What is Gerontology? - Definition & History

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  • 0:05 Definition
  • 1:51 Care-Taking
  • 3:01 Research
  • 4:55 Policy and Program
  • 6:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the topic of gerontology and how this broad definition of gerontology has many fields that work together. This includes care-taking, research and policy issues all dealing with middle aged and older adults.

Defining Gerontology

Gerontology is defined as the study of the maturing and development through middle age and later life. It isn't just about studying old people. It's a broad study area, including:

  • Physical changes, like those in the muscles, skeleton and hormone systems
  • Mental changes, including how thoughts and memories change
  • Social changes, such as how one interacts with others and how society interacts with you

The field of gerontology is actually quite broad, containing many professionals who focus on various aspects of aging and development. While it could be considered one large field, it actually consists of many smaller fields all working together with a united focus on middle-aged and older adults.

I've decided to cut this a little differently. Instead of taking you through all the people who manage physical changes, mental changes and social changes, I have summarized them into three categories:

  • Care-taking
  • Research
  • Policy and program

I've decided on these three because each one encompasses the changes but kind of joins them together in a less obvious and more holistic way. It also lets me add in a new dimension to the discussion and makes it a little less boring for me.


The first is care-taking. The physical aspect is the domain of the physician and the physical therapist. These people are trained to maintain the body and help it return to a sense of normal following an injury or illness. Since the body changes as one gets older, the same techniques that were useful on a younger person may not be useful now. Timing must also be considered since elderly people may take more time to heal from a simple injury.

Also under the care-taking umbrella is the mental and social aspect. Here you have clinicians and professionals who are tasked with maintaining and improving the mind and level of interactions of people. People's priorities and lives change as they grow older.

You and I aren't the same as we were 10 years ago, and I doubt we will be the same 10 years from now. However, there are patterns to people's lives - teenagers have similar problems, and 20-year-olds have similar problems. So, it stands to reason that people working with middle-aged and older adults would need to be familiar with the concerns of that particular age.


Your body never really stops growing and changing. Some of your cells even live past your death, continuing to grow and work. Reeling it back from death talk, there needs to be a better understanding of the changes that happen to a person as they age. You don't want to give 20-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 60-year-olds and 80-year-olds all the same treatment. We need to have some more refined capabilities.

Mental and social changes a person experiences can greatly impact him or her in several interactive ways. Many people may feel like they are losing their minds or getting Alzheimer's disease because they can't remember something. This leads to depression and social isolation.

However, as our understanding of mental changes increases, we can say that the degree of forgetfulness is a very normal part of getting older. It has to do with specific aspects of intelligence and neural plasticity.

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