Psychogerontology: History and Characteristics

11 August, 2020
Psychogerontology is a branch of psychology that has advanced a lot in recent years thanks to the increase in elders in various countries. Here's what psychology can do for them.

Psychology is a science that studies many different areas, but especially those related to affective, cognitive-emotional, and behavioral fields. In addition, it’s divided into various branches and all of them study different things. One of them, and the one we’ll be talking about in this article, is psychogerontology.

Psychogerontology is the science that studies aging from a psychological point of view. Just as there are child psychologists, there are psychologists who specialize in helping older people. In this article, we’ll try to explain the origin of psychogerontology and discuss its characteristics. In addition, we’ll talk about the benefits of having the help of a psychogerontologist.

The history of psychogerontology

Psychogerontology doesn’t have a historical milestone to consider an “origin”. Rather, to find it, we must consider two things. For one, the scientific psychology that originated with Wundt in 1879 and Metchinikoff’s gerontology in 1903.

On one hand, today, we’re witnessing a phenomenon that’s giving more and more relevance to psychogerontology. Basically, developed countries increasingly have an aging population. In a way, there was an increase in life expectancy but there was also a drastic drop in the birth rate in many countries. Spain is a clear example of these two events.

These circumstances have fueled the need to study older people in a deeper way. Thus, there have been many improvements in interventions aimed at this sector of the population.

On the other hand, of the many researchers who’ve contributed knowledge to psychogerontology, one of the most outstanding figures is Professor James Birren. He said that, just as gerontology was concerned with old age, the psychology of aging should study the processes that occur during the life cycle and the processes of stability and change. In addition to the cognitive, motor, and emotional variables that the elderly entail.

An elderly couple smiling.

Characteristics of psychogerontology

Several different elements characterize psychogerontology:

  • It studies the development of the life cycle. Psychogerontology goes hand in hand with developmental psychology, which studies the way individuals evolve throughout life.
  • It promotes optimal aging. Psychogerontology is concerned with promoting health. It tries to prevent diseases or make them more bearable in the elderly.
  • It promotes the well-being of caregivers of the elderly. In other words, psychogerontology doesn’t care only for older adults but also for those around them. Thus, it promotes the well-being of both parties.
  • Education. Through psychoeducation, it imparts knowledge in older adults so that they know how to manage their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. In addition, it also facilitates study at this age for those who are interested.
  • Investigate. It does research on all aspects related to older people.
  • Intervention. Many of the interventions psychogerontology proposes are based on clinical psychology and social psychology. As a result, it uses both group work techniques and individual psychotherapy. Also, interventions may be carried out with the patient’s family.
  • Elder rights are of great importance. It protects the patient’s rights through legal psychology. In addition, it advocates for the well-being of elders through the promotion of social services that help with their health, culture, and leisure.

Now, the proper name of those professionals dedicated to psychogerontology is psychogerontologists. If you’d like to become one, you first have to study psychology and then specialize in this area.

Furthermore, psychogerontology isn’t only dedicated to what we mentioned above. It also intervenes in the organizational field. How? Luis Santamaría wrote an article where he talked about the role of the organizational psychologist in psychogerontology. Pretty much, the psychogerontologist intervenes in processes of selection, evaluation, orientation, training, and development of the personnel that works for the elderly.

In addition to this, they research the market to study the needs of the elders. For example, through gerontological programs and projects.

An elderly couple taking a walk.

The benefits of this field of study

This branch of psychology brings great benefits:

  • When an elderly person is having difficulties, this branch makes it possible to evaluate them and give them a proper diagnosis, treatment, and intervention.
  • It helps them enhance skills at the cognitive, affective, functional, social support, and behavioral levels.
  • This branch of psychology promotes disease prevention and health in the community and the elderly.
  • It promotes research and teaching on the matter so that there’s an advance in the knowledge of this science.
  • Provides consultation and advice to institutions aimed at elders.
  • Direct attention to elderly people, relatives, and workers.
  • It provides training for workers, caregivers, and the elderly.
  • Socio-legal protection of the elderly.
  • The patient’s family may be involved as well.
  • It teaches about the prevention of dementias.
  • Psychostimulation.
  • There are plenty of support groups.

In addition, psychogerontology offers selection, training, and prevention of stress in caregivers. It’s wonderful because they don’t only think about the elders but about those who work hard to keep them healthy.

The fact that there’s a branch of psychology dedicated to the elderly is great news for an increasingly broad sector of the population. Through psychogerontology, it’s possible to approach elders in a more accurate way. On the other hand, for the psychologist, it’s a precious job opportunity due to the great value that can be contributed to society from this specialty.

  • Santamaría Montalvillo, J.L. (2004). Rol del psicólogo en gerontología: El psicólogo en el proceso de envejecimiento. Vejez y calidad de vida. Documento elaborado por el COP Bizkaia.
  • Mielgo Casado, A., Ortiz Muñoz, MD; Ramos Noesí, C. (2001) El rol del psicólogo que trabaja con personas mayores. Definición y desarrollo profesional. Intervención psicosocial, 10 (3), pp. 395-409.