top of page

Population aging creates roles for retiring psychologists 

 

By Paula E. Hartman-Stein, Ph.D.

Talking_About_Substance_Abuse_iStock-1145051503_2022-04_FB_1200x630.jpg

     The United States population is rapidly aging, creating meaningful opportunities for psychologists who are knowledgeable about issues of late life, are thinking of cutting back their practices or retiring, yet want to continue to use their knowledge and experience.

    The network of livable communities that began in 2012 by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is a venue that can use consultation, leadership, and guidance from psychologists interested in creating and maintaining age-friendly communities. 

 

History of the Age-Friendly movement

    In 2005, the World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Brazil introduced the concept of age-friendly communities and identified the areas that make a city livable for all ages. A year later, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a project to study eight domains, including accessible outdoor spaces and buildings; multimodal transportation; affordable housing; social participation and intergenerational programs; respect and inclusion; work and civic engagement opportunities; communication and information; and health and wellness services. 

    In 2010, the WHO began a worldwide network for cities and communities responding to global shifts in population. Two years later, the AARP created a network of Age-Friendly communities in the U.S., an affiliate of the WHO network. Cities, states, and counties may apply, and those accepted must show efforts within two years to improve several of these domains to maintain the designation. Surveys are required to learn the changes that are needed to help guide community leaders in planning new initiatives.

    The expertise of psychologists fits well with the domains of social participation, intergenerational programs, and health and wellness, in addition to survey design, analysis, and explaining results to the public.  

     In April 2012, Macon, Georgia, became the first city in the U.S. to join the Age-Friendly movement. As of April 2024, there are 865 Age-Friendly communities in the U.S.  

     States can also become members. As of this writing, ten states and the Virgin Islands - New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Maine, New Jersey, California, Minnesota, and North Carolina - have joined the Age-Friendly network. States formulate a multi-sector plan on aging designed by employees in departments of health and human services and individuals like myself with public health or gerontology backgrounds.  

 

Roles for psychologists 

    I learned of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities after volunteering to be on the lifelong learning subgroup, part of North Carolina’s All Ages, All Stages, multi-sector plan on aging (MPA).

    A few years earlier, I had closed my clinical practice that specialized in treating older adults, and my husband and I moved to NC to retire.

     I was restless and wanted to use my experience and knowledge in broader ways than clinical practice. I taught as an adjunct at a private college for a few semesters, but teaching Gen Z was not for me. I spotted a notice in a health newsletter asking for volunteers to contribute to statewide policies on aging. That was the beginning of a new path.

    Underlying age-friendliness is the goal of reducing ageism, a form of bigotry and stereotyping that reduces longevity, is deleterious to health and quality of life, and negatively impacts the economy. According to the WHO, ageism is the most widespread and socially accepted prejudice today. Older adults hear messages to get out of the way, that new blood is needed. Myths abound that older people are selfish, lack creativity, are the worst drivers, and are unreliable workers, to list a few. Implicit ageist beliefs also impact our health, with studies suggesting that negative beliefs reduce healthy longevity by 7.5 years.

    While teaching, I had the opportunity to create a course on the Psychology of Aging. During the first class, students anonymously submitted their associations with “older people.” Forty-four percent of their associations were negative, such as senile, grumpy, slow, stubborn, harsh, and against change. Forty percent of the responses were positive, and 14 percent were neutral. 

    Inspired by the work of Yale epidemiologist and research psychologist, Becca Levy, Ph.D., who wrote Breaking the Age Code, I arranged for students to conduct life review interviews, pairing them with older adults one-on-one. Students asked older adults about their families, work, accomplishments, interests in learning and mentoring, views of death, and perspectives on their legacy. At the end of the semester, students anonymously again wrote their associations to “older person.” This time, 70 percent of the responses were positive, including wise, healthy, knowledgeable, life-long learner, funny, and resilient. Negative associations dropped to thirteen percent.  

    I saw first-hand that intergenerational connections could help reduce ageist beliefs, thus motivating me to look beyond one college course. I approached the mayor of Brevard and suggested the city support a series of free forums to bring generations together. She agreed, funded a few hundred dollars for snacks, and Age Exchange was born. Topics varied widely from cultural differences regarding the treatment of older adults, nature exposure through different lenses, conversations about end of life, and tech basics for the non-digital native. At each forum, students from the local college participated in panel discussions. Attendees ranged from ages 11 to 97, with Baby Boomers making up most of the audience.

    After the initial success of Age Exchange, I suggested to the mayor that she make an application for our city to join the AARP Age-Friendly Network. She got buy-in from the City Council, completed an application, and Brevard is now the 18th community in NC to be designated Age-Friendly. The mayor asked if I would be the community coordinator of a task force. I agreed.

    My work thus far has been to design a city-wide needs assessment, speak to groups, and help create programs to reduce ageism and loneliness. The work is volunteer-based, but there are opportunities for future grants. I could not have done this work without my geropsychology background. I receive respect for my knowledge and experience, and most importantly, I can make a difference in my community.  

Paula Hartman-Stein, PhD, is a nationally recognized psychologist, speaker, and writer. Her email address is pehartmanstein16@gmail.com 

pdresources Ce quiz
follow The National Psychologist on Twitter
pdresources
Advertisement
Feelings Flips JL619
trust insurance
Emotion Learning Cards at The National Psychologist
R-Pas
How are you feeling today poly chart
Advertisement
emotions and feelings smart poly cards
2024 appointment calendar for mental health professionals
Emotions and Feelings Chart
2025 Appointment Calendar for Mental Health

Advertisement

2025 Appointment Calendar $38.00
 
If Ordered Before August 1st
 
$42.00 After August 1st.

Did you know...?
That psychologists can earn 1 continuing education credit per issue for simply reading The National Psychologist? A great reason to 

Subscribe Today!

bottom of page