Doctors, medical experts and other healthcare professionals are named according to their area of expertise. For example, an oncologist is someone who handles cancer, a cardiologist deals with the heart and a psychologist is someone who handles mental health. But have you ever heard of a gerontologist? And if so, what do they do?
Gerontology is the study of ageing and a gerontologist is someone who specialises in this subject. People whose expertise is in the area of gerontology can provide care for the elderly in physical, biological, sociable, and cognitive aspects.
While many types of specialists are well understood, not many people are familiar with gerontology. So, in this guide, I’ll talk a little more about what they do and how they can benefit the seniors in our communities.
What Is Gerontology?
Gerontology is a word that derives from the ancient Greek language. Geron means old man while the tology portion of the word comes from the Greek logia which means the study of.
It’s important to keep in mind that gerontology is not the same as geriatrics. This is a branch of medicine that focuses on care and treatment for seniors, just like paediatrics provides care and treatment for children.
Instead, gerontology refers to the study of getting older. It places its focus on four main areas relating to ageing as follows:
- Biological ageing; the physical changes within the body and relating to the organs.
- Chronological ageing; referring to the timeline from birth and how many years the person has lived.
- Social ageing; how a senior’s role within the community, family and within friendship groups may change as they get older.
- Psychological ageing; how ageing affects cognitive function, personality, sensory processes and perception.
By studying these areas of ageing, gerontologists are able to see how the process affects individuals within the society, therefore allowing them to figure out the most appropriate support. This might include things like social care, healthcare, mental health services, housing and much more.
This is a multidisciplinary study that encompasses many things such as studying changes as we age and looking at the biological and physical changes associated with it including diseases. Gerontologists will also look at how ageing affects our psychological state and our social situation.
So, What Do Gerontologists Do?
Now that we understand what gerontology covers, the next question is what does a gerontologist do?
This job includes both practitioners and researchers that focus on an incredibly wide variety of fields. These include social work, dentistry, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, psychiatry, economics, public health, housing and so many other things.
Because of this, there are a lot of subfields involved in gerontology and certain roles, such as psychology may overlap with gerontology. As a result, gerontology services are offered in numerous settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, universities and even within the community.
As well as providing direct care and performing research, gerontologists are also responsible for providing education to other members of the healthcare profession. They may give presentations or publish literature on their specialist subject as well as providing information to the media.
A lot of social gerontologists will act as an advocate, providing communication between the seniors they work with and those in the world around them. This might include helping them to fill out forms or aiding the person to get involved with social groups, voluntary work and other opportunities.
The main aim of any gerontologist is to improve the quality of life or maintain a good quality of life for older adults. This is a time of life where many people find that they start to struggle. If it weren’t for gerontologists, these struggles may not be attended to.
In order to better understand this role, it’s important to keep in mind that there are different types of gerontologists who focus on different things.
This type of gerontologist researches the process of ageing in both physical and psychological capacities. They also spend time researching the environments in which elderly people live in order to come up with ways to enrich their lives.
If you want to work directly with older adults then you’d become an applied gerontologist. These people spend time looking at individuals as well as their families and support networks, conversing with the senior and figuring out ways in which they can make their lives better.
Administrative gerontologists are not as hands-on as applied gerontologists. It’s their job to coordinate support services and manage any given organisation ensuring that everything runs smoothly.
Is A Gerontologist The Same As A Geriatrician?
A gerontologist is not someone who has trained to be a doctor. These are professionals that place their focus on the ageing process and any issues relating to it. There are many fields included in this such as nursing, social work, psychology and many others. Gerontologists do provide care and services to the elderly but they are not doctors.
On the other hand, a geriatrician is a doctor who has completed the relevant medical training to provide treatment, consultations and care for older adults.
Gerontology is the study of care for older adults and includes a huge range of services given by people outside of the medical profession. Some gerontologists spend their time researching the ageing process and how to tackle various needs of older people while others apply a more hands-on approach and work directly with seniors.