Why I Love Being a Gerontologist CategoriesTo Your Health & Sanity

Why I Love Being a Gerontologist

I am frequently asked why I became a gerontologist–that is, when I’m not being asked what in the world is a gerontologist? So, let’s first get some definitions under our belts.

Here are my working definitions:

Gerontology is the scientific study of the process and experience of growing older.

A Gerontologist is a person who applies the scientific study of growing older (evidence-based gerontological practice) to maximizing positive longevity for all people and making our communities a great place to grow older.

Reflecting back, I realize that the reasons I became a gerontologist boil down to five key factors.

  • I am naturally curious, particularly about why we believe what we believe.
  • I enjoy myth busting.
  • I enjoy fixing things that are broken.
  • I enjoy learning from people who have figured some things out, like people who’ve had more life.
  • Gerontology fields have fantastic job security.

I have long been guided by a favorite Malcolm Knowles quote: “There are two MEs, the me in aging and the aging me.” First, Knowles is saying when it comes to aging there can be no “us and them” thinking. We are all aging people. And second, the work we do bridges the professional and the personal. The reasons I love being a gerontologist have shifted over the years with my own development. I still feel all the same things about why I became a gerontologist in the first place but as my depth of understanding of myself has developed, so has the integration and application of my learning. Now I’ve added many more reasons to my list:

  • Studying evidence-based gerontological practice makes it impossible to think negatively and narrowly about growing older.
  • I have the opportunity to apply in my own life practice what I learn and share about growing older.
  • I will have a greater positive longevity because of the things I know and believe about growing older.
  • Sharing what I have studied for 25 years now enables others to experience a more positive longevity.

What I want for all aging people (ps. ALL PEOPLE ARE AGING PEOPLE)

Years ago I heard someone say: “I believe in all paths to God.” That’s largely how I feel about the path to positive longevity. We are all on our own path. Gerontologists and gerontological specialists can share tools but ultimately each of us must determine what works for us. Each individual must seek evidence-based information from knowledgeable others, explore the information provided, and decide which practices are realistic and beneficial. Here are some possible starting points:

  • Don’t believe everything you read, hear, think about aging.
  • Love your longevity.
  • Think holistically about your life and your longevity.
  • Think about the long game.
  • Monitor yourself when you talk about age and aging.
  • Remember, Ageism is contagious.
  • Remember, aging is just another word for living, another word for development. We call it GROWING older for a reason.

So, what have I learned to personally practice on my path to loving my longevity? In other words, what is this Gerontologist’s advice?

  • FLOSS!
  • Sweat daily (I mean this both physically and mentally)
  • Spend time in solitude and self-discovery
  • Seek joy and purpose every day
  • Connect selectively

Join me. Let’s learn to love our longevity.

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Dr. Welleford has taught extensively in the areas of Lifespan Development, and Developmental Gerontology, Geropsychology, as well as Ethical Decision Making and Human Values. As Associate Professor and Gerontologist for Community Voice she currently works to make our community a great place for all people to GROW older by bridging classroom and community. Currently, Dr. Welleford serves as co-lead of the Greater Richmond Age Wave coalition with Senior Connections, Executive Director, Dr. Thelma Watson. She has been known to say, “Let’s do something that does something.” http://agewellva.com


  1. Ii have severe chronic pain that limits my activities and leaves me exhausted. I want to enjoy living. I survived breast cancer 31 years ago. Every day is a gift. Write about managing pain while aging.

  2. Thank you for this. It’s a beautiful description of what I experienced in gerontology, doing medical research, managing assisted living facilities and then late in life serving as a pastor. Now, as a retired 73 year old, I am still learning from my elders. Recently I’ve been blessed to take piano with a 95 year old, who just oozes life. I am so glad I took that intro course under Dr. Nancy Osgood so many years ago.

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