The Growing Need for Geriatric Social Work

Silhouette of a woman aging against a green background.

Approximately 70 million Americans will be over age 65 by 2030, up from 35 million in 2000, the U.S. Administration on Aging predicts. Older adults will represent 19 percent of the population in 2030. With individuals in the baby boomer generation reaching age 65 and life expectancy increasing, the United States is undergoing a large-scale demographic shift, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) explains. The changes open up career opportunities for those with a passion for working with the elderly.

The continued growth of the older adult population means that social workers with expertise in geriatrics play a more important role than ever before, and creates “an unprecedented demand for aging related programs, policies and services,” the NASW reports. Especially for individuals over the age of 85, more assistance and access to social services are required for the elderly to remain active and independent. For those interested in pursuing a social work career, geriatric social work represents an opportunity to make a difference where the need is great.

About Geriatric Social Work

The central responsibility of geriatric social work is to improve the quality of life for older adult clients. Social workers take a holistic approach, meeting the biopsychosocial needs of their clients. This can include addressing the physical effects of aging, mental health issues and other challenges older adults face.

Because the health care and social services systems are complex, social workers are an invaluable resource when it comes to gathering information and navigating access to care. In some cases, geriatric social work involves counseling clients. Social workers help their clients navigate the process of applying for services and addressing any roadblocks that arise along the way. Another important aspect of geriatric social work is advocacy. For example, geriatric social workers are a frontline defense for stopping elder abuse, according to eCaring.

Often, geriatric social work incorporates entire families to determine the level of care an older adult requires, especially in terms of living situation: Different individuals may require full-time care, assisted living or may be able to continue living on their own. To do this, geriatric social workers assess their clients’ functional capacity, identifying normal and abnormal aging processes. Because older adults are at risk for experiencing depression and anxiety, it is important that geriatric social workers have an understanding of mental health interventions. In addition, geriatric social workers help their clients overcome other issues that are specific to the aging population. For example, financial problems may result from living on a fixed income, and finding social activities may be difficult for clients who live alone.

Job Details

Geriatric social work has strong career growth potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 12 percent growth in jobs for social workers by 2024, a rate that is much faster than the average for all occupations. The greatest growth (19 percent) is expected to be in the health care arena, with the aging of the baby boomer generation cited as a contributing factor. In terms of salary, social workers can expect to earn a median annual wage of $45,900 per year, depending on geographic region and place of employment. Social workers in health care earn an average of $52,380 annually.

Practice settings in geriatric social work may include:

  • Referral centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Outpatient facilities
  • Government agencies
  • Faith-based organizations

Education requirements for geriatric social work are no different than for other social work specializations. For entry-level aide and assistant positions, a bachelor’s degree is required; however, most advanced positions require master’s-level education. All graduate social work programs require a supervised practicum or internship. In addition, most states require licensure before social workers can legally practice. Specific requirements vary by state. You can find complete information about licensure in Kentucky here. The NASW offers three credentials specific to elderly clients: social worker in gerontology, clinical social worker in gerontology and advanced social worker in gerontology.

Social Work Education at BUonline

A successful career as a geriatric social worker starts with a strong foundation. Earning a bachelor’s degree in social work is an ideal starting point and prepares you for master’s-level study in the future. Brescia University offers social work education that develops your skills in key areas like policy, ethics, psychology, research and more. We currently have a fully online Bachelor of Social Work degree program for those beginning their education. Starting this fall, Brescia will offer an online Master of Social Work degree for professionals looking to continue study in social work. You can learn more about BUonline’s comprehensive social work education offerings here.