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Working with the Elderly: More Options than Ever

America’s population is aging, and the number of elderly citizens is increasing every year. In fact, by some estimates, within the next 20 years, at least 20 percent of the U.S population will be over age 65.

While some politicians and pundits predict that this massive increase in the numbers of elderly people spells disaster for programs such as Social Security and Medicare, if you’re considering a career in social or human services, this population increase is actually good news.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in the human and social services sectors, particularly in the areas of elder care and services, are expected to grow at a faster than average rate for the next decade; by some accounts, the number of jobs could increase by almost 30 percent by 2018. What this means for you is that choosing to earn your master’s in human services could lead to a wide array of career options.

Direct Client Care

In most cases, those who have earned a master’s degree in a social services related field work in direct client care situations, often as counselors or clinical social workers. Services are offered in a variety of settings; for example, a social worker might work in an assisted living or nursing facility, working with clients to determine the level of services the patient needs, manage the issues that come along with aging and providing support and guidance to family members of the resident or patient.

Case workers or managers often fall into the category of direct service providers as well. For example, when an older person falls and breaks a hip, a hospital case worker will work with the patient and his or her family to coordinate care, follow-up treatment and any services, such as visiting nurses, that the patient needs. A case worker will also help the patient return home if possible, by helping coordinate adjustments to the home environment to ensure safety, or recommending an inpatient facility where the patient can recover.

In some cases, a counselor or case worker might work in a more informal or outpatient setting, such as with an agency on aging, where they provide counseling services or help seniors access the services that they need. For example, a case worker might work with an elderly person to help them navigate Medicare, or access benefits and services that they are entitled to receive.

Those who work with the elderly may also choose to earn a master of public health online while they work with the aged, as understanding the principles and practices of public health are useful in delivering services to the elderly. For example, a public health professional might provide education to clients about proper nutrition, safety or disease prevention; in some cases, they might even deliver necessary care such as vaccines or wellness checks.

Advocacy

As we age, our need for services increases – as does our need for protection and advocacy when it comes to changes in policy and the development of programs designed to meet our needs. Senior citizens need advocates, whether it’s helping ensure that funding for programs like “Meals on Wheels” continues or educating and protecting the elderly from those who would take advantage of them. With a degree in human services, you’ll have the necessary skills to serve as an advocate, ensuring that this vulnerable population has what they need to live out their Golden Years in comfort and safety.

Management

With so many organizations turning their attention to the needs of the elderly, it’s important to have trained professionals, who understand the issues facing the older population and the principles of human services, in management roles. With a degree in human services, you could work as a director or manager of an agency that provides services, or in a marketing or administrative role, such as communications, development, research or client care.

Obviously, not every senior citizen needs every service that’s available to them – and some need more services than any single agency or provider can offer. However, by focusing your studies on social services or public health, you can play an important role in caring for the older generations – and leave a lasting legacy for those generations to come.

 

 

Rhonda Schellinger holds a Master’s in Social Services. Raised by her grandmother, she has a passion for working with the elderly. She currently owns a small agency that advocates for low-income seniors in her state, and helps them access housing, medical care, food and transportation.

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