In the Public Interest

It's happening, or maybe it's better to say it is about to happen. We're all getting older, and that's actually a good thing.

What I mean is that the baby boomers are coming--that dynamic group of people born in the two decades spanning the years 1946 to 1965. Babies no more, the oldest boomers will celebrate their 65th birthdays beginning in 2011, and by the time the youngest ones reach that age the oldest ones will be 85, entering the ranks of a group now known as the "old-old." The boomers, of course, are not a surprise; they have been obvious in social, political, economic and other ways and moving toward "young-old" adulthood for almost 60 years.

An emerging interest

Psychologists, primarily those interested in geropsychology, who have been researching, teaching and intervening in the area of aging for some time are quite aware of the boomer phenomenon. This column is not for them, but for the rest of us, particularly APA, the membership and others who might be interested in how psychology is going to address the myriad of psychological, biological and social issues associated with adult aging. There is also the question of why it took so long for APA to establish a governance unit to address aging concerns.

Of course, there is now a Committee on Aging (CONA), created as a continuing committee in 1997 by the Board of Directors and Council of Representatives during the presidency of Dr. Norman Abeles. Without his presidential advocacy, it might not have happened. Still, one might question why it didn't happen sooner.

Some interesting information bearing on this matter has been provided by the APA Research Office: The modal age for full membership during 1985 was in the range of 35 to 39 years, and in 2004 the full membership mode had moved to 55 to 59 years. In seven years, 2011, the leading edge of this full membership group will reach 65.

Clearly, these are psychologist boomers. Since this psychologist group probably contains many of the movers and shakers of the association, it is likely they came to realize, albeit a bit late, that they and their nonpsychologist boomer cohorts were in need of all the things that APA and others could do for them as they approached their golden years. This is certainly a much better interpretation of APA's late governance entry than, say, denial.

Growing advocacy

APA had done some things, usually big and episodic, in the aging arena and long before CONA. APA has been an active participant in White House Conferences on Aging, the next in 2005. Two major conferences on training were held. The first in 1981, known as Older Boulder, focused on training psychologists for work in the field of aging with emphases on defining the field of geropsychology and developing academic curricula. Ten years later, a second training conference was held emphasizing clinical concerns with greater focus on practicing psychologists.

It is anticipated that future White House conferences, training conferences as well as policy concerns will involve CONA and the Office on Aging; the Public Policy Office usually took the lead in prior conferences. In its short seven years of existence, the committee and office have moved quickly to address major issues that confront older adults through such varied activities as congressional briefings, development of resource guides and a tool kit to help psychologists understand and become involved in local Medicare policy development.

However, because aging issues for older adults are cross-cutting, CONA and the Office on Aging have sought collaborative and cooperative relationships with groups inside and outside APA. For example, they worked with the Educa-tion Directorate's policy staff to achieve geropsychology training support for health service psychologists; another and quite exciting policy initiative, in concert with the Public Interest policy staff, was their work to assist in the passage of the Positive Aging Act, which emphasizes blending of medical and mental health services in community settings.

Work is moving forward on an another initiative, the Roadmap to Aging, which has the potential to assist psychologists and other older adults in gaining greater security and satisfaction in their later years. In this same vein, APA President Dr. Diane Halpern has an initiative that addresses the problems and opportunities of retirements associated with growing older.

A column such as this cannot capture the energy and creativity of CONA and the Office on Aging, so I recommend a visit to the Web site on Aging to learn more about the projects, initiatives and accomplishments of our youngest committee within public interest.