How social workers work with older people

By a social work student

Aging of the population is a global problem.

It is not just happening in New Zealand but also other counties. As a social worker student doing my placement in an Auckland hospital, I have many chances to work with older people. So I always ask myself, what our role for them? What we can do for them? What our strengths or challenges when we work with them?

Through the experiences of working in hospital, I have a strongly feeling that a social worker is more than a social worker for older people. Social workers are more likely playing a role of friend when work with them. Some older people live by themselves, they will feel more lonely than young people because they are easier experiencing the problem of social isolation. Therefore, we should make sure that sometimes they need more companion than your skillful performance.

However, if our social workers just be a friend to deal with older people, we may not give them suitable help and support. It means that we should do more to help them. For example, we help them to build an older people community. They can get the help and support from there. Besides, we help them connect with the society to avoid isolation to get the support services at home as well as outside. Moreover, our social work also did some research to find out the problems they may meet. For example, through the research we find that older people may experience the problems of loneliness, social isolation, elder abuse and neglect.

After we find these problems, our social workers should take actions to use our own strengths to help them to deal with problems. Firstly, we can use our resources to connect them with the society and relative organizations to get suitable help. Secondly, we could talk with policy makers and show them research outcome to let them make a more complete act to protect older people to make sure they are safe and reduce the risk of their life. Thirdly, we can use our professional skills and experiences to help them deal with problems but in a soft and friendly way to let them feel comfortable and trust us.  (See Age Concern).

However, when we work with older people, we also will experience some challenges. For example, our social workers have the responsibility to “build a good place to people to grow older, not just for some, but for everyone.”

 This goal is quite hard for us to achieve because different people have difference situation and background. Even we create a great outside environment for them, they still could have some inside problems at home to obstruct them to get the outside resources or advantages. Moreover, the funding is limited for social work to work in the areas of older people, this situation will limit the number of social worker to work in this area, it also will limit the quality of services provided by social worker to older people. Additionally, Scharlach, Damon-Rogriguez, Robinson, & Feldman (2000) mentioned if social work is not adequately prepared to practice in the aging society, social workers also cannot provide the quality services to older people.

For us social work students, we should see the aging society in the national level as well as international level. We should improve our own capacity and prepare to work in the aging society.


Age Concern New ZealandP olicy and Research.

Davey, J. (2017). What does Wales have which we do not have? Its initiatives for the wellbeing of older people.  Retrieved from:

Scharlach, A., Damron-Rodriguez, J., Robinson, B., & Feldman, R. (2000). Educating social workers for an aging society: A vision for the 21st century. Journal of Social Work Education, 36(3), 521-538.


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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