AskDefine | Define gerontology

Dictionary Definition

gerontology n : the branch of medical science that deals with diseases and problems specific to old people [syn: geriatrics]

User Contributed Dictionary



From γέρων.


  1. the study of the elderly, and of the aging process itself.
  2. the branch of science that deals with the problems of aged people. It is to be distinguished from geriatrics, which is the study of the diseases of the elderly. Gerontology covers the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging.


Extensive Definition

Gerontology (from Greek: γερο, gero, "old age"; and λόγος, logos, "speech" lit. "to talk about old age") is the study of the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging. It is distinguished from geriatrics, which is the branch of medicine that studies the disease of the elderly.
Gerontology includes these and other endeavors:
  • studying physical, mental, and social changes in people as they age;
  • investigating the aging process itself (biogerontology);
  • investigating the effects of our aging population on society, including the fiscal effects of pensions, entitlements, life and health insurance, and retirement planning;
  • applying this knowledge to policies and programs, including a macroscopic (i.e. government planning) and microscopic (i.e. running a nursing home) perspective.
The multidisciplinary focus of gerontology means that there are a number of sub-fields, as well as associated fields such as psychology and sociology that also cross over into gerontology. However, that there is an overlap should not be taken as to construe that they are the same. For example, a psychologist may specialize in early adults (and not be a gerontologist) or specialize in older adults (and be a gerontologist).
The field of gerontology was developed relatively late, and as such often lacks the structural and institutional support needed (for example, relatively few universities offer a Ph.D. in gerontology). Yet the huge increase in the elderly population in the post-industrial Western nations has led to this becoming one of the most rapidly growing fields. As such, gerontology is currently a well-paying field for many in the West.


Biogerontology, is the subfield of gerontology dedicated to studying the biological processes involved in aging. Some have looked to develop theories of the aging process, such as telomere shortening, the free radical theory, and the like. Some skeptics have worked to show that aging is a biological process that we are far from being able to control. Conservative biogerontologists who have only an intellectual interest in the aging process, like Leonard Hayflick, have predicted that the human life expectancy numbers will top out at about 85 (88 for females, 82 for males).
Biomedical gerontology, also known as experimental gerontology and life extension, is a sub discipline of biogerontology, that endeavors to slow, prevent, and even reverse aging in both humans and animals. Curing age-related diseases is one approach, and slowing down the underlying processes of aging is another. Most 'life extensionists' believe the human life span can be altered within the next century, if not sooner. 'Optimists' have predicted a changing human life span, though this has not yet been demonstrated.
Many biogerontologists take an intermediate position, emphasizing the study of the aging process as a means of mitigating aging-associated diseases, while denying that maximum life span can be altered (or denying that it is desirable to try).

Notable biogerontologists

Notable biomedical gerontologists

Notable biogerotechnologists (business/applied)

Notable demographic gerontologists

Notable non-biomedical biogerontologists

  • Leonard Hayflick (born 1928) - discovered the Hayflick limit, asserts elimination of aging is neither possible nor desirable
  • Raymond Pearl (3 June 1879 - 17 November 1940)

Social gerontology

Social gerontology is a multi-disciplinary sub-field that specializes in studying or working with older adults.
Social gerontologists may have degrees or training in social work, nursing, psychology, sociology, demography, gerontology, or other social science professions. Gerontologists are responsible for educating, researching, and advancing the broader causes of older people by giving informative presentations, publishing books and articles that pertain to the aging population, producing relevant films and television programs, and producing new graduates of these various disciplines in college and university settings.
Because issues of life span and life extension need numbers to quantify them, there is an overlap with demography. Those that study the demography of the human life span are different than those that study the social demographics of aging.

Notable social gerontologists

Notable social gerontologists include:
It was not until the 1940s, however, that pioneers like James Birren began organizing 'gerontology' into its own field. Recognizing that there were experts in many fields all dealing with the elderly, it became apparent that a group like the Gerontological Society of America was needed (founded 1945).
In the 1950s to the 1970s, the field was mainly social and concerned with issues such as nursing homes and health care. However, research by Leonard Hayflick in the 1960s (showing that a cell line culture will only divide about 50 times) helped lead to a separate branch, biogerontology. It became apparent that simply 'treating' aging wasn't enough. Finding out about the aging process, and what could be done about it, became an issue.
The biogerontological field was also bolstered when research by Cynthia Kenyon and others demonstrated that life extension was possible in lower life forms such as fruit flies, worms, and yeast. So far, however, nothing more than incremental (marginal) increases in life span have been seen in any mammalian species.
Today, social gerontology remains the largest sector of the field, but the biogerontological side is seen as being the 'hot' side. Indeed, some have said that social gerontologists look to the past; biogerontologists look to the future.

Academic resources

  • Journal of Applied Gerontology, ISSN: 1552-4523 (electronic) ISSN: 0733-4648 (paper), SAGE Publications
  • Age and Aging, an international journal publishing refereed original articles on geriatric medicine and gerontology. Oxford University Press. 6 issues / 12 months. ASIN: B00006LAGZ ISSN:

See also

External links


gerontology in Bulgarian: Геронтология
gerontology in Czech: Gerontologie
gerontology in German: Gerontologie
gerontology in Estonian: Gerontoloogia
gerontology in Spanish: Gerontología
gerontology in Esperanto: Gerontologio
gerontology in French: Gérontologie
gerontology in Hebrew: גרונטולוגיה
gerontology in Lithuanian: Gerontologija
gerontology in Dutch: Gerontologie
gerontology in Japanese: 老人学
gerontology in Polish: Gerontologia
gerontology in Russian: Геронтология
gerontology in Serbian: Геронтологија
gerontology in Finnish: Gerontologia
gerontology in Swedish: Gerontologi
gerontology in Tajik: Геронтология
gerontology in Turkish: Gerontoloji
gerontology in Ukrainian: Геронтологія
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