Aging & Geriatrics Articles, Research & Resources

Kaia Koglin
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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What Is Aging & Geriatrics?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2030, one in six people worldwide will be aged 60 or over. (1) This increase in the older population means that aging and geriatrics are larger concerns for individuals and public health departments.

Aging is the process of getting older. Starting in early adulthood, cells begin to deteriorate and bodily functions decline. (2) There isn’t a set age at which a person becomes "old." In the United States, senior status begins at 65 years of age. However, this is an arbitrary line based on retirement ages and Medicare eligibility. (3) There are different ways to define when old age begins:

  • Chronological age: The number of years a person has been alive
  • Biological age: The changes in the body that typically occur as a person ages
  • Psychological age: How old a person acts and feels (3)

Some biological and mental changes are considered to be expected parts of aging. For example, nearly everyone becomes forgetful as they get older. However, other changes aren’t as typical and can be a sign of a serious health condition. In the case of memory loss, losing track of the days and being unable to find misplaced objects aren’t "normal" signs of aging; they can be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. (4)

This is where geriatrics comes in. Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that specializes in caring for older adults. Geriatric doctors, known as geriatricians, study the aging process, so they can identify what is normal aging and what is a sign of a health condition. (5)

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What Causes Aging?

Scientists don’t know what causes aging. There are more than 300 theories about why organisms age, from DNA damage to general wear and tear. (6) However, a number of behavioral, environmental, and societal factors impact whether an individual stays healthy and active as they grow older.

In addition to personal choices, such as diet and exercise, broader factors impact how quickly a person ages. A person’s socioeconomic status — their social class and financial situation — can affect their experience of getting older. One study found that people of lower socioeconomic status had a faster decline in age-related functions. (7) As around one-third of American seniors are economically insecure, this has serious implications for the health of older adults. (8) Exposure to air pollution is also believed to accelerate aging, putting people who live in cities or industrial areas at greater risk. (9)

What Is Geriatric Care?

Geriatric care is the planning and coordinating of health care for older adults. Nearly 80% of seniors have two or more chronic conditions, so geriatricians often have to manage multiple health issues for a patient at the same time. (10)

One in four older adults experience anxiety and depression, so geriatric medicine also manages mental health. (11) Poor mental health can complicate other medical issues, so it’s essential that seniors get treatment for these conditions. Despite this, less than 50% of older adults who need mental health care receive treatment. (12)

One important task of geriatricians is learning to differentiate between normal aging and serious disorders. Seniors can overlook conditions such as dementia, diabetes, and depression as they believe the symptoms are a normal part of aging. Symptoms of mental health illnesses, such as irritability, loneliness, and hopelessness, are especially easy to dismiss. Proper senior health care can ensure older adults get the help they need to live happy and fulfilling lives.

Tips for Antiaging

Slowing the aging process comes down to taking care of physical and mental health. When it comes to maintaining optimal senior health and keeping the body young, people should:

  • Exercise: People should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise and engage in activities that strengthen muscles and improve balance. (13)
  • Eat well: Seniors should choose a balanced diet that includes enough protein to prevent the loss of muscle mass. (14)
  • Stay hydrated: Seniors lose the sensation of thirst, so it’s important to drink enough fluid each day. (14)
  • Brush teeth: Proper dental care, including flossing and brushing, can help prevent tooth loss and gum disease.
  • Wear sunscreen: Sun exposure causes 80% of skin aging, but wearing sunscreen can protect cells from damage. (15)
  • Get regular check-ups: Doctors are more likely to diagnose and treat conditions in a timely manner if they see individuals regularly.

Slowing physical aging also keeps the brain healthy, but specific tips for slowing mental aging include:

  • Keeping the mind active: Reading, learning new skills, and participating in hobbies help improve memory and reduce stress. (16)
  • Being social: Staying socially connected to friends, family, and the community helps improve well-being and brain function. (17)
  • Managing stress: Chronic stress can change the brain, so it’s important to find ways to relieve stress, such as yoga, journaling, or self-care techniques. (18)
  • Getting enough sleep: Proper sleep supports brain health.

How to Deal With Aging Parents

Older adults experience many stressors that can impact their mental health and quality of life. This includes financial stress, loneliness, a decline in functional ability, and grief from losing spouses and friends. For adult children helping their aging parents, it’s important to promote early diagnosis and treatment to ensure they stay healthy despite these stressors.

Planning ahead is also useful, so seniors can prepare for future changes. Adult children should listen to their parents' wishes and remember that seniors are adults who can make decisions about their future.

It’s also important to practice self-care when caring for an aging parent. There’s no need for one person to take full responsibility for an older adult. Siblings or a spouse may be able to help, and government and caregiver support programs may offer assistance. If a parent would benefit from assisted living or memory care, their family members should discuss the option with them. Adult children should also set boundaries, so they have time to manage their own mental health.