Gerontologist: Job Description, Salary and Requirements

Gerontology is generally the study of aging. Continue reading for an overview of the training requirements, as well as career and salary info for some career options for this field.

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Gerontologist is an umbrella term referring to professionals working with the elderly population, such as geriatric social workers, life enrichment professionals or recreation therapists, personal care aides or facility directors. Some of these careers involve working face to face with the elderly, providing care or therapy, while others may be more administrative or managerial in elderly living facilities. All of these career paths have strong job outlook for the next ten years.

Essential Information

Gerontologists work with, or on behalf of, the elderly. The term does not necessarily refer to one career in particular; it describes professionals from various educational backgrounds who aim to improve seniors' standards of living by supporting either their physical or emotional health, as well as promoting and ensuring other related lifestyle needs.

Career Geriatric Social Worker Life Enrichment Professional Personal Care Aide Facility Director
Required Education Master's degree Bachelor's degree On-the-job training Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Licensure, certification Certification State requirements Licensure, optional certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-24) 19% (healthcare social workers)* 12% (recreation therapists)* 26%* 17% (health services managers)*
Median Salary (2015) $52,380 (healthcare social workers)* $45,890 (recreation therapists)* $20,980* $94,500 (health services managers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Many gerontologists work directly with older adults as caregivers or advocates. Others work behind the scenes in medical research, education or administration.

Geriatric Social Workers

Adult Protective Services and similar agencies employ geriatric social workers. These professionals handle cases involving seniors whose well-being is at risk because of their living conditions, income level or lack of a support system. They meet with elderly persons and their families to establish the level of intervention and assistance that is required. Case workers help patients complete paperwork, provide referrals and act as liaisons with care-giving institutions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) listed the median salaries for healthcare social workers as $52,380 in May 2015. Job opportunities for all social workers are projected to increase by 12% between 2014 and 2024.

Life Enrichment Professionals

Adult enrichment programs provide recreational therapy for senior citizens. Life enrichment specialists design and facilitate ability-appropriate programs at adult day care or residential centers. This can include arranging activities as simple as crafts or as involved as community initiatives. Job positions for recreational therapists are expected to increase by 12% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. The median salary for these positions, as of May 2015, was $45,890.

Personal Care Aides

Home health workers provide assistance with personal care in the patient's home. Their responsibilities depend on the limitations of the patient and can include dispensing medications, bathing and dressing the patient, cooking, shopping or driving the patient to appointments. Aides with medical backgrounds can provide more specialized physical care. They often work in nursing homes or hospices and are responsible for moving, changing and monitoring chronically ill or disabled patients. According to the BLS, positions for personal care aides are expected to increase by 26% between 2014 and 2024. The median salary for these workers was $20,980 as of May 2015.

Facility Directors

These administrators oversee the operations of institutions like nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. They are responsible for managing the facility's personnel and budget. Ensuring that the facility and its employees comply with all health and safety regulations is also a large part of the elder-care administrator's job. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that all medical and health services managers made a median salary of $94,500. The BLS also predicted that job positions for this career will increase by 17% between 2014 and 2024.

Requirements

Education and training requirements depend upon the gerontologist's field of practice. For example, case manager positions call for a degree in social work or psychology while healthcare jobs might require a degree in nursing. Recreational therapy certification is typically preferred for adult enrichment positions, and administrators often need a master's degree in a health care or social work specialization.

Many universities offer gerontology concentrations within their social work, psychology or public health degree programs. Certificates in gerontology and aging are also widely available. Courses in these programs focus on the physical, psychological and social changes that happen as people age.

Gerontologists provide therapy, care, recreation or improved living conditions for the elderly. They may have a background in healthcare, health services management, nursing, social work, or psychology. This field is expanding over the next ten years, but salaries vary widely, depending on expertise.

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