Magazine article Aging Today

Geriatrics and Gerontology-A Trek through Their History

Magazine article Aging Today

Geriatrics and Gerontology-A Trek through Their History

Article excerpt

Gerontologists and geriatricians appear to have a fondness for the old in more ways than one, as they have produced no shortage of history publications. Gerontologists reach back to 19th-century physiology to find their roots, and geriatricians cite Ignatz Leo Nascher's 1909 article in the New York Medical Journal and his 1914 textbook, Diseases of Old Age, as the origin of their specialty.

Here are some readily available historical reviews and commentaries on geriatrics and gerontology. They are secondary sources, not primary ones, but they can help start a trek into the professional history of the field.

2,000 YEARS

In "Geriatric Medicine: A Brief History," an article that appeared in the Oct. 25, 1997, issue of the British Medical Journal, Oxford professor John Grimley Evans suggests that after Hippocrates described conditions common among older people, "2,000 years were to pass before anything better was written on the subject." Grimley Evans recounts the growth of geriatrics in the 19608 and 19705 and compares its development in the United Kingdom with that in the United States. Grimley Evans also touts the role of Marjory Warren, "the mother of geriatrics," who used an efficient approach to meet the needs of older residents of workhouse hospital wards in the 1930s.

Growing attention to aging as both a sociological and a medical topic in the 20th century is documented by Laura Hirshbein in her article "Popular Views of Old Age in America, 1900-1950," which was published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (November 2001). She describes three phases of public interest as reflected in articles in popular magazines: descriptions of old age as the experience of older people, defined by the elders themselves (1900-1920); more negative reporting about old age (1920-early 1930s); and accounts of professional interventions into the supposed problems of old age (1930s-1950).

The social and cultural changes associated with America's shift from an agrarian economy to a more industrialized one contributed to the decreased availability of family support for older adults; this shift in turn led to federal legislation that enhanced formal geriatric care. That's the conclusion reached by Kevin Fleming, Jonathan Evans and Darryl Chutka in "A Cultural and Economic History of Old Age in America." The article appeared in July 2003 as part of the new "Symposium on Geriatrics" section of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.


According to Moira Martin in "Medical Knowledge and Medical Practice: Geriatric Medicine in the 1950s," published in the journal Social History of Medicine (December 1995), pressure in England to free up hospital beds occupied by long-stay patients gave birth to modern geriatrics. The author also writes that sickness in old age stood in the middle of the debate on whether problems of aging were a medical or a social concern.

Geriatrics can be traced back to Byzantine times, according to modern-day Greek scholars who have analyzed ancient documents. …

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