Gerontology versus Geriatrics: Different Ways of Understanding Ageing and Old Age

  • Chris GilleardEmail author
  • Paul HiggsEmail author


This chapter addresses both the points of similarity and difference in how ageing and old age have been viewed by gerontology and geriatric medicine. The authors argue that until relatively recently both disciplinary fields shared a common viewpoint that distinguished between age-associated illness and age-related decline. The former was represented as abnormal or pathological ageing and was recognised as the province of medicine; the latter was termed ‘normal’ ageing and formed the domain of the gerontological sciences – from the biological to the social. This modern distinction is now being questioned and with it the notion of the ‘normality’ of ageing. Age-associated disease is being re-presented as age related – with ageing being seen as constituting a multiplicity of pathways of decline. In social gerontology, this is leading to a more profound questioning both of the status and meaning attached to old age in contemporary society.


Geriatric Medicine Pathological Ageing National Healthcare System Gerontological Society Ageing Paradigm 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Achenbaum, W. A. (1995). Crossing frontiers: gerontology emerges as a science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arber, S., & Ginn, J. (1993). Gender and inequalities in health in later life. Social Science & Medicine, 36(1), 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beck, U. (2000). The cosmopolitan perspective: sociology of the second age of modernity. British Journal of Sociology, 51(1), 79–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Binstock, R. H. (2003). The war on ‘anti-aging medicine’. Gerontologist, 43(1), 4–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Booth, C. (1894). The aged poor in England and Wales. London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  6. Brown-Séquard, C. E. (1889) Note on the effects produced on man by subcutaneous injections of a liquid obtained from the testicles of animals. Lancet, 2, 105–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown-Séquard, C. E. (1893). On a new therapeutic method consisting in the use of organic liquids extracted from glands and other organs. British Medical Journal, 1(1693), 1212.Google Scholar
  8. Burton, D. G. A. (2009). Cellular senescence, ageing and disease. Age, 31, 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Butler, R. N., Miller, R. A., Perry, D., Carnes, B. A., Williams, T. F., Cassel, C.,…Olshansky, S. J. (2008). New model of health promotion and disease prevention for the 21st century. British Medical Journal, 337, a399 DOI:  10.1136/bmj.a399.Google Scholar
  10. Carnes, B. A. (2011). What is lifespan regulation and why does it exist? Biogerontology, 12(4), 367–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clark, D. O., & Maddox, G. L. (1992). Racial and social correlates of age-related changes in functioning. Journal of Gerontology, 47(5), S222–S232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Conrad, C. (1998). Old age and the health care system in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In: P. Johnson & P. Thane (Eds.), Old age: from antiquity to post-modernity (pp. 132–145). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Crome, P., & Lally, F. (2011). Frailty: joining the giants. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(8), 889–890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Department of Health. (2001). National service framework for older people. London: DoH. Accessed 5 June 2015.
  15. Erikson E.H. (1980). The Life Cycle Completed. New York, Norton.Google Scholar
  16. Estes, C. L. (1979). The aging enterprise. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  17. Estes, C. L., Biggs, S., Phillipson, C. (2003). Social theory. Social policy and ageing: a critical introduction. Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Estes, C. L., Swan, J. H., Gerard, L. E. (1982). Dominant and competing paradigms in gerontology: towards a political economy of ageing. Ageing and Society, 2(02), 151–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Finkel, T. (2005). Radical medicine: treating ageing to cure disease. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, 6(12), 971–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gems, D. (2011). Tragedy and delight: the ethics of decelerated ageing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 366(1561), 108–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gems, D., and Partridge, L. (2013). Genetics of longevity in model organisms: debates and paradigm shifts. Annual Review of Physiology, 75, 621–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Geronimus, A. T., Bound, J., Waidmann, T. A., Hillemeier, M. M., Burns, P. B. (1996). Excess mortality among blacks and whites in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 335(21), 1552–1558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Giampapa, V. C., del Campo, A. F., Ramirez, O. M. (2003). Anti-aging medicine and the aesthetic surgeon: a new perspective for our specialty. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 27(6), 493–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gilleard, C. (2013). Renaissance treatises on ‘successful ageing’. Ageing and Society, 33(2), 189–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gilleard, C. (2015). Ageing and the Galenic tradition: a brief overview. Ageing and Society, 35(3), 489–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gilleard, C., & Higgs, P. (2011). Frailty, disability and old age: a re-appraisal. Health, 15(5), 475–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grunenberg, E. M. (1977). The failure of success. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly: Health and Society, 55, 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hall, G. S. (1922). Senescence: the second half of life. New York: Appleton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Havighurst, R. J., & Albrecht, R. (1953). Older people. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  30. Haycock, D. B. (2008) Mortal coil: a short history of living longer. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Hayflick, L. and Moorhead, P.S. (1961). The serial cultivation of human diploid cell strains. Experimental Cell Research, 25, 585–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Isaacs, B. (1976). The giants of geriatrics: inaugural lecture, University of Birmingham. Reprinted in B. Isaacs (Ed.), The challenge of geriatric medicine (pp. 1–7). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Jarcho, S. (1969). Galen’s six non-naturals: a bibliographic note and translation. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 44(4), 372–377.Google Scholar
  34. Jones, I. R., & Higgs, P. F. (2010). The natural, the normal and the normative: contested terrains in ageing and old age. Social Science & Medicine, 71(8), 1513–1519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Levy, B. R. (2003). Mind matters: cognitive and physical effects of aging self-stereotypes. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 58B, P203–P211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. López-Otín, C., Blasco, M. A., Partridge, L., Serrano, M., Kroemer, G. (2013). The hallmarks of aging. Cell, 153(6), 1194–1217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mason, C., & Dunnill, P. (2008). A brief definition of regenerative medicine. Regenerative Medicine, 3(1), 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Meisner, B. A. (2012a). A meta-analysis of positive and negative age stereotype priming effects on behavior among older adults. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 67(1), 13–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Meisner, B. A. (2012b). Physicians’ attitudes toward aging, the aged, and the provision of geriatric care: a systematic narrative review. Critical Public Health, 22(1), 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Michel, J. P., Huber, P., & Cruz‐Jentoft, A. J. (2008). Europe‐wide survey of teaching in geriatric medicine. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 56(8), 1536–1542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Olshansky, S. J., Carnes, B. A., Cassel, C. (1990). In search of Methuselah: estimating the upper limits to human longevity. Science, 250(4981), 634–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Olshansky, S. J., Rudberg, M. A., Carnes, B. A., Cassel, C. K., Brody, J. A. (1991). Trading off longer life for worsening health: the expansion of morbidity hypothesis. Journal of Aging and Health, 3(2), 194–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Olshansky, S. J., Hayflick, L., & Carnes, B.A. (2002). Position statement on human aging. Journal of Gerontology: Biological Science, 57A(8), B292–B297.Google Scholar
  44. Paccaud, F. (2002). Rejuvenating health systems for aging communities. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 14(4), 314–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Parker, M. G., Thorslund, M., Lundberg, O. (1994). Physical function and social class among Swedish oldest old. Journals of Gerontology, 49(2), S196–S201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Phillipson C. (2013) Ageing. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  47. Pickard, S. (2010). The role of governmentality in the establishment, maintenance and demise of professional jurisdictions: the case of geriatric medicine. Sociology of Health & Illness, 32(7), 1072–1086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ribera Casado, J.M. (2012). The history of geriatric medicine. The present: Problems and opportunities. European Geriatric Medicine, 3(4), 228–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Roebuck, J. (1979). When does ‘old age’ begin? The evolution of the English definition. Journal of Social History, 12(3), 416–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1987). Human aging: usual and successful. Science, 237(4811), 143–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1997). Successful aging. Gerontologist, 37(4), 433–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1998). Successful aging: the MacArthur foundation study. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  53. Rowntree, B. S. (1901). Poverty: a study of town life. London: Longmans.Google Scholar
  54. Salvage, A. V., Vetter, N. J., Jones, D. A. (1988). Attitudes to hospital care among a community sample of people aged 75 and older. Age and Ageing, 17(4), 270–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Smith, F. B. (1979). The people’s health, 1830–1910. London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  56. Stipp, D. (2013). The youth pill: scientists at the brink of an anti-aging revolution. New York: Current/Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  57. Strehler, B. L. (1962). Time, cells and aging. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  58. Terence (c.160 BC). Phormio, or The Scheming Parasite. (accessed online, 4th May, 2015 via
  59. Townsend, P. (1959). Social surveys of old age in Great Britain, 1945–58. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 21(4–5), 583–591.Google Scholar
  60. Townsend, P. (1981). The structured dependency of the elderly: Creation of social policy in the twentieth century. Ageing and Society, 1(1), 5–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vetter, N. J. (2002). Needs, supply and demand for health care by elderly people in the NHS. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 12(4), 375–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Vijg, J., & Campisi, J. (2008). Puzzles, promises and a cure for ageing. Nature, 454 (7208), 1065–1071.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Vincent, J. (1995). Inequality and old age. London: UCL Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Vincent, J. (2006) Anti-ageing science and the future of old age. In: J. A. Vincent, C. R. Phillipson, M. Downs (eds.), The futures of old age (pp. 192–200). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vincent, J. A. (2009). Ageing, anti-ageing, and anti-anti-ageing: who are the progressives in the debate on the future of human biological ageing? Medicine Studies, 1(3), 197–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Walker, A. (1983). The social production of old age. Ageing and Society, 3(3), 387–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Webster, C. (1991). The elderly and the early national health service. In M. Pelling & R. M. Smith (eds.), Life, death and the elderly in historical perspective (pp. 138–159). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  68. Wetle, T. T. (1987). Age as a risk factor for inadequate treatment. JAMA, 258(4), 516–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Psychiatry, Faculty of Brain SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonUnited Kingdom

Personalised recommendations