Gerontology is a branch of sociology that studies aging among populations internationally, and monitors efforts to deal with problems arising in old age. It differs from geriatrics the same way that psychology is separate from psychiatry. A psychologist's inquiries apply to general questions about how the human brain and mind work. A psychiatrist is more concerned with involving patients in a particular course of therapy. Geriatrics is a specialty within medicine concerned with treating illnesses which occur most often in the aged. Gerontology, on the other hand, considers geriatrics as part of a larger spectrum of issues which face older people, their immediate families and society at large.
In America the past few decades has seen a shift in the median age of the total population. On the average there have been more and more older people than younger ones in the country as time goes by. Not all of these elderly are in the same economic bracket, and not all will remain healthy until their deaths. Gerontologists have been researching the impact which might be felt in a community, and the cost which may be incurred by the federal government, if many of them need institutional care as they grow older. The most recent literature has been produced on developing trends, like those involving AIDS in older patients.
Even Aristotle observed the differing life spans in the animal kingdom. Since the days of the Ancient Greeks, speculation about aging has gone hand in hand with the development of medicine as a science. During the 1800s, certain researchers like Lambert Quetelet of Belgium and S. P. Botkin in Russia began to study populations and social patterns of aging in a systematic fashion. During the 1930s, the International Association of Gerontology was organized. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) joined with other governmental bodies to sponsor conferences on aging during the following decade, and by 1945 the Gerontological Society of America, Inc., was established in Washington, D.C.
Aside from history, politics and economics, more personal experiences are also investigated by a gerontologist. The impact of death on a widow or widower, the interrelationships of different generations within a family, and the circulation of myths about aging are also subject to qualitative research. Qualitative studies rely less on statistics than on interviews and records of emerging situations within a small group of test subjects. Coping strategies and other forms of therapy are assessed in terms of their suitability and success rates. Trends in medical research are also analyzed in terms of their impact on public opinion and their contributions towards our understanding of the aging process.
See also Aging and death.