Helping Older Adults
Some days you may feel sandwiched between your kids’ needs, from a lost school permission slip to a broken wrist, and helping your parents, who may be becoming more forgetful or unable to drive at night. The field of gerontology explores the physical and mental changes that ageing can bring and how to address them.
The Field of Gerontology
Gerontology is a diverse field that not only encompasses changes in aging adults, but societal changes and programs and policies that can help the aging population. Those in this interdisciplinary career find jobs in government and social services, retirement communities, nursing homes, and health care settings.
Since gerontology comprises various fields, those interested in a career in gerontology can find jobs by earning a number of different types of degrees. A two-year associate’s degree prepares students to find an entry-level job with aging populations. Other jobs require a four-year degree, and in some fields, such as social work, those specializing in gerontology must have a master’s degree.
Those with an associate’s degree in gerontology generally serve as assistants in a variety of settings, from helping residents at a retirement community to assisting in programs for older adults at a recreation center. Some aides in nursing homes and in the home health field have a two-year degree in gerontology that helps them better understand the needs of the patients they help.
Many gerontologists work in social services, particularly social work. Social workers help older adults and their families navigate the often confusing maze of services and funding available to them, from Medicare to veterans’ benefits. They offer help as patients transfers back home after a hospital stay and help determine if moving to a nursing home is the right option.
Coursework or a degree in gerontology is beneficial to health care professionals who want to specialize in working with aging populations. Some aspiring doctors might go into geriatrics, a separate field in which they specialize in treating and preventing disease and disabilities in seniors.
There are many other fields in which gerontology plays a part, from elder care attorneys to urban planning to advertising and marketing to older populations.
Job Growth Trends
The U.S. population is aging at a rapid rate. Nearly 20 percent of the population will turn age 65 or older by 2050, according to the Pew Research Center. Some 5 percent will be 85 or older. In 2010, there were 40.2 million people in the U.S. over 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2050, that number will will reach nearly 89 million. Each day, nearly 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 in the United States.
This huge influx of older adults means that gerontologists will be in great demand to help address their needs. The need for home health and personal aides will grow 41 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, far faster than most other career fields. The number of jobs for social workers in the health care field will grow by 20 percent during that time period, in part due to the demand for those specializing in gerontology.
- Southern New Hampshire University: What is Gerontology: The Study of Aging
- USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology: What is Gerontology?
- Pew Research Center: Americans are aging, but not as fast as people in Germany, Italy and Japan
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Social Workers
Barbara Ruben has been a journalist for over 25 years. She has written extensively for the "Washington Post" and served as editor for an international health-care magazine and a group of newspapers for older adults. She earned a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University.