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Introduction to Social Issues Affecting Older People


Daniel B. Kaplan

, PhD, LICSW, Adelphi University School of Social Work;

Barbara J. Berkman

, DSW, PhD, Columbia University School of Social Work

Last full review/revision Mar 2021| Content last modified Mar 2021
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With aging, the ability to do daily activities (functional ability) declines to some degree in every person. Also, older people, on average, tend to have more disorders and disabilities than do younger people. But the changes that accompany aging are more than just changes in health. Social issues (such as living arrangements or type of daily activities) influence an older person's risk and experience of illness.

Doctors often do what is called a social history to help them and other members of the health care team evaluate a person's care needs and social support. Doctors use the social history to help the older person and any caregivers make plans for care. Doctors may ask questions about the following:

  • Familial and marital or companion status

  • Living arrangements

  • Financial status

  • Work history

  • Education

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

  • Need for and availability of caregivers

  • History of losses, traumas (for example, patterns of family violence, episodes of sexual assault, or lifetimes of racial oppression), and the coping strengths borne out of adversity

  • History of substance use and legal issues

  • The older person's own caregiving responsibilities (because older people who are caring for family members may be reluctant to report their own symptoms lest any resulting medical procedures or hospitalization interfere with caregiving)

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Continuity of Care
Regular communication among all members of an individual’s health care team is important for optimum care of the individual. For which of the following groups is continuity of care a particular challenge?
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