Professional Organizations

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More than a thousand age-based organizations exist in the United States at the national, state, and local levels. A number of such groups have emerged in other countries, such as Canada, as well as at the international level. These organizations are nonprofit collective entities with the betterment of persons age sixty and older as their objective (Liebig). However, not all have a professional orientation; many are consumer-based or consumer-focused advocacy groups. While most have "aging," "gerontology," or "geriatrics" in their name, others are not as easily identifiable, such as Generations United.

Organizations in aging can be classified as mass membership (such as AARP); special subgroups of older adults (the Older Women's League comes to mind); occupation-based or trade associations (the National Association of Retired Federal Employees and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging are examples); and professional groups of researchers and service providers (Day; Jaszczak; Krol; Van Tassel and Meyer; Wallace and Williamson). These organizations, associations, providers, professionals, and industries that serve elderly persons constitute "the aging enterprise" (Estes, 1979, 1993). They have been dubbed the "gray lobby" when they seek benefits from policymakers (Pratt).

Professional organizations

This entry centers on associations of academics and practitioners in gerontology and geriatrics, primarily mainstream age-based organizations. However, other organizations, such as the National Association of Social Workers, American Bar Association, and American Psychological Association, also address issues related to older adults. They have special sections that explore the responses of their respective professions to the needs of elders.

The major organizations representing academic researchers and practicing professionals are the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), the American Society on Aging (ASA), the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), and the National Council on Aging (NCoA) in the United States, and the Canadian Association of Gerontology (CAG) and the Canadian Geriatric Research Society (CGRS) in Canada. Some (GSA and CAG) primarily have a research constituency, while others (AGS and CGRS) are oriented toward medical school researchers and physicians. The ASA and NCoA, by contrast, draw members primarily from a wide range of practitioners and volunteers engaged in service delivery (Maddox).

These groups reflect the usual characteristics of professional organizations, including a post-baccalaureate educational requirement. They hold annual conferences for members and others, such as the lay public; conduct research, faculty development, or continuing education workshops; produce and disseminate peer-reviewed publications (e.g., journals of basic and applied research); and give awards for meritorious service to the organization and to the field of aging. They also have a special membership category and activities for students (professionals-intraining). They are concerned with enhancing the dialogue between researchers and practitioners so that research results can lead to better practice, and also with promoting communication among practitioners to strengthen "best practices." They engage in advocacy and the shaping of public policy to benefit their members and the older adults whom they serve. The ASA, GSA, and NCoA accomplish this goal through their own efforts and also through an umbrella association comprising both professional and consumer groups, the Leadership Council on Aging, located in Washington, D.C.

Most professional organizations in aging were created during the 1940s and 1950s, in comparison with consumer groups, which proliferated during the 1970s and 1980s (Liebig). As shown in Table 1, the U.S. groups were established earlier than their Canadian counterparts; the geriatric societies were created first in both nations.

U.S. professional associations

American Geriatrics Society. The AGS was established in 1942 to promote effective, high-quality research that addresses the health care problems of older adults; to create and expand geriatric training centers; to expand and implement geriatric education and training for physicians, nurses, other health professionals, and the general public; to ensure access to geriatric medical care for older persons; and to pursue a vigorous public policy effort. Since 1952 the formation of state affiliates has been encouraged. Since the 1980s, the AGS focus on education has been reflected in the Teachers of Geriatric Medicine section, the Fellows in Training program, and a Board Review course. The AGS holds an annual meeting for its sixty-five hundred members that is accredited for continuing medical education and makes available audiocassettes of annual meeting presentations. Since 1983 the AGS has published the monthly Journal of the American Geriatric Society. It also produces the bimonthly AGS News, the biennial Geriatric Review Syllabus, and The Directory of Fellowship Programs in Geriatric Medicine, covering U.S. and Canadian programs. Other publications include position papers on topics of interest to the membership, such as Medicare subsidies for medical school education, and a membership directory.

American Society on Aging. Nearly ten thousand public- and private-sector professionals in aging belong to ASA, which got its start as the Western Gerontological Society in 1954. It seeks to foster a sense of community among those working with and on behalf of the elderly; to provide quality training; to promote research and disseminate knowledge; to facilitate innovative approaches to service delivery; to promote a positive image of aging; to influence social and public policies by sponsoring debates on emerging issues; to enhance and strengthen the involvement of ethnic and racial minorities; and to collaborate with other organizations to enhance the well-being of older persons and their families.

The ASA is organized around several affinity groups, such as business, religion, and lesbians and gays. Its annual meeting is held every other year in California in March and takes place in California every other year. In addition, ASA sponsors a summer series of workshops, regional seminars, a fall conference, and public forums in various parts of the country. Publications include a quarterly, practice-oriented journal, Generations; Aging Today, a bimonthly newspaper; Inside ASA, a semiannual newsletter for members; and specialized publications, such as Critical Debates in an Aging Society. The ASA annually recognizes individuals who have contributed to the organization and to the cause of aging in society, older ASA members who exemplify the contributions that persons over age sixty-five can make, student researchers, media leaders, exemplary practitioners, and businesses with programs and products benefiting older adults.

Gerontological Society of America. An outcome of a series of symposia funded by the Macy Foundation, the GSA began in 1945 as the American Gerontological Society. It was created to promote the scientific study of aging in public health, mental hygiene, the science and art of medicine, the cure of diseases, and the nature and problems of aging. A second objective was to encourage the exchange of knowledge about aging among scientists, practitioners, and decision makers working in the field. The GSA was instrumental in the creation of the National Institute on Aging and of federal support for graduate and postdoctoral training programs. More than sixty-five hundred members affiliate with four sectionsBiological Sciences, Clinical Medicine, Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Social Research, Policy and Practiceas well as with numerous formal and informal interest groups, such as Humanities and Aging and Technology and Aging, that provide opportunities for members to discuss topics of mutual interest. The GSA also has a very active student program that sponsors scientific sessions and social events at the annual meeting held each November. With the creation of the National Academy on an Aging Society in 1995, the GSA has undertaken a proactive role as a national forum for policy analysis and debate through The Public Policy and Aging Report.

The GSA has an extensive publications program. The Journal of Gerontology, begun in 1946 as a single journal focused on basic research, became four separate journals in 1988. In 1961 The Gerontologist was created to feature articles on applied research and policy. A new series on chronic and disabling conditions, published by the National Academy on an Aging Society, was begun in 2000. A monthly newsletter, Gerontology News, and a membership directory are provided to members. In addition, the GSA bestows annual awards (e.g., the Donald Kent and Joseph Freeman awards) on members who have conducted quality research that impacts practice and education. The GSA also has a Fellows program for persons who have contributed to it and to the field, and Minority Fellowships for students.

In 1999 the GSA incorporated the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. AGHE had been created in 1974 to provide a network for two- and four-year college and university instructional programs and to improve the quality of gerontology and geriatric programs in institutions of higher learning. Its more than three hundred members are institutionally based. Major publications include Core Principles and Outcomes of Gerontological, Geriatric and Aging Studies Instruction, the AGHExchange newsletter, subject bibliographies (e.g., public policy), and a national directory of instructional programs in aging. An annual meeting, faculty development workshops, and sponsorship of merit scholarships and a national honor society, Sigma Phi Omega, also are part of AGHE's activities. In the late 1990s AGHE developed a Fellows program and its Programs of Merit as a means of evaluating the quality of instructional programs.

The National Council on Aging. Originally funded by the Ford Foundation and established as the National Committee on Aging in 1950, the NCoA took its current name in 1960. Its mission has been to change attitudes that denigrate the contributions of older people. The NCoA is committed to improving services for elders and promoting the dignity, self-determination, well-being, and productivity of older adults as individuals and within familial and community contexts. Its more than seven thousand members are drawn from professionals and volunteers who provide senior services.

The NCoA is composed of many constituent units, each with its own leadership, structure, and programs. The first was the National Institute of Senior Centers, which has promoted standards, guidelines, and accreditation for senior centers. Since 1971 eight other units have been added. Generally designated as institutes or centers, these units conduct applied research, training, and advocacy on issues such as aging in rural areas, adult day care, older worker employment services, and health promotion. The NCoA's David W. Meyer Institute for Applied Gerontology is designed to close the gap between research and practice. The NCoA also is one of ten national sponsors of the Senior Community Services Employment Program, which provides work opportunities for low-income persons aged over fifty-five. It also has played a major role in educating seniors about Medicare+Choice options and created several intergenerational programs (e.g., Family Friends) in which senior volunteers work with severely disabled children, and Foster Grandparents. With the Child Welfare League it created Generations United to strengthen intergenerational linkages.

The NCoA holds regional conferences and an annual meeting, usually in the spring in Washington, D.C. It publishes Abstracts in Social Gerontology, the quarterly Perspectives on Aging, and the bimonthly NCoA Network. It provides training materials, videos, and other instructional materials for its members and the public.

Other societies. Mention should be made of professional organizations at the state and regional levels and of special-focus groups. Among the former are statewide associations such as the California Council on Gerontology and Geriatrics and the Minnesota Society on Aging. Regional gerontological associations include the Midwest, Southern, and Southwest societies. New organizations, such as the Association of Private Geriatric Care Managers and the National Association of Service Coordinators, reflect growing professional specialization. A few publish journals (such as the Southwest Journal on Aging ), but their primary outreach efforts are annual meetings, newsletters, and membership directories.

Canadian professional organizations

The development of professional organizations in Canada has paralleled that of similar associations in the United States, but the proliferation of such groups has been considerably less. This may be because the total population of Canada is less than the total numbers of U.S. seniors. The official languages of the three major associations are English and French.

Canadian Geriatric Research Society. The CGRS was established in 1955 as a national scientific medical association. Its primary objective has been to encourage the funding of basic scientific and clinical research in geriatric medicine. Its membership is drawn from biological and clinical researchers, medical educators, and physicians. Its concerns center on gerontological/geriatric research, education, and training, as is reflected in its information dissemination and educational activities, including an annual conference. The CGRS houses the J. W. Crane Memorial Library, a database of more than six thousand titles.

The Canadian Society of Geriatric Medicine. A complementary organization, the Canadian Society of Geriatric Medicine, was established in 1981. In contrast to the more academic focus of the CGRS, the CSGM serves practitioners. Its concerns center on patient health care and geriatric practice, long-term care, geriatric medical education and training, and specialized medical services for older persons. The CSGM holds an annual meeting in the early fall and publishes a quarterly newsletter for its members.

The Canadian Association on Gerontology. The CAG, established in 1971 by 185 founding members, was formally incorporated in 1973. It is a national, multidisciplinary association dedicated to fostering research, education, and policy aimed at improving the quality of life for older Canadians. This mission is accomplished by encouraging studies in gerontology, disseminating information, improving service administration, and enhancing communication and cooperation among the professions and disciplines serving older adults. The CAG espouses the philosophy that older persons are entitled to make informed decisions about their own lives and situations. It advocates for the development of a just government policy that fosters the freedom of older adults to conduct their lives in accordance with this principle. The creation of knowledge and its practical application are key to realizing these beliefs (

CAG members include health care practitioners, government agency personnel, social and behavioral scientists, biological and clinical researchers, social service providers, educators, businesspeople, and older persons. Its priority concerns are health, nutrition, and long-term care; income security and employment of older workers; and housing and the environment.

CAG publications include a quarterly, The Canadian Journal on Aging; the quarterly CAG Newsletter; position papers on home care and seniors and prescription drugs; and two monographs, Abuse and Neglect of Older Canadians: Strategies for Change and National Forum on Closing the Care Gap. The CAG holds an annual meeting in the fall, with an emphasis on special student activities and the publication The Student Connection. It presents three annual awards for contributions to the organization and the field, and two student awards. CAG is a member of the International Association of Gerontology (CPA World Directory of Old Age ).

Professional organizations in other nations

National professional organizations in gerontology and geriatrics have proliferated around the world, largely since the 1980s. The World Health Organization and the United Nations, as well as international associations (see below), have played important roles in promoting the development of these national organizations, especially in developing nations in Latin America and Asia. The establishment of professional societies in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, and other nations attests to the growing interest in aging around the world.

International associations

Further evidence of the globalization of aging has been the increase of multinational organizations in aging, beginning with the creation of the International Association of Gerontology (IAG) in 1950. The IAG membership comprises national societies from four regions: Asia/Oceania, Europe, Latin America, and North America. The IAG holds a quadrennial meeting to promote gerontological research and cooperation by member organizations in the biomedical, behavioral, and social aspects of aging. It also promotes the training of highly qualified professionals in aging and seeks to protect the interests of gerontological societies and associations. The Sandoz Prize is its major award for research merit.

Other societies are the International Federation on Ageing (IFA), created in 1973, with numerous affiliates around the world composed of professionals advocating on behalf of the elderly in their respective nations, and the International Institute on Ageing (Malta), which conducts education and training for professionals in developing nations, under U.N. auspices. The publications of these two organizations, respectively, are International Aging and Bold. They have strong links with professional societies in the United States and Canada, such as the GSA and CAG, as well as with groups focused on developing programs for the elderly, such as the American Association for International Aging, the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, and HelpAge, headquartered in England with affiliates in several countries.

As all countries experience larger proportions of older people in the twenty-first century, professional organizations in aging will continue to be established, especially in the developing nations. These associations will maintain their support for programs of research and training to ensure that quality research is conducted and practitioners provide high-quality services to the world's elders.

Phoebe S. Liebig

See also Consumer Organizations in Aging; Geriatric Medicine; Gerontology.


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Jaszczak, S., ed. Encyclopedia of Associations, 31st ed. New York: Gale Research, 1997.

Krol, J., ed. Older Americans Information Directory. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

Liebig, P. "Organizations on Aging." In Encyclopedia of Gerontology: Age, Aging and the Aged.Edited by J. Birren. San Diego: Academic Press, 1996.

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Van Tassel, D. D., and Meyer, J. E. W., eds. U.S. Aging Policy Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Wallace, S. R., and Williamson, J. B. The Senior Movement: References and Resources. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.


See Accelerated Aging: Human Progeroid Syndromes; Cellular Aging: Telomers

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Professional Organizations