Psychology Jobs > Gerontologist
A Gerontologist focuses on various aspects of aging and can come from a variety of backgrounds such as nursing, biology, social work and sociology as well as psychology amongst others. As the population continues to age, the need for gerontologists continues to rise.
A gerontologist may focus on the biological, social, and/or psychological aspects of aging. The area that you end up focusing on depends on both your education and interest.
The educational requirements for becoming a gerontologist depend on the work you would like to do within gerontology.
Although this is not the place for a full description of again, a brief overview will help you as you consider a career as a Gerontologist. Gerontologists have a number of theories about why we age, although none of these theories have been completely accepted. One thing that all of these theories has in common is the recognition that aging is accompanied by a decline in body functioning.
Most of these theories can be divided into two main types: programmed theories and damage based theories.
Programmed Theories: Programmed theories of aging basically state that each cell in our body is programmed by our DNA to begin to slow down. After a certain amount of time, the cells begin to lose their ability to repair. Although environmental factors can cause this to happen quicker, we cannot live past the time programmed into our cells.
Damage-Based Theories: Damage-based theories state that our bodies become run down over time as a result of use and damage. Our cells and organs basically wear out, become unable to repair themselves, and expire.
- Why Do We Age?
- What Does a Gerontologist Do?
- Typical Jobs for a Gerontologist
- Program Development
- Direct Care
- Counselling Services
- Financial Services
- Manager or Administrator
- How Do I Become a Gerontologist?
- Job Outlook for a Gerontologist
It can be confusing to figure out what a gerontologist does because there are so many different career paths as well as different job tasks for people who call themselves gerontologists. Basically, if a person's main area of work is related to the elderly then that person can be a gerontologist. Within gerontology, there are two sub-areas that we'll address: biogerontology or social gerontology.
Biogerontologist: Biogerontology is a relatively new sub-discipline of gerontology. It is primarily concerned with the biological aspects of aging. Biogerontology is a research based occupation looking to answer questions such as why we age, whether or not we can slow down the aging process, what happens to us physically as we age and what can be done to combat the effects of aging. Biogerontologists usually have a degree in the sciences such as biology or neurology.
In addition to looking into why people age, a gerontologist focusing on the biological side of age may conduct research into a variety of diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and osteoarthritis to determine ways to minimize the impact of these diseases and to find ways of preventing their occurrence.
Social Gerontologist: A social gerontologist looks at a number of different areas related to aging but is not usually involved in biological research. That is not to say that social gerontologists do not conduct research, but rather, the types of research they conduct. Most often, their research focuses on the more social aspects of aging such as how the elderly deal with grief, are the elderly more socially isolated or mental health in the elderly.
Other areas of research for the social gerontologist could be in fall prevention, or assessing the needs of the elderly to see what can be done to help them live their lives to the fullest. In addition to research, a social gerontologist may work directly with the elderly to ensure their needs are being met physically, mentally and socially. It's also common for a Gerontologist to provide direct clinical therapy. The type of service that you provide to the elderly as a gerontologist will depend on your area of expertise. A social gerontologist can be a social worker, a psychologist, a nurse and even a sociologist in addition to other occupations.
Program Development: One job for a gerontologist is to develop programs to help the elderly become more socially active, educate the elderly about possible health problems and promote physical activity. Theatre groups, exercise groups, and programs to address depression in the elderly are all programs that can be developed by Gerontologists to aid the elderly.
You may also be involved in evaluating established community based programs as well as helping to develop programs that are designed to meet government objectives. For example, if the government has set a new policy in regards to care for the elderly, you may be required to evaluate how this policy has been implemented and how it can be improved.
Direct Care: Depending on your qualifications as a gerontologist, you may be able to provide physical care in a hospital, residential program or even a home care program. Some examples of people who can deliver direct care include nurses and nursing assistants as well as home care workers.
Counselling Services: A gerontologist may be required to provide counselling and psychotherapy to the elderly to deal with issues such as the loss of a spouse, fear of death or loss of independence. Support groups, like those mentioned previously, are also used effectively for counselling purposes. A person who provides counselling services needs the proper academic credentials and training - often times this means being a licensed psychologist or social worker. A Geropsychologist is an example of an occupation that delivers counselling and psychotherapy to the elderly and their families.
Financial Services: A person who is focusing on working with the elderly can also be found in the financial area. The elderly may need help with estate planning, financing long-term care or figuring out housing options.
Research: As mentioned in a previous section, a gerontologist frequently conducts research into the aging process. You could look at the causes of various diseases related to aging as well as mental health issues such as depression, social isolation and grief issues. Another area of research could be into how society as a whole is changing as a result of the aging population and what effect this will have on society.
As a gerontologist researcher, you may also be involved in designing and evaluating products that are intended to meet the special needs of the elderly. This can include developing new solutions or products, as well as evaluating products that have already been developed.
Advocacy: A gerontologist may also be required to work as an advocate for the elderly at various levels of government as well as within an institutional setting. A gerontologist may need to advocate for better government policies to meet the needs of the elderly. For example a gerontologist may need to advocate for a policy to ensure proper housing for elderly who are in financial difficulty. At other times a gerontologist may need to advocate for an elderly person in regards to problems within an institution such as problems with inadequate facilities.
Manager or Administrator: A gerontologist may also find work as an administrator of a facility for the elderly. The gerontologist will need to ensure that the facility is running properly and that all of the needs to the residents and staff are being met. A gerontologist in this area will usually have a background in business administration.
Teacher: You can also find work as a gerontologist in colleges or universities teaching gerontology to students. This job may also be combined with a university research position and will usually require at least a master's degree or, more likely, a Ph.D.
If you want to study aging and become involved in the care of the elderly, you have a number of different educational opportunities open to you depending on your interest. You can study at an associate level all the way up to a postdoctoral level.
You can also choose to major in a variety of different disciplines but still specialize in working with the elderly. Some of the areas you can choose to study are the obvious ones, such as nursing, psychology, social work and biology, while some other disciplines are not so obvious. You could choose to specialize in gerontology while majoring in anthropology, political science, sociology and even architecture. But, of course, here at AlleyDog.com we focus on psychology - so we believe that an educational foundation in psychology will help you tremendously in the gerontology field.
Almost any major within a university can be directed into the field of gerontology because the issue of the elderly permeate all levels of society and organizations. This is one of the reasons that a gerontologist can have extremely different qualifications compared to another gerontologist.
Associate Level: This level of education is usually provided by community colleges and provides courses in gerontology and specific skills training. You will obtain an associate degree from a community college which could help you find entry level positions working with the elderly. An example of a position you could find with an associate degree is a nursing assistant. The associate degree could also be credited towards a four year degree.
Bachelors Level: A number of universities offer gerontology majors and degrees, as well as allowing you to specialize in gerontology while majoring in a different discipline. For example, you may pursue a social work or nursing degree with a specialization of working with the elderly. Often you will need to complete a field placement in order to be awarded this degree. A degree at the bachelor's level will open up a number of new entry level jobs as well as mid-level jobs such as counsellors, planners and practitioners in a variety of organizations which offer services to the elderly.
Masters Level: Similarly to the bachelor's level of education, you can get a master's degree in gerontology or major in another field with a specialization in gerontology. A gerontologist with a master's degree will be able to work as administrators, counsellors and planners within a number of organizations. A master's degree will be helpful when it comes to moving beyond an entry level position and into a position with more responsibility.
Doctoral Level: A few universities will offer a Ph.D. in gerontology while a number of others will let you specialize in this area. Depending on your area of you will be able to conduct research into aging, teach at a university level, work within administration or develop a clinical practice.
Postdoctoral Level: Even after you have obtained your Ph.D., you may decide to pursue postdoctoral training in gerontology to develop your skills or to pursue a different aspect of gerontology than the area that you initially studied. In many cases, people focusing on research go through postdoctoral training. If you plan to be a researcher, postdoctoral work may be of interest to you.