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Introduction to Social Issues in Older Adults


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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Social issues influence an older 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

  • Social network (number and quality of routine social contacts)

  • Work history

  • Education

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

  • Need for, availability, and ability of caregivers (to help plan and/or provide 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)

  • Worries or stressors in daily life

  • Environmental concerns regarding home, neighborhood, transportation, or access to goods and services

  • Financial status

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Effects of Life Transitions on Older Adults
Retirement is often the first major transition faced by older adults. Effects of retirement on physical and mental health vary from person to person. Approximately what fraction of retirees have difficulty adjusting to aspects of retiring such as reduced income and altered social arrangements?
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