What is Geriatric Social Work?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Geriatric social workers need to use specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.
Geriatric social workers need to use specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.

Geriatric social work is an area of social work focused on the needs of aging and older adults. Social workers can help their clients connect with services they may find useful in addition to identifying elder abuse, assisting with legal matters, and advocating for older adults at policy meetings and other events. People interested in this field will need to receive training in social work to get certified, as well as take additional coursework to learn about the needs of older adults.

A geriatric social worker identifies the needs of older adults and works to address them.
A geriatric social worker identifies the needs of older adults and works to address them.

Aging and older people often experience social isolation for a number of reasons, including no longer being in the workplace, losing friends and family, and having trouble adapting to social changes like increasing reliance on unfamiliar technology. Many also have health problems, some of which can interfere with their ability to interact socially. These can include issues like dementia, mobility impairments, and chronic illnesses. Such problems can make older adults more vulnerable to issues like fraud, abuse, and discrimination. Geriatric social work addresses these issues by watching out for the welfare of the aging population.

In geriatric social work, social workers identify the needs of older adults and work to address them. They may meet clients through referrals or direct approaches. Each client receives a careful evaluation to determine what kinds of services she might benefit from. These could include anything from food stamps to help with food costs to physical therapy to improve mobility after a fall or injury. Geriatric social workers may visit private homes as well as nursing facilities to make sure older adults are not living in dangerous or unhealthy situations, and can authorize the hiring of aides to help adults who need assistance to complete daily tasks.

Cases of suspected elder abuse usually result in a call to a geriatric social worker. He will interview the subject to collect more information and will participate in an investigation to determine if abuse is occurring. This can include going to court to get restraining orders, moving an older adult to a safer environment, and testifying in elder abuse cases, both civil and criminal. A specialist in geriatric social work has training in identifying signs of abuse and interviewing people who may be experiencing abuse.

Part of geriatric social work can also involve increasing engagement between older adults and their communities. This can include things like working with senior centers to host events, connecting volunteers like high school students with people who may want companionship, and promoting inclusion of aging members of the community at events.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Geriatric social workers need to use specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.
      Geriatric social workers need to use specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.
    • A geriatric social worker identifies the needs of older adults and works to address them.
      A geriatric social worker identifies the needs of older adults and works to address them.