Though social workers are often thought of as professionals who work with children, the truth is, we work with people of all ages. One often overlooked population is that of the elderly. Social workers have many skills that translate well into working with the elderly.
As “Baby Boomers” continue to age, there are many opportunities to work as a social worker for the elderly. Social workers can be hired to perform a number of tasks to assist the elderly in living full and healthy lives. Some of the jobs that we will focus on will be case management, elder safety, and independent living.
Social work case managers can provide a number of vital services for the older members of our society. Often with age people require more services to help them in living healthy lives. These services may include mental health treatment, medical treatment, and help organizing social activities. As a case manager, you will not provide these services but you are vital in making sure that your elderly client has access to all of her/his required services. Your job may include insuring that medical professionals and mental health professionals are in communication with each other or scheduling outings with a local adult day center so that your client does not feel isolated. Case managers are masters of communication and organization. Clients with limited physical and/or intellectual abilities need case managers to ensure that they get to and from their important appointments but still make time to build relationships and explore new things. If you are the type of person who had a locker organizer in high school and is never without a planner, then case management may be for you.
Another aspect of geriatric social work is that of elder safety. Even though your clients will be adults, there are still safety risks that are unique to the elderly and that need to be assessed and monitored by professionals. Social workers may work for state or private Adult Protection Agencies. These agencies investigate reports of elder abuse or neglect and take appropriate action to ensure that their clients’ safety. As we age, we often become more dependent on others to provide our basic needs such as food and shelter. Unfortunately, many elderly people are neglected by those who are supposed to care for them or never receive the help they need in the first place. As a member of an adult protection team, you would work to provide a safe and stable environment for your client and ensure that their needs are met. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes mysteries but like to stick around to help, after the case is solved, then Adult Protection may be right up your alley!
Finally we will discuss independent living. Independent living is sometimes discussed in the context of adults teaching teenagers and young adults how to acquire the skills that they will need to live on their own. When working with the elderly, however, independent living is more about helping your clients retain as many of their skills as possible and recognizing when assistance is needed. Social workers who teach independent living to the elderly may help a client write tasks on a chart or calendar, so that it is easier to remember. Social workers may also help clients organize their homes in a way that makes it more accessible for mobility equipment such as wheel chairs and walkers. And, though it is important to allow the client to remain autonomous, social workers should also help clients understand when tasks have surpassed the client’s ability. For example, if a client’s memory is in decline and she keeps forgetting to turn the stove off, a social worker may connect her with a food service to deliver her meals. If you are a Do-It- Yourself, innovative person who always finds a way to make things work, consider working as an Independent Living Coordinator. It just may be for you!
What other needs are specific to the elderly? How else do social workers help this population? I know there are many others! Tell me about your experiences working with our elderly neighbors!