Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Book chapter: Arbeitsfeld alte Menschen - ein Plädoyer für die Sozialarbeit

The demographic development of the Austrian society will result in a sharp rise of the percentage of elderly and very old people. This fact is usually connected with the fear about the sustainability of the welfare systems. However, also positive effects of an ageing society can be observed: aged societies are more peaceful because they cannot afford to lose young lives in wars and aged societies also have a markedly lower crime rate, since criminal offences are a domain of young males. Unfortunately most people associate ageing with sickness and decay and the welfare state's response to ageing is dominated by health services, although only a minority of the old and very old people in Austria are actually in need of permanent care.

An alternative perspective on ageing will have to consider specific social risks connected to ageing. To react to these social risks may not need to involve expensive health care professionals, but the care of social workers. These risks are e.g. loss of social roles due to retirement and bereavement. The latter is particularly significant if there has been a long care relation between the two partners (which is evidently frequently the case), which consequently leads to the situation that the widow/er not only loses a spouse but also the role of being a care giver with all its obligations attached. Among the social risks dementia is also very likely to affect aged persons and again it could be dealt with in social work, and not just with medication as it is currently the case. The social environment can compensate for a lot of the deficits occurring with dementia.

The role of social work is twofold: prevention and coordination: to help to prevent social isolation and social deprivation by encouraging older people to organise themselves in cooperatives and community groups. In addition, social workers are needed to coordinate the fragmented care system in the interest of the care dependent and his/her family. If informal and formal care should work together this needs a lot of coordination work. Also social workers are in charge of the most vulnerable older people like homeless, migrants, alcoholics and people with dementia.

The main challenge of social workers for the elderly is the situation that an old person refuses help which s/he objectively needs; patience, empathy and respect for the individual is required in these cases.

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