We all operate in the world. We’re all aging. We’re all embedded in families that are aging. As individuals and as a society, we benefit from understanding aging and gerontology. Gerontological literacy, that is, knowledge about aging, is an asset that empowers ourselves and others to capably navigate the transitions and challenges that arise as we move through the life course.
Given the diversity of the aging population and its diverse needs, there are many ways to function as a gerontologist. Academic gerontologists hold graduate-level degrees in gerontology and are trained in current approaches to education, research, and teaching. Professionals working in the field promote improvements in policy, whether employed in the public or private/corporate sector. Gerontology is also a welcoming field for consultants and change-making entrepreneurs.
Widely publicized stats indicate that as life expectancies increase, the number of older persons is growing. This trend holds true not only in the United States, but globally. The growth of the elderly population will continue into the future. By the mid-21st century, one in five Americans will be over 65 and 15 to 18 million Americans will be 85 or older. These growth trends forecast a rising demand for professionals with expertise in aging. Expanded career opportunities are predicted for many disciplines and professions related to gerontology and geriatrics.
The field of gerontology offers many diverse employment opportunities. This diversity exists, in part, because older persons are not a monolithic demographic group. As we age, our experiences, needs, resources, and abilities vary, impacted by our gender, race, ethnicity, and economic status. Many older adults are healthy and active. Gerontologically-trained persons working with these older adults might provide educational opportunities, recreation and leisure programs, and volunteer activities. Many older persons have reduced capabilities. Jobs that relate to these more vulnerable elders might be in long-term or other health care settings or in agencies that deliver services to older persons.
Professionals working in aging-related disciplines report great satisfaction in addressing the challenges of community members who are growing older and helping to maintain the quality of their lives. The benefit flows both directions: those who work with aging adults enjoy the wit, wisdom, and creativity of the older persons with whom they come in contact.
While a student you can make a difference by volunteering your service with programs that enhance quality of life for aging adults. Opportunities to share your expertise as a volunteer will enrich your experience at all career stages; speaking as an issue expert to civic and community groups and teaching in pre-retirement programs are common service activities for gerontology professionals.
Gerontologists are forward-thinking change-agents: their work positively influences the agencies and organizations that serve older persons, as well as the legislation and public policy that affect our society’s treatment of its elder members.