Social Work Week: Our aging population and the “Retirement Community” concept.

Last week was “Social Work Week” in Canada and I thought this post from Jen Beninato, a social service worker and MemoryPlus Manager for Delmanor Elgin Mills Retirement Residence, would be appropriate to help mark that week.


The global population is aging at an accelerated rate. In 1950, just over 5% of the world’s population was 65 years or older. By 2006, that number had jumped to 8%. By 2030, experts anticipate that older adults will comprise 13% of the total population—one in eight people will be 65 or older[1]. Seniors are also living longer, therefore coordinating care with seniors and their families and complicated service networks is vital. With this in mind, more and more seniors are making the decision to move into a retirement community. Seniors are unique and can have a multitude of challenges throughout their life that don’t resolve once they set foot through the door of their new home.

Some of the challenges older adults and seniors face include depression, isolation, addictions and poor coping skills when faced with failing health and mobility. Where do the staff and Residents turn when they are faced with family dynamics, need service navigation and access to resources? Social Workers and Social Service Workers play a significant role in the provision of care. They set the stage for an ongoing relationship, provide a contact that Residents, families and staff can turn to for assistance. They act as the advocate and assist Residents in dealing with personal and social problems by delivering counselling, community services and social support[2] (Social Workers or Social Service Workers who are specifically trained and educated in the challenged seniors face can act alone, or with members of the interdisciplinary team, to advocate for services that promote health and wellbeing, while maintaining the Residents dignity and autonomy). Social Workers and Social Service Workers can also work with staff to develop strategies to ensure the resident has optimal quality of life. Social Workers/Social Service Workers play a key role in the care planning for residents. Their feedback is vital in ensuring residents are being treated with dignity and respect. With this being said, why are so many retirement communities lacking a Social Worker/Social Service Worker on their teams?

The concept of a Retirement Community has evolved in the recent years. When the general population envisions a retirement community, they picture a group of seniors who are perfectly healthy, but were lonely in their own homes and seeking like- minded people. Currently, older adults and seniors are facing more and more challenges that require the expertise of a specially trained Social Worker/Social Service Worker. Families are also facing challenges as their parent or loved one moves into the next chapter of their life. Families are often left with feelings of fear, anxiety and confusion on how to best support their loved one. The SW/SSW can provide the space for families to talk through their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

While not as common in retirement as in Long Term Care, ethical issues can arise which cause feelings of discomfort for many staff. Having a Social Worker/Social Service Worker on site to help staff work through an ethical framework can help ease discomfort and provide support to conflicted staff.

Service navigation can also act as a challenge for staff in a retirement community. Social Workers/Social Service Workers play a vital role in building relationships with key stakeholders in the community. It is often left to the Health and Wellness manager to coordinate with CCAC and other outside agencies for services on behalf of the resident. Having a Social Worker/Social Service Worker on site for this purpose can allow the Health and Wellness Manager to focus on other tasks, while still remaining involved in the care/discharge planning of the resident.

By not having a Social Worker/Social Service Worker as a part of the leadership team in a Retirement setting, both Residents and Staff are missing out on a vital part of their overall wellbeing. The passion and dedication a Social Worker/Social Service Worker demonstrates is one that cannot be replicated.

Content by: Jen Beninato MemoryPlus Manager

80 Elgin Mills Road E.

Richmond Hill, ON  L4C 0L3

Phone:    905.770.7963
Fax:         905.737.7446
Email:      jbeninato@delmanor.com
Web:        www.delmanor.com

[1] Lopez, A.D., Mathers, C.D., Ezzati, M., Jamison, D.T., & Murray, C.J.L. (Eds.) (2006). Global Burden of Disease and Risk Factors. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from www.dcp2.org/pubs/GBD

[2] What is a Social Service Worker? www.ocswssw.org/about-us/about-ssw

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