As the body of scientific and technical knowledge increased with the discoveries and advancements of the twentieth century, the lifespan of the individual also increased. It had been hoped that the achievement of this longevity would result in greater time for relaxation and an improved quality of life in the later years. It brought with it also, however, a set of concomitant problems. Chronic, debilitating illnesses to which the elderly are especially susceptible, inadequate facilities for health care and housing, inaccessibility of community resources, and a plethora of social and economic problems made the improvement of the quality of life through longer years a debatable subject. The attention of health care professionals during the latter half of the twentieth century has been forced to turn towards an interdisciplinary, holistic view of the continuum of aging. Nurses have been acutely aware that for man to achieve his utmost potential, these interrelated factors in the condition and quality of later life must be made less burdensome. Research and study have provided a better framework within which to work, but the results and conclusions of such projects must be related.
With the stated purpose to encourage and promote the study of geriatrics, the American Geriatrics Society was organized in 1942, by a group of concerned physicians. Its chief concern at that time was with the clinical problems of old age, however, through their own research and clinical practice, the members of the society began to stress the importance of the pre-clinical aspects of geriatrics, i.e., preventative and curative treatment of diseases which particularly affect those of advanced years. The maintenance of health and the prevention of disease were greatly emphasized from the beginning, with the realization that for the elderly person to function to his highest capacity, enjoying the years of retirement, the cumulative, permanent damage which is the residual of acute episodes of illness must be avoided.
The first Annual Meeting of the American Geriatrics Society was held in New York City in 1943. The thirty persons present for the scientific session on endocrinology and geriatrics comprised the total membership of the society. Since that time, the percentage of the population over 65 has increased rapidly and our present health care system is seemingly unable to meet their needs. There is a growing acceptance of the importance of the study of the process of aging and the aged, as evidence by the approximately 9,000 members of the Society to date. This membership is a compilation of representatives of various disciplines and nonprofessionals interested in the field of geriatrics.
The purposes of the Society are multi-faceted with an emphasis on the promotion of research, education, and service. Society's view of the aged, the cultural attitude toward aging people, and the beliefs held by older people about themselves greatly influence life's quality for the aging. Through the identification and examination of some of the problems which the older person faces, the Society attempts to ameliorate the situation by presenting a positive and correct view of geriatrics. Aging is still in a very early phase as a problem for research and it is doubtful that the solution for the complex problems of aging will result from a single discovery, however significant.
Research is the basic ingredient of progress toward better health and living conditions and the Society makes every effort to encourage and direct research in the field of aging. To disseminate among nurses, physicians, students, and other interested persons the most current information and trends concerning geriatrics, the American Geriatrics Society publishes a monthly publication, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The articles found in this journal are original presentations concerning the clinical and laboratory aspects of geriatrics, e.g., studies of the causes, prevention and/or treatment of diseases of the aging, nutrition, mental health, rehabilitation, pertinent animal experiments, etc., case studies, and papers dealing with social and other related problems.
Also, in accord with the purpose to disseminate information, the Society publishes a monthly newsletter. This contains up-to-date information regarding the activities of the Society, e.g., announcements of district meetings, grants, and other honors received by the Society or an individual member, pending legislation which will affect the older citizen, and publications received by the Society which are concerned with geriatrics. The newsletter also contains information about continuing education programs sponsored by the Society which are accredited for continuing education hours by various professional organizations. These sessions are usually co-sponsored by hospitals, long-term care facilities, universities and medical societies. Some of the topics to be discussed in 1977 are: the Medical Aspects of the Aging Process; Education Policy in the Field of Geriatrics; and Geriatrics: The Fruition of the Clinician. For its Annual Meeting, which has been mentioned before, the Society attempts to draw upon the talents and energies of a cross-section of professionals and to present papers on a wide ranging number of topics pertinent to geriatrics.
The yearly scientific sessions, which are held in a different part of the country each year, provide the Society with a large forum for the exchange of information and the fostering of different, perhaps innovative, methods to deal with the situations discussed.
It is the belief of the American Geriatrics Society that the healthy, competent, enthusiastic, older person holds an attractive object lesson for the population at large. They exemplify the dignity and productiveness which are the ultimate in human achievement and can be an inspiration to the young.
The chief criteria for membership in the Society is a sincere interest in the health care of the geriatric person and in fields of research directed towards its advancement. Further information may be obtained by contacting: The American Geriatrics Society, Room 1470, 10 Columbus Circle, New York, New York 10019.