Aging Well: Aging field offers growing career options

Increasing number of seniors fuels demand for wellness teachers, social workers and more

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■ For more information about careers and education in aging visit Careers in Aging Project.

■ For more information about geriatric care managers, visit National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.

■ For more information about the Masters in gerontology program at the University of Northern Colorado. The department offers a non-degree Certificate in Gerontology online. Gerontology programs also can be found at Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Metropolitan State College in Denver.

Editor’s note: This article originally was published Nov. 2, 2009. It has been updated for accuracy.

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

Although there is an increasing need for health care professionals skilled in aging issues, the growing number of adults ages 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 as diverse individuals experiencing changes and health issues that, with good support, planning and management, don’t have to reduce quality of life.

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, typical age changes, social roles and relationships, later life development, retirement opportunities, etc. — 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 master’s 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.

Careers

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

Students with a master’s degree in social work who pursue gerontology can specialize in working with older adults through county social or human service departments.

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

Gerontology graduates tend to have an edge against 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, nonmedical professionals might develop wellness, prevention, social, recreation and other programs. They might work in senior centers and other organizations or travel businesses that focus on older adult recreation, leisure or health — some gyms are 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. Visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7676.

Comments

kathy foos 4 years, 1 month ago

How about people stop discriminating against " 50ish",workers and hire them instead of visa workers .Hire a woman over 50! Hire a woman under 21! If people dont continue hiring untill retirement(70's) I guess there will be a bunch of us willing to work ,capable people labeled as geriatric,and you all can pay welfare for us,as you would rather import foriegn workers(more stylish?)Discriminating against Americans.The American Way. Our youth are even unemployed in the valley for so long that many are committing suicide,giving up,boys and girls!Shame on this valley for not hiring locals! Over 50 is NOT GERIATRIC,try over 70.We still need to work for 20 years(we will collect your wellfare if you dont hire us.Our youths and elderly need hope of employment , if you dont hire us over visa workers,we are doomed! Its the law,hire Visa workers for jobs Americans dont want,Not hire Visa workers over Americans.I say boycott ski areas that hire visa workers over Americans.You employers are killing the American dream,causing driscrimination against elderly ,young ,female ,all of us workers and I think its time for some class action lawsuits against steamboat companys hiring visa workers when we Routt CountyE xpose them nationally, residents have been out of work so long! Not the way its designed to work,There is too much abuse in our county and it needs to be reported to the Civil Liberties Union,after all we do have rights as american citizens,start lawsuits against anyone who is hiring extra workers(Visa),when we all need jobs out here.Thats no joke.Get off your duffs and do something about unemployment in Routt county.Boycott unamerican companys that wont hire american.There will be no change with employers untill we start suing for discrimination and damages..My back is good, totally qualified, and dont need someone saying, Im Geriatric ,untill Im old enough to retire,that is discrimination.

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addlip2U 4 years, 1 month ago

I know of several instances where American citizen(s) were told, when applying for a position at Steamboat Ski Resort, that he/she will have to wait until they know how many "visa people" are coming, if a position is open. Why don't we have laws to hire American citizens first? ...or do we?

Also, "visa people" are guaranteed to work promised amount of hours while the American citizen, has to either be laid off or work less hours, when the work load is reduced. What is wrong with that picture?

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