Careers Working with the Elderly

Looking for a career in a fast-growing field that requires a broad range of skills and allows you to make a difference in the lives of others? Learn how a job helping the elderly can be a challenging, rewarding, and wise career choice.

Meet the Expert
Rebecca Newman
Rebecca Newman

View Bio

Rebecca Newman, MSW, LCSW, is a Psychiatric Social Worker at Thomas Jefferson University Physicians Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, where she provides individual psychotherapy in Philadelphia, PA. She holds a BA from Oberlin College and an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania, where she received the John Hope Franklin Award for Combating American Racism. She specializes in working with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, grief and loss, LGBTQIA+ topics, trauma, and adjustment to life changes.

Related Pages

Men and women 65 and older make up 13% of the U.S. population, a number expected to more than double by 2050. While this means more senior citizens, it also means more career opportunities for those who choose to work with them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects faster-than-average growth for a number of senior-focused careers between 2018 and 2028, including Home Health Aides (37%), occupational therapy assistants (33%), and physician assistants (31%).

Job growth aside, working with the elderly can be a rewarding career path full of opportunities. Continue reading to learn about the variety of industries, educational paths, and skillsets that can result in a fulfilling career helping the elderly.

Why a Career Helping the Elderly is a Smart Move

A career working with the elderly can be more than just personally rewarding. Financially rewarding jobs within aging exist among a variety of different industries from healthcare and education to administration and disease research. Depending on your education level and personal interests, there will be a number of options working with the elderly for you to choose from. Here are 4 major reasons a career in aging is a smart move:

Making a difference

People working in aging can experience immense satisfaction in helping seniors maintain a healthy quality of life. Whether you want to help seniors regain their independence by working as an occupational therapist or rehabilitation counselor, or you’re more interested in working behind the scenes as a medical researcher or audiologist, each career in aging can make a huge impact in older people’s lives in a unique way.  You can also benefit your entire community by encouraging everyone to promote and support the wit, wisdom, and creativity of the elderly.

Job availability and security

People 85 and older make up the fastest-growing age group in the U.S. By the middle of the 21st century, 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65. These growth trends will result in a demand for professionals with knowledge and expertise in aging and elder care. Because there are career options working with the elderly at all skill and education levels, those who enter the field should have plenty of job security as they move up the career ladder.

Work for all skill levels

Regardless of industry, career opportunities in elder care include both entry-level positions that require minimal formal education, such as personal care aides, as well as those requiring higher levels of education and post-graduate degrees, like medical scientists and researchers. Anyone looking to get their foot in the door working with the elderly may start with an entry-level position and work their way up by earning advanced credentials and gaining valuable work experience.

Lots of career options

The varied needs of the elderly lead to exciting opportunities for working in a variety of disciplines. As a healthcare professional, you may work in a hospital or other day or home care facility. As a teacher you might teach courses on psychology, sociology, and aging, or conduct lectures for seniors on retirement or similar topics. As a researcher, you might study diseases prevalent in aging such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The options in aging are broad, making it an exciting subject to dedicate your work to.

4 Traits for Success Working with the Elderly

Working with the elderly often requires specific skills and personality traits. Before diving into a career in aging, make sure you not only have the right skillset, but also the disposition to be successful. If you have the following traits, a career working with the elderly may be a good fit for you:

Patience

Working with the elderly requires a certain level of patience especially because older people can have a slower pace when they move, when they speak, and in some cases, a slower pace when processing things. Whether in healthcare, education, social work, or any other industry with the elderly, an ability to work at a slower pace and repeat yourself without annoyance is a must.

Empathy

Empathy is an important trait to have when working closely with any population, but may be especially important with the elderly. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of those who may be in pain, lonely, or depressed is paramount to building strong relationships with the people you work with.

Respect

The baby boomer generation’s parents instilled a great deal of importance in treating their elder with respect. With problems like hearing loss and cognitive skills such as memory loss common in older people, the elderly can often feel dismissed or belittled. Making a point of listening to them and asking questions rather than giving orders will generally resonate better.

Optimism

People work helping the elderly are often meeting their patients or clients during a challenging transitional period in their lives that sometimes leads to a pessimistic outlook on their futures. Having a positive disposition can be key when working in aging and helping the seniors you work with stay optimistic can improve their mental and physical health.

Exploring Careers Working with the Elderly

Careers-D
Careers-M

To help provide assistance, treatment, and care for people and the health conditions and concerns they’re likely to face as they age, professionals from a diverse number of industries choose to specialize and work in aging. Nurses, social workers, educators, advocates and more may choose to focus their work on the 65 and older population. These careers can be both extremely rewarding and equally challenging and for those who wish to make a difference in the lives of others, working with the elderly can be a great fit. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular career choices for people who want to make an impact in the lives of the elderly.

Audiologist

Median salary

$75,920

Growth rate

16%

Audiologists are specialists who diagnosis and provide treatment for hearing and balance disorders related to problems with the ears. Typically work environments range from healthcare settings such as hospitals and clinics to educational environments like schools and universities. Clinical audiologists can concentrate in a variety of specialties including pediatrics, geriatrics, balance, implants, hearing aids, and other auditory processing issues.  With the American population of older adults increasing, audiologists have increasing employment opportunities working with the elderly to prevent hearing loss, combat existing hearing problems, and provide better hearing assistance products such as aides and implants.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Median salary

$23,530

Growth rate

9%

Certified Nursing Assistants or CNAs provide basic care to patients and assist them in daily activities they may have trouble doing on their own such as bathing and dressing. Although a CNAs responsibilities will change from setting to setting, you will often find them working in nursing homes, patient homes, and care centers for the elderly helping patients complete daily tasks.

Fitness Instructor

Median salary

$39,820

Growth rate

13%

Fitness instructors provide personalized training and lead group classes to help seniors meet their health goals. Often trained to effectively and safely work specifically with the elderly, fitness instructors help their clients feel youthful again by combining behavioral change, motivation, nutrition, and physical training to lose or gain weight, build overall strength, and increase stamina.

Home Health Aide

Median salary

$24,060

Growth rate

36%

Home health aides are trained to assist the elderly in their homes by helping with daily tasks like bathing, cooking, driving, and household chores. Home health aide duties may include monitoring patients and observing physical and mental health, teaching patients to care for themselves, helping family members care for patients in appropriate and safe ways, maintaining a safe and secure patient environment, and recording patient information.

Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN)

Median salary

$46,240

Growth rate

11%

LPNs/LVNs work under the direction of a medical doctor helping to administer basic health care to patients. Half of all LPNs/LVNs work in nursing facilities, elderly homes, or in home healthcare and perform a variety of functions from maintaining patient records to assisting with bathing, dressing and eating.

Occupational Therapist

Median salary

$84,270

Growth rate

18%

Occupational therapists are specialists who treat injured, ill, disabled, or elderly patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Therapists help patients doing daily tasks like washing, dressing, cooking, and eating. Occupational therapists working in geriatrics can change home environment’s for elderly patients in such a way that they can manage their routines without as much trouble.

Patient Advocate

Median salary

$32,320

Growth rate

11%

Patient advocates for the elderly work to coordinate communication between patients, family members, medical professionals, administrative staff, and health insurance companies to ensure that patients are receiving the best possible healthcare services. Advocates are responsible for identifying care problems, making referrals to appropriate healthcare services, directing patient questions and complaints, explaining policies, assisting patients in choosing doctors, discussing treatment options, and even accompanying patients to doctor appointments.

Personal Care Aide

Median salary

$24,050

Growth rate

11%

Personal care aides are much like home health aides, however, personal care aides work for public and private agencies or are hired directly by a clients’ family and are not required to have any medical training or certification. There is no specific education or training needed to become a personal care aide, just a dedication to the proper care of their patient. While certification is offered, it is not mandatory and work is generally supervised by a licensed medical professional such as a nurse or social worker.

Physical Therapist

Median salary

$87,930

Growth rate

22%

Physical therapists diagnose and treat patients who have health conditions that limit their ability to move and perform everyday activities. Geriatric physical therapists help elderly patients achieve the highest degree of physical health and mobility possible by focusing on ailments like arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and joint problems. Therapists may design custom exercise plans that work to keep the patient as physically fit and active as possible.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Median salary

$71,730

Growth rate

12%

Registered nurses who specialize in geriatrics work with elderly patients to improve physical ailments associated with aging as well as mental ailments such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. RNs working in geriatrics may have a general nursing degree or may hold advanced degrees or certification in geriatric nursing. Work environments include hospitals, nursing homes, retirement communities, and assisted living facilities and specific responsibilities will differ from facility to facility.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Median salary

$35,630

Growth rate

10%

Rehabilitation counselors help people with emotional and physical disabilities live more independently. They work with the elderly to overcome and mange the personal, social, and professional effects of aging and related disabilities. This role often combines psychological counselling and advocacy to help restore a patients mental or physical health.

Social Worker

Median salary

$49,470

Growth rate

11%

Geriatric social workers work closely with medical and health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, physicians, and nurses to help elderly clients improve their lives by managing mental health conditions, reducing daily stress, and coping with illnesses. Tasks include addressing personal, social, and environmental challenges that arise as people age and helping patients find solutions to the mental and social complications associated with aging.

Speech-Language Pathologist/Speech Therapist

Median salary

$77,510

Growth rate

27%

Speech pathologists and therapists who work with the senior population help their patients regain their speech or correct faults which lead to speech irregularities. They may also help others speak more efficiently and accurately and understand verbal communication from others. Speech pathologists usually work in healthcare facilities and see patients directly for speech therapy sessions.

Interview: A Career in Aging

Rebecca Newman, MSW, LCSW, tells STEPS how she came to work with elderly men and women, and how each of her patients helps her as much as (and sometimes even more than) she helps them.

Q. Tell us a bit about your pathway to this type of work. Why did you choose this area of the field and what is your experience working with elderly patients?

A. I have always been drawn to stories. From my first job working at the local library to a video store, to a degree in creative writing, I always find myself coming back to the importance of the personal narrative. I chose to approach working clinically with individuals from a social work perspective because it considers the whole person and their environment before offering an assessment, where other disciplines can rely on diagnosis and pathology to begin treatment. I worked with elderly patients as an intern at a local managed care program for older adults, designed to support them living independently at home for as long as possible, and currently see older adults as a psychotherapist.

Q. What do you think some of the most valuable character traits for professionals who work with elderly individuals?

A. The most valuable trait for a professional with any age population, and particularly older adults, is patience. I have enjoyed working in settings that work with older adults exclusively, as the pace of the day is a lot more manageable, and yet, everything will get done. It can be difficult when you are at a different point in your life to slow down and connect with the individual, to not zip past them in the hall, but taking the time to build relationships is invaluable. Another valuable trait for working with older adults is perseverance. Often, older adults have been engaging with various services throughout their lifespan, and can have complex interpersonal relationships, as well as complex relationships with those systems. They may feel discouraged, having seen situations not pan out in the past, and I think it is the job of the social worker to persevere, even when the client’s enthusiasm may wane.

Q. Could you tell us a personal experience you’ve had in which an elderly client/patient made significant progress?

A. Making progress looks different for everyone. With one older adult I worked with, obtaining ADA-compliant transportation was achieving a significant goal, for another, it was obtaining her birth certificate so that she could complete her application for subsidized housing. However, one significant client went from considerable social isolation, sometimes berating health care providers or customer service representatives by phone, with fractured relationships with her community, especially her daughter, to communicating with her daughter multiple times a week, choosing to join a new religious congregation, online dating, communicating her needs effectively and politely, and inviting prospective friends out for coffee. The change was gradual, and our work was concentrated and we focused on increasing her social connection, and after about two years, the fruits of her labor became apparent.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add concerning work as an LCSW or social worker in general? Any advice for those who are considering this career path?

A. The stereotype of social work is of someone completely burnt out and barely functioning, a sort of “bleeding heart.”  That stereotype exists for a reason, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can set appropriate boundaries, cultivate your own support network and understand your needs with regards to downtime and positive social connection, and find an area of the field that ignites passion for you. If you are considering this career, sit down with someone (or more than one person!) who has your dream job and ask them about their experiences to see if it aligns with what you imagine for yourself.