And the numbers are on the rise, at least in Nassau County where Meyerhoefer oversees 14 senior centers.
“Vicki is part of a new wave of directors/commissioners named since Gov. Cuomo took office January 11, 2011. Some are the result of retirements;
“Vicki” Meyerhoefer worked for the Nassau County Department of Mental Health and Chemical Dependency for 25 years before she was approached about the Directors position at the Nassau County Office for the Aging. She was not surprised to hear Nassau County has the fastest growing 85-plus population. “It makes sense because what happened on Long Island is a lot of the baby boomers moved from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan in the 1950s and now all the baby boomers are turning into senior citizens,” she said.
As with many offices for the aging, Nassau County subcontracts with outside organizations to administer their programs. A few of the bigger organizations they work with include the Family and Children Association, Visiting Nurses, Catholic Charities and the Education Assistance Center.
“I’m hearing from the senior centers that the mental health population is growing, but they feel like they don’t have the staff to deal with some of the issues. So that’s something I’m trying to explore, expanding mental health services for the senior population. Getting the elderly to see psychiatrists is really a challenge. And the other problem is many of the elderly with mental health issues are isolated in their homes,” Meyerhoefer said.
“Preconceived notions on the part of older individuals contribute to the difficulty obtaining the necessary psychiatric treatment to adequately address behavioral health issues such as depression, anxiety and dementia,” Meyerhoefer said. “We are currently working with our Office of Mental Health, Chemical Dependence and Developmental Disabilities Services to develop a mental health screening tool for use in our 14 senior centers.”
Depression Screening in Older Adults was one of several workshops help recently at the Aging Concerns Unite Us (ACUU) conference for professionals in the field aging professionals in New York State. Often referred to as “late life depression,”
Getting mental health services is seen as a weakness, especially with the elderly, Meyerhoefer said. And elderly men have the highest rates of suicide.
Behavioral health is a field Meyerhoefer first became familiar with at the University of Arizona where she was studying elementary education. She changed her major to rehabilitation counseling because she kept hearing there were no job prospects in elementary education. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona and her Master’s Degree in rehabilitation from Hofstra University.
The New York State Association of Area Agencies on Aging represents the state’s local offices for the aging established under the federal Older Americans Act to respond to the needs of Americans age 60 and over. The Association provides professional development and education that includes the annual Aging Concerns Unite Us (ACUU) conference, webinars, regional caregiver forums and a fall Leadership Institute. The Association works to strengthen and expand long term services and supports to individuals so they may age in place in the community. A core philosophy is to work in collaboration with other agencies, which is accomplished through the Aging Alliance, a coalition of organizations representing Older New Yorkers. Looking to the future, the Board of Directors has approved a new name, the Association on Aging in New York, to create a more cohesive and inclusive network to address the diverse needs of an aging population, as well as individuals of all ages needing long term services and supports. For more information, go to http://www.nysaaaa.org The new web site will soon be operational at www.agingny.org