Carole B. Cox
Dementia is not a disease, but a group of symptoms so severe that they inhibit normal functioning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia in older persons impacting not only the person with the illness but the entire family. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is essential in order to assure appropriate and timely care and to exclude reversible causes of dementia. Social workers can play key roles throughout the course of the illness as educators, therapists, supporter and advocates for improved policies and services.
Lois F. Cowles
Social work in health care emerged with immigration and urbanization associated with industrialization, and the resultant shift from physician visits to the patient's home and workplace to hospital-centered care. This change is alleged to have resulted in a loss of the doctor's perspective of the psychosocial influences on physical health. Originally, some nurses were assigned the function of addressing this loss. But eventually, the function became recognized as that of a social worker. From its beginnings in the general hospital setting in the late 1800s, social work in health care, that is, medical social work, has expanded into multiple settings of health care, and the role of the social worker from being a nurse to requiring a Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) from a university. However, the broad function of social work in health care remains much the same, that is, “to remove the obstacles in the patient's surroundings or in his mental attitude that interfere with successful treatment, thus freeing him to aid in his own recovery” (Cannon, 1923. p 15). Health care social workers are trained to work across the range of “methods,” that is, work with individuals, small groups, and communities (social work “methods” are called “casework”, “group work” and “community organization”). They work to assist the patient, using a broad range of interventions, including, when indicated, speaking on behalf of the client (advocacy), helping clients to assert themselves, to modify undesirable behaviors, to link with needed resources, to face their challenges, to cope with crises, to develop improved understanding of their health-related thought processes and habits, to build needed self confidence to do what is required to help themselves deal with their health problem, to gain insight and support from others who are in a similar situation, to gain strength from humor, or from a supportive environment, and through spiritual experience, and from practicing tasks that are needed to deal with their health-related problems or from joining forces with others in the community to modify it in the interest of improved health status for all, or to gradually restore a sense of stability and normalcy after a traumatic experience. Most important of all, perhaps, is the “helping relationship” between client and social worker, which needs to be one of total understanding and acceptance of the client as a person. A sizable portion of the U.S. population lacks financial access to health care, where health care is regarded as a privilege rather than a right, as it is seen in all other industrial nations (except South Africa). Current trends in the U.S. health care system reflect efforts to control rising health care costs without dealing with the “real problems,” which are: (1) the lack of a single-payer health care system and: (2) the lack of focus on “public health.”