Boston University School of Social Work’s Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research renewed funding from the Retirement Research Foundation towards senior center staff training in mental health and aging.
The Center, also known as CADER, announced on their website recently that they received their initial grant of $115,333 from RRF in 2018, and in January of this year they were given an additional $78,966.
Established in 2002 through a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies, CADER provides online training to staff in senior and disability centers to strengthen the care practices of organizations in the aging and disability field, according to the Center’s website.
Bronwyn Keefe, director of CADER and a research assistant professor in SSW, said the Center’s mission is to provide comprehensive training to senior centers across the country in response to an aging population.
“The aging population [in 2002] was being forecasted to be the biggest demographic, and now here we are with it being the biggest demographic,” Keefe said. “It’s growing faster than any other age group. [CADER addresses] the fact that there are many people out there working with older adults who have never had experience or training.”
The recent grant is an extension of a year-long funding partnership with the Retirement Research Foundation that began in 2018, according to SSW’s website. This year’s grant will go towards assessing the efficacy and organizational implementation of CADER’s online training programs in senior centers in Wisconsin, building upon current research in senior centers in Illinois and Florida started by 2018’s grant.
The Center’s online training program focuses specifically on intervention strategies and warning signs of mental illness and substance abuse in older adults, an area Keefe said is frequently overlooked in senior center staff training across the nation.
“The premise of this grant was that a lot of older adults are facing issues around social isolation, around depression and substance abuse,” Keefe said. “These folks that are working at the senior centers are often not trained in areas around mental health, mental wellness, suicidality and substance use, so we’re really working to prepare that workforce to be able to deal with these more complex needs.”
To measure the impact of its training model, Keefe said, CADER conducts comparative research across senior centers to determine changes in preparedness and support for mental health issues among older adults.
The program doesn’t only look at the person being trained, but also the organizational practice put into place, she said.
“So for instance, was there suicide protocol in place at the senior center before the training happened, and now since they’ve had this awareness of sucide prevention, did they put a protocol in place?” Keefe said. “Ultimately, our goal will be to look at the outcome of whether the older adults had better outcomes themselves.”
According to a 2018 report, 31 percent of adults above the age of 60 in Massachusetts have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.
Kathy Kuhn, director of workforce development at CADER, said reports of loneliness and sadness from visitors of senior centers are not uncommon, and with proper training, senior center staff may be able to provide immediate resources and support to those struggling.
The training CADER provides is especially important in light of stigma surrounding mental health in older generations, Kuhn said.
“There are negative perceptions around mental health issues, and with older adults, I think there’s a lot of fear of being labeled as crazy,” she said. “So there’s internal stigma, there’s external stigma, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s really important to keep advocating for training and services in the area of mental health and aging.”
Keefe said that stigma surrounding issues like depression among older adults may also be attributed to changing generational outlooks on mental health.
“My kids are open and talk about mental issues in a way that’s so healthy and so different from the culture of folks that are baby boomers and older, where you just sort of pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and you don’t talk about it,” Keefe said. “There’s shame, there’s stigma, there’s all sorts of assumptions that come along with it.”
Several BU students said the work CADER does could be beneficial to those who are older and also in fighting stigmas often associated with many of these issues.
Vanessa Rodriguez, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she believes the Center’s training has the potential to alleviate stigmas surrounding mental health.
“Some people just don’t think it’s a thing,” Rodriguez said. “If you’re sad, it’s just ‘Get over it,’ but I feel like this helps the older generation communicate better with the younger generation.”
Nadja Jacimovic, a freshman in CAS who minors in public health, said she believes the training model could help those who are involved in the public health sphere understand people they work with better.
“It’s definitely something worth doing,” said Jacimovic. “It would help in science related fields, and it would help us who are helping [older adults] to understand them better and be able to help more.”
Quan Tran, a sophomore in the Questrom School of Business, said he appreciates SSW’s contributions toward acknowledging and improving mental health among older adults.
“I think that’s definitely a really prevalent topic, and there’s a lot of attention from people of all ages and all backgrounds because it’s something that people of all backgrounds could experience,” Tran said. “I’m totally in support of BU paying more attention toward building programs that help people overcome these problems.”