It is different from “Geriatrics”, which is often confused with Gerontology, a field of study. Geriatrics is a medical sub-specialization for internists or family practitioners who get advanced training and experience focused on an aging population. Medical professionals who are geriatric specialists understand the specific issues, concerns, and circumstances of elderly patients, so their treatment and approach is tailored to that population.
Gerontology refers to the study of aging, from a psycho-social, emotional, and biological framework. Gerontologists do research in fields such as medicine, social work, psychiatry, economics, pharmacology, and public health to form theories and practical applications for meeting the needs of aging adults. Gerontologists study the mental, physical, social, and psychological changes in people as they age. The aging process itself, also called bio-gerontology, is looked at as a backdrop to understanding how humans age in context with their environment and culture. This is an important aspect of gerontology as it does not stop at the understanding of the individual, but rather encompasses the impact of aging on society as a whole. Because this study is not linear, gerontologists also look at the effects of society and culture on the individual.
The study of aging offers research and practice that has a positive impact on public policy, political advances, program development and management on a macro level (government programs and laws), as well as a micro level (the operations of a nursing home). Individuals working in the field offer insight to the larger field of gerontology, and researchers studying all aspects of aging offer insight to those working directly with this population. Research and application are circular and inter-dependent.
There is a multi-disciplinary nature in gerontology. For example, a psychiatrist in a convalescent home will be concerned with recent developments in the field of treating dementia, and will likely employ the relevant treatments to their patients. In turn, that psychiatrist will have the opportunity to contribute to the field by sharing her experience using these treatments with her patients. Social work is a key field in the combined study of aging. Because older adults present issues and concerns in all aspects of living, generally increasing with age, social work plays an important role in the study and implementation of gerontology. Social workers provide counseling, care coordination, direct services, community planning, and advocacy in hospitals, nursing homes, government agencies, and private practice.
Gerontology is a critical study in the understanding of human development and aging. It impacts all of us, whether we are caregivers for our loved ones or are in need of care ourselves.