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Welcome to the Psychology of Aging Podcast with Dr. Regina Koepp

(Podcast #001)

 

 

I worked with a 97 year old who had just lost his wife after 70 something years of marriage. He was sitting and crying of course, because he was grieving and he said, I thought that we would have so much more time together. I mean after 70 years, 97 years old, he was imagining more time with his wife, not less. I share that story to say that older adults often don't perceive themselves as old and so why do the rest of us, it's a good question that we need to be asking ourselves.

INTRO: I'm Dr. Regina Koepp. I'm a board certified clinical psychologist and I specialize with older adults and families. I created the Psychology of Aging podcast to answer some of the most common questions I get about aging. Questions about mental health and wellness changes in the brain like with dementia, relationships and sex, caregiving, and even end of life. Like I say in my therapy groups, no topic is off topic. We just have to have a healthy way of talking about it. So if you're an older adult or caring for one, you're in the right place. Let's get started.

Did you know that people over 65 make up the fastest growing age group in the United States? Okay, let me break this down. Every day between 2011 and 2030 that's every day for 19 years, 10,000 people in the U S will turn 65 every day for 19 years. 10,000 people turn 65 okay, let's think about this for a minute. The other day, my neighbor Tom, well, we actually call him "Cool Tom"... told me today is my 65th birthday, and my first thought was, wow, there are 9,999 other people celebrating their 65th birthday today too. So to Tom and the 9,999 other people turning 65 today, I wanted to say happy birthday.

I hope it's the best year yet. So most people over 65 will tell you that they don't feel old. The baby boom generation, that's who we're talking about are people born between 1946 and 1964 are on average, the healthiest and most active generation to begin reaching older adulthood. So it makes sense that they're not happy being perceived as old. And I'll even let you in on a little secret. I work with a lot of 80 and 90 year olds. My oldest patient was a hundred and oftentimes they don't see themselves as old either. Here's another example. I worked with a 97 year old who had just lost his wife after 70 something years of marriage. He was sitting and crying of course, because he was grieving and he said, I thought that we would have so much more time together. I mean after 70 years, 97 years old, he was imagining more time with his wife, not less.

I share that story to say that older adults often don't perceive themselves as old. And so why do the rest of us, it's a good question that we need to be asking ourselves. So it's important for us to be thinking about and talking about how we as a society understand older adults, like how we understand the dynamics between older adults and their families, older adults in society, the needs, wishes, and really the psychology of aging.

 

What is the "Psychology of Aging"?

So let's break down the psychology of aging. I'm going to explain what it is. So psychology is the study of mind and behavior. So it's unique in that it's both service oriented as like a healthcare profession and a field of scientific research. So a psychologist like myself can have many roles like a researcher or an educator, a licensed healthcare provider, a policy advocate. Now I want to take it a step further and talk about a specialty in psychology called Gero-psychology.

So Gero-psychology is a field within psychology devoted to the study of aging. So Gero-psychologists provide clinical services for older adults and their families. They expand knowledge on the normal aging process, address problems that commonly arise as people age and help older adults and families overcome these problems or adjust to them and also help older adults in their families enhance their wellbeing and achieve maximum potential during late life. So that is Gero-psychology. Now let's talk about aging. So aging is a really complex process that has many different theories to describe it, but basically aging refers to the process of growing older. So while this process does include increased risk for physiological vulnerability, decline and loss, like you know, people get, people are more likely to get sick as they get older. It also has positive attributes as well. So older adults tend to be happier and wiser than middle aged adults like myself.

They tend to be better at seeing points of view and perspectives and they tend to have a healthy sense of pride related to their accomplishments as well as a sense of security in who they are. I might just have shattered some of your own impressions and perhaps myths about aging and I really hope to do that with this podcast altogether. So the psychology of aging is essentially the study of human thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships in the context of growing older.

 

The Podcast Name That I Rejected!

As I was coming up with a name for this podcast, I thought about calling this podcast, the silver tsunami, and I thought this would be like a funny descriptive and kind of a metaphorical way to talk about this idea of baby boomers flooding society. And I thought about this a little bit more deeply and I looked into it, you know, like by doing some research and I discovered that the term silver tsunami might actually cause more harm than good and reinforce ageism in society.

Okay. So ageism them is essentially bias and discrimination about older adults. And it's really based on age and it reinforces all these myths and assumptions that we have about older adults. I'll get to that in later episodes. And so I thought, okay, tsunamis are frightening and destructive and fear and destruction are not necessarily attributes shared by older adults. So when I think of a tsunami, you know, I think of a massive body of water devouring and destroying everything in its path. And when we hear of a tsunami, we instinctively have to take cover. And so this conjured up images in my mind of Paul Revere on his horse through the streets of Boston yelling, "the aged are coming, the aged are coming." And I thought, well, that's not really the look and feel I'm going for. And it's also not true. Metaphors shape the way that we think and thinking shapes the way that we behave.

So imagine if I told you that older adults were scary and something that you needed to protect yourself against like a tsunami. How might you react? Oh my God, Oh crap, I need to call my plastic surgeon and get my eyebrows lifted right away. So now what if I change the narrative a little bit? And I said, imagine living in a world where we have advanced medicine, more resources, and as a result people are living longer and healthier than ever before. What can we learn and gain as a society from all of this health and wisdom? You might stop and think, "wow, there are people out there who know more and have more wisdom about life than I do." We might think, how can I embrace this and benefit from it rather than protect myself against it?

What Qualifies Me To Talk About the Psychology of Aging?

Why me? Why am I starting this psychology of aging podcast? So let me tell you a little bit about me. I am Dr. Regina Koepp. I am a board certified clinical psychologist. I specialize with older adults and families. I got my doctorate at a program at Stanford called the PGSP Stanford's ID consortium and I did my postdoc fellowship at Emory school of medicine, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences here in Atlanta, which is where I currently live. I've spent the last 15 years in health care, academic and community based settings and I have a really well rounded perspective of older adults, their families and the organizations that serve them. I've trained on hospice and for the last 10 years I've worked with older adults and families in an outpatient Gero-psychiatry clinic connected with a really busy medical center. So what also is important to share is that for several years I actually taught the psychology of aging and a graduate Gerontology program and I thought, well, I need to bring this information about older adults and families in the common issues and challenges that older adults and families face out of the therapy room and out of the classroom and straight to you. So that's why I created the Psychology of Aging podcast.

 

The Goal of the Psychology of Aging Podcast

I'll also say that literally on a daily basis, people approach me with questions about the older adults in their life. Like maybe it's a physician who's worried that one of their patients may be depressed and their patient is in their 80s or a spouse who's been married for decades and noticing memory changes in their loved one or somebody who's sandwiched between their aging parents and kids. So my hope is that by creating this podcast and opening up dialogues and providing education, I can help to build bridges between generations and broaden our understanding of the aging process in the midst of it all. I want to dispel myths and challenge stereotypes and promote health and wellbeing for older adults and their families. Each week I'll address common issues related to aging, like the aging process, relationships, intimacy, and sex.

Yeah, older adults are still pretty intimate, driving, working retirement, health and wellness, medical illnesses, dementia, caregiving, even end of life. So like I say in my therapy groups, no topic is off topic. We just have to have a healthy way of talking about it. So stay tuned because each week will be an adventure. So now back to Paul Revere. Instead of protecting yourself against aging or heating the Paul Revere warning that "the aged are coming" sit back, settle in and embrace the experience you're in for the journey of a lifetime.

 

Wrapping up

If you like this episode and want weekly information on the psychology of aging or resources and tips for managing the most complicated situations that come with aging, make sure you subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss a thing. It's important to say that the views expressed in this podcast are mine and mine alone, and that the information shared in this podcast does not take the place of individualized medical or mental health care. Thanks so much for tuning in. It was a lot of fun. I'll see you here every Wednesday. Lots of love to you and your family. Bye for now.

 

 

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