes offer comprehensive cover-disease, and cataracts (National Academy on an Aging age of research on cognitive aging (e.g., Blanchard-FieldsSociety, 1999). Other common medical problems include & Hess, 1996; Craik & Salthouse, 2000; D. C. Park &diabetes, osteoporosis, vascular diseases, neurological dis- Schwartz, 2000). For most older adults, the changes ineases, including stroke, and respiratory diseases (Segal, cognition that occur with aging are mild in degree and do1996). Many of these physical conditions have associated not significantly interfere with daily functioning (Abeles etmental health conditions, either mediated physiologically al., 1998). While some decline in capacity and/or efficiency(e.g., poststroke depression) or in reaction to disability, may be demonstrated in most cognitive domains, the vastpain, or prognosis (Frazer, Leicht, & Baker, 1996). majority of older adults continue to engage in their long-May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist 243
  9. 9. standing pursuits, interact intellectually with others, ac- condition (Bachman et al., 1992; Evans et al., 1989). Thetively solve real-life problems, and achieve new learning. most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease Various cognitive abilities show differential rates and vascular dementia; however, quite commonly, cog-and trajectories of change in normal aging (Schaie, nitive impairment in old age exists in milder forms that1994). Among the changes most commonly associated are not inevitably progressive and for which the etiologywith normal aging are slowing in reaction times and the may not be clearly definable. Depression or anxietyoverall speed of information processing (Salthouse, sometimes trigger reversible cognitive impairments in1996; Sliwinski & Buschke, 1999) and reduction in older, vulnerable adults who had previously appearedvisuospatial and motor control abilities. Memory normal in cognitive function (Butters et al., 2000). Re-changes with age are also common, in particular those versible cognitive impairment or mental confusion caninvolving retrieval processes and so-called working also result from medical conditions or side effects ofmemory (retaining information while using it in perfor- medications. Acute confusional states (delirium) oftenmance of another mental task; Backman, Small, & Wah- ¨ signal underlying physical conditions or illness pro-lin, 2001; A. D. Smith, 1996; Zacks, Hasher, & Li, cesses, which generally deserve prompt medical atten-2000). Attention is also affected, particularly the ability tion and sometimes may even be life-threatening (Dolanto divide one’s attention, to shift focus rapidly, and to et al., 2000; Miller & Lipowski, 1991).deal with complex situations (Rogers & Fisk, 2001). Largely as a consequence of the affected older adults’Cognitive functions that are better preserved with age increased need for assistance and supervision, cognitivelyinclude learning, language and vocabulary skills, reason- impairing disorders typically place great time demands anding, and other skills that rely primarily on stored infor- stress on caregiving family members as well as the affectedmation and knowledge. Older adults remain capable of individuals and represent a very costly burden for societynew learning, though typically at a somewhat slower as a whole.pace than younger individuals. Changes in executiveabilities, when they occur, tend to be quite predictive of Guideline 8. Psychologists strive tofunctional disability (Royall, Chiodo, & Polk, 2000). understand problems in daily living among A large variety of factors influence both lifetime levels older adults.of cognitive achievement and patterns of maintenance or Older adults confront many of the problems in daily lifedecline in intellectual performance in old age, including that younger persons do. For example, increasingly, manygenetic, constitutional, health, sensory, affective, and other older adults may remain in the work force, facing jobvariables. Sensory deficits, particularly when present in pressures and decisions about retirement versus continuedvision and hearing, often significantly impede and limit employment (Sterns & Gray, 1999). However, the increas-older adults’ intellectual functioning and ability to interact ing presence of acute or chronic health problems as personswith their environments and may be linked in more funda- age may exacerbate existing problems or create new diffi-mental ways with higher order cognitive changes (P. B. culties. Intimate relationships may become strained by theBaltes & Lindenberger, 1997). Many of the illnesses and presence of health problems in one or both partners. Dis-chronic physical conditions that are common in old age cord among adult children may be precipitated or exacer-tend to have significant impacts on particular aspects of bated because of differing expectations about how muchcognition, as do many of the medications used to treat them care each child should provide to the impaired parent(Waldstein, 2000). Cumulatively, such factors may account (Qualls, 1999). Increasing use of health care can be frus-for much of the decline that older adults experience in trating for older adults because of demands on time, fi-intellectual functioning, as opposed to simply the normal nances, transportation, and lack of communication amongaging process in itself. In addition to sensory integrity and care providers.physical health, psychological factors such as affective It is important to understand how issues of daily livingstate, sense of control, and self-efficacy (Eizenman, Nes- for many older adults center around the degree to which theselroade, Featherman, & Rowe, 1997), as well as active use individual retains “everyday competence” or the ability forof information-processing strategies and continued practice independent function, or is disabled to such extent asof existing mental skills (Schooler, Mulatu, & Oates, having to depend on others for basic elements of self-care1999), may influence older adults’ level of cognitive (M. M. Baltes, 1996; Diehl, 1998; Femia, Zarit, & Johan-performance. sson, 2001). For example, for some older adults, health At the same time, there is a relatively high preva- problems have an adverse effect on ability to completelence of more serious cognitive disorders within the activities of daily living, requiring the use of paid homeolder adult population and an appreciable minority of health care assistants. Some older adults find the presenceolder adults suffers significantly impaired function and of health care assistants in their homes to be stressfulquality of life as a result. Advanced age is tied to because of the financial demands of such care, differencesincreased risk of cognitive impairment, in varying forms in expectations about how care should be provided, racialand degrees. Population-based research has found that and cultural differences between care provider and recipi-the prevalence of dementia increases dramatically with ent, or beliefs that family members are the only acceptableage, with various estimates indicating that as many as caregivers. Theoretical perspectives of person– environ-25% to 50% of all those over age 85 suffer from this ment fit or congruence (e.g., Kahana, Kahana, & Riley,244 May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist
  10. 10. 1989; Smyer & Allen-Burge, 1999; Wahl, 2001) have Guideline 9. Psychologists strive to beconsiderable applicability in such situations and often are knowledgeable about psychopathologyhelpful in elucidating their remediable aspects. A useful within the aging population and cognizant ofgeneral principle is the so-called environmental docility the prevalence and nature of thatthesis, namely, that while behavior is a function of both psychopathology when providing services toperson and environment, as older adults’ personal compe- older adults.tence declines, environmental variables often play a corre-spondingly greater role in determining their level of func- Prevalence estimates suggest that approximately 20%–22%tioning (Lawton, 1989). of older adults may meet criteria for some form of mental Loss of mental abilities such as those found in disorder, including dementias (Administration on Aging,Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and associated 2001; Gatz & Smyer, 2001; Jeste et al., 1999; Surgeonemotional and behavioral problems often have a signif- General, 1999). Older adults may present a broad array of psychological issues for clinical attention. These issuesicant impact on both older adults and family members include almost all of the problems that affect younger(Schulz, O’Brien, Bookwala, & Fleissner, 1995). Older adults. In addition, older adults may seek or benefit fromadults and family members confront difficult decisions psychological services when they experience challengesabout whether the older person with waning cognitive specific to late life, including developmental issues andability can manage finances, drive, live independently, social changes. Some problems that rarely affect youngeror manage medications and make decisions about med- adults, notably dementias due to degenerative brain dis-ical care. Older persons with dementia and their families eases and stroke, are much more common in old age (seemust also deal with the financial and legal implications Guideline 7).of the condition. Family members who experience care- Older adults may suffer recurrences of psychologicalgiving stress are at increased risk for experiencing de- disorders they experienced when younger (e.g., Bonwick &pression, anxiety, anger, and frustration (Gallagher- Morris, 1996; Hyer & Sohnle, 2001) or develop new prob-Thompson & DeVries, 1994), and compromised immune lems because of the unique stresses of old age or neuropa-system function (Cacioppo et al., 1998; Kiecolt-Glaser, thology. Other older persons have histories of chronicDura, Speicher, Trask, & Glaser, 1991). In addition, mental illness or personality disorder, the presentation ofolder adults who are responsible for others, such as the which may change or become further complicated becauseaging parents of adult offspring with long-standing dis- of cognitive impairment, medical comorbidity, polyphar-abilities or severe psychiatric disorders, may experience macy, and end-of-life issues (Light & Lebowitz, 1991;considerable duress in arranging for the future care or Meeks & Murrell, 1997; Rosowsky, Abrams, & Zweig,oversight of their dependents (Greenberg, Seltzer, & 1999). Among older adults seeking health services, depres-Greenley, 1993; Seltzer, Greenberg, Krauss, & Hong, sion and anxiety disorders are common, as are adjustment1997). Older grandparents who assume primary respon- disorders and problems stemming from inadvertent misusesibilities for raising their grandchildren may face many of prescription medications (Fisher & Noll, 1996; Gallo &similar problems and strains (Fuller-Thomson, Minkler, Lebowitz, 1999; Reynolds & Charney, 2002). Suicide is a& Driver, 1997; Robertson, 1995; Szinovacz, DeViney, particular concern in conjunction with depression in late& Atkinson, 1999). Partly as a result of such tensions, life, as suicide rates are higher among older adults than inmentally or physically frail older adults are at increased other age groups (see Guideline 16). Dementing disordersrisk for abuse and neglect (Curry & Stone, 1995; Elder including Alzheimer’s disease are also commonly seenAbuse and Neglect, 1999; Wilber & McNeilly, 2001; among older adults who come to clinical attention. The vastWolf, 1998). majority of older adults with mental health problems seek Even older adults who remain in relatively good help from primary medical care settings, rather than incognitive and physical health are witness to a changing specialty mental health facilities (Phillips & Murrell,social world as older family members and friends experi- 1994).ence health declines (Myers, 1999). Relationships change, Older adults often have multiple problems. Both men-access to friends and family becomes more difficult, and tal and behavioral disorders may be evident in older adultsdemands to provide care to others increase. Of note, many (e.g., those with Axis I disorders who also manifest con-individuals subject to caregiving responsibilities and current substance abuse or Axis II personality disorders).stresses are themselves older adults, who may be con- Likewise, older adults suffering from progressive demen-tending with physical health problems and psychological tias typically evidence coexistent psychological symptoms,adjustment to aging. Death of friends and older family which may include depression, anxiety, paranoia, and be-members is something most older people experience (Kas- havioral disturbances. Because medical disorders are moretenbaum, 1999). The oldest (those 85 years and older) prevalent in old age than in younger years, mental andsometimes find they are the only surviving representatives behavioral problems are often comorbid with medical ill-of the age peers they have known. These older people must ness (Lebowitz & Niederehe, 1992). Being alert to comor-not only deal with the emotional ramifications of these bid physical and mental health problems is a key concept inlosses but also the practical challenges of how to reconsti- evaluating older adults. Further complicating the clinicaltute a meaningful social world. picture, older adults often receive multiple medications andMay–June 2004 ● American Psychologist 245
  11. 11. have sensory or motor impairments. All of these factors and taking account of contributing factors. In evaluatingmay interact in ways that are difficult to disentangle diag- older adults it is, for example, almost always useful tonostically. For example, sometimes depressive symptoms ascertain the possible influence of medications on the pre-in older adults are caused by medical conditions (Frazer et senting mental health or psychological picture, and theal., 1996; Weintraub, Furlan, & Katz, 2002). At other nature and extent of the individual’s familial or other socialtimes, depression is a response to the experience of phys- support. In many contexts, particularly hospital and outpa-ical illness. Depression may increase the risk that physical tient care settings, psychologists are frequently asked toillness will recur and reduce treatment compliance or oth- evaluate older adults for the presence of depression or othererwise dampen the outcomes of medical care. Growing affective disorder, suicidal potential, psychotic symptoms,evidence links depression in older adults to increased mor- and like issues. As part of this process, in addition totality, not attributable to suicide (Schulz, Martire, Beach, & employing clinical interview and behavioral observationScherer, 2000). techniques (Edelstein & Kalish, 1999; Edelstein & Semen- Some mental disorders may have unique presentations chuk, 1996), psychologists may conduct various forms ofin older adults. For example, late-life depression may co- standardized assessment.exist with cognitive impairment and other symptoms of Developing knowledge and skill with respect to stan-dementia or may be expressed in forms that lack overt dardized measures involves understanding the importancemanifestations of sadness (Gallo & Rabins, 1999). It may of using assessments that have been shown to be reliablethus be difficult to determine whether symptoms such as and valid with older adults (e.g., Ivnik et al., 1992). Forapathy and withdrawal are caused by a depressive syn- example, when assessing late-life issues in personality anddrome and/or impaired brain functioning (Lamberty & characteristic patterns of behavior in relationship to olderBieliauskas, 1993). Furthermore, depressive symptoms adults’ clinical symptoms, psychologists frequently admin-may at times reflect older adults’ confrontation with devel- ister and interpret both symptom scales (such as those foropmentally challenging aspects of aging, coming to terms depression or anxiety) and trait/personality measures (e.g.,with the existential reality of physical decline and death, or Costa & McCrae, 1988). Likewise, gaining an understand-spiritual crises. Familiarity with the mental disorders of late ing of the clinical problem may require assessments oflife usually evident in clinical settings, their presentations other persistent behavior patterns (e.g., assertiveness, de-in older adults, and relationship with physical health prob- pendency) and/or of contextual factors (such as familylems will facilitate accurate recognition of and appropriate interaction patterns, degree of social support). Such assess-therapeutic response to these syndromes. ments are likely to be most accurate and useful when based Other issues that often come to clinical attention in on measures designed for use with, or that have knownolder adults include substance abuse (Blow, Oslin, & psychometric properties relative to, older adults. The Gero-Barry, 2002), complicated grief (Frank, Prigerson, Shear, psychology Assessment Resource Guide (1996) produced& Reynolds, 1997), sexual dysfunction, psychotic disor- by the Veterans Administration and other resources (e.g.,ders, including schizophrenia and delusional disorders Lawton & Teresi, 1994; Poon et al., 1986) offer commen-(Palmer, Folsom, Bartels, & Jeste, 2002), and behavioral tary on assessment instruments for use with geriatricdisturbances (e.g., wandering, aggressive behavior) in patients.those suffering from dementia or other cognitive impair- As well, behavioral assessment has many applicationsment (Cohen-Mansfield, Werner, Culpepper, Wolfson, & in working with older adults, particularly for psychologistsBickel, 1996). Many comprehensive reference volumes are working in hospital, rehabilitation, or other institutional-available as resources for clinicians with respect to late-life ized settings (Fisher & Carstensen, 1990; Hersen & Vanmental disorders (e.g., Butler, Lewis, & Sunderland, 1998; Hasselt, 1992; Lundervold & Lewin, 1992). BehavioralEdelstein, 2001; Kennedy, 2000; Smyer & Qualls, 1999; analysis (and associated intervention techniques) may oftenWhitbourne, 2000; Woods, 1999; Zarit & Zarit, 1998), and be useful with patients who show potentially harmful be-the literature in this area is rapidly expanding. havior such as wandering (Algase, 2001) or assaultiveness (Fisher, Swingen, & Harsin, 2001), sexual disinhibition, orAssessment excess disability (i.e., impairment of function greater thanGuideline 10. Psychologists strive to be that directly attributable to disease; Roberts, 1986). Thesefamiliar with the theory, research, and techniques can also be valuable in determining elderlypractice of various methods of assessment individuals’ skills and weaknesses and targeting areas inwith older adults, and knowledgeable of which to strengthen adaptive behavior.assessment instruments that are In assessing older adults, particularly those with cog-psychometrically suitable for use with them. nitive impairments, psychologists may rely considerably on data provided by other informants. It is useful to be awareRelevant methods may include clinical interviewing, use of of empirical findings about effective ways of gatheringself-report measures, cognitive performance testing, direct such information, and general considerations about how tobehavioral observation, psychophysiological techniques, interpret it in relation to other data (e.g., Teri & Wagner,and use of informant data. 1991). Likewise, evaluations of older adults may often be A thorough geriatric assessment is preferably an in- clarified by conducting repeated-measures assessments atterdisciplinary one, determining how problems interrelate more than a single time point. Such longitudinal assess-246 May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist
  12. 12. ment is useful particularly with respect to such matters as Aging individuals with developmental disabilities orthe older adult’s affective state or functional capacities, and other preexisting physical or cognitive impairments maycan help in examining the degree to which these are stable present unique challenges for psychological assessment, asor vary according to situational factors, time of day, or the well as for intervention (Janicki, Heller, & Hogg, 1996).like. Often it is not useful to apply the same techniques as Psychologists may do assessments for more than di- employed with nondisabled individuals. Sensitivity to theseagnostic purposes. They may also use them to help gener- special circumstances may demand exercising special careate appropriate intervention strategies with the older pa- in selecting assessment procedures appropriate for the in-tient, the family, other support providers, or professional dividual, and/or making adjustments in methods and diag-caregivers, and to evaluate the outcomes of these interven- nostic decision making (Burt & Aylward, 1999; Workingtions. For example, assessments may be used to appraise Group for the Establishment of Criteria for the Diagnosis ofpatient satisfaction with psychological interventions in Dementia, 2000).nursing homes, to determine the key efficacious compo- Another common challenge in conducting assess-nents of day care programs, or to evaluate the cost–benefit ments is taking account of the potential influence of bothof respite care programs designed to help family caregivers psychopharmacological and other medications, and othermaintain their demented relatives at home. Assessments substance use (Blow, 2000; Blow et al., 2002). Sub-may thus play an important role in determining the thera- stance abuse assessment, particularly with respect topeutic and programmatic efficacy and efficiency of inter- alcohol use but spanning the full range of abused sub-ventions, whether made at individual, group, program, or stances, is frequently very valuable in clinical work withsystems levels. Such program evaluations can lead to im- older adults. Whereas work demands and legal problemsproved services for older adults. make alcohol abuse more apparent in younger adults, in older adults it is often more difficult to detect or mayGuideline 11. Psychologists strive to present itself via atypical symptoms. Also, because ofunderstand the problems of using the multiple medications that many older adults take,assessment instruments created for younger psychologists may frequently find it useful to evaluateindividuals when assessing older adults, and prescription and over-the-counter medication misuseto develop skill in tailoring assessments to (whether inadvertent or not).accommodate older adults’ specific Other special challenges in assessing older adults in-characteristics and contexts. clude interpreting the significance of somatic complaints, appraising the nature and extent of familial and other socialWhen assessment tools appropriately validated and normed support, evaluating potential elder abuse or neglect, andfor use with this age group are not available, psychologists identification of strengths and potential compensatorymay find themselves in the position of using instruments skills.imperfectly suited for the situation and exercising profes-sional judgment to evaluate the probable impact of aging Guideline 12. Psychologists strive to developon test performance. At other times, the challenge may be skill at recognizing cognitive changes into adapt the assessment procedures to accommodate the older adults, and in conducting andspecial frailties, impairments, or living contexts of older interpreting cognitive screening andadults (e.g., Hunt & Lindley, 1989). For example, with functional ability evaluations.older adults who have sensory or communication problems, Quite commonly, when evaluating geriatric patients, psy-elements of the evaluation process may include assessing chologists may use specialized procedures and tests to helpthe extent of these impediments, modifying other assess- determine the nature of and bases for an older adult’sments to work around such problems, and taking these cognitive difficulties, functional impairment, or behavioralmodifications into account when interpreting the test disturbances (Geropsychology Assessment Resourcefindings. Guide, 1996; LaRue, 1992; Lichtenberg, 1999; Poon et al., It may be useful to modify the assessment environ- 1986; Storandt & VandenBos, 1994). For example, thement in various ways in order to reduce the influence of referral question may be whether the individual’s impair-sensory problems or other preexisting (e.g., motor or ments exceed the extent of change expected from agelong-standing intellectual) impairments on test results. alone, or whether the observed problems stem from aIn particular, clinicians would not want to confuse cog- dementing process, depression, and/or other causesnitive impairment with sensory deficits. Hearing diffi- (Kaszniak & Christenson, 1994; Lamberty & Bieliauskas,culties in older adults tend to be worse at higher fre- 1993). Differentiating cognitive deficits that reflect earlyquencies, and background noise can be especially dementia from those associated with normal aging and milddistracting (Vernon, 1989). Thus, it can be helpful for dementia from depression can be diagnostically challeng-the clinician to minimize surrounding noise and for ing (Butters, Salmon, & Butters, 1994; Kaszniak &female psychologists, in particular, to lower the pitch of Christenson, 1994; Spencer, Tompkins, & Schulz, 1997).their voice. To be useful, self-administered assessment Clarification is often provided by comprehensive neuropsy-forms may have to be reprinted in larger type, and chological studies and longitudinal, repeated-measureshigh-gloss paper is best avoided. evaluation. While impairment in delayed recall is a hall-May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist 247
  13. 13. mark of Alzheimer’s disease, the illness can present quite environment, available social supports, or local legalvariably, and other dementing disorders may also present standards).with poor retention. Disproportionate deficits in visuospa-tial or executive functions may indicate other etiologies. Intervention, Consultation, and OtherPrompt evaluation of memory complaints may be useful in Service Provisionidentifying potentially reversible causes of cognitive im-pairment (APA Presidential Task Force on the Assessment Guideline 13. Psychologists strive to beof Age-Consistent Memory Decline and Dementia, 1998), familiar with the theory, research, andthough such complaints are also influenced by mood and practice of various methods of interventionmany other factors and in themselves are generally not with older adults, particularly with currentreliable indices of objectively measured cognitive decline research evidence about their efficacy with(Niederehe, 1998; G. E. Smith, Petersen, Ivnik, Malec, & this age group.Tangalos, 1996). The ability to make accurate assessments and appro- Psychologists have been adapting their treatments andpriate referrals in this area depends upon knowledge of doing psychological interventions with older adults overnormal and abnormal aging, including age-related changes the entire history of psychotherapy (Knight, Kelly, &in intellectual abilities. In conducting such assessments, Gatz, 1992). As different theoretical approaches havepsychologists rely upon their familiarity with age-related emerged, each has been applied to older adults, forbrain changes, diseases that affect the brain, tests of cog- example, psychoanalysis, behavior modification, cogni-nition, and age-appropriate normative data on cognitive tive therapy, and community mental health consultation.functioning (Albert & Moss, 1988; Green, 2000; Ivnik et In addition, efforts have been made to use the knowledgeal., 1992; Nussbaum, 1997; R. W. Park, Zec, & Wilson, base from research on developmental processes in later1993), as well as upon knowledge of how performance can life in order to inform intervention efforts (e.g., Knight,be influenced by preexisting impairments and individual 1996).differences in cognitive abilities. Brief cognitive screening Increasing evidence documents that older adultstests do not substitute for more thorough evaluation in respond well to a variety of forms of psychotherapy andchallenging cases. Psychologists make referrals to clinical can benefit from psychological interventions to a degreeneuropsychologists (for comprehensive neuropsychologi- comparable with younger adults (Pinquart & Soerensen,cal assessments2), neurologists, or other specialists as 2001; Zarit & Knight, 1996), though often respondingappropriate. somewhat more slowly. Cognitive– behavioral, psy- Psychologists sometimes do functional capacity as- chodynamic, interpersonal, and other approaches havesessments and consult on questions regarding an older shown utility in the treatment of specific problemsperson’s functional abilities (Diehl, 1998; Willis et al., among the aged (Gatz et al., 1998; Teri & McCurry,1998). For example, they may be asked to assess the 1994). The problems for which efficacious psychologicalindividual’s abilities to make medical or legal decisions interventions have been demonstrated in older adults(Marson, Chatterjee, Ingram, & Harrell, 1996; Moye, include depression (Arean & Cook, 2002; Niederehe & ´1999; Smyer, 1993; Smyer & Allen-Burge, 1999) or to Schneider, 1998; Scogin & McElreath, 1994), anxietyexercise specific behavioral competencies, such as med- (Stanley, Beck, & Glassco, 1996; Mohlman et al., 2003;ication management (D. C. Park, Morrell, & Shifren, Wetherell, 1998, 2002), sleep disturbance (Morin,1999) or driving (Ball, 1997; Odenheimer et al., 1994). Colecchi, Stone, Sood, & Brink, 1999; Morin, Kowatch,Other questions, including those of a forensic nature, Barry, & Walton, 1993), and alcohol abuse (Blow,may involve the elder’s capacity for continued indepen- 2000). Cognitive training techniques, behavior modifi-dent living, capacity for making advanced directives or cation strategies, and socioenvironmental modificationsa valid will, or need for legal guardianship (Assessment may have particular relevance both for treating depres-of Competency and Capacity of the Older Adult, 1997; sion and improving functional abilities in cognitivelyMarson, 2002; Smyer et al., 1996). In addressing ques- impaired older adults (L. Burgio, 1996; Camp & Mc-tions in these areas, the psychologist typically evaluates Kitrick, 1992; Floyd & Scogin, 1997; Neely & Back- ¨cognitive skills, higher order executive functioning man, 1995; Teri, Logsdon, Uomoto, & McCurry, 1997).(such as ability to plan, organize, and implement com- Reminiscence or life review therapy has shown utility asplex behaviors), and other aspects of psychological func- a technique in various applications, including the treat-tion, using assessment procedures within their expertiseand competence that have demonstrated validity con- 2 In 1996, at the recommendation of the Commission for Recognitioncerning the referral questions. Furthermore, to make of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology (CRSPPP), theecologically valid recommendations in these areas, he or APA Council of Representatives formally recognized Clinical Neuropsy-she often integrates the assessment results with clinical chology as a “specialty that applies principles of assessment and inter-interview information gathered from both the older adult vention based upon the scientific study of human behavior as it relates to normal and abnormal functioning of the central nervous system” and thatand collateral sources, with direct observations of the “is dedicated to enhancing the understanding of brain-behavior relation-older adult’s functional performance, and with other ships and the application of such knowledge to human problems” (archi-pertinent considerations (such as the immediate physical val description available at http://www.apa.org/crsppp/neuro.html).248 May–June 2004 ● American Psychologist