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MAC Project Background

Despite expectations that the Baby Boomers will be healthier than prior cohorts of older persons, the sheer number of individuals in this group means that many older adults will face chronic illnesses and functional disability. In addition, the number of older adults with serious psychiatric disorders is projected to climb from 4 million in 1970 to 15 million in 2030. And the number of elders referred to substance use/misuse treatment is estimated to increase nearly fourfold by 2020. Physical and mental chronic illness is typically associated with impairments in function, poorer health outcomes, and reduction in quality of life. These patterns suggest that the growth in the numbers of older persons with health, mental health, and substance use problems will place even greater demands on service delivery systems than the statistics alone predict.

In a national 2005 NASW survey, 75% of licensed social workers reported working in some capacity with older adults. Yet few MSW students attain the necessary advanced competencies to address older adults’ health and behavioral health issues that may arise in diverse locales such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, hospice, mental health clinics, community counseling centers, courts and correctional facilities, employee assistance programs, private practice, and longterm residential facilities for individuals with mental illness.

The MAC project recognizes that the intersections of mental health, substance use, health, and aging are a critical area of knowledge and skill development for social workers. With the first of the Baby Boomers now age 64, the need is critical for social work education to prepare students intending to practice in these specialty areas with knowledge, values, and skills to enhance the health and wellbeing of the rapidly growing aging population. The MAC Project is addressing this need.