Assessing Capacity of At-Risk Older Adults Can be Challenging

Paul R. Pace

book cover of Empowering Social Workers for Practice with Vulnerable Older Adults

Social workers are frequently the first responders in situations that require assessment of an older person’s capacity for independent decision-making and self-care, yet there is limited professional literature to inform and guide social work practice in the area of assessing capacity and working with vulnerable and at-risk older adults.

The NASW Press book, Empowering Social Workers for Practice with Vulnerable Older Adults by Barbara Soniat and Monica Melady Micklos, teaches the generalist social worker how to work with vulnerable older adults. It presents a valuable model to guide social workers in assessing capacity and making intervention decisions.

The authors explain that social workers sometimes face challenging situations when the vulnerable older adult they are prepared to assist does not want help and refuses offered intervention and services. This can leave a social worker feeling frustrated, professionally inadequate, and with great concern for the well-being of the older adult. Social workers often experience internal and external pressure to “do something” from their own value system, the referral source, or others in the older adults’ network. Feeling frustration that one will have to “wait for the next crisis” before intervening is common.

The text addresses the emerging practice in geriatric social work — the assessment of capacity — and promotes the “person-in-environment” perspective, which is well suited to this area of practice.

The authors note that their book makes an excellent and timely graduate text, not only for specialized courses in geriatrics and gerontology but also in core coursework to infuse content related to older adults into the social work curricula. In addition, the book will be a tremendous resource for practitioners in continuing education and certificate programs, educational initiatives for establishing core competencies in geriatric social work, and compliance training for state Adult Protective Service workers.

The book also is relevant for other professionals outside of the social work profession who work with older adults, such as physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, and attorneys.

NASW Press books are available in eBook and print formats at

cover of October / November 2023 issue

Social Work Advocates Flipbook

NASW members, sign in to read the October / November 2023 issue as a flipbook