Geriatrics and Gerontology
Definition of Gerontology
Gerontology is the study of aging and older adults. The science of gerontology has evolved as longevity has improved. Researchers in this field are diverse and are trained in areas such as physiology, social science, psychology, public health, and policy. A more complete definition of gerontology includes all of the following:
- Scientific studies of processes associated with the bodily changes from middle age through later life;
- Multidisciplinary investigation of societal changes resulting from an aging population and ranging from the humanities (e.g., history, philosophy, literature) to economics; and
- Applications of this knowledge to policies and programs.
The multidisciplinary nature of gerontology means that there are a number of sub-fields which overlap with gerontology. There are policy issues, for example, involved in government planning and the operation of nursing homes, investigating the effects of an ageing population on society, and the design of residential spaces for older people that facilitate the development of a sense of place or home.
The Difference Between Gerontology and Geriatrics
Gerontology is multidisciplinary and is concerned with physical, mental, and social aspects and implications of aging. Geriatrics, or geriatric medicine is a specialty that focuses on health care of elderly people. It aims to promote health by preventing and treating diseases and disabilities in older adults. . Although gerontology and geriatrics have differing emphases, they both have the goal of understanding aging so that people can maximize their functioning and achieve a high quality of life.
Geriatrics differs from standard adult medicine because it focuses on the unique needs of the elderly person. The aged body is different physiologically from the younger adult body, and during old age, the decline of various organ systems becomes manifest. Previous health issues and lifestyle choices produce a different constellation of diseases and symptoms in different people. The appearance of symptoms depends on the remaining healthy reserves in the organs. Smokers, for example, consume their respiratory system reserve early and rapidly.
Geriatricians distinguish between diseases and the effects of normal aging. For example, renal impairment may be a part of aging, but renal failure and urinary incontinence are not. Geriatricians aim to treat diseases that are present and achieve healthy aging. Geriatricians focus on achieving the patient's highest priorities in the context of multiple chronic conditions, and on preserving function.