Human beings – impressive as we are – have a fatal flaw that prevents us from continuing along our personal paths of knowledge and progression. We age, and as a browning leaf on a tree branch eventually flutters dry and brittle to the ground, we perish. There’s nothing to stop this eventual deterioration of our bodies. Even our minds may dissipate as we age, and we may become frail and physically incapable.
The fact that humans ‘wither & die’ at all has been enough of a spark to start the proverbial fire under many fields of study; the two studies of the elderly and aging being gerontology and geriatrics.
Gerontology is the study of aging itself – the processes that happen biologically and psychologically. Gerontology also has a lot to do with feelings of social distress that humans have as they age, such as loneliness or depression. Though it may seem a bit theoretical, the effects that feelings of loneliness can have on a person as they grow older can be a serious source of personal discomfort. This can even cause people to ‘lose the will’ to continue living or fighting a difficult disease. Many people see the connection between their health and their emotional state – But these problems seem to only get worse as a person ages.
So, to clear up some of the questions the individual has about the process of aging, the field of gerontology took on several responsibilities rather than just linking emotional and physical aspects of aging. Researchers in the gerontology field are hard at work finding out just what in our bodies causes us to age – more specifically – what causes some people to age worse, or faster than others. Understanding HOW our bodies physically age can contribute immensely to the all manner of biological studies.
Some of the studies of gerontology encompass things like elderly care, which is often considered part of geriatric study. However, it is important that elderly housing and hospitalization stays up to date with current ‘aging trends’ as it were – meaning that each generation tends to age differently, and have different needs that continue to change as they age.
Geriatrics more or less deals with the things that happen to a person after they have already aged – such as diseases and disabilities that cause a more rapid and unhealthy decline in the later years of life. As human beings age, their organs start to age as well – and in the way we become wrinkled and slow, our organs become less and less efficient in doing their specific jobs.
Medications and treatments differ greatly depending on a person’s age, and elderly health care patients may receive different treatments for the same sorts of diseases a younger person might have. Many things that seemed trivial at a young age – like the common cold – can become a serious threat later in life and can have impacts that negatively affect your entire body.
There are other things that the study of geriatrics covers, such as elderly mobility issues, hearing and vision problems, dental and dermatological issues, and basically anything else that has to do with the health and quality of life associated with the elderly.
Geriatrics has many subdivisions of study. Some of them seem pretty obvious – like cardio-geriatrics (the study of heart disease and other heart complications in the elderly), geriatric neurology (the study of neurological disorders in the elderly), psycho-geriatrics (which focuses more on Alzheimer’s and dementia), as well as many others that are specific to certain parts of elderly health care.
The difference between the two can sometimes be obscured, but the studies of gerontology and geriatrics can be separated by two defining principles: geriatrics has to do with the ailments and challenges of the lives of the elderly, whereas gerontology deals with the process of human aging itself. Both are incredibly important when it comes to learning about our human bodies, and they can both respectively teach us how to keep our minds and bodies healthier as we grow older.
The American Geriatrics Society
The Gerontological Society of America
The Applied Gerontology Journals