People in both the developed and the developing world are living longer, and in better health, than in any prior point in history. However, mental health professionals, especially psychologists, need to prepare for this upcoming increase in older persons – whom they will encounter in all areas of practice. There is an urgent need for practitioners to upskill, and students to embrace, key principles from gerontology (the science of aging) to foster greater awareness, understanding, and appreciation of later life experience. The psychological issues faced in clinical practice will evolve along with these demographic changes — for example, intergenerational issues among blended families, anxieties around retirement, and issues particularly pressing for women, such as caregiving, will present themselves more frequently. These issues are important for mental health professionals, concerned with ageing, to recognize and address with sensitivity and respect, with curiosity and a willingness to listen and learn.
Dr Nancy A. Pachana is a clinical geropsychologist, neuropsychologist and Professor in the School of Psychology at The University of Queensland.