What Is Gerontology?
Gerontology is the study of aging in all its different facets. Being multidisciplinary in nature, the field of gerontology encompasses not only the biological and physiological aspects of growing old but touches on the social, psychological and even the societal impact of an aging population as well. The increasing aging population in the United States has made the study of gerontology even more important even as the field promises a very positive employment rate for those who intend to become gerontologists someday.
While gerontology is often confused with the field of geriatrics because both disciplines deal with aging, both aren’t the same. As a medical specialty, geriatrics strictly concentrates only on the treatment of medical conditions and illnesses among the elderly and as such can be considered as a branch of the much broader study of gerontology. Both fields, however, seek to provide a better understanding of aging and help the elderly to still live a very productive, active and happy life even during their twilight years.
Gerontology seeks to understand the changes that occur in people’s mental, physical and social states as they advance in years. For gerontologists, aging happens at many different levels. While regular folks associate aging mainly with the number of years a person has lived from birth—a concept known to gerontologists as chronological aging—this is just one aspect of the aging process. Gerontology also identifies biological aging which looks at the physical changes that make the body’s organs and systems less efficient. Aging also happens at the psychological level when changes occur in the individual’s personality, cognition and sensory and perception. Finally, there is also the social aging process which looks at how a person’s roles and relationships with his family, friends and even in community organizations will change and evolve through the years.
Gerontology does not stop at merely studying the effects of aging to the individual. It also studies the effects of aging to society as a whole. Even more important, gerontologists use this knowledge to influence policies and programs formed at the local, state and national levels to help improve the overall condition of the elderly. They also utilize what they know to provide the best care to seniors living in assisted living and nursing care facilities.
In the United States, the elderly population has burgeoned in the past few years. Life expectancies have increased and seniors are faced with different challenges that their predecessors did not have to deal with decades before. Due to the challenging economic times, many need to continue working through their retirement years. They also need to seek medical and healthcare services more often due to their extended life spans. Their exercise and wellness needs also have to be met so they can enjoy a better quality of life. On the other side of the spectrum, society itself has to prepare for the shortages that the retirement of seniors is expected to result to in the coming years. The government and its existing institutions have to cope with these challenges and provide this segment of the population with the necessary services that would meet their particular needs while at the same time mitigate the potential effects of an increasing elderly population to the country. This makes the study of gerontology especially important.