By Elyse Notarianni
When people think of social workers, they think of a last-ditched effort, someone who comes in when things are bad. But really, it's a resource — and a valuable one at that, especially for older adults, says Ann Burack-Weiss, Ph.D., LCSW, a social work clinician, educator, and consultant.
"Social workers advocate for their clients in every way," says Burack-Weiss. "When an older adult needs care, it's never purely medical. Everything affects the whole person, and it's a social worker's job to come in and look at all parts of an older adult's life — biological, social, cultural, medical — and make sure they have the best care and quality of life available."
A licensed clinical social worker can advocate for their clients with everything from ensuring access to healthcare professionals, speaking up for a client to make sure physicians are giving the best, most comprehensive care, and making sure they aren't being taken advantage of by financial institutions.
"If there's anything in the way of an older adult getting the care and resources they're entitled to — which is, at its core, simply decent care from our society — a social worker can be the advocate on their side," says Burack-Weiss, a member of the COHME Board of Directors. "On a larger scale, they're also often the ones fighting for broader expansion of services like social programs and Medicare expansion."
They can also be advocates for older adults within their own families.
"Very often, the family members feel like, because someone they love is older, they have to make all the decisions for them — they get to call the shots," she says. "A social worker is there to stick up for them and be a voice when they need one, especially if there are cognitive decline issues at play."
A social worker works alongside the family and loved ones as a part of the older adult's support system, which is one of the most important aspects of senior care.
"The importance of the work social workers do is often in the small details," says Burack-Weiss. "The social worker might be the one to find out that a client likes to sleep in, and it's not great to get someone there at 9 in the morning. Or if a person is usually up at 6 am, you need to have someone there early. They're the ones that find out what a client likes to eat, what activities used to give them pleasure, and how they might be able to work some of that into their daily lives."
A good client-social worker relationship is one of trust — trust that the social worker always has the client's best interest at heart and trust that the older adult knows what's best for their life. While many home health agencies offer these services as additional add-ons, COHME provides clinical social workers at no extra charge just for this reason — because individualized care is the best care.
“The COHME social worker works with clients and their families to develop an individualized care plan,” says Burack-Weiss. "How they feel about their care is just as important as the care they need."