The Role of Geriatric Psychology in Alzheimer’s Treatment

Alzheimer's is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. An estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease (AD). By mid-century, the number of people living with Alzheimer's dementia is projected to grow to almost 14 million in the United States, fueled in large part by aging baby boomers. AD is already the sixth leading cause of death in the US.

It is important to remember that Alzheimer's is a disease and not a normal part of aging. The Alzheimer's Association lists ten warning signs and symptoms for AD. If you notice any of them, please don't ignore them. Make an appointment with your doctor.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and many of its symptoms are irreversible, but there are treatments to improve the well-being of patients. Gerontology (the scientific study of old age) and geriatric psychology (the branch of psychology that specializes in the mental health needs of older adults) dedicate a lot of research to developing new approaches to therapy that alleviate the effects of AD.

While primary care physicians and gerontologists generally treat medical issues such as Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, arthritis, diabetes and other conditions that are common in elderly patients, geriatric psychologists focus on mental health issues such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer's. 

It is worth remembering that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but not the only one. Although physicians can almost always determine if a patient has dementia, it’s not always easy to identify the exact cause. 

Following an accurate diagnosis, geriatric psychology can play an important role in a comprehensive effort to stabilize cognitive functioning in Alzheimer patients. Therapeutic techniques used in clinical counseling such as  psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), remote emotional behavioral therapy (REBT), and relaxation therapy (RT) allow gerontologists to study the dynamics between emotional and cognitive components of AD and other illnesses affecting the elderly.

The Pavilion at Williamsburg Place offers a variety of psychological interventions to address geriatric psychological issues. In addition to group and individual therapy, The Pavilion offers a number of treatment modalities, including CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), art therapy, recreational therapy, and canine therapy, which uses dogs to interact with patients.