Aging Well: Aging field offers growing career options

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For more information about careers and education in aging, visit the Careers in Aging Project at www.careersinagin...>

For more information about geriatric care managers, visit the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, www.caremanager.o...>

For more information about the Masters in gerontology program at the University of Northern Colorado, visit www.unco.edu/nhs/.... The department will be offering a non-degree certificate in gerontology online starting spring 2010. Gerontology programs also can be found at Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Metropolitan State College in Denver.

Many people assume working with older adults means having medical experience.

While there is an increasing need for health care professionals skilled in aging issues, the growing number of adults 50 and older also is fueling demand for people to work with, or on behalf of, older adults in many other settings and roles.

From planning or teaching wellness classes to consulting with companies about how to hire or keep older workers, the span of jobs within the aging field is becoming longer and more exciting.

Susan Collins is an assistant professor of gerontology and coordinates the gerontology program at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

She notes that newer opportunities in the aging field realize today's older adults are diverse individuals experiencing changes and health issues that, with good support, planning and management, don't have to reduce quality of life.

"Careers for gerontology students today and in the future will not only include the health care fields but will include occupations that provide the kind of support that address the realities of aging, without the prejudice that the only dimension to age is poor health," she said.

Gerontology

Geriatrics involves the comprehensive health of older adults. This field includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, optometrists, dentists, occupational therapists and other medical professionals specially trained to treat older adults.

Gerontology is the study of the aging process, including physical, mental and social changes in older people as they age and also changes in society resulting from the aging population, according to the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Students in the master's-level gerontology program at UNC learn about the "whole" aging person - mental and physical health, normal age changes, social roles and relationships, later life development, retirement opportunities and more - and systems that support them, including social policy, programs and aging services.

"The great thing about the field of gerontology is that individuals from just about any experiential background can qualify because aging is relevant to every dimension of life," Collins said.

Successful graduate-level students have entered the program with undergraduate degrees in areas including human services, art therapy, anthropology, English, business, sociology, political science and nursing, she said.

The program attracts many older students who are interested in changing careers or who are working more with older adults and want to enhance their knowledge about aging. More and more younger students are attracted by the career opportunities in the aging field as well, Collins said.

Careers

Within the program, students can focus on a particular career path, often building on existing experience.

Students with a graduate-level social work degree who pursue gerontology can specialize in working with older adults through county social or human service departments.

Additional licenses or certifications may qualify gerontology graduates to work as physical or occupational therapists or nursing home directors.

Gerontology graduates tend to have an edge over other applicants for administration jobs in long-term living facilities, Collins said.

"We often hear from our graduates that having personnel with a deep and holistic knowledge of aging on staff can tremendously enhance the quality of life for older residents," she said.

Business experience paired with knowledge of aging is valuable in settings such as insurance companies, hospitals, counseling centers, investment firms and retailers.

Other, non-medical professionals may develop wellness, prevention, social, recreation and other programs. They may work in senior centers and other organizations or travel businesses that focus on older adult recreation, leisure or health - some gyms are even hiring individuals with knowledge of aging to coordinate programs specifically for older adults, Collins said.

Some job opportunities are less directly involved with older adults but work on their behalf or educate others about aging. These professionals may research the aging process or diseases or analyze housing options, retirement opportunities, the heath care system and other age-related issues.

Careers are emerging for marketing consultants and individuals to work as liaisons between older customers and banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other businesses.

Geriatric care managers are a growing field of professionals who access older adults' care needs and manage resources and services to help clients be as independent as possible. Care managers usually are trained nurses or social workers and may be in private practice or employed by nonprofit organizations.

The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers establishes standards of care and certification programs for these professionals.

"I see this kind of organization as an important wave of the future with lots of support and resources for those who want to enter the field," Collins said.

This article includes information from the Careers in Aging Project and from the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.

- Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7606.

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