What is Gerontology?
Gerontology is a multidisciplinary field that explores the social, psychological and physical effects of aging in the mid to late stages of life. It is often confused with geriatrics, a field of medicine solely concerned with providing medical care to elderly patients. Gerontology combines teachings from many subjects, such as psychology, sociology, biology and public policy, with the goal helping the senior population lead healthy, fulfilling lives during their later years.
Gerontology professionals can be found in a range of career fields, including finance, research, teaching, nursing, counseling, healthcare administration and public health. Some may work for the federal government or community service organizations, while others may work in direct patient care or even private business.
Gerontology Program Information
Gerontology is often taken as a specialization or minor to complement broader academic studies, but individuals can major in the subject as well. Colleges and universities provide gerontology programs and specializations online, on-campus or hybrid formats. Some programs include clinical experience, such as adult-gerontology nursing programs, while other programs focus on topics such as health policy, administration or academic research. Students in nonclinical programs can gain an understanding of aging, healthcare systems, ethical and legal issues, and sociology during their studies.
Gerontology Program Types
Gerontology programs exist at nearly every academic level, giving students the opportunity to learn about the subject regardless of where they are at in their academic careers.
- Undergraduate Certificate: These types of programs could take anywhere from six weeks to one year. A basic introduction to gerontology and human services for the aging, this program is usually nonclinical and can prepare students for associate or bachelor's level studies.
- Graduate Certificate: Since this certificate may be earned in tandem or after a graduate degree, time to completion varies. The program can include academic research in gerontology or hands-on field experience.
- Associate Degree: Usually a two-year program, the associate degree can sometimes count towards the completion of a bachelor's degree. Associate degree graduates may also qualify for entry-level opportunities in some fields. Students should expect to take general education classes in addition to gerontology courses.
- Bachelor's Degree: Bachelor's degrees generally takes at least four years of full-time study. Programs in gerontology are available in Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science forms, with both delving further into the sociology and science of aging.
- Master's Degree: Gerontology degrees at the master's level are available in several types, including Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Health Administration. This degree typically take two years to finish and allows for deeper specialization. Some programs require a thesis.
- Doctorate Degree: Gerontology degrees at the doctorate level are available as a Doctor of Philosophy. Program length can vary greatly, but students should expect to dedicate multiple years to complete their coursework and complete their dissertation. Gerontology courses at the doctoral level may be in science, physiology, education and/or sociology. This degree is typically suitable for students who wish to go on to teaching, academic research, executive administration.
Gerontology Course Descriptions
While gerontology courses vary according to educational level and program, many programs offer similar core instruction. Examples of topics commonly explored include:
- Aging: Changes resulting from the aging process, theories of aging, and social life for older people.
- End of Life Issues: Aspects of death and dying, grief, mourning and care for the terminally ill.
- Mental Health and Aging: Issues in mental health as they relate to older adults.
- Communication: Exploration of how to actively listen to and work with patients with sensory impairment.
- Aging and Public Health: Older people and their interactions with healthcare, research in gerontology, and other issues in aging.
Some programs allow for a high degree of interdisciplinary work, such as a law major with a gerontology certificate, a gerontology concentration in a health administration program, or a dual-degree program combining business and gerontology. Majors that students may be able to combine with gerontology studies include:
- Public Health
- Health Services
- Health Administration
- Business Administration
Specialized concentrations in gerontology schools may also be available for preparation in a particular area of the field. These specializations include:
- Health Science
- Public Policy
- Long-Term Care
- Health Information Systems
Related Career Options
Those with an academic background in gerontology may be able to pursue a variety of career paths, including:
- Healthcare Administrator: Provides managerial oversight at healthcare facilities. Responsible for tasks such as employee scheduling, managing finances and ensuring compliance with laws.
- Health Educator: Develop health programs that promote healthy living, analyze data on the community and work with health specialists.
- Healthcare Social Worker: Work with other health professionals to assess patient conditions and advocate for and counsel patients.
These careers and other similar careers may require additional training, education, licensure or certification.
Links to Sources and Associations
View the following sites for additional information on gerontology:
"Careers in Aging, Institute of Gerontology," University of Georgia, Accessed November 2013, https://www.publichealth.uga.edu/geron/careers
"Learn About Careers in Aging," Association for Gerontology in Higher Education and the Gerontological Society of America, Accessed November 2013, http://www.aghe.org/clientimages/40634/careersinaging_brochure.pdf
"What is gerontology?" USC Davis School of Gerontology, Accessed November 2013 http://gerontology.usc.edu/news-resources/news/what-is-gerontology/
American Society on Aging, http://www.asaging.org/
Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, http://www.aghe.org
Gerontological Society of America, http://www.geron.org/
Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association, https://www.gapna.org/