NASW Celebrates Older Americans Month and Older Americans Mental Health Week

In May, NASW observes Older Americans Month, sponsored by the Administration on Aging. The theme—Older Americans: Making Choices for a Healthier Future—highlights the changes needed in health care and long-term care to enable current and future generations of older adults to live independently and with dignity. Social workers are striving to bring about these changes, such as increased access to

  • Health information, including information about cost-effective preventive practices that improve quality of life and reduce risk of disease, disability, and injury;
  • Affordable, gerontologically centered health care;
  • Long-term care information that enables older adults and their families to meet current needs and plan for the future;
  • Flexible, affordable home- and community-based services that maximize older adults’ choices and support family caregivers;
  • Residential long-term care settings that promote self-determination and meet residents’ emotional, social, and medical needs; and
  • Affordable mental health services, designed to meet the unique needs of older adults.

More Funding Needed

Additional Funds Needed for Older Americans Act 

The Older Americans Act (OAA), enacted in 1965, supports a variety of services that enhance the health and well-being of older adults. Additional funding is needed in FY08 to continue and expand programs essential to older adults’ independence and dignity. Social workers and consumers play a crucial role in advocating for OAA funding.

Funding Sought for New Respite Care Act

Support for family and other informal caregivers is key to helping older adults remain in their homes. As a member of the Lifespan Respite Task Force, NASW lobbied for the Lifespan Respite Care Act of 2006, which was signed into law in December. This act will expand access to respite care for family caregivers and improve local coordination of services. NASW and the Task Force are advocating for appropriation of funds to implement this legislation in FY08.

Social Work’s Role in Aging and Mental Health

With their training in mental health assessment and treatment, their skills in collaboration, and their close proximity to other health and allied health professionals in health and long-term care settings, social workers are well positioned to educate other professionals about mental health and aging—and to provide mental and emotional health services to older adults. 

In a 2004 study of licensed social workers nationwide, NASW’s Center for Workforce Studies found that almost 75 percent of social workers provide services to adults 55 and older, regardless of the practice setting or focus. This number will likely increase as the U.S. population ages. Among the 12 percent of social workers who specialize in aging practice, psychosocial issues, mental illness, and grief and bereavement issues rank among their clients’ top concerns.

NASW Aging and Mental Health Resources

NASW has developed a number of resources to educate older adults and their families about mental health and aging issues and to enhance the skills of social workers serving older adults. This list is included in OWL’s Older Americans’ Mental Health Week toolkit, available in print and CD-rom formats.

Visit the Aging Practice section for more information and resources

Positive Aging Act Seeks Expanded Mental Health Services

Many older adults don’t use mental and emotional health services because those services are inaccessible. The Positive Aging Act of 2007 (S.982/H.R.1669) was reintroduced in both the House and the Senate in late March. This bipartisan legislation is designed to integrate mental health services for older adults in primary health care settings and to expand community-based mental health services. NASW is working with mental health and aging groups to increase the number of cosponsors for the bill.

Expanding Social Work Services to Nursing Home Residents

NASW is also supported by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), one of the 10 social workers in Congress, in promoting the Clinical Social Work Medicare Equity Act of 2007 (S.1212), which was reintroduced in late April. This bill would expand mental health services to nursing home residents by allowing clinical social workers to bill Medicare Part A directly for psychotherapy services provided in skilled nursing facilities—a privilege already enjoyed by psychologists and physicians.

Take Action on Behalf of Older Adults

NASW urges people of all ages and social workers to plan, promote, and participate in activities during Older Americans’ Mental Health Week, Older Americans Month, and throughout the year that enhance the independence and dignity of older adults. 

2017 Update: OWL has terminated operations.