In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Aging

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Guidebooks
  • Journals
  • Demographics
  • Health
  • Mental Health
  • Informal Social Supports
  • Family Caregiving
  • Intervention Effectiveness Research
  • Public Policy

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Social Work Aging
Nancy R. Hooyman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0069


The rapid growth of the older population nationally and globally means that nearly all social workers will interact with older adults and their families, regardless of practice setting. Given this, it can be argued that all social workers need foundation gerontological competencies and content. Gerontology—the study of aging—is a complex, multidisciplinary, and dramatically changing field with a growing evidence base about the social, psychological, and physiological changes associated with aging and the salient practice interventions and policy implications for social workers and allied disciplines. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of aging, gerontological social workers, perhaps more than those in other fields of practice, must be knowledgeable about research on aging by disparate health care professions, psychology, sociology, environmental design, and anthropology. Gerontological social work is practiced in a wide range of community-based and institutional settings with active, healthy elders and with those who face chronic illness and disability. Leadership roles for gerontological social workers are emerging within the context of new initiatives, such as civic engagement and health enhancement. Because informal caregivers are central to the care of elders, social workers must also be competent in supporting families of older adults. Toward that end, there is a growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of social work interventions with older adults and their families or other informal caregivers. This entry reflects the broad scope of issues associated with aging and older adults. Although aging is a global phenomenon, the focus here is on evidence-based resources primarily in the United States.

Introductory Works

Many excellent textbooks provide a foundation for knowledge about aging, older adults and their families, and practice and policy interventions. What the reader will learn from them is the complexity of issues that people face as they age, the heterogeneity and diversity of the older population nationally and globally, the economic and health needs faced by subpopulations of elders who have been historically underserved, and the wide range of practice and policy approaches. Berkman 2003 provides a comprehensive overview of gerontological social work in health and long-term care settings. Among the practice texts, McInnis-Dittrich 2005 is most widely used for direct practice, while Richardson and Barusch 2006 includes more macro practice content. Cummings and Kropf 2008 is the most recent text on evidence-based interventions. Greene, et al. 2007 and Tompkins and Rosen 2007 address a competency-based approach to gerontological social work practice, with Greene, et al. 2007 linking content to widely utilized foundation and advanced geriatric social work competencies. Hooyman and Kiyak 2008, a social gerontology text widely used for over two decades, includes multidisciplinary content on the biological, psychological, and social changes of aging along with implications for policy.

  • Berkman, Barbara, ed. 2003. Social work and health care in an aging society: Education, policy, practice, and research. New York: Springer.

    Presents multiple points of intersection between aging and physical and mental health and social work. Chapters examine race and culture in social work practice with elders as well as topics related to developmental disabilities, dementia, and informal caregivers of elders.

  • Cummings, Sherry M., and Nancy P. Kropf, eds. 2008. Handbook of psychosocial interventions with older adults: Evidence-based approaches. New York: Haworth.

    Reviews evidence-based interventions with older adults across a variety of physical and mental health conditions and caregiving relationships. Makes a significant contribution to evidence-based practice by highlighting the current empirical literature as the foundation for evaluating intervention research for clinical care.

  • Greene, Roberta R., H. L. Cohen, C. M. Galambos, and Nancy P. Kropf. 2007. Foundations of social work practice in the field of aging: A competency-based approach. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

    Distinctive for its competency-based approach. Addresses social work practice with older adults, theories of aging and practice, interventions with diverse older adults, and values and ethics. It examines organizational changes, macro perspectives on community building, and policy practice related to advocacy for older adults. It is the first practice text to weave geriatric social work competencies related to assessment, interventions, group work, and case management throughout.

  • Hooyman, Nancy R., and H. Asuman Kiyak. 2008. Social gerontology: A multidisciplinary perspective. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

    Comprehensive and cross-disciplinary, it addresses physical and cognitive changes, health care, and the social context of aging, including family caregiving and social support. Additional topics include employment, productivity, and civic engagement; love, intimacy, and sexuality; death, dying, and bereavement; and the resilience of elders of color and women. Concluding chapters examine salient social and health policies and programs. Useful to both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • McInnis-Dittrich, Kathleen. 2005. Social work with elders: A biopsychosocial approach to assessment and intervention. Boston: Pearson, Allyn, and Bacon.

    Widely utilized by direct practice instructors for over a decade, it gives an overview of the context of social work practice with older adults, including theories of aging and biological and psychosocial issues. Assessment, diagnosis, and intervention skills are discussed. Key practice skills are addressed pertaining to socioemotional and cognitive problems, elder abuse and neglect, support systems, addictions, spirituality, group work, and end-of-life care and bereavement.

  • Richardson, Virginia E., and Amanda S. Barusch. 2006. Gerontological practice for the twenty-first century: A social work perspective. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Targets social work students and professionals interested in both direct and macro practice with older adults. Theories of aging and practice, demographic realities, common psychological problems, family and work issues, and the sociopolitical context that impacts older adults are addressed. Case examples illustrate empirically based interventions at micro and macro practice levels.

  • Tompkins, Catherine J., and Anita L. Rosen, eds. 2007. Fostering social work gerontology competence: A collection of papers from the first National Gerontological Social Work Conference. New York: Haworth.

    Includes articles from a national conference on teaching, research, community collaboration, and gerontological social work competencies as well as social work practice with older adults in a variety of practice settings. Articles address culturally competent practice, religion and spirituality, grief and end-of-life care, mental health practice, and macro and research social work practice.

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