The changes and sensations inherent in the process of aging, their subjective interpretation by the individual, and the internalization of societal conceptions about aging are liable to impose severe pressures upon the aging individual. In geriatrics, the role of working in small groups is to support aging people, promote healthy lifestyles and help them to cope with diseases. Health problems of the elderly are perceived to be central determinants of age-related regression, and, consequently, medicine is believed to be the only competent profession for dealing with any age-related problem.
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The main types of small treatment groups used by geriatric professionals are support, educational, therapy, and socialization groups (Toseland and Rivas 2005). Working with these types of groups, geriatric professionals educate and teach aging people how to cope with mental and psychical problems and maintain a healthy lifestyle. For most of them, coping emotionally means moderating the subjectively perceived threat of demands and reducing their disturbing impact. Mental health is one of the most important components of group work and communication. The range of the psychosocial component includes the various stages in the continuum of the health-disease process: primary prevention, illness, primary and secondary care (including tertiary care), recovery, and readjustment to the normal social environment (Haight, 2005). It also encompasses the adjustment of severely incapacitated elderly persons to sheltered environments (for example, nursing homes) (Toseland and Rivas, 2005). The main difficulty is that elderly sick persons are rather unlikely to admit that their problem also has a psychosocial aspect and are therefore disinclined to accept the social worker as an appropriate agent for helping them cope with their problem. Physicians, on the other hand, are disinclined to relinquish their overall dominance in dealing with the elderly’s illness. To the extent that they do profess teamwork, they do not accept social workers on an equal-status basis.
Such techniques as personal and group communication, discussions, seminars, and practical workshops help the elderly to change their lifestyles and cope with emotional distress and illness. A traumatically disabled elderly person may have chances to successfully readjust by realistically assessing, understanding, and accepting his condition by alleviating his anxiety despite the irreversibility of the disability (affective) and by making efficacious efforts to engage in the activity (instrumental) (Melillo, 2005). The benefit of working in small groups (support, educational, therapy, and socialization groups) is explained by the fact that medical intervention alone is frequently unable to alleviate the elderly’s anxiety because it is often unable to provide an effective solution and the patient is unable to judge the efficacy of the medical activities. The main problem is that elderly people are likely to consider physicians as the only professionals qualified to deal with them (Melillo, 2005). Through communication, the elderly are taught to base their judgment of medical care on the doctor’s humane (affective) behavior. In therapy and socialization groups, social workers help the elderly to distinguish between medical problems where doctors are the most competent professionals and psychosocial stressors where social problems (Hiokawa et al., 2003).
In sum, the task of group work and communication is to assist persons in need to identify and to cope emotionally and instrumentally with their unmet demands (that is, stressors), which may have affected the onset and severity of their disease, or which may be a consequence of it. The psychosocial nature of group work makes it likely to be the most appropriate method for coping with the psychosocial dimensions of aging. The domain of working in small groups is assisting persons in need to cope concomitantly with the emotional and instrumental aspects of intrapersonal and environmental stressors.
- Haight, B. (2005). Working with Older Adults: Group Process and Technique. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc.; 4 edition.
- Hiokawa, R. et al (2003). Small Group Communication: Theory and Practice. Roxbury Publishing Company; 8 Sub edition.
- Melillo, K.D. (2005). Geropsychiatric And Mental Health Nursing. Jones & Bartlett Publishers; 1 edition.
- Toseland, R.W., Rivas, R.F. (2005). An Introduction to Group Work Practice. Allyn & Bacon; 5 edition.