Nursing Fields: Gerontology Vs Geriatrics Care
Over 700 million people in the world are aged 65 and above. Often regarded as the aging population, a significant section of this group requires specific needs. From basic activities to medical requirements, older people depend on assistance and a practical public approach that can protect their interests. One such approach is the field of gerontology.
Gerontology focuses on the physical and mental decline associated with old age. The field aims at helping the older population overcome these difficulties and make the most of a long life. As a developing field, there is a lot of confusion and contradiction regarding gerontology. In this article, we examine the area in detail and differentiate it from another similar field: geriatrics care.
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What is gerontology?
Gerontology refers to the study of the physical aspects of aging, while also incorporating the social, mental and societal implications associated with old age. The study encompasses the following features:
- Studying the physical, mental and social switch that accompanies old age
- Exploring societal changes that come from the aging process
- Applying the knowledge to programs and a public approach
The field of gerontology is multidisciplinary, incorporating several medical and social areas. As such, a gerontology team comprises various professionals, including doctors, nurses, biologists, social workers, psychologists, policy experts, economists, and many other scholars and researchers.
The field’s multidisciplinary nature makes it possible to view the aging population from different perspectives and understand the extent to which changes occur. In recent decades, life expectancy has increased significantly – therefore, the need for this study and its application is essential.
Gerontology is an emerging field, and for a good reason. A solid understanding of gerontology helps develop effective plans to accommodate the needs associated with old age. These plans are not only limited to health strategies made by individuals and medical professionals. They also help different societies implement solid public policies for the aging population.
Gerontology vs geriatrics care
Healthcare is a massive industry, and its management incorporates similar but different aspects. As such, it’s unsurprising that some of these aspects get confused with another. Today, a significant number of people mistake gerontology for geriatric care, and while they are quite similar, there are some essential differences between both fields. Geriatric care refers solely to the medical care of older adults as opposed to the social, mental and physical aspects that gerontology encompasses.
Geriatric care centers on helping older adults in their homes or medical institutions. The activities of geriatric care are purely medical and fall into any of the following objectives:
- Maintaining healthy function
- Identifying critical illnesses at an early stage
- Mitigating risks of deterioration as a result of underlying health issues
Unlike geriatric care, gerontology professionals work in both clinical and non-clinical capacities. The field also incorporates geriatric care and medicine, which are essential in providing specialized care and nursing to aging adults.
A clear distinction between both fields lies in the training required. Geriatrics requires professionals to complete medical school and residency in the field. In comparison, there is no specific training path to becoming a gerontologist. With the field being multidisciplinary, its professionals come from different backgrounds, including medicine, biology, sociology and psychology.
Evidently, both fields look to solve the same problem. However, they both take different processes. Geriatric care focuses squarely on the patient and seeks to understand specific aging processes to treat illnesses associated with old age. On the other hand, gerontology takes a broader perspective and examines aging from different views.
Possible career paths in gerontology
Individuals looking to work with an older population may consider options beyond traditional careers in healthcare and human services. Today, there are so many possible career paths in different emerging fields. For instance, advertising and segmented marketing tailored to the older population are two areas that appeal to business-inclined individuals.
As a result of current shortages in the healthcare sector and occupational therapy, there is a vast opportunity to work as a clinical professional or service provider focused on improving independent living. Currently, the demand for service workers in different gerontology institutions is high. There are lots of career paths with a gerontology background, some of which we discuss below.
Social service worker
Social service workers are professionals who work closely with different groups, including the elderly, and help them resolve their problems. Typically, these career paths focus on adult and children’s social care and aim to help vulnerable people in difficult situations by understanding their perspectives.
Specialist qualification is often required to become a social service worker. Qualifications could come in the form of an accredited degree or a first degree in any sociology-related accredited course. Some primary responsibilities of these professionals include:
- Checking up on patients and assessing their needs
- Interacting with relatives, colleagues and other professionals
- Administering relevant care, resources and benefits
- Creating reports on the current status and progress of the patient
Aside from care institutions, social service workers can also engage and offer gerontology services in other organizations such as charities, specialist agencies and government institutions.
An occupational therapist works with patients to help them regain or maintain normal bodily functions such as walking. They provide practical advice and solutions to enable older people to live long, independent and satisfying lives. Occupational nurses can work in various sectors, with some common employers being health centers, government institutions, doctor’s practices, industrial organizations, and even prisons.
To become a practicing occupational therapist, you need to be registered with a relevant healthcare council, depending on the state in which you choose to operate. Undergraduate and, to some extent, postgraduate degrees are also required.
Mental health therapist
The responsibility of a mental health therapist includes using psychotherapy to help older patients with cognitive decline. This career focuses on helping patients and their family members cope with the aging process. In the gerontology context, mental health therapists provide diagnostic assessments, counseling, therapy and support for aging individuals experiencing mental health issues or communication challenges.
These professionals can work in a clinical setting or a private capacity. Typically, a master’s degree in social work or psychology is required, along with independent mental health licenses such as LMFT, LPCC or LICSW. Dealing with the psychological aspect of an individual is critical, and mental health therapists must possess excellent listening, verbal and writing skills, and deep empathy.
Lifestyle assistants are individuals responsible for creating, implementing and maintaining activity programs for people in senior care facilities. These programs enrich the lives of the older population in their care with music, arts, and other forms of entertainment.
Lifestyle assistants also regularly access the cultural, spiritual, occupational and cognitive needs of aging people and coordinate with other professionals to develop fresh and engaging lifestyle programs. Some other key responsibilities include:
- Preparing and educating aging people and their families on the program of activities
- Conducting activities within the care facility that suit all residents’ abilities and interests
- Engaging in residents’ meetings to obtain feedback relevant to improving the lifestyle programs
As of now, the salary of a lifestyle assistant ranges from $39,906 to $50,180, with an average amount of about $44,495 annually.
Assisted living director
As an assisted living director, you are responsible for the daily operations at a senior care institution or assisted living facility. The primary duties for this career path include supervising staff who work in these facilities and engaging in other relevant administrative tasks. Assisted living directors work in a managerial capacity. As such, they communicate with residents and their family members to ensure that the facility is up to standard.
A bachelor’s degree in management, administration and other related fields could be sufficient for this career path. Specialists also commonly gain experience working with older people through internships or previous jobs in an assisted living facility. Depending on the state, you might also be required to obtain licenses and certifications such as the Certified Director of Assisted Living (CDAL) certificate to become an executive.
Resident services coordinator
These professionals are not only limited to working in an assisted living facility but could also function in similar housing communities and educational institutions. The responsibility of a resident services coordinator is to create a friendly and effective environment for every member of the facility. Primary job duties include training staff, responding to the needs of the residents, and coordinating regular activities for the residents.
The training path to becoming a resident services coordinator is not extensive. While a high school diploma is a minimum requirement, post-secondary education is not usually required. That said, experience is an essential requirement. Most employers prefer candidates with extensive experience working primarily as program planners in a similar institution.
Staff development coordinator
A staff development coordinator is tasked with carrying out orientations for new employees of an organization – in this case, an assisted living facility. Aside from conducting orientations, these professionals give existing employees the opportunity to develop their skills further. Most individuals use the staff development coordinator role as a step toward getting an HR role.
Relevant qualifications for this career typically include a bachelor’s degree in business, communication, HR management, or other related fields. Employers also prefer candidates with experience working in a similar organization. This criterion evidences a candidate’s knowledge of the institution’s work culture and history.
Health and wellness director
From corporate business environments to public community centers, a health and wellness director is critical in improving people’s wellbeing. These professionals are responsible for activities developed to improve health and wellness in various environments, such as nursing homes. They achieve this by ensuring that employees have access to insurance and effective healthcare plans.
A career as a health and wellness director is pretty dynamic. Directors must consider the number of people they are responsible for and identify the best program to help improve their health and wellness. Directors also evaluate a program’s success and make necessary improvements or changes. A business and management degree is sufficient for this position. However, an advanced degree would also give candidates an extra push.
Gerontology skills and degrees
The field of gerontology offers a unique education because it focuses on a particular group. Breaking into the field requires developing specialized skills exclusive to the area and can be used in all aspects of life. In truth, most of these skills are transferable, making it possible for professionals to switch quickly to another career path. These skills include the following.
Patience and compassion
The specialized skills are irrelevant if a gerontologist does not have the patience and compassion to care for elderly patients effectively. Gerontology professionals need to understand the patient, listen patiently, respond compassionately, and always offer emotional support.
Gerontology also incorporates considerations for the patient’s family – therefore, empathy should also translate to the family members who have to cope with the gradual deterioration of their loved one’s health. Being understanding and sensitive to all these issues helps a professional connect better and build solid trust and relationships with the patient – all of which are essential requirements in this field.
Interpersonal communication has been referred to as an essential tool for life adjustment, especially among the aging population. Communication disorders result in a wide range of conditions that could vary in severity. Therefore, it’s vital for gerontologists to master good communication skills.
This competency ranges from verbal to writing and even listening skills. Social isolation and loneliness are significant health concerns among the elderly and can adversely affect their mental and physical health. Therefore, maintaining connections offers substantial health and lifestyle benefits for the aging population. Gerontologists can communicate effectively with patients via remote connection, meal sharing and in-person discussions.
Research has shown that older adults, even those who are cognitively healthy, often make poor decisions. The vulnerability of this group has been attributed to disproportionate aging of the brain’s frontal lobe, causing a decline in functioning abilities.
In essence, older adults make mistakes and potentially create problems for themselves. Therefore, a gerontology professional must possess problem-solving skills to address errors effectively. Some career paths require developing various plans and activities that suit all care home residents. It’s never an easy task managing such institutions, and utilizing good problem-solving skills helps make essential decisions relevant for streamlining most processes.
Observation and critical thinking
There is a need for caregivers working with the elderly to spot changes in health and report those changes as fast and accurately as possible. This incorporates keen observation, accurate documentation and cooperation with other professionals. A proactive approach to caregiving can be the difference between life and death for an elderly patient. Identifying changes quickly results in early intervention.
These transferable skills are not the only competencies relevant in the gerontology field. Individuals still have to engage in any specialized program. Degrees in gerontology are offered at different levels.
These days, there are online courses that cover different programs in various fields, and gerontology is no exception. The majority of these online gerontology programs help individuals seeking administrative or non-clinical positions. Online colleges offer a flexible and top-quality education at a relatively lower price than traditional campuses.
With programs such as the Rockhurst University online AGACNP post-master’s certificate, you can conveniently bolster your clinical competencies and expand your scope of practice. Rockhurst University prepares nurses to care for the aging population’s needs through rigorous academics, rich clinical experience, and a spirit of inquiry and reflection.
Opting for an online program depends on the career path you choose. There are so many other online gerontology programs that can help you break into the field.
Bachelor’s degrees related to gerontology usually require four years to complete. By obtaining a bachelor’s degree, professionals are open to entry and mid-level positions in gerontology-related careers. However, based on specialization, you must also have completed specific courses.
Gerontology postgraduate degrees take about two years to complete. Typically, these programs incorporate intense coursework with internships relevant to developing experience. A postgraduate degree opens new career advancement opportunities and remains a practical option for professionals looking to switch careers.
In the gerontology field, there are different certifications relevant to other positions. Firstly, some entry-level positions in nursing homes, private home care, and senior day care institutions require only a certificate. Through this certification, individuals get a solid introduction to gerontology and master relevant skills.
For specialized careers such as mental health and occupational therapists, licenses and certifications are also required to prove field competency.
Choosing to major in gerontology shows an interest in helping the aging population, and unlike geriatric care, there are many different career opportunities available. Regardless of which area you choose, you are undoubtedly playing a crucial role in assisting a vulnerable group.