Gerontological Social Workers: the growing demand for Elder Advocacy

Written by HayleighM. By 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older. The number of elderly people over the age of 85, which is also the gro...

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|Feb 13|magazine11 min read

Written by Hayleigh M.

 

By 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older. The number of elderly people over the age of 85, which is also the group of elders most likely to experience chronic illness, poverty and isolation, will more than double by 2050. Medical advances have added a generation to American life expectancy. Just 21 percent of people born in 1900 had one grandparent still alive when they turned 30 years old. In contrast, 76 percent of people born in 2000 will have at least one living grandparent when they turn 30.

Substance abuse, child welfare, corrections, health care and mental health — all work handled by social workers — have specific elements related to aging. Most social workers who work with the elderly, called "gerontological social workers," have a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Now is a good time to enroll in an MSW program, and online education makes getting the degree more convenient than ever. You can click here to discoveronline MSW programs that will qualify you to work in the growing field of gerontological social work.

An In-demand Profession

In 2005, a survey of licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) found that only 9 percent actually worked with the elderly. Of those 9 percent, only 75 percent actually had training specific to aging issues. By 2015, the demand for gerontological social workers will increase by 45 percent. The country will need 60,000 to 70,000 gerontological social workers by 2020, but only a small percentage of that number of social workers is currently available. Additionally, the median age of geriatric social workers is 50, and 10 percent of MSWs plan to retire in two years. No wonder US News and World Report named geriatric social work as one of its top 20 careers in terms of growth potential.

Another aspect of America's growing elderly population is its increasing diversity. Currently, only 17 percent of people over 65 are people of color. By 2050, that number will grow to 33 percent. The National Association of Social Workersreports that the current population of social workers is less diverse than the current population, and the diversity gap is expected to grow significantly by 2030. Not only does America need more gerontological social workers; the country also needs an increased number of social workers from African-American, Asian and Hispanic communities.

Common Issues That the Elderly Face

Two-thirds of Americans who need long-term care are elderly, and long-term care comes with an array of psychosocial factors. These factors can include:

·         Abuse, neglect and mistreatment. One to two million older adults suffer abuse or neglect each year. The National Center of Elder Abuseestimates that 13 cases go unreported for every single case that is discovered.

·         Depression.Depression is the most common mental health issue among the elderly. It is frequently associated with an increased risk of suicide.

·         Substance abuse.Abuse of alcohol, drugs, prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs is highest among the elderly. In fact, men 75 and older have a higher proportion of substance abuse than any other age group.

·         Hoarding.This issue, which is common among seniors with dementia, can threaten their physical safety and the safety of their caregivers.

Other issues faced by the elderly population include social isolation, chronic illness, mental health problems, behavioral health issues and poverty. In fact, one in 10 older Americans lives in poverty, and the proportion is higher among seniors in minority populations. Gerontological social workers help older Americans to handle these issues by coordinating with caregivers, medical professionals, psychotherapists and long-term care facilities. They also help seniors to transition from hospitals into home-based care or rehabilitation centers; provide reporting, intervention and prevention of cases of elder abuse; assist seniors with end-of-life and advanced directive planning; and develop programs that help seniors get the most from their golden years.

Most elderly adults lead active and productive lives. However, many need care from family members, assisted living facilities and medical providers, and the number of aging Americans is placing a strain on today's level of services. Becoming a gerontological social worker is not only a great path to a rewarding career. It's also an essential component of ensuring that America's elderly age with dignity and with the respect they deserve.

 

Elderly man image by mokra from rgbstock.com

Helping the elderly image by melodi2 from rgbstock.com