As the average age of the world's population continues to rise, greater focus will be given to the health and well-being of older adults in society. Changes in our physical and mental health require the assistance of specialists to understand these life adjustments.
Luckily, a group of experts exists to help us deal with these changes. With the advice and knowledge of professional gerontologists, we are able to meet these aging challenges head on.
Gerontologists look at the social, physical, and psychological aspects of aging to gain insight into the aging process. According to “101 Careers in Gerontology,” by C. Joanne Grabinski, gerontologists “work with, for, and on behalf of the growing population of elders in a wide variety of settings.” Gerontology is a multi-disciplinary field that draws from the knowledge of many professionals to provide expert care and advice to people as they grow older.
Types of Gerontology Careers
Grabinski Lists Three Types of Career Positions for Gerontologists
- Gerontology workers – Gerontology workers have no formal gerontology education, but work directly with older adults. For example, a certified nurse assistant in a nursing home.
- Gerontological specialists – Gerontological specialists have primary degrees that are non-gerontology specific, but may have minored in the gerontology. A therapist who focuses specifically on older adults would be an example of a gerontological specialist. gerontology.
- Gerontologists – Gerontologists have primary degrees in gerontology, and are concerned with the scientific reasons behind aging. Gerontologists focus on researching how and why we age.
With so many different careers utilizing aspects of gerontology, it's no wonder that demand for people with gerontology backgrounds is rising. Many industries are looking to ensure they are providing older adults with services and products that pertain to the group. Specialists in interior design are needed to develop homes that adequately meet the needs of older adults. Caregivers, lawyers, educators, physical fitness specialists, therapists, bankers, and marketers with specializations in gerontology are all needed to provide service in the expanding market of older adults.
Two Main Specializations
Today, the field of Gerontology is also frequently separated into two main emphases or categories.
As an up-and-coming focus in gerontology, biogerontology is primarily concerned with the research of the biological effects of aging and its causes. This more science-based specialization uses cutting-edge technology and research to analyze why we age and eventually die. For more information see Biogerontology.
Social gerontology looks at society's interactions with older adults, determining if their needs are being met by community services and organizations. Social gerontologists work directly with older adults in community centers, residential homes, and through programs as counselors and direct care specialists. Social gerontologists are committed to advocacy for older adults and they help dispel myths through through speeches and presentations, books, and articles. For more information see Social Gerontology.
Roles of Gerontologists
There are a number of roles for gerontologists looking to start work in the field. A gerontologist might find themselves counseling older adults, challenging common misconceptions about the aging, researching the effects of aging or diseases that affect older adults, teaching in a university setting, or advocating for better services and care for the aging. According to “Careers in Aging: Opportunities and Options,” by David A. Peterson, Elizabeth B. Douglass, and Joy Lobenstine Whittington, gerontologists usually fit into seven job roles.
An advocate works to inform audiences about issues of concern. They work with older adults to raise awareness about their needs and concerns, and the appropriate responses to those concerns are. An advocate should have a strong passion for working with older adults and a drive to help others.
Direct Service provider
A direct service provider cares for and interacts with older adults to assist them with everyday life. This can include issues related to mobility, speech, learning, and preparing meals.
Working in colleges and universities, an educator teaches future gerontologists. An educator usually has experience in the field, and imparts this wisdom on a new generation of gerontologists.
A manager or administrator is a broad title, but managers are needed to run facilities that care for older adults. A manager or administrator is usually an experienced gerontologist with a background in business management.
Marketer and Program Developer
Marketers with a focus in gerontology are needed to help develop new products and services directed at older adults. Marketers analyze the needs of the aging to determine where services are lacking, and work with program developers to take care of those concerns.
Program Planner and Evaluator
Program planners and evaluators ensure programs are working to the best of their abilities to address the needs of older adults. They work with residential communities to ensure those needs are being met, and adjust programs if need be.
A gerontology researcher helps to understand the effects of aging, and the aging process itself. Biogerontology is usually devoted to research in universities or laboratories; researchers focus on conducting empirically-based studies that provide important insights and new information to other gerontologists.
Where do Gerontologists Work?
Gerontologists find careers in a variety of locations. They are needed in educational settings, such as universities and schools to teach new generations of gerontologists. They are also needed in hospitals, to helping older adults seek appropriate medical care. Residential communities need gerontologists who understand the physical and mental needs of older adults. These gerontologists develop programs and activities like health promotion and senior theater groups. Gerontologists are also needed in marketing and corporate settings to ensure the correct services and goods are reaching older adults.
A Growing Career Field
Medical advancements and healthier living habits are extending the life spans of humans worldwide. Gerontologists will find themselves in increasing demand throughout the next few decades, and more will be needed to assist with the growing population of older adults. Through the service of gerontologists, older adults will find a greater understanding of the aging process, and how they can deal with the physical, social, and psychological challenges of aging.
If you have a passion for working with older adults, and want to work in the field of Gerontology, you have several career options. Both clinical and research positions are available, depending on your degree and the specialization you pursue.
For more information on degrees contact schools offering degrees in psychology with either a gerontology emphasis or specialization. Positions are available for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Usually a PhD is required for research and university teaching.
Receiving a degree in psychology is excellent preparation for a career as a gerontologist. Check out schools offering degrees in psychology, or schools offering gerontology programs, for more information.