The Strong Ties Between Geriatrics and Gerontology
The study of aging is multifaceted because there are so many factors involved, including biology, sociology, and psychology. It can even go beyond this to public policy, healthcare laws, humanities, and economics. Gerontology is the study of the aging process and individuals as they age. According to the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, gerontology includes the study of physical, mental, and social changes; how society is affected by an aging population; and applying this knowledge to policies and programs. Similarly, geriatrics is defined as the study of health and disease in later life.
Facets of Gerontology
Aging is a natural process that happens over time. Gerontologists and people who study aging look at why older populations are more vulnerable to diseases and disabilities. They research why health issues are much harder on older people. According to the National Institutes of Health, aging eventually affects every organ in the body. Medical professionals, researchers, and scientists can benefit from studying aging and gerontology to help give them a better understanding of aging. However, there are still questions about what triggers aging in tissues and cells and what biological processes are underlying these changes. There is still research to be done, so studying gerontology is very useful for a career aimed at answering these questions.
Aging affects the mind as well as the body. The most significant psychological part of aging may be memory loss and impaired short-term memory. Loss of mental alertness can be debilitating, and many older people become withdrawn. Death of a spouse, friends, or other loved ones; failing health; and feelings of isolation can also contribute to depression, which is another mental health risk for older people. Psychology professionals, nursing home directors, and employees can benefit from learning about gerontology—which explores the mental aspects of aging.
Closely linked to the mental aspects of aging are the social changes. Social interaction can help older people both mentally and physically. Benefits of staying social include maintaining cognitive function and multiple health benefits such as lower blood pressure, reduced risk for depression, and potentially reduced risk for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, social isolation can cause feelings of depression and loneliness, decreased physical activity, and a greater risk of death. Keeping friendships and relationships strong is important. Medical professionals and nursing home or care facility administrators can study geriatric research to get a better handle on the importance of social interaction, which will in turn help seniors through this understanding.
Gerontology also looks at how society is affected overall by an aging population. Professionals from many fields study gerontology, geriatric research, and aging to better serve the older population in their careers.
The University of Florida’s Department of Aging and Geriatric Research offers an online master’s degree and graduate certificate in aging and geriatric research. These programs take a comprehensive look at aging and are useful for a variety of professions. Clinical experience is not required, and all courses are offered conveniently online.