What Do Geriatric Social Workers Do?

Updated 3/7/2024

What exactly do geriatric social workers do in the lives of older adults and their families? In the intricate landscape of eldercare, these professionals offer invaluable support, guidance, and advocacy. Their expertise spans a wide array of services, all aimed at enhancing the well-being and quality of life of aging individuals.

What is Geriatric Social Work?

Geriatric social work, a specialized area of practice, focuses on the unique needs of older adults and their families. They’re trained to address a wide range of issues related to aging. These include health care, mental health, financial and legal concerns, housing, and social support.

What Exactly Do Geriatric Social Workers Do?

Geriatric social workers wear many hats, serving as advocates, counselors, and navigators through the complexities of aging. They provide a holistic approach to care, addressing not just physical ailments but also the emotional, social, and financial aspects of their clients’ lives. Here’s a glimpse into what geriatric social workers do:

  • Advocate for older adults’ rights and access to resources.
  • Provide counseling and emotional support to older adults and their families.
  • Assist with navigating the healthcare system, including coordinating medical appointments and accessing insurance benefits.
  • Conduct assessments to identify needs and develop personalized care plans.
  • Connect clients with community resources such as transportation services, meal programs, and support groups.
  • Provide assistance with financial matters, including budgeting, applying for benefits, and preventing financial exploitation.
  • Offer guidance and support to family caregivers, including respite care options and caregiver support groups.

Where do Geriatric Social Workers Work?

Social workers serve in a variety of settings. These may include hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, senior centers, community agencies, and private practice. If you or a loved one is facing challenges related to aging, a social worker can provide invaluable guidance, support, and advocacy.

You might use services in some of these situations:

  1. During a hospitalization or serious illness
  2. When coping with chronic health conditions
  3. After the loss of a spouse or loved one
  4. When experiencing financial difficulties
  5. When having housing issues
  6. When experiencing caregiver stress or burnout

Studies have shown that social work interventions lead to better outcomes and quality of life for older adults. For example, social workers help older adults avoid hospital readmissions, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve overall health and well-being. They also help older adults age in place by connecting them to community resources and support services.

Family caregivers also benefit from the assistance of a social worker. Caregiving is a challenging and stressful role, and social workers can provide much-needed support and guidance. They can also help caregivers access respite care, connect with support groups, and navigate healthcare and social service systems.

Is There a Shortage of Geriatric Social Workers?

According to the Gerontological Society of America, there is a growing demand for geriatric social workers as the population of older adults continues to increase. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them with specialized training in gerontology to meet this demand. A survey by the National Association of Social Workers found that only 4% of licensed social workers identified gerontology as their primary area of practice.

The shortage of geriatric social workers is concerning, given the unique needs and challenges faced by older adults. Without access to social work services, many older adults may struggle to maintain their independence and quality of life. Efforts are being made to address the shortage, including increased funding for educational programs and workforce development initiatives, as well as efforts to raise awareness of the importance of geriatric care among social workers and other healthcare professionals.

How to Find a Geriatric Social Worker

A cheerful young woman in a yellow blouse engaging with a digital tablet, likely in a social or professional setting, displaying the friendly demeanor characteristic of geriatric social workers.

There are several ways to ask for help from a geriatric social worker:

  1. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging: The Area Agency on Aging is a government-funded organization that provides information, resources, and support services to older adults and their families. They can connect you with social workers and other professionals who can assist you.
  2. Contact a hospital or healthcare provider: Many hospitals and healthcare providers have social workers on staff who can help patients and their families navigate the healthcare system and connect them with community resources.
  3. Contact a community agency: There are many community agencies that offer social work services, such as senior centers, community centers, and non-profit organizations. These agencies can provide a wide range of services and support, including counseling, case management, and advocacy.
  4. Hire a private social worker: If you prefer to work with a social worker privately, you can hire a licensed social worker who specializes in geriatric care. You can find licensed social workers through professional associations, such as the National Association of Social Workers.

When you contact a social worker, be prepared to provide some basic information about your needs and concerns. The social worker may also ask you for additional information, such as your medical history, financial situation, and living arrangements. This information will help the social worker develop a plan of care that is tailored to your specific needs.

Who Pays for Geriatric Social Work Services?

The cost of geriatric social work services can vary depending on several factors, including the level of experience of the social worker, the location, and the specific services provided. Here’s a breakdown of payment options for geriatric social work services:

Insurance Coverage

In many cases, social work services may be covered by health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. These programs recognize the importance of social work in promoting the well-being of older adults and may cover a portion or all of the costs associated with these services. Be sure to check with your insurance provider to understand what services are covered and any associated costs.

Government Programs

Government-funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid often cover social work services as part of their comprehensive healthcare coverage for older adults. These programs aim to ensure that older adults have access to the support they need to maintain their independence and quality of life. Those who are eligible for Medicare or Medicaid may be able to access geriatric social work services at little to no cost.

Sliding Scale Fees

Some social workers offer sliding-scale fees based on income. This fee structure allows individuals to pay for services based on their ability to pay, ensuring that no one is denied access to support because of financial constraints.

Private Payment

For individuals who are not covered by insurance or government programs and do not qualify for sliding-scale fees, private payment may be an option. Private payment involves paying the full cost of social work services out-of-pocket. While this may be a viable option for some individuals, it’s important to consider the financial implications and explore other payment options if available.

Community Resources

In some cases, community organizations, non-profits, or charitable foundations may offer funding or grants to support access to social work services for older adults. These resources may be available on a limited basis and may have specific eligibility criteria. Exploring community resources can be a valuable avenue for individuals seeking financial assistance for geriatric social work services. A good place to start is with your local Area Agency on Aging.

Wrapping it up

In the tapestry of aging, geriatric social workers weave threads of compassion, support, and advocacy, ensuring that no one walks this journey alone. So, if the road ahead seems daunting, remember to ask for help from professionals who are ready to walk alongside you, offering guidance, comfort, and hope.

Disclaimer: The content on this site is meant for general informational purposes and should not be considered professional advice. While we strive for accuracy, we recommend consulting experts for specific guidance. We are not responsible for any decisions made based on this information.

Liz Craven
Liz Craven

Liz Craven, co-publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide alongside her husband Wes, brings a blend of personal experience and heartfelt dedication to her work. Their path in eldercare started with a family story — caring for Wes' grandmother, Mabel, who faced Alzheimer's. This personal chapter not only highlighted the complexities of eldercare but also ignited their passion to support others in similar situations. Later, Liz and Wes filled the caregiver role three more times for their parents. Through the Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, Liz offers a mix of empathetic insight and practical advice, making eldercare more approachable and less daunting for families. Her commitment shines through in every piece of advice, aiming to ease the journey for others as they navigate the world of eldercare.

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