AgingPro Working with Older People 101
Why work with older adults?
While working with the aging is not a profession for everyone, those suited to it will discover immense satisfaction and a multitude of rewards that go beyond anything offered by any other career.
For one thing, the work is extremely satisfying. There are opportunities for genuinely touching to someone who is at a time in their life when they may desperately need caring and understanding—especially if there are no family or able-bodied friends nearby. Your presence provides the kind of social contact that literally gives them reason to live.
From the other side, those working with the elderly continually meet fascinating people who have lived through times the world will never see again. Hearing their stories is an opportunity for creating greater understanding for you and a chance for very real healing for them.
Then there is the security and the financial possibilities in working with the aging population. Health care in general is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and elder care is one of the fastest growing segments of that field. Baby boomers are reaching the age where they increasingly need these services, for themselves or their aging parents. The need far exceeds the supply of quality caregivers and this need is only going to expand.
The opportunities are endless
If you are considering a career in caring for the aging your biggest challenge is likely to be deciding which of the many avenues will be the most gratifying for you. You can choose among a range of fields like nursing, hospice, care management, care administration, elder law, technology, and caregiving, to name a few. And there are many new options that are only now emerging.
There are two broad categories of how you can participate in this field:
• working directly with older people through a variety of programs and services in the community, and
• working on behalf of older persons, i.e. doing research, advocacy, and teaching about aging.
The objective in working in either category is to increase the quality of life as people age.
Depending on your own career objectives, you can enjoy regular work at a hospital, a non-profit agency, a university, an elder day care or residential facility, sign on with an agency that provides professionals for home care, or, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you can go into private practice.
To give you a greater sense of what is available, consider that professionals in the field of aging can choose to work in a variety of settings. These include:
• community, human service, and religious organizations
• health care and long-term care institutions;
• federal, state, and local government agencies, including the aging network (the system of service delivery to older persons established by a federal law entitled the Older American Act);
• retirement communities;
• academic and other educational and research settings;
• professional organizations; and,
• business and industry.
Some professionals work directly with older people in such activities as:
• developing programs such as health promotion, senior theater groups, or intergenerational activities for older persons in senior centers, community agencies, or retirement communities
• providing direct care to frail, ill, or impaired older persons in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, or through adult day care or home care programs
• counseling older persons and their families about issues of caregiving, employment, death and dying, or mental health
• advising older clients about estate planning and investments, financing long-term care, or housing options.
Other professionals work on behalf of, rather than directly with, the elderly, educating others, or investigating issues in the field of aging. Examples of such activities include:
• conducting research on the aging processes and diseases associated with aging such as Alzheimer's disease or osteoporosis
• analyzing issues related to older persons such as retirement opportunities, income maintenance, the health care system, and housing alternatives
• planning, administering, and evaluating community-based services and service delivery systems for older persons
• teaching courses on aging to college and university students, health care professionals, and older adults
• advocating with or on behalf of older persons before legislative bodies or in institutional settings
• designing products to meet the special interests and needs of older persons
• advising business, industry, and labor regarding older workers and consumers.
The possibilities are expanding so rapidly that what is available today is just a fraction of what will be on the horizon for you tomorrow.
If we are to be successful in addressing the challenges presented by an aging population and creating a society where the needs of older people are met, then quality professionals must be attracted, and retained, who are genuinely interested in working in the field of elder care and advocacy. Are you prepared to be among them?
Where do you start?
The first step is to get a sense of what is available in the field of aging that you think might appeal to you. Then you can either volunteer to get hands-on experience working with older people, or you might check out a class in aging to see what you can learn.
The AgingPro Directory can also give you a sense of the range of career opportunities that are available, and can direct you to professionals in your area who may be willing to answer your questions.
Here are some specific ways for you to find out more about the types of opportunities in the field of aging:
• Take an introductory gerontology course.
• Talk to people who are working in the field of aging. Ask them why they chose this field, what they do, and how they like their work.
• Volunteer in a senior center, assisted living facility or a nursing home.
• Read more about careers in aging
• Read publications in the field of aging such as The Gerontologist, published by the Gerontological Society of America; Generations, published by the American Society on Aging; and Networks, published by the National Council on the Aging.
• Find out about events you might attend presented by local colleges and universities.
• Attend meetings of regional, state, or national professional organizations where professionals and students in the field present papers and discuss important issues. The journals and newsletters of these organizations include calendars of such events.
• Many professional organizations -- such as the American Counseling Association, National Association of Social Workers, American Public Health Association, American Occupational Therapy Association, American Anthropological Association, American Psychological Association, and American Sociological Association -- have sections on aging that publish newsletters and/or sponsor sessions at their annual meetings.
• Get more information from government agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the National Institute on Aging which publish a variety of interesting demographic profiles and other information about the older population and its subgroups.
• Contact your State Unit or Area Agency on Aging about what meetings or publications might be available concerning local programs and activities for older adults.
• Write or call some of these national aging organizations
Whatever method(s) you choose to use to investigate the growing eldercare field, it won’t take long to determine whether you are among those who find their passion kindled by the caring opportunities available in working with the elderly.
We want to acknowledge Careers In Aging (www.careersinaging.com) where we found many good ideas included in this section.