Friday, January 18, 2019: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Continental Parlor 8, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
Cluster: Aging Services and Gerontology (A&G)
Tam Perry, PhD, Wayne State University
Ruth Dunkle, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Since the launch of the Grand Challenges, social work researchers have united to address major social problems in our country. As these initiatives unfold, many of the challenges transcend the lifespan. Gerontological social workers fit in in all the efforts. This symposium highlights the connections between the field of gerontological social work and the Grand Challenges. Using a life course perspective we explore the ways in which these challenges are faced by some older adults. However, older adults contribute to the reduction of other challenges through intergenerational networks of care. We integrate the ways in which social workers can understand the roles of older adults and intervene to promote equity and justice across all ages. The first presenter highlights the grand challenge of social isolation faced by more than 7 million older adults in this country. Her research in subsidized housing reveals surprisingly high rates of loneliness among otherwise engaged older adults. A key point of discussion is how older adults living in congregate settings perceive themselves to be lonely though they are not socially isolated in an objective sense. How can we as social workers, working with older adults in various housing situations, improve the lives of our older clients who experience loneliness? The second presentation reports two studies which highlight the lived vulnerabilities of direct care workers, who often experience extreme economic income inequality and lack equal opportunities in terms of career ladders. In addition to the these challenges, direct care workers who care for older adults and other low-wage laborers are often powerless within their professional settings. Through their work they reduce social isolation for older adults and for some older adults, are key figures in their end stages of life. Their important roles must be acknowledged by advocating for their needs. The third study highlights the contributions of older adults who may be overlooked when agencies and long-term care facilities engage older adults. Older adults with cognitive impairment continued volunteering, with significant physical and mental health outcomes. With almost 10% of the US older population facing challenges of cognitive impairment, this study highlights perhaps an overarching theme of all the Grand Challenges, how to truly engage persons viewed as vulnerable. Building on the social work values of a strengths based perspective, the final presentation argues that productive activities by older adults such as volunteering, employment and caregiving, should be recognized for their contributions to their communities. The authors connect older adults' contributions to most of the other grand challenges, and propose the necessity of a structural response to build organizational capacity for older adults to solve some of our greatest social problems. Our discussant will analyze the overarching themes of the presentations and highlight recommendations for enhancing the partnership between gerontological social work and the larger field.
* noted as presenting author
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