Cover Story

By 2050, one quarter of the United States population will be over age 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With that will come new challenges and opportunities for the mental health-care system, according to psychologist Diane Elmore, PhD, a senior legislative and federal affairs officer in APA's Public Policy Office.

"While most older adults enjoy good mental health, an estimated 20 percent of seniors experience a mental health problem," she says.

Unfortunately, mental health disorders among the aging often go undiagnosed in primary-care settings due to limitations in training and resources, according to Elmore. "The failure to diagnose and treat mental health disorders in our aging population is taking a toll on seniors, families and our health-care system," she says.

So she and others in APA, including in the Public Interest Directorate's Office on Aging, are working to increase funding and resources for older adult mental health resources. Over the past year, APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) has mobilized APA members and other mental health and aging organizations to urge Congress to include key mental health provisions from the Positive Aging Act in the bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act. This act, originally enacted in 1965, provides funding for a multitude of senior services--everything from adult day care to home-delivered meals.

In the final hours of the legislative session in September, the advocacy of PPO and the geropsychology community paid off. The bill passed by Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act includes a number of sought-after provisions: the designation of an officer at the Administration on Aging responsible for mental health services, grants for mental health screening and treatment services for older adults, and grants for programs to reduce the stigma associated with mental disorders in older adults.

"We are so pleased that policy-makers have acknowledged the importance of mental and behavioral health as part of the overall health and well-being of older adults," Elmore says.

--L. Winerman