Although rates of Covid-19 infection are lower for older adults, the mortality rates are higher than all other ages. While the health challenges are evident, the mental health effects of the pandemic are less evident. The term “compassionate ageism” has been used to describe protection of all older adults as vulnerable groups, however it overlooks individual factors that may mitigate risk and enhance mental health aspects of coping with the realities of the pandemic. Isolation and separation from families and once enjoyed activities, whether residing in their own homes or long-term care facilities, has taken an immeasurable physical and mental health toll on older adults. Safety and security for mental health as well as physical health must be considered in any strategy to try mitigate the effects on the quality of life of older adults during this critical time in our history.
Palliative care services worldwide continue to grow, primarily in response to a human rights approach and to respond to the aging of the population, increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses and cancer mortality. While there is recognition in the WHO definition of palliative care that not only physical, but also psychological, social and spiritual aspects of care must be part of services provided, how these are addressed varies greatly by country and region of the world.
In the U.S., social work services are mandated to be provided by hospice organizations seeking funding from Medicare (governmental insurance for people over age 65) and supports the tenets of the palliative care philosophy to provide person-centered holistic care. The role of palliative and hospice social workers is highly aligned with the values of the profession centered on the dignity and worth of all humans and the commitment to improving quality of life throughout life and especially at the end of life. Older adults make up the overwhelming majority of hospice recipients in the U.S. and attention to their daily needs and those of the family caregivers is essential to maximize quality of life.
This presentation will focus on the roles of social workers in the U.S., particularly with older adults, in various palliative care settings and how this may compare to roles across the globe.