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Gerontological Perspectives On Aging And Old Age, Twentieth-century Advances In The Gerontological Perspective, Publications: Hallmarks And Benchmarks

The quest for explanations for why we age is nearly as old as the written record, going back to long before Ponce de Leon's fabled search for the "fountain of youth" in the early 1500s. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century, however, that the term gerontology emerged. Writing in 1903, the zoologist Élie Metchnikoff noted "it is extremely probable that the scientific study of old age and of death, two branches of science that may be called gerontology and thanatology, will bring about great modifications in the course of the last period of life" (pp. 297–298). Derived from the Greek words geront ("old man") and logia ("the study of"), gerontology is defined as the scientific study of aging and of the older population. This dual focus on processes of aging and on the characteristics, conditions, and circumstances of older people is at the heart of the field of contemporary gerontology.

Although the distinction is not always clear in practice, gerontology's concern with the scientific study of aging and old age differs from a related field—geriatrics. Geriatrics is the branch of medicine concerned with the treatment and management of diseases and illnesses (e.g., hearing loss, osteoporosis, dementia) that are more prevalent in old age than in the early or middle years. Thus, a geriatrician might be concerned with whether surgical procedures will reverse hearing loss or how an assistive device such as a hearing aid can compensate for declines in a person's ability to hear. A gerontologist might be interested in studying the causes of hearing loss, whether it occurs with greater frequency among older men or older women, and understanding the effects that declining auditory acuity have on an individual's mobility, interaction, and enjoyment of life. Put another way, geriatrics focuses on the clinical diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions that typically occur during the later years, while gerontology involves the scientific understanding of the causes, distribution, and consequences of these conditions.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2