Most people are probably aware that we have a rapidly aging population in this country, with several waves of baby boomers still becoming seniors at the rate of thousands per day. Fortunately, there are currently more caregivers for these senior citizens than at any other time in history, partly due to the fact that this development was anticipated, and many people have chosen to enter into the caregiving profession.
Between family members, medical personnel, non-medical caregivers, and social worker collaboration, there are a great many people available today who can provide the kind of support needed by our aging population. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that each and every elderly person has the kind of care he or she needs and deserves. In some cases, one or more of these groups of support people must work together in order to fill the gaps in coverage that would otherwise occur if only one group could provide care.
Quite often, the ideal program of comprehensive care for the elderly is achieved through the smooth collaboration between family members, social workers and other caregivers. Here are how those various support groups can work well together to provide for the needs of seniors.
What can social workers do?
Medical social workers are professionals who can team up with elderly patients and their family members, as well as any medical personnel and non-medical caregivers to help ensure that seniors receive appropriate care, both physically and mentally, after a hospital stay, an in-home illness, or some other medical event.
Healthcare social workers are adept at case management, providing counseling and education to patients and family about specific health issues. They also provide information about treatment options, and can help connect or refer patients to various community resources which might be available. Some of the possible issues which might arise, in which social worker collaboration could provide invaluable assistance, are the following:
- Helping family members explore options when the needs of their senior loved ones become too great for family members alone
- Advising family members about available community support programs, and determining senior eligibility for them. These are often government programs which can be difficult to understand for ordinary citizens, but some social workers are actually experts at interpreting guidelines for eligibility, securing funding, finding the right services, etc.
- Explaining potential options to family members who might live out of state, and would therefore have difficulty with the frequent returns necessitated by recurring medical crises
- Protecting elderly persons from scams intended to trick them out of their money, and serving as advocates to help seniors recover from such events
- Identifying situations where an elderly person may have been abused, either physically or emotionally
- Securing assistance from local services such as Meals-on-Wheels, and possibly arranging for free transportation that might be needed on medical visits or other trips
- Helping family members prepare for the possibility of their senior loved one’s transfer to an assisted living environment, semi-permanent or permanent hospitalization, or even counseling to prepare for imminent death
- Identifying options which might be available when family members become stretched to the breaking point by the extreme needs of a senior loved one.
Geriatric social workers are those who specialize in working with seniors and their families, to help them find solutions to the many issues which arise as a by-product of advanced aging. Through social worker collaboration, quality of life can be enhanced for seniors, and in many cases, elderly persons can be protected from the criminal element in society who might want to prey on the elderly.
How social workers partner with caregivers
It isn’t just the family members who become stressed, and perhaps physically run down by the need for constant attention and care for an elderly person in the home. The same thing can happen to caregivers who spend hours each day as the sole support person for a senior who might be incapable of any kind of self-help.
By pooling their efforts, social worker collaboration with caregivers can help to avoid burnout by those individuals directly responsible for senior care in the home. It’s important to remember that all caregivers who are members of the total support team for a senior, also have their own personal lives to deal with. With care for the senior being the primary objective, it’s easy to overlook the fact that support team members can also undergo physical and mental diminution during the care-taking process.
One of the useful skills a social worker brings to the table in this regard, is to explore the components of a care plan which addresses the needs of everyone involved in the care-giving process. With all physical and emotional limitations identified, steps can then be taken to shore up those areas where relief is needed, extra help can be arranged for, and the needs of all can be addressed so that the system avoids a breakdown.