Gerontology and geriatrics are two fields that are often confused, and on the surface, it’s easy to see why. The two fields have quite a lot in common, as both involve working with elderly individuals in a variety of settings.
Beyond the focus on the elderly, however, gerontology and geriatrics have a number of important differences in how gerontologists and geriatricians approach the elderly and how they ultimately contribute to the field of elder study and care.
Gerontology is the scientific study of aging as a physical, cultural and social process. The study is often academic, involving researchers in diverse, multidisciplinary fields. These fields tend to look at four specific areas in gerontology:
- The physiological changes that occur as we age
- The psychological effects of aging
- The social and economic impacts of aging members of the community
- How aging differs in humans and other species on the planet
Gerontologists tend to have specific research areas in one or more of these categories, each contributing to the greater body of knowledge of aging as a whole. A gerontologist with training in psychology and behavioral science might, for example, want to focus on how aging influences self-perception and mood. Researchers trained in public policy might focus on how governments accommodate older populations.
Gerontologists may look at the history of a particular society and how they coped with aging individuals. The physical brain and body changes that take place as we age are studied by gerontologists with an interest in scientific and biological processes. In all cases, the focus here is on learning about and studying aging from multiple angles.
Geriatrics, however, is a field of medicine. Physicians with a focus on geriatrics work to help older patients with the physical changes their bodies experience as they age. While doctors in this field spend time studying how aging affects the body, the focus here is more on how they can better care for and assist older patients than on the study of aging as an academic area of interest.
From performing physical examinations to recommending treatments and procedures in the event of age-related health complications, geriatricians approach aging with an eye for hands-on care in mind.
While gerontology and geriatrics are undeniably different, in truth these two fields complement and support each other. Gerontologists benefit from the medical experience and physical expertise of doctors specializing in geriatrics. In turn, these doctors benefit from the academic knowledge gained from multidisciplinary study in the field of gerontology. Together, gerontologists and geriatricians work to understand and ultimately ease the transitions of the aging process for older individuals.