Population aging is dramatically altering individual lives, family relations, and societal institutions. Yet, our communities and social support structures have not kept pace with this demographic shift. For the most part, physical and social environments still are designed for a highly mobile society, comprised primarily of young families. Moreover, social programs and practice models for meeting the needs of older adults are based on attitudes and realities from an earlier time.
Social work has an important role to play in fostering changes in physical and social environments that promote unnecessary disability, dependence, and social isolation. Perhaps more importantly, social work can help to develop social programs that promote physical, psychological, social, and spiritual well-being, enabling older adults to continue to grow and flourish even when dealing with health and social challenges. We especially need to develop new social work practice models that engage older adults as active solution partners rather than only as sources of problems. Emerging consumer-based innovations (e.g., the Village model) provide but one example.