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Aging is a natural process of life. It happens to everyone over time. As people age they have different health, psychological and social needs that are specific to older people. Many older people consult gerontologists to help them take care of their needs. The term gerontologist refers to a variety of people who work with the elderly. Some either work directly with the clients in outreach, or community service programs, while others work in research or teaching. Gerontologists work to maintain and increase the quality of life and health for an aging population.

There are many fields related to gerontology including biology, psychology, education, ethics, health, law, recreation and sociology. One area that is emerging in the field of gerontology is adult daycare. Adult daycare is to help those who have had strokes or are suffering from Alzheimer's. They will receive meals, help taking medication and essential social interaction. Sometimes, providers will plan activities, crafts or day trips for clients as well.

Some gerontologists also work as retirement planners, which is another growing area in the gerontology field. They help clients with their financial plans based on their retirement incomes. Besides daycare and financial planning there are a variety of services gerontologists might provide. For example, those entering the field with a nursing or physiotherapy background may choose to focus on the physical needs of the elderly, while a social worker entering the field may focus on housing assistance or advocacy for their elderly clients.

The gerontologist's role is rapidly expanding as a result of the aging population. Many people do not think they are old enough to see a gerontologist. However, experts say if one shows any of the following signs, to consult with a geriatrics doctor: a decline in function, either activities of daily living or instrumental activities such as cooking food, memory-loss problems, a suspicion of dementia, depression complicating medical illnesses or an interest in healthy ageing. There are many possibilities for those wishing to enter the field of gerontology. As this field grows and expands so does the need for a variety of people from different backgrounds to fill these roles.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Gerontologists are interested in helping older people, first and foremost. Key characteristics are patience and compassion. Gerontologists have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning and the stamina required to work long hours. They need emotional strength, maturity, compassion, empathy and energy. Gerontologists must also be self-motivated as they may need to create and/or plan their own positions in this emerging field.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Provide food and social interaction such as outings for those in adult daycare
  • Assist in bathing and other client needs when providing home care or daycare
  • Administer appropriate medications and treatments, which may involve giving simple advice and coordinating more complex treatment or rehabilitation programs
  • Inoculate and vaccinate patients
  • Advise patients on health care and counsel patients on diet, hygiene and preventative health care and discuss treatment methods
  • Provide advocacy and/or legal advice regarding finances and retirement planning
  • Assist clients moving from their homes into long term care facilities
  • Coordinate their work with nurses, social workers, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health care providers
  • Provide counseling
  • May need to lift clients
  • Gerontologists working conditions depend on the type of specialization they have chosen. But, most gerontologists work about a 40-hour week with some working up to 60 hours depending on their position. Most gerontologists work set hours such as daycare providers, however some may work shift work or be on call as well. Gerontologists providing home care will have to travel to clients' homes, and so their working hours are varied. In a typical day, most gerontologists see a succession of patients, and may spend a considerable amount of time driving to hospitals, clinics and/or patients' homes. This occupation can be both emotionally demanding and emotionally rewarding.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Gerontologists work in a wide variety of settings including hospitals and nursing homes, adult daycare centers, counseling centers, housing agencies, colleges and research settings, government offices, professional organizations and community service agencies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for gerontologists? They can move around the gerontology field and perform other related jobs in social work, community work, health services, social program development and seniors recreation. Gerontologists would be suited to any one of these. They may also go into teaching and training and lead students during their residencies.

  Educational Paths  
As this is an emerging field, there is no specific path to follow to become a gerontologist. However, universities and other institutions are recognizing the importance of qualifications in this field. Therefore, bachelor's, master's and PhDs are available at many universities. Some students choose to study aging as a specialty area within one of the traditional disciplines, such as anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, medicine, social work and other health related professions. Additional classes such as CPR are also recommended.

Those with bachelor's degrees may qualify for entry and mid-level jobs, while those with master's or PhDs can teach at the postsecondary level or provide consulting services related to gerontology. Certification and/or licensing may be required depending on the field they gerontologists want to practice in.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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