Aging populations face unique challenges, as their biopsychosocial needs change over time. The aging often have complex medical needs and care requirements, and face the risk of increasing social isolation and diminishing independence as they enter the end of the life course. In the United States, the aging population is growing due to a combination of medical advancements that prolong life and the large percentage of the population born in the Baby Boomer generation who are now entering retirement and beyond.
Social Workers Improving Life for the Aging
This combination of circumstances makes improving life for the aging one of the difficult but important tasks the field of social work must tackle. For many, making significant changes in the way our society responds to an aging population seems like an overwhelming task with no clear starting point. But these five social workers have dedicated their careers to this challenge, finding innovative and adaptable solutions to the problems facing aging populations that result in marked improvement in their lives at this crucial time period near the end of life.
- Rose Dobrof – Pioneering social worker Rose Dobrof is considered the founder of the field of gerontological social work. Throughout her career as an educator, researcher, and policy advocate, Dobrof’s work centered on social work services for the elderly. Among her many accomplishments, Dobrof was the Founder and Editor of the Journal of Gerontological Social Work, a presidential appointee to the White House Conference on Aging and the Federal Council of Aging, and a committee member of National Institute of Aging’s Advisory Committee. She authored many books and journal articles related to care for the aging, and was an invaluable mentor for the next generation of gerontological social workers. Dobrof received the NASW’s Outstanding Achievement Award in Health and Mental Health Policy in recognition of her work in 2002, and the Brookdale Foundation Group has named an award in her honor.
- Joan Ditzion – Renowned author of the ground-breaking 1970’s book on women’s reproductive and sexual health Our Bodies, Ourselves, Joan Ditzion has been a clinical geriatric social worker since her internship experience in the geriatric unit of a hospital in 1985. Uniting her main passions, Ditzion’s work focuses on women’s health and aging, and she has dedicated her career to fighting to end sexism and ageism. In her own words, Ditzion says we “need to support well being and quality of life for all so that we can all age with courage, passion and purpose.” Ditzion was awarded the Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award from the NASW for “her decades of work advocating for gender equity and the humans right of women, especially women who are older adults.”
- Cernoria McGowan-Johnson – A graduate of the Atlanta School of Social Work, Cernoria McGowan-Johnson is nationally known for her work as Director of the Washington Urban League and her dedication to improving nursing home care. McGowan-Johnson was a member of the White House Conference on Aging and the National Advisory Council on Older Americans and a special consultant to the Commissioner of Aging, Arthur Fleming, in the early 1970s. Amongst other responsibilities, McGowan-Johnson set up the national program of Nursing Home Ombudsmen, developing policy and program guides and establishing an Office of Aging in each state. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has established an award in her honor in recognition of her exemplary work with the aging across the nation.
- Alejandro Garcia – Dr. Alejandro Garcia is an educator, researcher, and policy advocate whose work has focused on social policy and aging, with a focus on Hispanic populations. Early in his career, Garcia held positions with the National Association of Social Workers, and then joined the faculty of Syracuse University where he served as chair of the Gerontology Concentration and has taught for more than 35 years. Amongst his many roles in which he has advocated for policies to improve the lives of the elderly, Garcia has served as chair of the board of directors of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, delegate to the 1981 and 1995 White House Conferences on Aging, member of the National Committee on the Aged, Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, and Chair of the National Policy Council of AARP. Garcia has received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including the Daniel and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award in 2013, and the Special Recognition Award from the National Hispanic Council on Aging in 2008 for “outstanding leadership and advocacy on behalf of older adults.”
- Mercedes Bern-Klug – An expert in gerontological social work, Mercedes Bern-Klug has been a staunch advocate for policy changes that strengthen social service delivery and improve quality of life for older individuals, especially those in nursing homes. Her book, Transforming Palliative Care in Nursing Homes: The Social Work Role, was the first of its kind in the field of gerontological social work and has transformed social work education and training in this area. In addition to her policy advocacy and scholarship, Bern-Klug spent 12 years facilitating Alzheimer’s support groups, and is Director of the University of Iowa’s Aging Studies Program, amongst other roles. In 2016, Mercedes Bern-Klug was awarded the Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award from the NASW for “her nationally known work in improving care for people who are aging or at the end of their lives.”
If you are interested in reading more about the different populations social workers serve, click here.