No two people age in the same way. There isn’t a predictable path or timeline or no precise formula for solving problems associated with ageing. You may have already experienced that determining possible solutions to problems that arise and choosing from among them can be confusing. Perhaps what worked last year for the infirm older adult is no longer viable. Social gerontology is a new and dynamic field reflecting the increasing interest in ageing across the world.
Social gerontology is a specialisation that centres on the social aspects of growing old and ideally speaking, social gerontologists will be able to help older adults live active, independent lifestyles. The seasoned, trained, knowledgeable and passionate gerontology consultants can provide customised care management services based on your needs. Years back when we started practice, a pioneering feat in the country, almost everyone asked us, ‘What is this Social Gerontology?’ Years later, still the same question we continue answer shows the country is yet to learn this subject. Older people have unique, often complex needs, and geriatric social workers’ training helps them meet their clients with empathy and professionalism. This chapter highlights the importance of Social Gerontology practice and explores how to become a social gerontologist to help elderly clients and their families.

  • Judith S Parnes, Sowmya Lakshmi

As we all enter old age, things in our lives will begin to change drastically; physically, economically and socially. Not only do our bodies begin to weaken, but our social interactions become more and more shrinking due to many expected factors. Everyone agree that getting old is an inevitable process that all of us must go through at some point or the other, but it may not be a smooth process for everyone. Friends and family that we once depend on might pass away or incapacitated or incapable of supporting. Young family members and other loved ones often become busy with their spouses, children, and careers. On the other hand, thanks to the impact of modern medicine and healthcare technology, human life expectancy has increased dramatically.

Considered as a good news for all of us, it has now also become necessary to provide physical and mental assistance to an ever-increasing elderly population. This is exactly where social gerontologists come in with their specialist training and education to help elders adjust to their changing lives and ensure their well-being. The growth of social gerontology does not only hold promise and value for the situation as it is today but even more so in the future when the aged population in India and elsewhere is expected to grow significantly higher.

Our experience as social gerontologists taught us that many seniors would rather not think about it, but the reality is old age can sometimes be a time of frustration, loneliness, and lack of independence as we need more and more assistance with day to day tasks. To navigate old age, you need to negotiate the ‘bumpy ride’ with planning and caution. We have seen ‘many old age’ getting in to avoidable distress, want of proper guidance and this where social gerontologists play a crucial role.

Many of the people whom we meet don’t know the difference between a geriatrician and a gerontologist. With the approaching retirement age of Baby Boomers, the need for specialists in elder care is set to rise significantly. Gerontology and geriatrics, two main branches of elder care, share some similarities but also exhibit notable distinctions.

Geriatricians, either M.D.s or D.O.s, are fully trained physicians dedicated to addressing the health concerns of elderly individuals. To qualify, they undergo a three-year residency, obtaining board certification in internal medicine or family medicine. Following this, they pursue a one- or two-year geriatrics fellowship, where they acquire specialised knowledge under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. Subsequently, they must pass additional board examinations to attain certification as geriatricians, as outlined by the American Geriatrics Society.

Gerontology, is defined as the scientific exploration of aging and its impact on individuals and societies. This multidisciplinary field encompasses medicine, biology, psychology, sociology, and other sciences. Gerontologists, serving various roles, may be researchers delving into microbiology and biochemistry, caregivers directly assisting elders, or administrators and policy-makers at community or government levels. The overarching objective of gerontologists is to enhance the quality of life for seniors, with senior roles often requiring a graduate or doctoral degree, though entry-level gerontological work may be pursued through baccalaureate programs.

The key distinction lies in the fact that geriatricians, as fully trained physicians, administer direct treatment for age-related disorders. In contrast, gerontologists assume a more supportive and educational role, with applied gerontologists fostering long-term relationships by coordinating aspects such as diet, exercise, and cognitive therapies for their clients.

Social Gerontology is a subfield of gerontology that focuses more on the social aspect of growing old. Professionals like us in this field strive to improve the interactions between older adults and the rest of the world, including family members, peers, and healthcare professionals. They also try to help older adults live more independent and active lifestyles.

In the contemporary context, social gerontology holds significant importance, particularly with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. Communities and healthcare professionals are actively working to facilitate a smoother demographic transition. Social gerontology careers are emerging with opportunities for individuals interested in contributing to this effort. As the population ages, there is a growing demand for health workers with specialised knowledge in the aging process.

Social gerontologists work with older adults in the twilights of their lives as well as coordinating with the family or friends who are responsible for them. The main objective of us is to increase the quality of living for older adults and help others understand and support them. Social Gerontologists like us are experts at meeting the bio psychosocial needs of older adults. Part of the job is connecting the elderly with community resources. We coordinate care for individuals who need a number of services and who will, over a period of months, years, and sometimes decades, require care at different levels. We help elderly individuals and their families examine their needs, and determine how they will be paid for. We assist them in finding the needed services and dealing with problems as they arise. We also help seniors navigate the legal aspects and help with other kinds of paperwork, including advance directives.

As the need for geriatricians grows, so will the role of social workers in elderly care. In outpatient settings, social gerontologists ( or geriatric social workers) are advocates for the older adults, ensuring they receive the mental, emotional, social and familial support they need, while also connecting them to resources in the community that may provide additional support. Though it is an alien concept in India, in developed countries, inpatient and residential care settings, they conduct intake assessments to determine patients’ mental, emotional and social needs; collaborate with a team of physicians, nurses, psychologists, case managers and other health care staff to develop and regularly update patient treatment plans; discuss treatment plan options with patients and their families; and manage patient discharges. We are yet to embrace the importance of these professionals resulting in improper care for older adults.

Social Gerontology is uniquely interdisciplinary, extending into diverse fields. While its fundamental aim is to comprehend and assist with the aging process, its scope and opportunities go beyond that. A gerontologist’s knowledge and expertise make them a valuable resource for any industry or business involved in producing products or services for the elderly. The applications of gerontology intersect with fields such as law, fitness, banking, marketing, nursing, and therapy, among others.

‘Our parents had given some of the best years of their lives in raising us and now that they are at a difficult juncture in their lives, it is only natural that they are provided with the best assistance possible. Putting aside the career prospects, the truth is that our parents need and deserve compassionate care and assistance which only a social gerontologist can provide because they are familiar with nuances of ageing. Your extensive knowledge and passion as social gerontologists are evident in the way you handle and care for individuals. It reflects that the facility is managed not merely as a business venture but with a genuine commitment to the well-being of those you serve.’, Roselyn Mathew told us why she chose us to manage her parents.

Engaging in a social gerontology practice not only offers a fulfilling career but also ensures the well-being and happiness of seniors and all stakeholders involved. Society’s ageist attitudes, marked by negative stereotypes of older adults, often impact individuals psychologically well before the actual effects of aging set in. Social gerontologists play a crucial role in lifting these experienced minds out of the challenges they face, providing a fresh perspective on the life still ahead. Seeking the assistance of social gerontologists is recommended, as they offer invaluable and indispensable services, bringing vibrancy to what might otherwise be perceived as tiresome and muted twilight years.