In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geography and the Elderly

  • Introduction

Geography Geography and the Elderly
Mario D. Garrett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0062


Geography is an important factor for gerontology. The interconnectedness between space, place, time, and aging can provide more nuanced understandings of aging and the reality of becoming an older adult. It is a daunting task to keep up with the developments of these two disciplines separately, while together these disciplines present a formidable challenge. Both the study of geography and gerontology has been referred to as “magpie disciplines,” borrowing methods and concepts from other disciplines. They share an impressive multidisciplinary background. This article addresses the symbiotic relationship that gerontology and geography have had in the past and how this early relationship influences recent work on the geography of aging. This bibliography traces the history and theories of aging and geography and identifies the importance of the ecological model of aging and studies identifying Blue Zones, which are clusters of centenarians throughout the world. The recent work on the geography of virtual reality points to a theoretical model of aging that highlights the importance of how we internalize geography and our sense of belonging. The final synthesis is how this sense of belonging to a place is translated through epigenetic method and to the idea of the body knowing: a true synthesis where the environment leaves traces of itself in our bodies as much as we leave traces of our life in the environment.

Geography and Older Adults

The disciplines of geography and gerontology—the study of older adults—are rich in theoretical postulations and as Cutchin 2009 argues, rich in practical applications. In particular, there is a growing interest in how older adults, as they become frail and dependent, modify their environment. Warnes 1990 explores this in the urban environment while Keating 2008 has focused on a more rural setting (cited under Ecological Model). However, as Kearns and Moon 2002 have argued, there is a great need, within both fields of aging and geography, for theoretical cohesiveness. Anuchin 1973 gives an early argument for such cohesiveness by emphasizing a synthesis of both practical and applied work. Aging can provide an area for such consolidation in geography, and geography can act as a focus for increasingly divergent field of gerontology. The theoretical fragmentation that remains requires broad strokes in thinking as Sylvestre 1999 has argued, moving toward a synthesis of man and environment. Warnes 1990 and McPherson 1990 boldly apply such broad strokes, while Golant 1984 pushes for a methodological foundation. Laws 1993, however, reminds us that aging is not only an academic construct but also has policy consequences. The scope of geography and older adults is broad and intricate and any summary is necessarily deficient and incomplete.

  • Anuchin, V. A. “Theory of Geography.” In Directions in Geography. Edited by R. J. Chorley, 43–63. London: Methuen, 1973.

    An overview of the need to consolidate geographic interests which evaluates the complex interaction between elderly persons and their environment and moves away from the ecological model toward a Vidalian tradition. A primer in this area of study.

  • Cutchin, Malcolm P. “Geographical Gerontology: New Contributions and Spaces for Development.” The Gerontologist 49.3 (2009): 440–445.

    DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnp095

    Useful for introducing the subdiscipline to those new to it because it provides an evaluation of why few geographers have engaged in issues that interest gerontology, while gerontology has remained elusive to the contribution of geography apart from the ecological model. The paper focuses on the ecological aging issues.

  • Golant, Stephen M. “The Geographical Literature on Aging and Old Age: An Introduction.” Urban Geography 5.3 (1984): 262–272.

    DOI: 10.2747/0272-3638.5.3.262

    An international review of literature on “old age” from 1979–1984 developing a better methodology for studying the interaction between humans and their environment. A seminal study by introducing a method for studying the interaction between aging and geography.

  • Kearns, Robin, and Graham Moon. “From Medical to Health Geography: Novelty, Place and Theory after a Decade of Change.” Progress in Human Geography 26.5 (2002): 605–625.

    DOI: 10.1191/0309132502ph389oa

    Describes the evolution of medical geography into the geography of health and argues for place as a “talismanic point of reference” (p. 610). A concise and historical review of the evolution of health geography with solid theoretical propositions.

  • Laws, Glenda. “The Land of Old Age’: Society’s Changing Attitudes toward Urban Built Environments for Elderly People.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83 (1993): 672–693.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1993.tb01960.x

    Talks about a self-sustaining urban environment that segregates older adults. This is an important policy implication on the cause and result of ageism. This is also an important feminist perspective, since older women live longer and tend to have greater morbidity as well as higher poverty levels.

  • McPherson, Barry D. Aging as a Social Process: An Introduction to Individual and Population Aging. Toronto: Butterworths, 1990.

    A broad discussion on aging as a social phenomenon, with both micro- and macro-level analysis focusing on social participation patterns. Distinguishes how the focus of interest between the individual and the community changes.

  • Sylvestre, Gina. “The Geography of Aging: A Geographical Contribution to Gerontology.” Prairie Perspectives 2 (October 1999): 214–224.

    Develops a strategy to expand the area to human–environment interactions and toward a more Vidalian tradition that views humans as active agents in the creation of habitats.

  • Warnes, Anthony M. “Geographical Questions in Gerontology: Needed Directions for Research.” Progress in Human Geography 14.1 (1990): 24–56.

    DOI: 10.1177/030913259001400103

    Assesses the strengths and limitations of research especially on spatial and temporal variations in societal aging. Promoting studies in demographic, locational dimensions, and temporal change in older person-environment relations.

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