Amidst your journeys into the world of aging care, you may hear about social workers. If you’re not quite sure what they do or how they could be of assistance to your family, we’ve got the information you need.
As a field, geriatric social work has grown in parallel with the aging of the American population. According to the Administration on Aging, people age 65+ represented 12.4 % of the population in 2000 and are expected to grow to be 19% of the population by 2030, totaling about 72.1 million older persons. As the nation’s aging population grows, particularly those over 85, they need more assistance to remain active and independent. At its essence, the social work profession is focused on the welfare of individuals, families, and communities. Social workers use their skills to help others live happy, more effective lives. A geriatric social worker is a professional social worker with expertise working with adults age 65 and over. Often, these are social workers that have graduate level education and field experience in geriatrics, gerontology, aging, or social work with older adults. Geriatric social workers help find solutions for older adults and families that address the personal, social, and environmental challenges that come with aging. Geriatric social workers’ main priority is maintaining and enhancing the quality of life of their older adult clients. This may include developing an understanding not only the physical complications of aging, but mental health, cultural barriers, and organizational challenges faced by the older adult. What Services Do Geriatric Social Workers Offer? Aging-savvy social workers serve as “navigators” through the complicated healthcare and social service systems. They help families by gathering information about the array of services available to them, coordinating care across various health systems, facilitating family support, and providing direct counseling services. According to the Consortium of New York Geriatric Education Centers, “Gerontological social work interventions are directed at enhancing dignity, self-determination, personal fulfillment, quality of life, optimal functioning, and ensuring the least restrictive living environment possible.” Here are just a few ways social workers help:
- Clinical interventions – They may provide therapy for an elderly client who feels lonely or who is suffering depression or anxiety. Geriatric social workers encourage their clients to pursue stimulating activities, helping to arrange group outings. They can help clients cope with aging by recording “life stories” and help people say their goodbyes through writing letters, phone calls, videos, etc.
- Service interventions – Many social workers act as a link between their clients and the numerous public and private programs designed for the aging. Social workers help clients apply for appropriate services. They help sort out any problems in the delivery of these services.
- Advocacy – A geriatric social worker can provide an older adult with an Advance Directive form and explain how to correctly complete it. They are also a frontline defense for stopping elder abuse: a geriatric social worker is mandated by law to report to any suspected elder abuse to Adult Protective Services.
For families in a caregiving situation, geriatric social workers are an invaluable resource. Social workers also offer direct assistance for families, such as providing family-support services, suggesting useful technologies, and facilitating the coordination of medical care. Many geriatric social workers also offer counseling services, which often deal with end-of-life issues, bereavement, and other concerns common to senior citizens. They can help guide families through the transition from the home environment to long term care, assist with filing necessary paperwork, and help with access to end-of-life care planning (living wills, advance directives, DNR orders). They act as a liaison between the patient, family members, and health care staff and can make sure you stay informed about your loved one’s condition. My Parent or Spouse Receives Home Care Services. How can a Geriatric Social Worker Help Us? To help older adults remain at home as long as possible, many geriatric social workers work within the home health care setting. These types of social workers often coordinate discharge planning from hospital to home and conduct home visits to ensure the client is safe, healthy, and thriving in their environment. They may help assess when home care is or is not appropriate for the client, help locate in-home assistance services, transportation services, Meal on Wheels, and recommend in-home care tracking technology. Geriatric social workers are trained to recognize normal and abnormal aging patterns. They can suggest when an elderly client needs to see a doctor and can arrange for a visit. With the help of geriatric social workers, some older adults may be able to live in their own home when they would otherwise need nursing home care. Where Can I Find a Geriatric Social Worker? Contact your Local Agency On Aging (AAA), which provides linkage to community services and resources. You can find your local AAA here. Ask your family physician or hospital to suggest a geriatric social worker they have worked with in the past. Senior centers, religious community members, friends, and family are additional sources to turn to for trusted recommendations. Have you ever worked with a geriatric social worker? What was your experience like?