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Studies & Degrees in Applied Gerontology

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Gerontology is the study of the social, psychological, and biological aspects of getting old. Although it deals with old people, it is different from geriatrics which is a branch of medicine that deals with the disease of the elderly. The activities involved in Gerontology are: studying the physical, mental, and social changes of people during the aging process, understanding the aging process itself (called biogerontology), understanding the interface of normal aging and learning age-related diseases (geroscience), investigating the effects of the aging population on society; and, finally, applying the knowledge to policies and macroscopic and microscopic programs.

Gerontology started in the Agriculture Age when people finally settled down from being hunter-gatherers to farmers. It was during this age, when humans did not move around much and encounter less danger, that old people finally had a place in society. They usually watched the farm, make pottery or clothing, and watch over the children. They could also perform social functions like story-telling and teaching the younger generation their culture which, then, consisted only of techniques on farming, tool-making, religion, etc. Society’s perception of the elderly changed throughout history. In general, however, most civilizations respect the elder people for their wisdom. It was not until the 1940s that pioneers began organizing Gerontology as a field of its own. In 1945, Gerontological Society of America was founded and, two decades later, James Birren, one of the pioneers of Gerontology, was appointed the founding director of the first academic research center, the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, devoted to the study of aging. In between the 1950s and 1970s, Gerontology was only concerned with issues like nursing homes and health care. It all changed, however, when Leonard Hayflick, with his research in the 1960s showing that a cell line culture would only divide about 50 times, helped lead to a separate branch of Gerontology which was biogerontology. This began the understanding of the aging process itself and what could be done about it.

Students who are interested in taking this course can expect to learn the impact of aging on individuals and cultures. They will learn how to maximize the application of gerontological knowledge especially in the areas of direct service, consulting, program development, management, and administration. Students will also get a chance to work with older people in a variety of settings like long-term care and retirement facilities, senior centers, government offices on aging at all levels, home health care agencies, adult day care programs, adult protective service agencies, and many more. Most schools also require students to be part of an internship either in an agency or facility that serves older people. Since Gerontology is a mixture of social and medical sciences, students will also be taking courses in management, behavioral and social sciences, economics, political science, and natural sciences.

Trained gerontologists can become part of the direct service provision of an elderly-designed facility or office where they work one-on-one with the elderly and their families, determining their needs and then providing assistance. They can also be part of the program planning and evaluation team which is in-charge of establishing the interests and needs of the elderly at the community level, designing programs that will meet these needs, and determining how effective this program is. Trained gerontologists can also have a position in the management and administration where they will oversee the daily operation of facilities, agencies or programs addressing the needs of the elderly and their families. They can also take part in advocacies that articulate the needs of the elderly and urge the adoption of public or private programs designed to meet these needs. They can also have positions in the education and training part of facilities where they will develop and deliver educational programming responsive to the needs of the elderly and those who serve them. Finally, trained gerontologist can also carry out research on the nature of aging process and on the effectiveness of intervention programs and policies.