One of the key aspects of adult services in social work departments is care for the elderly. This is an area that is only going to become bigger as our population continues to age, without a support structure in place. There are already shortages of social workers willing to work in this area and also of places in nursing and care homes run by local authorities.
Social work and care homes
The first contact that a social worker might have with an elderly person is when they are starting to find it difficult to manage day-to-day activities in their own home. This can be because of physical health problems or conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. The best course of action, if possible, is to try and maintain the client’s independence by allowing them to remain in their home, but with support from social carers working for the council. These workers will come in and bathe and dress the client, deliver meals and even clean the house. When things have become too difficult or too dangerous for the client to remain in their home, then the social worker will become involved again in trying to find a suitable care home for them.
Social work and dementia
Social workers will also be involved in helping to identify clients who have problems with dementia and other similar conditions. In this diagnosis, they will work with healthcare professionals and the client’s family to establish a care plan that will keep them safe in their home, but also provide stimulation. Many councils run day care centres or days out for the elderly that the social worker can help arrange. Often without the backing of a social worker or a doctor, it can be difficult for families to get the support they need and want from local authorities. Dealing with clients who have dementia can be quite frustrating, so social workers often specialise in this area and may even take extra training in how to speak and communicate more effectively with people suffering from this condition.
Abuse of the elderly
A phenomenon that is sadly becoming more common is abuse of vulnerable elderly people. Sometimes this can take the form of physical abuse, when a family member or carer has become frustrated with their behaviour; on other occasions family members or carers are taking advantage of their confusion to steal money or items from the house. If there is suspicion that this may be happening, then a social worker would get involved to try and talk to the client and find out what has been happening. Social workers will often also become involved when there are complaints against a care home, especially one that is being run by the local authority. It can be difficult to get elderly people with health problems to open up and articulate the problems they are suffering, particularly if they are scared, and this is where the special communication skills of a social worker are useful.