What Is Gerontology?

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A group of elderly ladies doing exercises with elastic equipment

Gerontology is the broad study of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of aging, including the problems and issues that confront the elderly population as they go through the aging process.

While geriatrics focuses mainly on the health care and preventive care of older people, gerontology is more comprehensive in that it recognizes how aging affects individuals not just physically but also psychologically and socially. Therefore, to fully answer the question, what is gerontology? it is necessary to incorporate not only the roles of physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners, but also of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, biological researchers, and others.

As aging takes place, the human body undergoes physical changes as a result of cellular, tissue, and organ decline. From this biological perspective, gerontology recognizes that the aging human body can deteriorate and become more susceptible to infections, acute illnesses, and chronic diseases.

However, aging brings about more than just physical changes; older individuals can face psychological changes as well. Specific fields in gerontology, such as gerontological psychiatry and geropsychology, deal with the psychological aspects of growing old and the possible mental health issues that may arise in the elderly. Social interactions and opportunities can also shift as individuals grow older, and many elderly people may feel detached, lonely, or no longer valued. Gerontology tackles the social aspects of aging through subfields such as social gerontology.

Nursing Career Opportunities in the Field of Gerontology

Students who are planning to pursue a career in gerontology and/or geriatric nursing may assume any of the following nurses and nurse practitioner roles within the discipline: gerontological nurse practitioner, acute care gerontology nurse practitioner, primary care gerontology nurse practitioner, or geriatric nurse.

  • Gerontological Nurse Practitioner – Gerontological nurse practitioners are trained and qualified to provide advanced nursing care to elderly patients, from diagnosing health conditions to prescribing medications. As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), these nurse practitioners work in various settings including hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and health centers, and some have even set up their own practices. As of May 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the median wage for these nurse practitioners to be $103,880.
  • Acute Care Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Acute care gerontology nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses responsible for providing specialized nursing care to adult and elderly patients who are suffering from acute, chronic illness, and/or end-stage health conditions. These nurse practitioners are employed by retirement homes, hospices, and hospitals, or they have their own private practices. According to the salary tracking website Payscale, acute care nurse practitioners can earn an average of $97,991 annually.
  • Primary Care Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Primary care gerontology nurse practitioners are APRNs who are responsible for helping elderly patients manage their overall health by assessing initial health issues and helping with the management of long-term health conditions such as diabetes. As primary nursing care specialists, these nurse practitioners work in various practice environments, including community clinics, private practice offices, home care facilities, and mobile health care centers. Payscale shows that nurse practitioners earn a median wage of $89,338, but this wage varies across the nation.
  • Geriatric Nurse Geriatric nurses are specifically trained to handle and manage the physical health needs and mental health requirements of older patients. Nurses skilled in geriatric care may assume a variety of clinical roles such as a licensed vocational nurse, registered nurse, or APRN. According to the American Geriatrics Society, geriatric nurses often work in hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and retirement communities. Registered nurses earn a median wage of $70,000, with nurse practitioners potentially earning more.

How an MSN Can Prepare Nurses for a Gerontological Career

Gerontological nursing is a specialized subfield of nursing that requires nurse practitioners to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing degree. In addition to completing a bachelor’s degree program in nursing and passing the state licensure exam for registered nurses, nursing professionals planning to pursue any of the varied roles of a gerontological nurse practitioner should complete a graduate-level program in their specific discipline. To practice as a geriatric nurse or as a gerontology nurse practitioner, nurses will also need to earn additional licenses and credentials.

An MSN program prepares entry-level nurses for a career that focuses on providing ample and timely medical care to a rapidly aging population which is projected to more than double over the next 40 years, according to the Population Reference Bureau. As the elderly population increases and the need for specialized nursing care for older people continue to grow, more people will be asking the question, what is gerontology?

The employment outlook for registered nurses and nurse practitioners remains positive, with a projected growth of 15 percent and 36 percent, respectively, between the years 2016 and 2026, as indicated in a report published by the BLS.

Learn More:

For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps them gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.


Recommended Reading:

Ohio University Blog, “Choosing the Right Online Masters in Nursing Program”
Ohio University Blog, “BSN vs. MSN: The Benefits of a Postgraduate Nursing Education”
Ohio University Blog, “3 Important Communication Practices for Nurses Caring for Older People”


Journal of Gerontology & Geriatric Research
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners”
Payscale, Inc., “Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) Salary”
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Registered Nurses”
Population Reference Bureau, Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States
News Medical, “Is There Such a Thing as Normal Aging?”
American Nurses Credentialing Center, “Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC)”
American Nurses Credentialing Center, “Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC)”
The American Geriatrics Society, “Training for Geriatric Nurse Practitioners”
Payscale, “Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) Salary”