Geriatric social workers help senior citizens adjust to the challenges of aging. They might counsel patients who are coping with depression or cognitive decline, for example, or connect them with resources such as physical or occupational therapists who can teach them to manage the physical symptoms of aging. In addition, they work as part of a team, collaborating with the patient’s family members, physician and other caregivers.
Like other social workers, those specializing in geriatrics need a degree in social work and must be licensed by the state. Many universities also offer degree or certificate programs in geriatrics or gerontology, such as the Graduate Certificate in Geriatric Social Work/Clinical Gerontology offered by the University of South Florida. You can also earn certification such as the Social Worker in Gerontology credential offered through the National Association of Social Workers. In addition to basic social knowledge and principles, you must also understand issues specific to older patients, such as the signs of elder abuse and neglect.
Many geriatric social workers work for home health agencies, often overseeing a patient’s case as he prepares for discharge from the hospital. They plan the patient's transition from the facility back to his home, visiting him regularly to evaluate his progress. They also focus on helping their senior patients remain as independent as possible and in their homes for as long as possible, rather than moving to a long-term care facility. Quality of life for their clients tops their list of priorities. They must concentrate on helping seniors stay active and healthy, both mentally and physically.
Geriatric social workers form relationships not only with patients but also with their family members and doctors. They work with everyone involved to care for a patient and improve his standard of living. If a social worker sees signs that a client is suffering depression or other mental issues, for example, she might recommend that his family schedule an appointment with a therapist. She might also assist both clients and family members in making end-of-life plans such as setting up an advance directive or making funeral arrangements.
A geriatric social worker is a patient’s advocate, stepping in if she sees indications of elder abuse, for example, or if she realizes a client lacks the financial resources to care for himself. If she suspects abuse she’ll interview the patient and possibly contact adult protective services. In the case of financial problems, she might help him apply for aid through federal agencies or local social service organizations.