By 2030, it ispredicted that one in every six people in the world will be 60 and older. With an older population will come many changes.
Dr. Rosalie Otters, associate professor of social work at UA Little Rock, also leads the university’s gerontology program, which focuses not only on skills needed to work with aging individuals and their families but also with the greater social issues that impact older adults.
“A lot of social work is working with people. I always tell students that even if they want to work with children they will end up working with older adults,” Otters said. “The study of gerentology emphasizes the whole life course from birth to death, no matter the age, but there is a special emphasis for those 50 and over. People can range from 50 to 100 or more, so it’s a vast semi-explored world we are only beginning to understand as people often live longer. A lot of research begins at age 50 because people begin aging very differently at that age. For social workers, they may think they won’t work with older adults, but they will. Gerontological skills are very practical for everyone as we live in the present and plan for the future.”
The gerontology program, which averages about 10-15 students, houses a graduate certificate and minor. It’s often taken by professionals like social workers, nurses, rehabilitation counselors, educators, audiologists, care managers, and health care workers who want to learn about the issues older adults face.
“In gerontology studies, people talk about 2030 as the time when everything will be different,” Otters said. “That’s less than 10 years away. You already see people working longer in general. The retirement age is going up, and pensions are almost a thing of the past. If the stock market goes down, it can put individual retirement accounts in real trouble. We are in a time of transition, and I think you will see some real changes in the next few years. People are living longer and often healthier, but not always.”
Otters also shares her knowledge through UA Little Rock Public Radio. Since 2014, she has written, produced, and hosted a radio show called “Aging in Arkansas.” The show covers practical topics like retirement, Medicare, and Social Security as well as issues that older adults may face like homelessness, depression, gambling addiction, and substance abuse.
“It’s not all negative,” Otters added. “As you get older, you may become more interested in remembering things of the past. Generations move more quickly. People in their late 40s may be grandparents, and you end up seeing grandparents in a skipped generation becoming the parents because their children aren’t able to do it.”
Otters has worked in a wide variety of careers that led to her becoming a social work professor at UA Little Rock in 2007. She earned a Doctor of Ministry in pastoral theology from Eden Theological Seminary, a Master of Social Work from Washington University, and a Ph.D. in sociology from University of North Texas. She’s also worked as a teacher, a clinical social worker, a minister, and a therapist.
“I became a social worker to help others,” Otters said. “I’ve helped people in other ways, but this is a more practical way. I started off as a social studies teacher, and then I went into the ministry. My denomination is pretty broad in its understanding of working with others, so I found being a minister helpful for social work. In ministry, I was always interested in material help as well as helping one’s soul and the whole person.”
Otters will be retiring at the end of the 2020-21 school year after working at UA Little Rock for the past 14 years. She hopes that the next generation of social workers will help bring about positive changes in the world.
“I think we are in a time of great change, which is not just for social work. When you are in a time of change, you have to be very adaptable,” Otters said. “The coronavirus has really changed everything. Social work deals with the common understanding of what we are about and how we can work together. One thing about social work that we like to talk about is being change agents for the world. We are in a time of change, and hopefully we can work together toward changes that will help us all.”