by Barbara Riley-Baker, BA, MA, CMC, C.P.G.

GERONTOLOGY is the study of aging from a variety of perspectives; psychological, socioeconomical, physiological, historical and clinical.

Time Period

Prehistoric men/women

Ancient Greece

Middle Ages (England)

1620 Massachusetts Bay Colony

1900 US

1993 US 

1994 Japan

2040 US 83 (women)

Live Expectancy, Years

18 Years




47.3 (4% of Pop. 65+)

75.4 (12.5 of Pop. 65%)

81 (women)


 Americans who make it to age 65 can expect to reach 82.

  • Arthritis is the most common chronic health problem of older adults affecting nearly ½ of those 65 or older.

  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U S and other developed nations. (1996)
  • Cancer has now replaced cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death in the US. Lung cancer is the leading cancer.

  • The average time from HIV infection to death ahs been 10 years. (About 5% of HIV infected people remain health). People over 50 accounts for 11% of recorded cases in US (1994).

  • Dementia is NOT part of normal aging.

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the 4th leading cause of death in the U S (1994). The disease was named after German psychiatrist, Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the disease in 1907.

  • Even moderate use of alcohol brings a 40 to 100% greater risk of breast cancer.

  • People over 65 have fewer colds than younger adults.

  • Women live longer than men, on average 7 years longer. This longevity has been attributed to the genetic protection given by the presence of 2 X chromosomes and before menopause to the beneficial effects of female hormones.

  • People who are isolated from friends and family are twice as likely to become ill and die as people who maintain social ties.

  • Marriage seems to be associated with good health.

  • Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U S killing 390,000 people yearly. It is responsible for 1/3 of all cancer.

ACTIVITIES OF DAILY LIVING: eating, bathing, grooming, getting in and out of bed, dressing, toileting. With increased age there is an increased need for assistance.

AGE % that need help with Activities of Daily Living











  • Hearing and vision are best about age 20.

  • Men typically lose 2 inches in stature, women lose 1 ½ to 1 ¾ inches.

  • Stress, long-term over secretion of stress hormones may play a part in a number of age-related disorders from mature-onset diabetes to osteoporosis.



Death of a spouse


Marital separation

Jail term

Death of close family member

Injury or illness


Being fired at work

Marital reconciliation













(Holmes and Rahe, 1976) 

  • With age we have fewer taste buds. There are also changes in the olfactory bulb, the organ in the brain responsible for smell. These changes cause food to taste less appealing.

  • Older adults may have difficulty in distinguishing between the colors of blue, green and violet due to yellowing of the lens in the eye. Depth perception diminishes and sensitivity to glare increases due to changes in the eye. 

(Whittemore, Margaret, P. University of Central Okalahoma) 

(Papalia, Camp, Feldman. (1996). Adult Development and Aging. McGraw-Hill). 

Perhaps Robert Browning in his immortal poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra”, sums up for us how society and each individual in society should address the issue of aging.

“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.

The last of life, for which the first was made;

Our times are in His hands, who saith,

A whole I planned, Youth shows but half,

Trust God: see all, nor be afraid.