Have you ever heard of the word “Gerontology”? What about “Geriatrics”? “Pediatrics”? Most people have heard of “pediatrics” before – it’s the doctor who specializes in children. On the other hand, a geriatrician is a doctor who specializes in older adults. Now what is a gerontologist, and what is gerontology? Gerontology is a term most people are unfamiliar with. It is however a term that everyone should get to know – especially older adults. Gerontology is the scientific study of old age, its processes, and the problems faced by older adults relating to physical health, social wellbeing, mental health, and so forth. In lay terms, it’s the study of health and wellbeing in older adults. Gerontologists can be found in an array of institutions including health care, businesses, non-profits, and governments. As a Gerontologist, I study the health and wellbeing of older adults. I work in universities doing research, in the community and with non-profits. I devise ways to positively impact the lives of older adults. I accomplish this by using research that I, and others have done, which I then implement as programs to individuals, in the community, in facilities (like hospitals, retirement homes, assisted living facilities, and long-term care homes), and at the policy level.
With the aging of the population all across the world (aging population – this means that the median age of a population is increasing; in other words, more and more of our population is now composed of people 65 years and older than it is of persons who are 15 years and younger) the health of older adults is becoming more of a concern. Why is it becoming more of a concern you ask? A lot of media has termed this aging of the population as a gray tsunami that we are unable to cope with. But in fact, new research shows that it is possible to cope with this demographic shift. What is important to consider, is that older adults are the largest and most expensive consumer of health care. In Canada, because the government pays for healthcare through taxation, it is important to devise ways that we can prevent such high expenses. This is where gerontologists come in!
Gerontologists develop and implement strategies that improve and maintain the health of older adults. More importantly, they develop and implement strategies that improve the QUALITY OF LIFE of seniors. (I will talk about the work gerontologists do in an upcoming blog). By doing these things, visits to the doctor, the hospital, and residential moves to retirement homes or the dreaded nursing home, are delayed or prevented altogether!
Now I want to paint you a little picture. Think of a nursing home. What do you see? You see a little old lady sitting in her wheelchair, all alone, in her room. She’s very thin, you can see her blood vessels on her hands, and the light in her eyes has gone out. Now think of your mother, your grandmother, your father or grandfather. Imagine them in the place of this older woman. Living in a nursing home is a fate no person will EVER tell you they want. This picture is unfortunately not an uncommon scenario. As a gerontologist and as a human being, it is my aim to prevent this from happening. With the aging of the baby boom and the subsequent aging of the population, action needs to be taken to support and improve the health and quality of life of older adults. Gerontologists are the first line of action in this quest, and are here to make the lives of the senior population better. Remember, it is not just about the length of life lived, but the quality of life lived.
By Eleanor Pineau
February 24, 2016