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Introduction to Social Issues in the Elderly

By Daniel B. Kaplan, PhD, LICSW, Assistant Professor, Adelphi University School of Social Work
Barbara J. Berkman, DSW, PhD, Helen Rehr/Ruth Fitzdale Professor Emerita, Columbia University School of Social Work

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Patient Education

Social issues influence an elderly person’s risk and experience of illness as well as a health care practitioner’s ability to deliver timely and appropriate care.

A social history helps members of the interdisciplinary team evaluate care needs and social supports. It should include questions about the following:

  • Family and marital or companion status

  • Living arrangements

  • Financial status

  • Work history

  • Education

  • Typical daily activities (eg, how meals are prepared, what activities add meaning to life, where problems may be occurring)

  • Need for and availability of caregivers (to help plan care)

  • History of trauma, losses, and coping strengths

  • History of substance use and legal issues

  • Patients’ own caregiving responsibilities (which may make patients reluctant to report their own symptoms lest their symptoms or any resulting interventions interfere with caregiving)