In my early twenties, diagnosed with severe endometriosis, I made it my night job to learn everything I could about women’s health and what I could do to regain mine, and stay healthy. In my fifties, as a second career, I returned to school and graduated as a Certified Gerontologist with a specialty focusing on women fifty-five and over. I know I made the perfect choice for me.
What I found while in school astonished me. Until recently, in terms of research, women over fifty-five were left by the side of the road by the majority of the scientific and medical community–simply tossed out, over-looked, and disregarded like an old magazine. We were a forgotten tribe who number almost forty-eight million in the United States, one-hundred-seventy million worldwide this year with approximately a quarter of a million more women turning fifty-five each year.
From the current selection of books available for women over fifty-five, one could surmise that once a woman completes menopause– a two-to-four year window in her entire lifetime– she stops needing answers to her health concerns, stops wanting to be the best 60-, 70-, 80-year-old woman possible. This is even harder to understand considering that since 1950 women have been living into their early 70s. (In 2015, that prediction rose to early 80s.) Today, unless a woman dies prematurely around age 62, every girl baby born on the planet will eventually reach this no-woman’s-land; a place women could inhabit for upward of thirty years.
As a gerontologist, I find reliable, well-documented research to help women age vibrantly scattered throughout the scientific and medical communities, unconnected, and seemingly free floating in its own self-contained worlds. Finding a needle in the proverbial haystack is easier than finding clear, concise information geared to women over fifty-five. Every day I read and corral the newest research, the best-at-this-moment understanding of what we women can do to be as healthy, happy, and as vital as possible as we get older.
The question I am often asked is how does gerontology and gerontologists differ from geriatrics and geriatricians? The folks at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine define geriatrics as follows:
“Geriatric Medicine is a specialty that focuses on medical issues and diseases of aging, and of old age.”
Gerontology is the holistic study of aging. It is anchored in four major scientific disciplines: biology, psychology, physiology, and sociology:
- The study of the body (biology)
- The mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions and processes of the body (physiology)
- The study of behavior and emotions (psychology)
- The human social relationships (sociology)
- The spiritual beliefs many of us embrace—the way of our hearts (without getting specific about religion and its related dogma.)
These are the four cornerstones of gerontology. Additionally, we gerontologists now look at other disciplines including history, anthropology, religion, the political sciences and philosophy, all which help us see the full spectrum of influences making up the human experience through time. This multi-disciplinary approach places gerontologists in the unique position to understand the whole person as she ages. We focus on the mind and spirit, as well as the body.
It is this humanistic aspect in aging–the greater imaginations, hopes, fears, and experiences of people– which gerontologists take into consideration, further separating these two areas of science. Luckily for us Baby Boomers, in the last decades of the twentieth century, colleges and universities have expanded their offering to include a variety of degreed and professional programs in gerontology. Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of AARP said this about the role of gerontologists... “We are all aging, every day, so there is no more mainstream topic than aging.”
As a gerontologist, I work at changing the perception of what it is to grow older by embracing the latest science and adopting what are our best bets for living a long and vibrantly healthy life. In future articles I will deep dive into these best bets. Today, I leave you with a couple of easy, but life-changing suggestions: Consume 64 oz. of clean, filtered water every day, and find ten minutes each day to sit in complete silence and just breathe.
I hope to empower women to take control of their health and their lives, and to help women everywhere have the energy, cognitive reserves, and desire to feel great and look their very best in this phase of their lives.
Until next time…Be Vibrant!