Psychologists lead Congressional briefing on elderly but bill on aging still lingering

National Psychologist July/August 2000 Vol. 9 No. 4

 

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

APA’s Public Policy Office, the Congressional Older Americans Caucus, and the Older Women’s Health Team of the Congressional Women’s Caucus collaborated on a briefing on Capitol Hill this spring to explain the role of psychology in aging. It was an informative session that addressed research, practice, education, and public interest issues. Its purpose was to educate key congressional and federal agency staffers.

I was one of the three panelists along with Wendy Rogers, Ph.D. of the Attention, Abilities, and Aging Laboratory of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Mary Starke Harper, Ph.D., founder of the Minority Fellowship Program and former Coordinator of Long-Term Care Programs at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Norm Abeles, Ph.D., former APA President and current coordinator of the Older Adult Track at Michigan State University, served as moderator. Abeles advocated for regular screenings for dementia for older adults, similar to routine vision or hearing screens.

Dr. Rogers focused on the technology needs of older adults and the contribution of human factors research in ensuring accurate use of medical equipment such as blood glucose meters used by diabetic patients. Dr. Harper presented an overview of the mental health needs of older women of color.

My presentation emphasized the public health problem of untreated depression in older Americans and how psychological interventions reduce costs of medical care. I provided examples of two innovative prevention efforts, a bereavement outreach and counseling service managed by American Biodyne in Florida in the late 1980s and the current federally funded Program for All-Inclusive Care of the Elderly (PACE) that keeps indigent frail elders out of institutional settings.

APA orchestrated the briefing to coincide with debate around new versions of the Older Americans Act (OAA). The House version, H.R. 782, passed muster in committee but it contained contentious provisions related to employment programs for older adults, and therefore did not yet reach the House floor. However, according to Nina Levitt, Ed.D., Director for Education Policy for APA, there is recent momentum to move the bill to the floor because the Senate has resolved the employment controversy.

If the OAA does not pass in 2000, it will be a setback for psychology since both the Senate and House versions include not only numerous provisions for mental health services but also authorize grants for training a workforce to work with older adults. In addition, the House version would have allocated funds to improve access and delivery of mental health services and would have opened the way for mental health professionals to be involved in disease prevention and health promotion.

The Senate Subcommittee on Aging, chaired by Senator DeWine (R-OH) moved a draft bill last fall. Just recently the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Senator Jeffords (R-VT) is working to refine the bill, and a full Committee debate is expected this summer. The proposed Senate bill includes a provision for graduate and postdoctoral training of mental health professionals in the aging area. Further, it allocates funds for multidisciplinary centers of gerontology with a special emphasis on mental health; resource centers for Native American elders; and grants to establish demonstration projects that would provide older individuals with multigenerational activities.

Dr. Hartman-Stein with Rep. Sawyer

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Paula Hartman-Stein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, trainer, and consultant to practitioners on Medicare issues and psychological care of older adults. She edited Innovative Behavioral Healthcare for Older Adults: A Guidebook for Changing Times (1998). Hartman-Stein can be reached through her website, www.centerforhealthyaging.com.