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I just spent a great few days at the BSG 2012 conference at Keele University and got chatting to a few colleagues. We talked about the kind of research we are currently involved in when someone asks: so don’t you call yourself a gerontologist?

Mmmh, no I don’t.

So I started to wonder why I don’t, after all, I am at the BSG…maybe I am having a bit of an identity crisis…

I have been a member of the BSG since 2006, a member of the BSG executive since 2010 and I am currently the treasurer for the society. Most of my professional and research career has been around ageing and older people. But still I tend to avoid the word gerontology. And talking to some friends and colleagues at the BSG, it appears I am not the only one.

I think part of the reason is that I my educational background never focused solely on gerontology, but is of a very multi-disciplinary nature.  I have a background in nursing and I have worked predominately with older people in my professional career; I undertook my PhD at a School of Health Professions and Rehabilitation Sciences but focused on older people living with a chronic lung disease; and I have been and currently am involved in research projects including older people (both directly and indirectly) and in fact this is a thread by which I link all my professional and research career experience together. And since gerontology is very diverse discipline including people from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds, this really should not be the reason to why I hesitate calling myself a gerontologist.

So after some reflection, I think the bit that I struggle most with, is the fact that the vast majority of people (both the general public, friends and often other academic colleagues) don’t know what the word ‘gerontology’ means.

Geront… what? What is that?

Well I am interested in experiences of ageing, health and chronic illness in later life

Aha, OK.

Interestingly, people don’t seem to have this problem with ‘geriatrics’. Maybe because we, the general public, adopted the word to describe older people in a negative way or maybe more importantly, it’s a term associated with medicine. (I could diverge here and have a discussion on the issue of the medicalisation of old age and illness and social gerontological ideas of ageing, but I won’t… maybe for another blog).

So maybe what we, as gerontologists, need to do is to embed the word ‘gerontology’ into the public conscience and we can only do this by ‘spreading’ the word. So what am I? I am a gerontologist with an interest in experiences of health and chronic illness in later life. Identity crisis over.