Why Study Aging and Older Persons?
Populations are aging worldwide.
This means that people are living longer, and the number of older persons
is increasing. These trends are evident in American society, as well as
in many countries around the world. In the U.S., of those born in 1900
nearly half died before they were 50 years old. People born today can
expect to live beyond their 75th year. In 1900 about one in 25 Americans
was over 65; today one in eight is over 65. And the age group growing
fastest in our society and in many other countries is the "very old,"
people aged 85 and over. The growth of the elderly population will continue
into the future. By the middle of the 21st century, one in five Americans
will be over 65, and there will be 15 to 18 million persons over the age
of 85. These growth trends will result in a demand for professionals with
knowledge and expertise in aging. Expanded career opportunities in gerontology
and geriatrics are forecast in many disciplines and professions.
Stimulating, Challenging Field:
The field of aging is very diverse,
offering many different employment opportunities. This diversity exists,
in part, because older persons are very different from each other in many
ways. As we age, our experiences, needs, resources, and abilities vary
according to such factors as gender, race, ethnicity, and economic status.
For example, many older persons are very healthy and active. Persons working
with these older people might be providing educational opportunities,
recreation and leisure programs, and volunteer activities. Some older
persons are frail and less active. Jobs which relate to these more vulnerable
elders might be in long-term care or other health care settings or in
certain agencies that deliver services to older persons. The relative
newness of the field means that there are opportunities for innovative
ideas and new programs and products. Many people have started their own
businesses, such as coordinating home health care or consulting with businesses
and corporations about how to develop services or design products that
would attract older consumers.
The varied needs of older persons
lead to exciting opportunities for working side by side with professionals
from other disciplines. As a service provider, you may be coordinating
information from housing agencies, lawyers, transportation providers,
nurses, and family counselors. As a health professional, you might serve
on a health care team providing hospital care, day care, or home care
to older persons. As an educator, you might teach a course on work and
retirement to students from several university departments. As a researcher,
you might study the relationships between the maintenance of friendship
networks and the mental and physical health of older persons.
to Make a Difference:
People working in aging report
great satisfaction in addressing the challenges of those who are growing
older, helping to maintain the quality of their lives, and enjoying the
wit, wisdom, and creativity of the older persons with whom they come in
contact. Even as a student you can make a difference; your community can
benefit from volunteer work you do with older persons. Later, as a professional
in the field, you can continue to serve the community as a volunteer,
for example, by speaking about various aspects of aging to civic and community
groups or teaching in pre-retirement programs. Working in the field of
aging provides an opportunity to influence positively the agencies and
organizations serving older persons and the legislation and policies that
affect their lives. Studying aging also gives you a perspective on your
own aging and insight into the aging of your family members.