New York University’s Division of Nursing, part of the Steinhardt School of Education, has begun to identify the mental effects of terrorism on the elderly. NYU will participate in the work as part of the Consortium of New York Geriatric Education Centers (CNYGEC), a federally funded entity designed to expand geriatric care and to provide knowledge and training. The grant for $108,000 is funded by the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Bureau of Health Professions.

“The attacks of Sept. 11 revealed enormous gaps in addressing the needs of New York City’s elderly population during an emergency,” said Terry Fulmer, head of the Division of Nursing and the project’s director, adding that more than 18,000 elderly were within the immediate area of Ground Zero on Sept. 11.

“The elderly, especially frail older people, faced extraordinary physical and mental health challenges in the days and months following the attacks,” Fulmer said. “These concerns were even more marked for Holocaust survivors and veterans, who may be particularly susceptible to the effects of later traumatic events, such as terrorist attacks. For those caring and responsible for older persons, a system of emergency preparedness was not in place.”

NYU and its consortium partners will develop and distribute a curriculum that describes the mental health consequences of terrorism and provide a range of effective treatment strategies. Other consortium members participating in the project are Columbia University and Mount Sinai Medical Center. The completion date for the project is estimated to be in the summer of 2004.

In addition, CNYGEC’s will collaborate with other aging organizations in the New York Metropolitan area, such as the Veterans Administration, the New York City Department for the Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging, and the New York City Office for Mental Health. Through this project, CNYGEC will also be part of the national GEC Collaborative on Bioterrorism Preparedness Committee, established in November 2002 to address the national need for curriculum, training, and research on disaster preparedness, bioterrorism, and the elderly.

“There’s a national pent-up demand because there is so little research and curriculum development for older adults in this area,” said Andrea Sherman, CNYGEC’s project director at NYU. “We’re thrilled to be part of the effort to train health-care providers that will address this crucial need.”

Fulmer said the consortium’s interdisciplinary makeup, which includes expertise in psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing, medicine, and other allied health professions, will enable it to design comprehensive treatment programs. It will seek to develop and distribute the following curricula:

  • a 40-hour course on “Contemporary Aging: Science and Policy,” with a strong mental health focus;
  • an interdisciplinary course, “Contemporary Aging: Science and Policy”;
  • a curriculum on geriatric mental health with components of public health and disaster preparedness;
  • interdisciplinary mental health training to health care professionals, including those in underserved areas;
  • a mental/public health and disaster preparedness curriculum module for the national GEC Collaborative;
  • curricula through distance education approaches, such as videoconferencing, CD-Rom and the web

The consortium’s work will also include an evaluation of the impact of the curricula. Methods for gauging their effectiveness will be the following: a participant demographic survey, a database of enrollees and participants, work service/underserved data, baseline knowledge of geriatrics, and exit-satisfaction surveys.

EDITOR’S NOTE The Steinhardt School of Education prepares students for careers in education, health and nursing, applied psychology, communications, and the arts and serves as a source of continuing education for working professionals who seek career advancement and enrichment. On the graduate level, specialized training is offered within the context of one of the country’s leading centers of research. The school is also a center for research and community service, especially committed to activities aimed at improving the urban environment.

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