Despite incredible advances in science, the human aging process is still shrouded in mystery. Professionals in the field of gerontology have the task of shedding light upon the cellular aging process, with the hope of finding ways to help humans age more gracefully and with less chronic disease. As the Baby Boomer generation enters their twilight years, the growing number of aging adults has created an increased demand for skilled gerontologists. According to information from the Gerontological Society of America, these professionals are essential in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and senior citizen centers.
Working gerontologists who wish to increase their understand of aging-related issues and develop aging-related programs for seniors often need to first earn a master's degree in their field. To help you find the right college for pursuing this goal, we used data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to find 10 noteworthy colleges offering online programs for gerontology.
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For those who have a passion for helping senior citizens, programs in gerontology can be a good fit. Gerontology coursework is structured to educate students about the unique health and lifestyle issues facing the elderly, including the need for long term care, assistance with daily living and other challenges. But what does this coursework actually consist of, and what skills can you learn by completing it? Answering these questions is the purpose of this section.
Gerontology programs have a lot of educational ground to cover in order to prepare their students for service positions in locations as diverse as assisted living facilities, nursing homes, public health programs, senior centers, hospitals, home health care systems and more. Because of this, the topics covered in these programs tend to be the same regardless of the level of the degree program. What changes is the degree of detail the program covers, as well as the amount of control students in the program have over the direction of their studies.
For this reason, undergraduate degree programs in gerontology tend to be quite well-rounded, spreading their focus across mental health, social policy and diversity issues. Students are typically introduced to a broad spectrum of gerontological topics, providing a grounding in the basics of them all rather than drilling down into the specifics of one particular area. Some programs will be dedicated entirely to gerontology, while others may be offered as a concentration of a larger subject, such as health education or human services. Either way, these programs are likely to include courses such as:
Graduate degree programs in gerontology are much more likely to dig deeper into the particulars of the aforementioned social, behavioral, and policy-driven topics. In fact, some programs at the master's or doctorate level offer the choice to follow a track that focuses on just one aspect of aging. Such tracks may include:
Following one of these tracks allows a student who is pursuing a specific gerontology career to concentrate their effort on only the topics that are most relevant to their interests. In almost all cases, a large percentage of courses in these tracks — particularly at the PhD level — will be specific to the track's subject. For example, biology-focused programs differ from other graduate programs in gerontology in that they usually include advanced science courses like molecular genetics, biochemistry and neuroscience.
Students in online gerontology programs should find their programs offering multiple opportunities to hone communication, research and reasoning skills that can help them to be successful in this line of work. These skills include, but are not limited to, the following:
Provided nobody stumbles across the Fountain of Youth in the next few years, it seems safe to say that our populations will continue to age, which will necessitate continued — and possibly increased — attention to the field of gerontology. If you're interested in this valuable field of study, here are a few of the careers you might find available once you've graduated with your degree.
Behind most medical breakthroughs and historic health care achievements there was a team of medical scientists who, through conducting extensive research and evaluating the outcomes, came up with solutions that have revolutionized our modern world. Medical scientists design and conduct studies, perform clinical trials and investigate various disease treatments. Most medical scientists spend their days in laboratories supervising teams of researchers or analyzing data. Those who specialize in gerontology focus their research on the science of aging, unraveling the secrets behind illnesses that primarily affect the older population in an effort to discover treatments that will improve their quality of life.
Although this is a broad term, social scientists analyze some aspect of human behavior, whether it's psychology, anthropology or a number of other disciplines. Social scientists in the gerontology field, however, focus their research on older demographics in an effort to promote the health and well-being of aging populations. They may study socioeconomic trends; public health and long-term care; the psychology of aging; and more. People interested in this wide-ranging field can usually find work both in government and public organizations, as well as in the private sector.
These professionals play an integral role in helping families with aging loved ones cope with chronic illnesses, diseases, and caregiving issues. Health care social workers are often a lifeline for confused and distraught families, helping them to gain access to medical care. They also provide patient education, advice and moral support. They are sometimes referred to as case managers, care coordinators or patient advocates, but ultimately their title is unimportant. What really matters is how their intervention helps ensure that a patient receives appropriate treatment, while preserving their dignity and removing part of the burden from the caregivers.