Attuning to the needs of structural socially isolated older adults with complex problems: The experiences of social workers with personal guidance trajectories for a less-researched group

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Many interventions to combat the social isolation of older adults are hardly effective because they ignore both the heterogeneity of the target group and the uniqueness of the individual experiences of social isolation. In order to be effective, interventions must meet the individual needs of specific clients. In this study, we aim to gain insight into the process in which professionals seek to understand how clients assess their situation, and what this means for the help they provide. We investigated how social workers in one-to-one guidance trajectories try to attune to the needs of the clients they accompany and what considerations they make in doing so. The study was conducted between 2014 and 2017 in the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Participants were 20 social workers of 8 social work agencies who provided guidance to community-dwelling older adults who have been isolated for a long time and have problems in multiple life domains. We analysed 36 research-driven logbooks, written by the social workers, which contain case study descriptions with information about specific clients who belong to the target group of this study. We also interviewed the individual social workers and organised six focus groups with 8–12 of the participating social workers. Our findings make clear how social workers try to identify the needs of their clients and provide help that is tailored to their possibilities and ambitions. By giving recognition to the emotions and situations of their clients, and by practical problem-solving, they build a relationship with the older adults in which adequate help is accepted. The professionals set modest goals; their guidance helps stabilise the existing situation and may also contribute to the self-reliance of their clients. This knowledge will be highly valuable in the developing and implementation of programmes and interventions for this less-researched group.
interventions, loneliness, older people, professional empathy, social isolation, social work
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)800-808
Number of pages9
JournalHealth and Social Care in the Community
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2021

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