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UofGH Cool Classes: Social Work Practice with Older Adults

Why is this course interesting?

The number of Canadians who are 65 and older is quickly growing. “Social Work Practice with Older Adults” gives students the knowledge and skills to work with the aging population.

The course, taught by Community Social Services Assistant Program Head Olivia Boukydis, provides insight into a demographic that can often be misunderstood. “I really try to delve into certain aspects of the aging experience to give students an opportunity to see that, in terms of social work practice, there’s so much more to that population than I think many people realize,” Boukydis explained.

Boukydis, who is a graduate of the CSS program, has nearly a decade of experience working in long-term care. To develop the course, Boukydis combined her past experience at UofGH with her clinical expertise.

“I'm able to tap into my experiences as a student and my experiences as a clinician,” Boukydis noted, “and marry those two to try to create content that is interesting and that is relevant.”

What will you learn?

The course provides a holistic view of older adults and examines how to meet their unique needs. Each week, students focus on a specific issue that older adults face. This includes emotional and cognitive conditions, such as depression and dementia, as well as broader social issues like substance misuse, elder abuse, death and bereavement. The course explores both sociological issues and biological changes associated with aging.

“When you think about the older adult population, you don't often think about something like substance misuse or how comfortable we are talking about death,” Boukydis said. “The idea is to provide students with a holistic viewpoint of it and a foundational understanding of what it means to work with that population.”

Students also get the opportunity to take a deep dive into a specific diagnosis or condition through creating an information guide for caregivers.

“They develop a guide that would be provided to caregivers in terms of not only how to manage and cope with a particular condition, but what sort of tools those caregivers can use to manage their own well-being and to practice their own self-care, which is a really big part of gerontological social work,” explained Boukydis.

What will you take away?

Boukydis hopes that students will leave the course with a new understanding about working with the older adult population.

“My biggest objective is that students can walk away from the course feeling like they have a different perspective,” Boukydis said. “I know I'm not going to convert every student to want to work with older adults, but I want them to at least look at the older adult population differently.”

Students can expect to gain a deeper understanding of gerontology and dismantle misconceptions about what it is like to work in the field.

“When people think of older adults, they think of lovely, charming people playing euchre and bingo and telling great stories. That's certainly a part of it but in no way is that all of it,” Boukydis emphasized. “In terms of the role that social workers or social service workers have, it's not just about facilitating activities. There's so much more to it.”

Boukydis added, “By the time the 12 weeks is up, students are given a set of tools to build the foundation for what it would take to work with that population.”