Knowledge accumulated from scientific research on the biological, physiological, psychological, and social processes associated with aging adds to our basic understanding of the human condition. But gerontological research serves another essential purpose. By learning about the nature of aging and old age, we are in a position to use the knowledge to improve the quality of the later-life experience. Applied gerontology emphasizes the translation of basic research into the development of services, programs, and interventions for the betterment of the older population. Basic biological research not only illuminates the mechanisms underlying this aspect of the aging process, but also offers clues that have the potential to slow down or reverse deleterious outcomes. Knowing how physiological and sensory processes change with aging provides valuable information that can be used to design environmental modifications to enhance the functional ability of older persons. Gaining a scientifically sound appreciation of the extent and nature of family caregiving can counter the myth of abandonment and allow for the development of an appropriate blend of supportive services to help families cope with the stresses of caring for a frail relative. Studies on the barriers and obstacles people encounter in accessing services and programs enable us to consider ways to restructure their delivery and enable health and human service providers to better meet the needs of target populations.
Gerontology makes a distinction between life expectancy—how many more years one can expect to live at a given age—and "active" life expectancy—or how long one can expect to function well prior to the onset of debilitating conditions. This distinction serves to focus attention on the quality of late life and not simply its quantity. In this sense, the fundamental and complementary objectives of basic and applied gerontology might best be summarized as the pursuit of scientific knowledge to promote and extend the active life expectancy of older persons or, as in the motto of the Gerontological Society of America, "to add life to years, not just years to life."
STEPHEN J. CUTLER JON HENDRICKS
ACHENBAUM, W. A. Crossing Frontiers: Gerontology Emerges as a Science. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
ELDER, G. H. Children of the Great Depression, 25th Anniversary ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
HENDRICKS, J., and ACHENBAUM, W. A. "Historical Development of Theories of Aging." In Handbook of Theories of Aging. Edited by Vern L. Bengtson and K. Warner Schaie. New York: Springer Publishing Co., 1999. Pages 21–39.
METCHNIKOFF, É. The Nature of Man. New York: Putnam and Sons, 1908. (First published in France, 1903).
PETERSON, D. A.; WENDT, P. F.; and DOUGLASS, E. B. Development of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Aging Studies Programs in Institutions of Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, 1994.
POLLACK, O. Social Adjustment in Old Age. New York: Social Science Research Council, 1948.
SNOWDON, D. A.; GREINER, L. H.; and MARKESBERY, W. R. "Linguistic Ability in Early Life and the Neuropathology of Alzheimer's Disease and Cerebrovascular Disease: Findings from the Nun Study." In Vascular Findings in Alzheimer's Disease. Edited by Raj N. Kalaria and Paul Ince. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 2000. Pages 34–38.
STEPP, DEREK D., ed. Directory of Educational Programs in Gerontology and Geriatrics, 7th ed. Washington, D.C.: Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, 2000.
See EYE, AGING-RELATED DISEASES
Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2Gerontology - Gerontological Perspectives On Aging And Old Age, Twentieth-century Advances In The Gerontological Perspective, Publications: Hallmarks And Benchmarks