Dan Blazer, M.D.: "Older adults and their advocates are much more
aware of the disabling and tragic consequences of mental illness in late
life." Courtesy of American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry
Delegates attending the 2005 White House Conference on Aging (WHCA) last
month made the mental health of older Americans a priority for the first time
in the conference's history. Delegates asked President Bush and Congress to
focus national efforts on improving geriatric mental health services and to
support increasing the number of health care professionals with expertise in
geriatrics and mental health.
Delegates from around the country representing diverse perspectives and
issues agreed on 50 recommendations to send to the president and Congress
regarding current and future pressing issues on aging. The delegates' final
report will be sent to the president and Congress by June.
Recognizing the current health and mental health needs of older Americans
and the challenges awaiting as the baby-boom generation ages, delegates voted
to place mental health and geriatric health professional training issues at
the forefront by voting them numbers eight and nine among the top 10
In their top 10 recommendations, delegates at the conference asked the
president and Congress to
"Older adults and their advocates are much more aware of the
disabling and tragic consequences of mental illness in late life, especially
depression, anxiety, and the agitation that is associated with dementia. They
also recognize that we can do something about it," explained Dan Blazer,
Blazer, the president of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry
and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University
School of Medicine, served as a delegate to the WHCA.
"The elderly and their advocates also recognize that to implement
those treatments that we know to be effective, we must have a trained
workforce," Blazer added.
A setback to achieving the conference's workforce recommendations came
shortly after the conference, when funding for the training of health care
professionals in geriatric programs, under Title VII of the Public Health
Service Act, was eliminated as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services,
and Education spending bill for 2006. Aware that the cut was being considered,
conference delegates had urged restoration to ensure that vital programs could
continue to educate a much-needed workforce.
The 2005 WHCA, the fifth conference held, adopted the theme "The
Booming Dynamics of Aging: From Awareness to Action." Delegates focused
on the unique challenges facing the 78 million Americans known as baby
boomers, who begin turning age 60 this year.
Prior conferences—in 1961, 1971, 1981, and 1995—contributed to
the establishment and augmentation of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Supplemental
Security Income Program; the passage of the Older Americans Act; and the birth
of the National Institute on Aging. Delegates are selected by governors,
members of Congress, and the National Congress of American Indians.
More information about the 2005 White House Conference on Aging is