By Cathy Reilly
It is a gloomy and wet early fall day when I visit the UCCS Aging Center on North Nevada across from University Village Colorado shopping center. But on the third floor, inside the Lane Center, the warm rooms have many windows and are decorated with soft colors.
Founded in 1999, the Center provides mental health services for adults 55 and older as well as support services for their loved ones and caregivers. Those include neuropsychology evaluations to ascertain if an elder has normal issues related to aging or as a baseline for those who may have concerns about dementia.
The Aging Center is the only local community mental health provider serving this specific population. And according to Center Director Dr. Sara Qualls, Ph.D., who has been with the program since it began, they address issues including eating disorders, cognitive impairment, personality disorders, grief and hoarding. The most common issues their clients seek help with are depression or anxiety, and sometimes both.
Fees for services are on a sliding scale or covered by Medicare, if provided by a licensed psychologist. Donations are accepted but not required and in no way affect whether someone receives care. The Center’s services make it possible for many to “age in place” in their homes with the support of their caregivers and community resources.
The program also supports those who are dealing with aging loved ones. Through Project Director Laura Engelman, I meet Ted Manakas, who says he was unaware of the Center’s existence when he began to help care for his elderly mother. He says her condition has forced him to learn a “foreign language called advanced dementia.”
Before she developed Alzheimer’s she was a sweet and loving parent, he says, but when he and his family decided to move her to Colorado for care, she called him a “devil” and tried to jump out of the car while they were driving cross-country. Fortunately, his wife heard about the Center from a co-worker.
Ted was a problem-solver in his professional life but had no idea how to interact with his aging mother. He says the Center’s non-judgmental staff “make it all right for you” and helped him arrive at “self-forgiveness,” as well as “build back from the inside.” He calls the Center “a blessing,” noting they helped him realize he could not cure the issues his mother was facing, but they could help him develop tools for dealing with the challenges.
Challenges the Center faces include expanding its donor base and generating greater awareness of its programming. Qualls says every dollar donated has a triple effect in that it helps provide care to patients and training for those who’ll work with this population in the future, and it funds research into the issues of aging. The Center provides valuable training for geropsychology students at the master’s, doctorate, intern and post-doctorate levels. Education in delivering this type of care is scarce, says Qualls, noting they want to be able to expand their capacity for more students.
Visit uccs.edu/healthcircle/aging-center.html for more.