Grant keeps geriatric education alive in Alaska

In a recent battle to survive budget cuts, advocates of the Alaska Geriatric Education Center won a $1.2 million grant to continue training and educating students and professionals in the geriatrics field.

The geriatric center, established in Alaska in 2003, has trained more than 2,200 people in ways of improving the quality of life for seniors, according to the geriatric center. Its existence also generated educational opportunities that students on campus couldn’t get before.

A federal grant received by the geriatric center prior to 2007 was de-funded by federal budget cuts last year. Through advocacy, funding was reinstituted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in September.

“It was very exciting and we’ve been fortunate,” said Dr. Rosellen Rosich, the geriatric center’s director and UAA psychology professor. “We were hoping the funds would be established.”

The geriatric center works closely with academic programs, but its educational programs couldn’t save it from budget cuts during the Bush administration, said chair of the geriatric center advisory board Ella Craig.

“Initially, there was funding for every (Geriatric Education Center) in every state. The administration is not looking at the merits of what they’re cutting,” Craig said.

The well-deserved grant is the result of promoting the need for better awareness and education of geriatrics in the state of Alaska, she added. Advocates of health and aging urged state representatives to support the geriatric center.

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The need for it in Alaska is great since the state has the second fastest-growing senior population in the country after Nevada, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

The UAA geriatric center reports that it not only provides students with clinical training in the study of geriatrics, but also retrains health professionals.

“This is an opportunity to provide education and information regarding seniors and to really integrate the services to seniors,” Craig said. “Education is the answer to a lot of it. Seniors are different and their needs are different.”

Currently, only 1 percent of practicing physicians in the U.S. are geriatricians specializing in treating the medical needs of the country’s rapidly increasing elderly population, according to the geriatric center. With 12 percent of the nation’s population older than 65, the Alliance for Aging Research estimates 36,000 geriatricians are needed by 2030.

Experts like Craig and Rosich report that funding for geriatric-related programs is imperative for the U.S. to be prepared for the wave of baby boomers now turning 60. Anchorage’s over-65 population is increasing at a rate that is five times the national average, according to the municipality.

“We need to really emphasize and be aware of what will happen in the following years,” Craig said.

The geriatric center noted although the recent grant is much appreciated, there is still a chance of program cuts for 2008.

“The story’s not over. There’s a possibility that we may not be funded for the next year again,” Rosich said.

Supporters can receive updates on happenings at the center via e-mail list or by contacting Geri Heiner through the AKGEC web site at