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Social Workers are Essential

Seniors rely on assistance from social workers in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and at home. Whether residing in a house, assisted living community, or other type of setting, social workers are the clinicians that coordinate receipt of services by seniors following a change in health status. Alleviating loneliness among seniors due to increased social isolation (as a recognized consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic) is yet another essential role performed by social workers. In 2021, March is Social Worker Appreciation Month (per the National Association of Social Workers).

The following are four ways that social workers assist seniors to aid them in remaining as independent as possible.


Hospital Discharge Planning and Social Worker Assessments/Interventions

After an elderly person undergoes surgery or is hospitalized for an illness, a social worker is frequently involved in planning whether a discharged patient can safely function at home (or that patient’s assisted living unit) – or whether that person would be better served by a temporary transfer to a rehab center.

Even when the discharge will be to the patient’s own home, clinical social workers in hospitals (as well as rehab centers) are often involved in coordinating home-based assistance by others to promote full recovery following the surgery or illness.

During the current pandemic, enabling hospitalized seniors infected with Covid-19 to engage in SmartPhone videoconferencing with loved ones (plus prepare for a period of home-quarantine until a negative Covid-19 test result is acquired) is something that social workers have performed on behalf of patients.  Similar to physicians and nurses, social workers have functioned as “front-line” workers who have risked their lives to provide support to Covid-19-infected people. Whether hospitalized due to Covid-19 or some other health disorder, social workers in hospitals (as well as rehab facilities) are often the staff most involved in coordinating home-based assistance by others to promote full recovery following any surgery or illness.

For example – after a hospitalization for hip or knee surgery– social workers are involved in assessing whether a discharged patient is participating in the prescribed physical therapy, has proper equipment, and someone to help with performing daily tasks necessary for a return to normal functioning (whether that patient resides at home or in an assisted living facility).

“Slip and Fall” Accidents and Senior Care Assistance Referrals

Gait and balance disorders that result in “slip and fall” accidents disproportionately impact elder-aged adults. According to an article in American Family Physician, this can result in injury (e.g., a broken leg), loss of independence, and permanent disability for a previously-independent senior. State and local Councils on Aging and senior centers can often link a senior (or senior caregiver) with such types of assistance as:

  • Housecleaning services;
  • Fully-cooked lunches or dinners;
  • Rides to medical appointments;
  • Lawn-mowing and snow-shoveling;
  • Volunteer visitors to improve mental health through reducing social isolation

The input of social workers working with governmental and nonprofit entities serving elders can reduce the time spent by the senior or that person’s caregiver in locating nearby services by providing both contact information and eligibility requirements of various senior care providers in that particular geographic area. When testing positive for Covid-19 necessitates a period of quarantine, social workers in governmental agencies and nonprofits are the employees that most often speak with a given senior via phone or videoconferencing to ensure that the confined elderly person is following state and local Board of Health protocols to prevent spreading Covid-19 to their family members.

Services Provided by Social Workers to Seniors with Dementia

One of the primary reasons that seniors shift from living independently at home to an assisted living or nursing home setting is due to symptoms of dementia (such as forgetting to pay bills or take daily medication). Social workers may be involved in assessing cognitive deficit severity. Then – based on that cognitive assessment – social workers can remind seniors (or the family members providing senior care such as a parent or other close relative) to pay monthly bills, make healthcare appointments, take medications, and/or provide ideas for locating lost items in the home.

Receiving a regularly-scheduled phone call from a social worker can also identify unmet needs at home or in an assisted living setting to promote more rapid intervention on behalf of the senior and/or the family members providing senior caregiving. Therefore, the involvement of social workers can enable seniors with dementia to remain independent for a much longer duration than otherwise possible.

Mental Health Needs and Social Workers

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, seniors living alone in their own homes or in assisted living settings were far more likely to experience social isolation. According to an article in 2020 Global Health Research and Policy, social isolation in the elderly has tremendously increased since the commencement of the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control reports that at least 20 percent of all people aged 55 and older are living with a diagnosed mental health disorder such as clinical depression.

Social workers can reduce anxiety and depression in seniors consequent to social isolation during the current pandemic (whether living in their own homes or in an assisted living setting) by interacting with them by phone or videoconferencing software. Likewise, social workers can also intercede to connect a senior with mental health services (e.g., therapist sessions) or provide senior caregivers who are family members with information to acquire mental health services aimed at senior-aged adults.

Whether a senior is living at home, in a senior living environment for independent older-aged adults, or in an assisted living facility, social worker involvement can have a major positive impact on the quality of life of both seniors and the family members who are senior caregivers.

Social workers are truly essential as a part of the professional caregiving workforce, and deserve our nationwide appreciation for their contributions to the well-being of older-aged people!