Whether you have an aging grandparent, parent, or even a neighbor, you’ve probably had some experience in helping or caring for an elderly person. In fact, 80 percent of care provided to older adults comes from their family and friends.
This support system can indeed be wonderful but eventually, many elderly people and their caregivers may find themselves in a situation where they’ll need help beyond what friends and family can provide. That’s where social workers enter the picture.
In the context of social work, gerontology refers to a field of practice with the aging population. Social workers who work in this field may be called geriatric social workers. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the primary goal of geriatric social workers is “to address the specific challenges of the aging process by promoting independence, autonomy, and dignity in later life.”
As older adults may be dealing with multiple health and social challenges, social workers serve the elderly by assessing their needs and then connecting them or their caregivers with appropriate resources. Geriatric social workers work in a variety of settings including government agencies, hospitals and nursing homes.
Limestone social work student, Wendy Gomez, works at a nursing home rehab facility where she helps elderly and their families plan for end of life care or post rehab transition. Gomes explains that sometimes working with the family can be more challenging than working with the elderly patient.
“Families can be in denial,” says Gomez. This may prompt them to care for their loved ones at home, which may not always be the best choice for the patient.
“It’s very hard when you have a situation where you know [a family] will not be successful being at home [but] you warn them of the risks, provide resources and wish them good luck,” adds Gomez.
Despite the challenges, working with the elderly can be very rewarding full of memorable connections, great impact, and heightened perspective on life. And, as more baby boomers reach the age of 65 or older, the need for geriatric social workers will continue to grow.
Limestone students earning a Bachelors of Social Work who may be interested in gerontology can take an elective, GER 200 – Issues and Perspectives in Aging. The course examines the biological, psychological, sociological, and cultural dimensions of aging and attempts to identify factors that contribute to successful and fulfilling lives of the elderly.