Gerontology is the study of the mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical needs of aging populations, but where did this field of study originate? Despite the focus of the field revolving around aging, gerontology is a relatively young field of study. Read below to learn more about the history of gerontology.
Early Thoughts on Aging
Myths and theories surrounding aging have been around since ancient times. From the Fountain of Youth, existing in many cultures, to ancient Greek myths surrounding aging and immortality, aging has been a major factor in society since the beginning. While societies treated the elderly with respect, the science and research around aging was slower to develop.
Aristotle and Hippocrates both held theories on aging, but it wasn’t until Roman physician Galen in 200 AD for a lasting theory to be presented. Galen theorized that aging was caused by the humors evaporating and the body slowly dehydrating. When the body was fully dry and the humors evaporated, the body’s life force would go out.
This theory would be adopted by Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and would go on to be the primary influence on aging for over 19 centuries.
The Birth of Gerontology
The term gerontology, meaning here the science of aging, wasn’t coined until 1903, by Nobel prize winner and aging researcher Élie Metchnikoff. Metchnikoff believed that Bulgarians lived longer lives due to yogurt, which could stop bacterial toxins from being released in the intestine.
Aging studies began to pick up steam into the early to mid 1900s. In 1937, the Woods Hole Conference was held, discussing the topic of aging, which then led to the inception of the Gerontological Society of America in 1939. Six years later, the organization became formally established.
Gerontology vs Geriatrics
While gerontology and geriatrics both deal with aging, they have different scopes of study. Gerontology deals with the social, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of aging individuals. Gerontology is a holistic approach to aging, and looks more to how to improve the quality of life for seniors in society.
Geriatrics, on the other hand, looks at the medical care surrounding aging individuals. The focus is on the physical aspects of aging, and is rooted in providing medical treatment for seniors. While dealing with different topics within aging, both gerontology and geriatrics aim to better the lives of aging adults.
The Future of Gerontology
The global population of older individuals is on the rise; a 2017 report by the UN suggested the population of individuals 60 years or older would double by 2050, and outnumber the population of people aged 10-24. In the United States specifically, older adults are expected to outnumber children by 2034.
The aging population will create a need for those studying gerontology, as societies will have to adapt to account for the increasing older population. Experts in the gerontology field will be able to help shape society, from local to national levels, to best fit the needs of the aging.
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