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What is a Medical Social Worker?

How can a Medical Social Worker benefit family in caring for the elderly patient?

Old age is a major risk factor for many non-communicable diseases. Asides the health complications that are popular among the elderly, functional disabilities also remain a major challenge. The body is generally not as strong as before and many veterans find it difficult to carry out tasks they would normally regard as routine. These individuals usually require all the medical help they can get, especially those that are homebound.

According to Medicare, homebound individuals are those that can leave their homes ‘’only with great difficulty and for absences that are infrequent or of short duration.’’ A Visiting Doctor’s Program (MSVD) was initiated to take care of homebound individuals and what started as a small team of doctors is now a comprehensive healthcare team that comprises nurses, physicians, administrators and social workers. Here is an exposition on the roles played by medical social workers in caring for elderly patients.

Psychosocial assessments

Right from the initial contact with a physician or on admission into a special home for the elderly, there is a need to conduct a comprehensive assessment and identify the needs of a geriatric patient. Social workers are all important at this stage as they have the needed communication skills to establish trust and rapport and open the communication line between the patient and the caregiver. Psychosocial assessments seek to evaluate an individual's social, biological, psychological and physiological needs. At the conclusion of the assessment, medical social workers share their findings with the interdisciplinary team and make recommendations that would inform the subsequent approach to care by the team.

The psychosocial assessments are not only restricted to the first appointments. As care progresses, reassessment exercises would be conducted to ensure the plan devised earlier is still in conformity with the patient’s needs.

Counseling

Counseling alongside other caregivers is another integral role a social worker plays in the care of geriatric patients. Numerous barriers to patient care arise with elderly patients and social workers usually serve as the bridge between other caregivers and the patient. Social workers are known to counsel geriatric patients individually and sometimes, in groups. Individual sessions are particularly important for patients with dementia and other related conditions. The group sessions are mostly for elderly patients who have just been moved into a home for the elderly. Often, they may find adjusting to the new conditions difficult and the counseling sessions are designed to ease their transitions.

Providing support from the family

Asides having direct interactions with the patient, social workers constantly interact with the family members of the elderly patient. Often, the family members may struggle with communication or find it difficult to understand the needs of patients with special conditions. Social workers serve to guide the family members on the best approaches to care and communication with this class of people. They also provide emotional support and try to define the roles of the family members in the care of the patient. Furthermore, they explain the recommendations of the healthcare team to the family members and patients alike and advise them on appropriate causes of action regarding germane issues such as restructuring the home to prevent or limit accidents, financial and medication management etc.

Education and Advocacy

Medical social workers educate family members, caregivers and other stakeholders on the rights of the elderly and their responsibilities in caring for them. They may also organize training sessions, rallies, and seminars in the hopes of creating awareness about issues bordering on the care of the elderly patients. At a higher level, social workers are responsible for advocating for the needs and rights of the elderly. When family members are about to make decisions that may be against the interest of the elderly or in cases of neglect, social workers step in and if the need warrants, they may make moves to institute legal actions in the interest of the patient.

There you have it! Above are just some of the roles played by medical social workers in helping the family members and other caregivers that work with elderly patients. You would agree these roles are critical and it won’t be an overstatement to say medical social workers have become an integral part of the healthcare team that is responsible for the care of elderly patients.

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