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Careers in Aging - Early Development Of The Field

age services programs elderly professionals

At the same time that women began establishing careers outside the home, other conditions emerged which created a need for services to the elderly. Lower birthrates resulted in fewer adult children available to provide care; an increase in life expectancy led to more older persons with chronic diseases requiring many years of support; and the sheer numbers of the elderly increased dramatically. Almost simultaneously, specialized services were developed as professionals became aware of the unique needs to be met and the increased income available to pay for these services. Older people's needs are almost overwhelming; more than 40 percent of persons older than age seventy need help with one or more daily activities (National Academy on an Aging Society). Although this need continues to be met in large part by family members, at an estimated cost of $196 billion annually, every year there is an increase in professional services to augment or replace home care (National Academy on an Aging Society).

Professionals in care for the aging emerged from health and human service fields. They had been trained to work with all age groups, with an emphasis on child and family needs. As their senior clientele increased, experience with this group led some professionals with applicable skills to concentrate on the needs of the elderly. They demonstrated their interest in the older clientele by participation in age-related workshops and conferences, as well as membership in professional associations. As the professions developed a strong gerontology component, specialized services emerged within many fields, including medicine, rehabilitation, pharmacy, counseling, housing, and recreation. Networks were built among professions that began to specialize in service to the elderly, and the term "gerontologist" gained greater acceptance.

The first generation of professional gerontologists developed almost serendipitously, whereas the second cohort was greatly influenced by government-funded programs.

The Administration on Aging (AoA), a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services, had extensive influence on the creation of careers in the field of aging. AoA undertook several approaches to career development. Over $500 million was provided annually to establish and maintain service programs for older persons. These programs led to the employment of many people who had interest or experience in working with the elderly. The funding also included the creation and dissemination of training materials and consumer information, and coordination of the growing variety of agerelated community projects. The latter resulted in the establishment of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the National Association of State Units on Aging, which supported professionals interested in facilitating services to the elderly.

AoA's greatest impact on careers involved financial support to undergraduate and graduate students who wanted to gain knowledge and skills in gerontology. Its funding also facilitated internships and volunteer experiences leading to future employment of health and human service professionals. The funding was also used to create nearly two hundred instructional certificate or degree programs in community colleges, four-year schools, and universities between 1967 and 1990 (Peterson, Hickey, and Stillman). Although such financial support was allocated for only two or three years to each school, it provided sufficient seed money to launch ongoing programs that continued to graduate gerontological professionals ready for jobs within the network for the aging.

The AoA approach of funding degree and continuing education programs as well as community programs has been supplemented by foundations. However, the financial support of the latter has not been as large or as consistent as that of AoA. While aging is not the highest priority for many foundations, they are nevertheless supporters of innovative approaches to serving the aging and have continued to provide assistance to many agencies. Grantmakers in Aging is an organization that brings together the age-conscious foundations and facilitates joint projects (Peterson, Douglass, and Seymour).

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