Promoting Elder Rights and Dignity: The Role of Social Workers in Aging Communities.

An elderly man is given his drugs by a lady who seems to be his caregiver.
June 1, 2023
Website Admin

Our elders are the backbone of our communities, having traversed life’s journeys before us, preserving our history and cultural wisdom. As social workers, our responsibility is to uphold and promote their rights and dignity, particularly within our African and African diaspora communities.

Aging presents unique challenges, including health complications, socio-economic difficulties, and, sometimes, undermining their integral role in our communities. Therefore, an Afrocentric approach to social work becomes essential, recognizing our elders as critical bearers of wisdom and tradition, deserving of respect and high regard.

In our work, we encourage the community to recognize the wisdom and experience our elders bring. Their stories, experiences, and teachings are of immense value. Upholding their dignity involves allowing them to share their insights, wisdom, and cultural narratives, ensuring their active participation in community activities and events.

Simultaneously, we work to empower our elders. Self-determination is essential at every age. We support and advocate for our elders’ rights to make decisions about their healthcare, living conditions, and participation in social activities, affirming their autonomy and independence.

Our responsibilities include advocating for elder rights within social and legal systems and ensuring their access to needed resources and services. Furthermore, it involves supporting their active participation within the community, highlighting the value of their wisdom and experience.

Our role also involves providing necessary support and resources to our elders. Collaborating with families, community organizations, and other service providers, we ensure our elders’ access to essential services, be it healthcare, financial assistance, or emotional support.

Addressing economic barriers to elder well-being is an essential aspect of our work. We advocate for initiatives and policies that ensure economic stability for our elders, enabling them to lead dignified, secure lives without financial worry.

Culturally grounded interventions can provide emotional and spiritual upliftment for our elders. Art, music, dance, and storytelling, steeped in our rich African traditions, facilitate self-expression and promote communal bonds and shared understanding.

Above all, we acknowledge the role of spirituality in our elders’ lives. Many of them find strength and resilience in their spiritual beliefs. We honour and integrate these aspects into our care approach.

The wisdom of the African proverb “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in” captures the essence of our work with elders. In respecting and protecting our elders, we honour their contributions, uphold their dignity and rights, acknowledge their integral role in our communities, advocate for their needs, and contribute to a stronger, more compassionate society. Our elders are our living heritage; their well-being reflects the well-being of our communities.


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Brooks, R. A. (2021, July 1). Aging while Black: The crisis among Black Americans as they grow old. NAACP.

Coats H. L. (2017). African American elders’ psychological-social-spiritual cultural experiences across serious illness: an integrative literature review through a palliative care lens. Annals of palliative medicine, 6(3), 253–269.

Frazier, C., Mintz, L. B., & Mobley, M. (2005). A multidimensional look at religious involvement and psychological well-being among urban elderly African Americans. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(4), 583–590. 

Reid, R. (2022, November 3). Opinion | When you are black, elderly and a woman, health care discrimination is a triple whammy | CBC News. CBCnews.