In the USA alone, the fastest growing demographic consists of people over the age of 85. By 2050, these numbers are expected to double. Consequently, the population above the age of 65 is also rapidly increasing. All estimates indicate that those over the age of 65 will double by 2060. Alongside an aging portion of the population comes an increase in chronic diseases such as dementia, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. For this reason, occupations that specialize in human aging and interfacing with the elderly are in higher demand than ever. For those wanting to understand just what they can do with their degree in gerontology, or even those who are still choosing a college major, this article aims to grant some insight into how the skills gleaned from such a degree can be applied in the real world.
Social and health service workers interface with a variety of clients in order to assist them with a plethora of issues. Consequently, available jobs within the profession are inherently varied and widespread. Essentially, social and health service workers meet with clients in order to ascertain what their needs are, and utilize that information to decide which programs would be most beneficial. Ideal candidates for these positions would be driven, compassionate individuals who demonstrate an unflinching desire for helping others.
Not to be confused with social service work, social workers help their clients learn how to function within their primary environment, including how to deal with personal issues related to friends and family. Most social workers focus on a single area of specialization; in this case, that would be gerontology, meaning this occupation would focus on helping elderly individuals and their families. This could include assisting their children, providing information to caregivers, and advising on long-term housing options. In a healthcare-related environment, gerontology specialists would assist with the coordination of home health services and related tasks.
More academically-inclined individuals, especially those with a masters in gerontology, may want to consider an occupation in social science. Essentially, social science consists of studying ancient and current human behavior patterns, as well as the relationships between individuals and groups. In this profession research is not limited to the laboratory, it is often conducted through surveys, analysis, and interviews.
In this field, those with degrees in gerontology usually become sociologists. In studying the behavior of the elderly, many sociologists conduct research that is used to shape public policy and solve various social issues. Due to the importance of their research, sociologists are expected to have excellent oral and written communication capacities, which many undergraduate programs should begin to prepare them for. However, as mentioned above, a master’s degree would be optimal for this particular profession.
For those still considering a program, one great place to start is the Aging Studies Institute at Syracuse University. They offer both a gerontology minor and graduate coursework on aging. Both programs are geared towards the achievement of a multidisciplinary understanding of aging and age-related issues.