Social gerontology is a specialization that centers on the social aspects of growing old. The goal of social gerontologists is to help older adults improve their communication and interactions with others. Ideally, they will be able to help older adults live active, independent lifestyles.
Social Gerontology 101
This unique subfield of gerontology is sometimes referred to as the social psychology of aging. Social gerontologists are human service specialists who advocate for older adults. They deal with a variety of common social, health, personal and psychological problems that older adults face. This includes ageism and associated media stereotypes and discrimination at work. It includes elder abuse and neglect that older adults experience in assisted living facilities. It also includes common mental and physical health problems, such as dementia, depression, and disabilities.
Social gerontologists strive to increase the independence and productivity of older adults. They also help combat common media and social stereotypes about older adults, such as the misconception that older adults are slow and cannot learn new things. As a result of these negative stereotypes, employers tend to avoid hiring older adults and if they do, they will most likely terminate an older adult instead of a younger adult.
Social Gerontologist Job Duties
Depending on their workplace and job title, social gerontologists perform a wide range of duties. This is because there are many ways to increase the quality of living for older adults and help others understand and value older adults. For example, social gerontologists often advocate for older adults through helping them understand and fill out difficult paperwork, such as financial, insurance or retirement forms. They help older adults locate health services and community resources.
Social gerontologists also work in the field as they coordinate communication between older adults and their health care providers. For example, they may accompany an older adult to a hospital in order to help them process paperwork and receive proper treatment. Sometimes, social gerontologists provide support and counseling to older adults who are experiencing grief, anxiety, and depression. Finally, some social gerontologists spearhead outreach programs or community programs for older adults, such as organizing meaningful social events and activities.
What Education is Required to become a Social Gerontologist?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that entry-level human service jobs only require a high school diploma or associate's degree with on-the-job training. However, most positions will require at least a bachelor's degree in gerontology, psychology, social work or human services. Students interested in pursuing a career in management should obtain a master's degree. That being said, a degree in gerontology is the ideal choice for a future social gerontologist.
These programs will start out with standard classes, such as introductory classes about healthy aging, human services, and current gerontology issues. Students will take advanced classes that investigate the social, cultural, biological and psychological aspects of aging. This is important because every culture has unique attitudes towards aging. Students will take a diversity awareness course that will expose them to cultural differences within the framework of gerontology. Students will also learn about how to become a community advocate for older adults.
The BLS estimates that the job outlook for human service assistants is growing much faster than average. Therefore, students interested in working with older adults should pursue a degree related to social gerontology.