The older we grow, the more assistance we need. It’s not just physical assistance though; I’m not solely talking about the cliched and condescending image of the prepubescent boy scout eager to help the old woman cross the street in a swift fashion. Mental assistance is a requisite as well. The pains of advancing age include emotional tolls as well.
Assisting the elderly in this capacity is trying work, but rewarding. In the field of social work, it’s known as gerontology.
Simply put, gerontology is the study of aging. It is not to be confused with geriatrics, which primarily focuses on treating the diseases that most commonly come in conjunction with old age.
Gerontology is a surprisingly little-known discipline. I say surprisingly because it dates back quite a while. The book The Canon of Medicine offered dietary advice for the elderly back in the year 1025 (bear in mind that the life expectancy back then was around 25 years old). It is a little-known discipline, but it is an essential one. I strongly encourage for students to study gerontology for the following reasons.
I don’t mean to alarm you, but you are older than you were when you started reading this article. The fountain of youth is a lie, and we’re all getting older with every passing second. The changes are gradual to be sure, but we’ve all had that moment when you look in the mirror and are startled by how time has gone by.
As you get older, a lot will change. You will lose loved ones, which will always take an emotional toll. Your diet will evolve. You will increasingly lose touch with the younger generations. Studying gerontology will help to prepare you for the changes that come with morphing into the septuagenarian version of yourself.
Breaking Down Stereotypes
The elderly get a bad rap in our society, and are often the butt of offensive jokes. For some reason, late night comedians seem to presume that all elderly people are racist and decrepit. It puzzles me that we assign these stereotypes to people who have the requisite life experience to acquire a lot of wisdom.
Stereotypes alter public discourse, and can have an impact on public policy. When you hear people advocate for pulling the drivers license of anyone over the age of 65, it’s born from an absurd stereotype that all old people have limited vision or reaction time. The more people that study gerontology, the more likely these stereotypes will lessen.
This directly ties into the previous section, but the study of gerontology can inform and benefit public policy. Medicare and Social Security are two of the most popular social programs in America, but both are available to those 65 and older. What most people don’t realize is that the 65+ population is likely to double between the years 2000 and 2030, and that 85+ is the fastest growing demographic in America. If you don’t think that this will greatly impact Social Security and Medicare, you’re kidding yourself. Being aware of statistics like this can inform your opinion on public policy and your ability to contribute to public discourse.
I’m not saying that you need to change your major right this very second. However, I’m a firm believer in pursuing a well-rounded education, one that dabbles in a myriad of different disciplines. There is no harm in studying gerontology. In fact, there are a lot of advantages.