UCCS certificate educates individuals who care for elderly

As the boomers head toward senior status, Gerontology Center is ready to help the helpers
Cathy Beuten | CU System
Community, Education, Healing

Sara Honn Qualls

Sara Honn Qualls

Some 74.9 million baby boomers in the U.S. aren’t babies anymore, and as they age the need for qualified caregivers has increased exponentially. Yet even before the boomers trudged toward senior status, the Gerontology Center at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs recognized the increased need for assisting the elderly. The center, now located in the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences Building, has offered the Professional Advancement Certificate in Gerontology for 24 years.

The gerontology certificate is designed for people who work with older adults, wish to change careers to care for the elderly, are already a caregiver or have an interest in aging issues, explains Sara Honn Qualls, professor of psychology, director of the center and the Kraemer Family Professor of Aging Studies.

Gerontology Center at UCCS
“The majority of people enrolling in the class are seeking to build or update knowledge about aging to address their immediate work/career,” Qualls said. “Employees and leaders in senior housing, home health, social services, law offices and senior activities professionals make up the vast majority of students.”

Yet examples of people who benefit from the class run the gamut. For instance, Qualls said an administrator of home health care who took the course many years ago re-takes it about every four or five years to refresh his knowledge. 

“We have a licensed clinical social worker who provides services to older adults and wants to deepen her knowledge about aging because her previous experience covered the entire lifespan,” she said. “We had a real estate agent who wanted to specialize her practice in work with older adults, so she wanted to gain more knowledge and understanding about aging.  We have had lawyers and physicians who work with older adults a portion of the time and want to deepen their knowledge.”

UCCS Aging Center receives grants to help patients and caregivers
Topics taught during the course range from a cross-cultural look at aging to physiological, biological, sociological and psychological aspects of aging to legal issues of the elderly to spirituality and wellness. The curriculum this year begins with a unit on the biopsychosocial experience of aging, for which UCCS faculty provide the lectures, Qualls said.

“Professors such as Mary Ann Kluge and Paige Whitney (health sciences), Amy Silva-Smith (nursing), along with Dan Segal and Cassie Faulhaber (psychology) provide excellent overviews of aging,” Qualls said. “Many local experts educate students about applied topics such as elder abuse reporting procedures, legal tools relevant to end of life, health and housing, health and wellness, and community planning and design.”

The full course extends over two concurrent semesters and there are no prerequisites to register for the program, Qualls said. This semester – so far –19 people are attending in person and – new this year – five are taking it through webinars and recorded sessions. Classes are each Tuesday and although classes started Sept. 12 enrollment remains open until Sept. 30. “But sooner is far better,” she said.

“Over the years, students in this program repeatedly emphasize how valuable they find the networking opportunities with each other and with the expert presenters,” she said. “Thus, in addition to content knowledge gained during the program, the students have a built-in set of resources to support their lifelong learning processes.”