Elderly Counseling

Elderly Counseling

As I get closer to the designation of elderly, or as my 10 year old son says, "the ooooooollllllldddddd man", I am curious about what the counseling field has to say about working with Boomers and the elderly.

All the folks I hang around with are very vital and engaged in life, and I am 61. Many of us have been hit hard by the current recession, and some are worried about finances, but I am not seeing anyone give up.

All of us have had to deal with losses and triumphs and illness and children and divorce and marriage and re-marriage and betrayal and medication and illness and death and funerals and disappointment and insight and wonder and awe and business reversals and business successes, and have created rich deep friendships and spiritual, physical, and cognitive healing paths throughout it all.

Speaking for myself, I am looking forward to a retirement, meaning I own my own time, where I earn my livelihood on the internet, and I am amazed at folks who do not see the opportunity there.

I work regularly on my physical and spiritual health, and I am paying close attention to my mental health, and using some recently developed software programs to keep my neuroplasticity and neurogenesis going. (Never heard of those new neuro-words? Nobody else had either until a few years ago, so read on please).

My workouts are in some respects stronger than those I did 40 years ago, and I just do not feel right if I don't work up a good sweat.

The place where I break down is in nutrition, I eat larger portions than I need, and can eat for comfort rather than nutrition, which happens when I am tired.

So far, I am not finding a great deal of information about counseling for the elderly that does not deal with illness, although I have had some care givers in my domestic violence classes, so that I know caring for an aging parent is very difficult.

Gerontological counseling is a new field, and it looks like there are perhaps two programs that offer a degree or a certification for that field.

The issues that are covered in those programs are final life cycle stage, the aging mind, changing family systems, multicultural issues of aging, planning retirement, family issues, sexuality, security, illness and dependency, bereavement (widow or widower), community resources, advocacy, and life review or generativity.

The following article from ERIC gives a picture of elderly counseling from 1984, I believe.

ERIC Identifier: ED260363 Publication Date: 1984-00-00 Author: Clements, Judy, Comp. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI. Older Adults: Counseling Issues. In Brief: An Information Digest from ERIC/CAPS.

Increased numbers of older people and a continued lengthening of the life span signal the need to expand counseling services to a population often overlooked--the older adult. While the elderly for 25 percent of the national total spent on health care, they are underrepresented in receiving psychological aid. Older adults are healthier and better educated than ever before, concerned about the quality of life as well as the length of it. This Digest focuses on some of the special concerns of the elderly and ways couselors can help.


A number of role transitions and losses heighten the vulnerability of the older person--children leaving, career change, retirement, death of a spouse, isolation, and institutionalization. A deficit in personal resources and/or coping skills may mean a need for counseling services.

Certain groups show potential for higher counseling needs including the sick and disabled, the disadvantaged, minorities, prisoners, substance abusers, homosexuals, and the single or widowed.


Many older adults cannot afford to retire or choose not to do so. The problem of unemployment or underemployment for older workers is significant. In addition to the normal difficulties facing any job seeker, older workers encounter discriminatory practices, stereotypical attitudes, changes in their abilities, and a negative self-image. Self-defeating attitudes and behaviors need to be addressed before successful job placement can occur; a good counselor-client relationship is crucial to the outcome.


Retirement is a critical and often traumatic event that may result in restlessness rather than rest. Many experts find current pre-retirement programs too narrow in scope. A more holistic approach would include help with:

--Using current resources for future needs

--Using leisure meaningfully, either in pursuit of hobbies, part time work, volunteer activities, sociopolitical activism, or in reflection and contemplation

--Wills and estate planing

--Continuing education

--Obtaining housing, health and safety

--Establishing and maintaining relationships

Research has shown that many workers are reluctant to participate in these programs, believing they signal extinction. But this trend is beginning to change and most large corporations now offer some sort of pre-retirement program. Counselors have an important role in giving information, suggesting meaningful options, and providing opportunities for voicing concerns. Counselors need to examine their own biases and show a special sensitivity to the fact that anxiety about retirement often is really anxiety about aging.


Older students face many of the same barriers and stereotypes that older workers do. Education in later life can be enjoyed for its own sake as well as for updating job skills or learning leisure pursuits. Many colleges allow older students to audit classes free, on a space-available basis, and provide classes in the community, often taught by volunteer retirees.

Contrary to many expectations, most older students are highly motivated and do well academically. Their experiences and vitality are often beneficial to younger students. While many elders have no problem adjusting, special considerations may be needed in terms of lighting, parking, security, study guides and outlines, and provisions for hearing or vision deficiencies.


Older persons are often reluctant to seek help and view counseling with doubt, suspicion, and anxiety. They often rely on other professionals such as the family physician or minister, or their own support network of family and friends.


Group counseling can neutralize some of the potential problems of traditional one-to-one counseling, such as the counselor's own unresolved feelings toward aging and death, as well as age bias. Group counseling encourages supportive sharing and social interaction which may help replace lost family or work contacts. The elderly can share past experiences denied to younger persons and reinforce appropriate social roles of aging. Peer counseling programs are often effective.


Counseling the elderly most often requires a holistic approach--consistent with lifestyle counseling. Older persons often have simultaneous counseling needs, but some concerns, like elder abuse, may not be immediately mentioned as a problem. Counselors should treat older clients with respect:

--Emphasizing their strengths, not weaknesses

--Developing independence while diminishing dependence

--Encouraging decision making and action taking

Millions of older adults are living in various stages of health, happiness, and ability. They are more different from each other than are members of any other age group and must be treated as individuals.

Counseling the elderly is a new and challenging field that promises a more satisfying, meaningful life for America's older citizens.


Behn, Ruth, and Lois V. Hamer. TALL TALES ABOUT OLDER AMERICANS (and) NEVER TOO OLD TO EARN: A GUIDE FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGE PLACEMENT OFFICERS. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, 1981. ED 202 492.

Benjamin, Libby. SEARCHLIGHT--RELEVANT RESOURCES IN HIGH INTEREST AREAS. COUNSELING FOR PRERETIREMENT. Ann Arbor, MI: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Service, 1979. ED 159 541.

"Counseling the Elderly--I." COUNSELING AND VALUES 24 (February 1980).

"Counseling the Elderly--II." COUNSELING AND VALUES 24 (April 1980).

"Counseling the Elderly--III." COUNSELING AND VALUES 24 (July 1980).

Glass, J. Conrad, and Katherine A. Grant. "Counseling in the Later Years--A Growing Need." THE PERSONNEL AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL 62 (December 1983):210-213.

Johnson, Richard P., and Harold C. Riker. "Counselor's Goals and Roles in Assisting Older Persons." AMERICAN MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELORS ASSOCIATION JOURNAL 4 (January 1982):30-40.

Myers, Jane E. "Counseling Needs of Older Persons." Paper presented at the conference of the Florida Personnel and Guidance Association, Orlando, Florida, November 16-18, 1978. ED 174 907.

Myers, Jane E., and Larry L. Loesch. "Counseling Needs of Older Persons." THE HUMANIST EDUCATOR 20 (September 1981):21.

Nissenson, Marilyn. "Therapy After 60." PSYCHOLOGY TODAY 18 (January 1984).

Elderly Counseling and Wellness

The marketers have not given up on us Baby Boomers, even though the elderly  counselors are still a bit behind the eight ball.

The marketers are looking out for our pocket books, , and offering us wellness, and supplements, and antiaging pills and potions, and coaching programs, and there are marketing campaigns aimed at just us, as there have been since we began to arrive enmass after WWII.

There are some tools folks that I think are very good elderly counseling.

One of them has been put together by Michael Merzenich,Ph.D. who is a leading researcher in the new field of neuroplasticity.

I first came across Merzinich's work when I read a book by Norman Doidge, MD, about a year ago, called THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF.

Merzinich was talking about enthusiastically about the potential of our brains at any stage of life, if we continued to take care of the 'pillars of brain fitness' and challenged our neurons with novel learning experiences.

For decades, neuroscience has taught us that our brains were fixed and that we could only look to slowly losing them until we were sent off to the home.

Merzenich and other researchers are discovering that nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the IMPACT study just published in April of 2009 indicates that there is great value to the computerized brain fitness program called the The Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, created by Merzenich's company.

Below is quick video talking about the research by some of the participants and the researchers. To my mind, it is great news that we can improve our brain function and the quality of our lives using this program. Please click the triangle in the box to play the video.

Elderly Counseling and Brain Fitness!

Brainfit for Life is a really neat book written by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan. They write for the layperson, and they have culled the neuroscientific research for hints that you and I can use to keep our brains alive and vibrant at any age. They say there are some pillars of brain fitness that we can attend to, which are important in us keeping our wits about us.

Those pillars are, physical exercise, and I exercise with guys at the YMCA who are in their 80's, and they are there every day.

Even at 61 they call me 'young man', like I could not have learned anything about life.

So I like to use the Scott and Angie Tousignant model of physical exercise when I am not at they YMCA. If you go part way down the page that the blue link takes you to, you will meet two of the Tousignant students who are in their 80's and began to exercise to make travel easier.

Stress management is a key piece of the elderly counseling puzzle, and the best stress managers there are would be physical exercise and deep breathing.

They are free and we are built for them.

I tell my anger management clients that deep breathing is good for them, and they nod sagely and go back to very shallow breathing which actually induces a stress response.

So I use a tool called Heartmath or heart rate variability biofeedback which teaches clients on their PC to regulate the time between heart beats, which is a feel good experience, and leaves them with an internal bath of DHEA, the antiaging hormone, rather than adrenaline and cortisol, the aging hormones.

Heartmath also opens up the higher perceptual centers in the brain for your brain fitness work with Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro or Lumosity or Posit Science Brain Fitness Pro.  There is a link to the Heartmath program in the right column.

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Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro - Software that makes you smarter

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