Colorado State University’s Aging Clinic of the Rockies is offering no-cost mental health counseling services to caregivers of older adults and grandparents raising grandchildren in Larimer County.
The program, funded through grants from Larimer County Office on Aging, addresses a growing need in the region for services designed for an aging population, said Tammi Vacha-Haase, psychology professor and director of the clinic.
By 2050, one of five adults is expected to be over the age of 65. Put another way, more people will be over 65 than under 15.
“There’s a growing need for people who are trained to work with older adults and their families,” said Vacha-Haase who teaches graduate students in the counseling psychology doctoral program at CSU. “Our goal here is the training of future psychologists who have competency skills to offer psychological services to older adults and families. The Aging Clinic not only provides a great resource to the community but offers our doctoral students access to a more diverse population whether that’s age, sexual orientation or working with an individual versus a family.”
The Aging Clinic, housed in the Psychological Services Center at CSU, provides mental health counseling for any issue regarding aging. Larimer County has provided small grants to the clinic to address two groups in particular:
• Caregivers who are helping family members ages 60 and older or under 60 with dementia
• Grandparents who are raising their grandchildren
Up to eight sessions are offered at no cost through the program. For more information, call the Aging Clinic directly at (970) 491-6795, or CSU’s Psychological Services Center at (970) 491-5212 or go to http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/Psychology/acor/.
“The Office on Aging recognized that family caregivers are under an inordinate amount of stress, and because they are the foundation of our system of caring for aging adults and children, we need to support them,” said Ruth Long, program manager at the Larimer County Office on Aging. “The Aging Clinic of the Rockies has developed two excellent programs, one for providing counseling to grandparents raising grandchildren and one that is focused on family caregivers of seniors who are not able to care for themselves. We are pleased to fund these services, which are available at no cost to people 60 and over.”
“An older adult in the community who doesn’t have insurance might come to see us,” Vacha-Haase said about the Aging Clinic that is newly renovated on the first floor of the Gifford building on the CSU campus. “Or maybe there’s been a significant change in the family or a caregiver is feeling overwhelmed and just doesn’t know where to turn. We are here to help people find resources they need and through individual psychotherapy help them deal with the emotions of loss and change in addition to developing needed coping skills. We want to ensure older adults and their family members are getting the support they need.”
Vacha-Haase has spent the past year getting the clinic up and running, but the field of professional geropsychology is also relatively new and growing. Much more research is needed about the aging populations and their mental health, Vacha-Haase said.
She isn’t having trouble identifying doctoral students interested in the field.
Among them is Weston Donaldson who is in the fourth year of his doctoral program at CSU and one of the therapists at the Aging Clinic. His research has focused on multicultural groups – particularly those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – and how they handle aging. He has studied these older adults in long-term care and assisted living facilities.
“I’ve become a lot more interested in this area,” Donaldson said. “The advocacy and activism you can do through research for disadvantaged groups is really great. Aging research has been in general very white, middle class, heterosexual and the world’s not like that. Work needs to be done to understand multiple aging perspectives.”
Aging can be a complication on top of other mental health concerns such as depression and substance abuse.
For example, Vacha-Haase points to a cohort of older men who grew up idolizing John Wayne and heroes who drank martinis shaken not stirred – men who were tough guys and the ultimate in masculinity. Now those men, many of them Baby Boomers, are facing old age and a new level of emotions, including anxiety and depression, that they may be ill-equipped to address.
She has written a book on the subject for therapists called “The Psychotherapy of Older Men” that addresses those struggles.
“Whether they encounter loss of muscle tone, decreased testosterone levels, or difficulty breathing, how do older men balance beliefs of masculinity with the physical limitations that aging can impose?” Vacha-Haase asks in the book. “As they age, older men may also recognize that their relationships change, whether it be with colleagues or family members. Perhaps more than any other time in life, older men are faced with challenges that they can’t seem to overcome, and are at risk to feel ashamed of their seeming inability to cope with such changes.”
The book helps therapists,social workers and others in the mental health profession understand what’s happening to the older adult male population so they can treat people at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives, Vacha-Haase said.