Abstract: Older Adults As Assets to the Aasw & Sw's Grand Challenges (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Older Adults As Assets to the Aasw & Sw's Grand Challenges

Friday, January 18, 2019: 11:15 AM
Continental Parlor 8, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Ernest Gonzales, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University
The potential of older adults is often underutilized because of ageist assumptions of functional decline and social disengagement. Productive aging views older adults from a strengths-based approach and calls for organizations to increase their capacity to engage and support older adults. This perspective views older adults as part of the solution to many societal challenges and posits positive outcomes for individual older adults, families, communities and society as a whole. The only AASWSW Grand Challenge focusing specifically on older adults, “Advancing Long, Healthy, and Productive Lives,” argues that we must confront outdated attitudes and engage in innovations of programs and policies to optimize the involvement of older adults in paid and unpaid work, including employment, formal and informal volunteering and caregiving. In this symposium, we apply a critical gerontological lens to explore three themes: (1) older adults as key collaborators to interventions in the non-profit and public sector aimed at the amelioration of social problems; (2) productive activities themselves being antidotes to other grand challenges; and (3) how advancement of some grand challenges can positively affect productive engagement in later life.

Older Adults as Collaborators. Older adults can be part of the solution to many of the grand challenges. Examples include: older adults serve as mentors, coaches, foster grandparents and help to advance the grand challenge on “Ensure healthy development for all youth.” Older adults can serve as mentors and coaches as people transition out of prison or as volunteers in prison to “Promote Smart Decarceration.” Older adults can be recruited as community health workers, given high levels of trust and long histories in their neighborhoods, and help to “Close the Health Gap.”

Productive Activities as Antidote. As some of the grand challenges focus on equity and social involvement for all, productive activities are a recognized way to improve these outcomes for older adults. Examples include civic engagement and employment in later life as pathways to improved social capital and reduced social isolation. Working longer improves economic security for older adults and their families and directly tied to the grand challenge on “Build Financial Capability for All.”

Advancements in Grand Challenges Facilitate Productive Engagement. Finally, older adults are likely to benefit from advances with “Harness Technology for social good” (use of telework, smart devices for health and social engagement). The grand challenge on “Reducing extreme economic inequality” shares theoretical orientations with cumulative inequality, an important concept to productive aging scholarship.

Conclusion and Implications. We conclude with implications for cross-fertilization of Advancing Long, Healthy and Productive Lives with all the other grand challenges; and provide ideas about how gerontological social work scholars can bring these cross-cutting perspectives to their colleagues working on the other grand challenges to build new research teams. We will also share education and research strategies to further this cross-fertilization which include a clearer articulation of a life course perspective and a commitment to intergenerational and multigenerational solutions.