I have worked or volunteered with seniors in some capacity or another literally since I was a little girl. My nana, a nurse, worked in convalescent homes when I was young, and one of my first memories was going to work with her at Llewsac Lodge (now Carleton-Willard Village in Bedford, MA) when I was about 4 years old. This continued, though the facilities changed, throughout all of my school vacations and summers until it was time for me to get my first job. It was only natural that I started working in a nursing home setting as a nurse's aide at the age of 16.
I found myself drawn to the residents who were all alone. Residents without families visiting, either because their families lived at a distance (physically or emotionally) or because they had no living relatives left. Naturally, I saw a fair number of deaths over the course of those two years. When it looked as though a resident was nearing the very end of their life, I would often punch out after my shift and return to sit with them and hold their hand. I made a promise to myself. If there was any way, no matter how small a gesture it may seem, that I could improve those last hours for someone who would otherwise be all alone, then that was what I was meant to do.
I received my Associate's in Gerontology (Mitchell College) in 1990, and went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology/Social Services (UMass, 1993) and a Masters in Social Work, with a specialization in Health and Aging (University of Pennsylvania, 1996). My Master’s thesis focus was on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, at the time a relatively new phenomenon was coming about. I also completed field placements in a community hospital in South Philly and on the geriatric substance abuse unit at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.
Over the last 25+ years, I have worked in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, day programs, hospitals, a PACE program (which stands for Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) in MA, oncology, home care, case management, pastoral care, outpatient medical clinics, palliative care, community services/programs, and real estate. I have seen the impact of aging from many, many different angles. I have had a lifelong commitment to helping people age in place gracefully and with dignity. I focus on helping people identify what is most important to them in their lives (recognizing that every single person has a different story and a different set of priorities), helping them set goals and doing whatever it takes to help them achieve those goals. My goal is to help seniors and their families triumph in their later years and arrive at the end of their lives with gratitude and no regrets.
Gerontological social workers are experts at meeting the biopsychosocial needs of older adults. Part of the job is connecting the elderly with community resources. Social workers coordinate care for individuals who need a number of services and who will, over a period of months, years, and sometimes decades, require care at different levels. They help elderly individuals and their families examine their needs, and determine how they will be paid for. They assist them in applying for needed services and dealing with problems as they arise. They may help seniors fill out various other kinds of paperwork, including advance directives.
Gerontological social workers may need to assess clients’ functional capacity. They have some expertise in recognizing the difference between normal and abnormal aging processes and will refer clients to medical professionals when necessary.
Geriatric social workers often serve as discharge planners, making sure that community-based services will be in place when seniors step down from hospitalization to less intensive care. Clinical social workers offer therapy to elderly adults who are experiencing depression or anxiety.
It’s not all about loss of function, though. Social workers also assist older adults who have very active lives, like those who have been thrust back into parenting roles: caring for their grandchildren.
Work settings are varied and can include referral centers, rehabilitation centers, long-term care, outpatient health services, adult protection services, governmental agencies, faith-based agencies, and private practice. Social workers are employed by area centers on aging, providing direct services and advocacy.
Like with social workers for children, senior social workers are concerned with the welfare of communities, families, and individuals. Specializing in adults 65 and over, geriatric social workers are trained to find solutions to help address the numerous environmental challenges that come with aging. In short, it is their priority to improve the quality of lives of their clients, and ultimately to help protect the elderly from those who might try to take advantage of their vulnerabilities.
One of the most common things a geriatric social worker does is to help clients deal with complicated government programs that they may not realize are out there and able to aid them. These programs include everything from social services and local community programs to healthcare providers and other legal entities.
Families want to do the right thing, but often aren’t sure what the right thing is. The Eldest Daughter can help you figure out what that “right thing” is.
Adult children often live at a distance or are overwhelmed due to the other responsibilities such as careers or families/children. The Eldest Daughter can help share the burden by tag teaming with you, or to be the eyes and ears first hand and determine when an emergency long distance trip is warranted. A geriatric care manager like the Eldest Daughter can be especially helpful for long distance caregivers and caregivers who have exhausted all of their available work leave, but also helpful for anyone needing some extra guidance and help caring for their loved ones.
Family members are in conflict or there is dysfunction (where parents should live, safety vs autonomy, end of life decisions, spending, resistence by parent, suspected abuse or undue influence). The Eldest Daughter can help sort through the conflict with you to determine common goals and aid in effective communication. Together we comprise the “client committee”; the professional, the family and the client.