How to do Research on Aging

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How to do Research on AgingHow to do research on aging? As a subject area for your research paper few topics are as interesting as aging. Whether you are writing a research paper about serious health issues or the latest demographic and statistical trends, countless resources are available on all areas and categories of aging. They include comprehensive A–Z encyclopedias and information handbooks, relevant indexes and abstracts, timely full-text articles from leading journals, newspapers, and magazines, general online databases, and specific Web sites, organizational subject directories, as well as detailed studies, position papers, and reports. Anyone can be a good starting point for your research paper no matter your topic.

Aging is multidisciplinary in nature and crosses into the fields of health and social sciences, so you should prepare to research your topic using both core social sciences–and health-related print and Web indexes. If you are examining the effects of cognitive changes in aging populations, for example, you will want to examine literature in health and medicine and psychology to maximize the results of your research and support the focus of your topic. To put you on the right course, this article contains a list of selected references and sources highly recommended by librarians and researchers in this specialty.

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Selected Subject Headings

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to your research paper topic.

Suggested Research Topics in Ageing

  • Aged
  • Aged—Care
  • Aged—Diseases
  • Aged—Health and hygiene
  • Aged—Home care
  • Aged—Hospital care
  • Aged—Institutional care
  • Aged—Long-term care
  • Aged—Medical care
  • Aged—Nutrition
  • Aged—Psychology
  • Geriatrics
  • Gerontology

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching of virtually every subject. In this case, combine keyword terms that best define your thesis question or topic using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research most suitable to your topic.

If your topic is sexual education and high school students, for example, enter “seniors” and “long-term care” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, from your list of keywords that you developed alternate with one new keyword at a time with “and” between them (for example, “seniors and disabilities and long-term care,” “seniors and housing and long-term care,” “seniors and insurance and long-term care,” “seniors and services and long-term care,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your search, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to your subject. Many libraries, under the “Help” sections of their Web sites, post their own tutorials on subject and keyword searching, which you can also consult. For further assistance in this area, check with your librarian.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

Ageing Research Guide 1As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your topic, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides, enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include.

A Guide to Research in Gerontology: Strategies and Resources, by Dorothea R. Zito and George V. Zito, 130 pages (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988)

Literature and Gerontology: A Research Guide, by Robert E. Yahnke and Richard M. Eastman, 231 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. (Off-campus access to subscription databases is usually restricted unless you are a registered student; therefore, you can access them only as an on-campus visitor.) Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references; journal, newspaper, and magazine indexes; full-text article databases; Web sites; and even research tutorials—that you can access to expand your research paper on more specific issues and relevant to your subject.

Selected Books and References


Older Americans Almanac: A Reference Work on Seniors in the United States, edited by Ronald J. Manheimer, 881 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Group, 1998)

This comprehensive volume features explanatory essays on the history of aging; the physical, mental, and social processes of aging; and legal, financial, and end-of-life issues supported by tables, figures, and charts.


Crime and the Elderly: An Annotated Bibliography, by Ron H. Aday, 118 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988)

Employment of the Elderly: An Annotated Bibliography, by John C. Rife, 133 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995)

The Image of Older Adults in the Media: An Annotated Bibliography, by Frank Nuessel, 181 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992)

Sexuality and the Elderly: A Research Guide, by Bonnie L. Walker, 301 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997)

Suicide and the Elderly: An Annotated Bibliography and Review, by Nancy J. Osgood and John L. McIntosh, 193 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Topics in Gerontology: Selected Annotated Bibliographies, edited by Thomas O. Blank, 212 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993)

Greenwood Press has published a series of bibliographic reference books on various topics of aging, many still in print, including the above, reviewing and describing at length many useful research sources on each subject.


Dictionary of Gerontology, by Diana K. Harris, 216 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1988)

This book offers hundreds of precisely defined terms and concepts applied to the field of aging, explained clearly and understandably for any student, scholar, or practitioner. The book not only covers well-known and common terms but also specialized theories, studies, terms, and organizations in the field and vocabulary related to medical research methods encompassing all different disciplines of gerontology.


Aging in America A to Z, by Adriel Bettelbaum, 300 pages (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2001)

Written by a reporter for Congressional Quarterly magazine, this encyclopedic volume provides direct answers to questions, terms, and concepts affecting older citizens, with great emphasis on political and policy issues. This well-written compendium contains more than 250 in-depth articles, arranged alphabetically, about public policy and real-world concerns of seniors, from Alzheimer’s disease to the privatization of Social Security. The book is extensively cross-referenced for easy access.

Encyclopedia of Adult Development, edited by Robert Kastenbaum, 592 pages (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1993)

An excellent source of information and knowledge about lifespan development of adults, this multidisciplinary encyclopedia examines issues of persons 18 years and older with insights from specialists in various fields, including anthropology, history, education, nursing, health sciences, and psychology. The book also features many informative and in-depth articles for further reading.

Encyclopedia of Aging, edited by David J. Ekerdt, 4 vols., 2,000 pages (New York: Macmillan Reference USA/Gale Group, 2002)

A 2002 Booklist Editors’ Choice for “best reference,” this four-volume set discusses the causes and ramifications of aging. The encyclopedia covers all levels of aging, including biological, medical, psychological, and sociological topics, as well as social and public policy issues. Other issues explored include economics, law, religion, spirituality, and ethics among the aging.

The Encyclopedia of Elder Care: The Comprehensive Resource on Geriatric and Social Care, 2nd edition, by Elizabeth A. Capezuti, Eugenia L. Siegler, and Mathy D. Mezey, 950 pages (New York: Springer Publishing Co., 2007)

This revised resource covers important clinical issues in the care of the elderly. The book contains nearly 300 articles, written by medical experts, addressing all aspects of clinical care and health issues, including acute and chronic disease, home care, nursing home care, rehabilitation, health promotion, disease prevention, education, case management, social services, assisted living, advance directives, palliative care, and much more. Following each article is a list of Web resources for readers.

Encyclopedia of Gerontology: Age, Aging and the Aged, 2nd ed., edited by James E. Birren, et al., 1,594 pages (San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 2006)

Edited by gerontology researcher James E. Birren and others, this two-volume set contains articles and research on the biology, psychology, and sociology of aging, reflecting all major disciplines, topics of research, and areas of public interest. The 139 entries cover five areas of aging; each article depicts the development and changes of aging relevant to its subject and includes theories and summaries of empirical findings, definitions, a glossary of unfamiliar terms, and a bibliography of suggested readings.


Aging Sourcebook: Basic Information on Issues Affecting Older Americans, edited by Dan R. Harris and Laurie L. Harris, 889 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1997)

An insightful reference that examines a wide range of issues facing older Americans today, including health and safety, legal, financial, and end-of-life issues. The book also discusses at length demographic trends, Social Security, Medicare, estate planning, and retirement lifestyle options.

Americans 55 and Older: A Changing Market, 3rd ed., edited by Sharon Yutema, 482 pages (Ithaca, N.Y.: New Strategist Publications, Inc., 2001)

This useful guide to demographics of older Americans offers information; statistics and demographic variables, presented by age, race, origin, sex, region of residence; and more about attitudes and behavior, education, health, income, labor force, living arrangements, population, spending, and wealth of those 55 and older. The book also covers projections of the labor force to 2006.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Contemporary Women’s Issues (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group/OCLC, 1992– )

Provides full-text access to worldwide information on women from more than 150 countries based on the printed index, bringing together such disciplines as sociology, psychology, health, education, and human rights. Updated biweekly, this database indexes books, journals, newsletters, research reports from nonprofit groups, government and international agencies, and fact sheets, with links to full-text articles.

GenderWatch (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, 1970– )

This unique full-text database, with archive material dating back to 1970, provides international coverage of women’s and gender issues, including aging, body image, childbirth, child care, eating disorders, family, sexual harassment, social roles, the impact of gender and gender roles on the arts, business and work, crime, family, health care, politics, popular culture and media, religion, research and scholarship, and sports.

Human Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.: Cambridge Scientific Abstracts/ProQuest SilverPlatter, 1982– )

Combining selected information from 14 databases, including MEDLINE, the Food Science and Technology Abstracts, and Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, this specialized database indexes scholarly journals targeting human nutrition and its impact on human health. Topics covered include food allergies and nutrition, food production, agriculture and meat industries, chemistry of food additives, nutritional evaluation of food products, and the effects of nutrition on human health.

LexisNexis Academic Universe (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1970– )

Covering a wide range of news, business, legal, and reference information, LexisNexis Academic Universe also covers general medical and health topics. Searchable are full-text medical journals and newsletters including information on drug interactions, cancer, poison, disease, trauma, and medical administration, and medical abstracts from the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE for more than 3.500 worldwide clinical and research journals dating back to 1966.

Wilson OmniFile Full Text (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson, Indexing: 1982; full text: 1994– )

Multidisciplinary index providing abstracts and full text from five H.W. Wilson full-text databases: General Science Full Text, Humanities Full Text, Readers’ Guide Full Text, Social Sciences Full Text, and Wilson Business Full Text. Indexing is from 1982, with full-text coverage from 1994 to the present. Beginning dates for abstracting, indexing, and availability of full-text articles varies by database. General science subjects covered include biology, food, genetics, health and medicine, nutrition, and physiology. In the area of social sciences, the database indexes such topics as community health and medical care, family studies, gender studies, and gerontology.

Selected Periodicals

In addition to consulting indexes and abstracts and full-text databases, you may also find the need to peruse academic journals specializing in a particular field of study. The following is a sample listing of top journals in their specialty available in print or online.

Abstracts in Social Gerontology: Current Literature on Aging (New York: The National Council on the Aging, 1963–90; Newbury Park, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 1990– , quarterly)

Compiled by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) and published by Sage Publications, this leading quarterly journal offers abstracts and bibliographies of major articles, books, government reports, legislative research studies, and other materials. Contents of each publication cover all aspects of gerontology, including demography, economics, family relations, institutional care, mental health, societal attitudes, work, and retirement.

Age and Ageing (London: Oxford University Press/British Geriatrics Society, 1972– , bimonthly)

A publication of the British Geriatrics Society, this international journal features expertly written articles and reviews on geriatric medicine and gerontology. Coverage includes such subjects as research on aging, and clinical, epidemiological, and psychological aspects of later life. Free articles are available at the Oxford Journals Online Web site ( Articles also can be searched, and records include table of contents from May 1972 to August 1974, abstracts from November 1974 to December 1998, and full-text articles from February 1972 to the present. Contents of the journal are covered by several major online indexing services, including BIOSIS, MEDLINE, and Science Citation Index.

Ageing and Society (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press/Centre for Policy on Aging/British Society of Gerontology, 1981– , bimonthly)

The official journal of the Centre for Policy on Ageing and the British Society of Gerontology, this world-renowned interdisciplinary journal, published by Cambridge University Press, features scholarly papers on a broad range of subject areas advancing the understanding of the social and cultural aspects of human aging. Available by subscription through Cambridge Journals Online, the journal also includes an extensive section of book reviews and regular updates on research in the field. Issued six times yearly, occasional special issues on important topics are likewise published.

Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics (Amsterdam: Elsevier Biomedical Press, 1982– , bimonthly)

Launched in May 1982, the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics is a leading professional journal published six times yearly that publishes papers by specialists dealing with experimental gerontology and clinical and social geriatrics. Papers offer new information and results from clinical studies pertaining to social aspects of geriatrics, the epidemiology of aging, health care of the elderly, and the aging of human cells, tissues, and organs. Available online through Elsevier Science Direct, a popular information database, articles are also abstracted and indexed through many other leading library databases, including BIOSIS, Chemical Abstracts, PsycINFO, and Psychological Abstracts.

Educational Gerontology (London: Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 1976– , eight times a year)

This international journal offers authoritative articles on the most current research in the fields of gerontology, adult education, and the social and behavioral sciences for those in the field of educational gerontology. Published eight times per year, abstracts and full-text articles can be found in Academic Search Premier (1993– ), Ingenta Select (1999– ), and abstracts only in Educational Research Abstracts (ERA) online.

Geriatrics (Cleveland, Ohio: Advanstar Communications, 1946– , monthly)

Published by Advanstar Communications since January 1946, Geriatrics is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to providing primary care physicians with the latest articles on the care of patients over the age of 45. This award-winning monthly journal features in-depth clinical reviews, current abstracts from the top 50 medical research journals, Continuing Medical Education articles, and much more. Past journals are referenced in the Index Medicus (1966– ), with full-text articles available through Academic Search Premier (1993– ).

Journal of Aging Studies (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri/University of California Press, 1987– , quarterly)

In existence for more than 13 years, this scholarly journal highlights new interpretations, findings, theories, and innovations pertinent to aging. Full-text articles and summaries of previously published articles are available by subscription through Elsevier Science Direct from 1995 to the present. Articles are also cited and/or indexed in several leading indexes and databases available through most libraries, including Abstracts in Social Gerontology; Age-Line; Articles 1st; Arts & Humanities Citation Index; Psychological Abstracts; Social & Behavioral Sciences; Social Science Citation Index; Social Science Index; and Sociological Abstracts.

Journal of Mental Health and Aging (New York: Springer Publishing Co., Tampa, University of South Florida 1995– , quarterly)

Designed for mental health professionals engaged in research, training, clinical care, and social services, as well as law and policy, this peer-reviewed quarterly journal is a major source of timely information, including current research findings, aging studies, policy analysis and innovations in mental health care. The journal and its current and past content are indexed and abstracted in many popular library indexes and databases, including Abstracts in Social Gerontology, Current Literature on Aging, AgeLine, CINAHL, PsycINFO, PsycLIT, Public Affairs Information Services (PAIS), Social Gerontology Abstracts, Social Services Abstracts, Social Work Abstracts, and Sociological Abstracts.

Journal of Nutrition for the Elderly (New York: Haworth Press, Inc., 1980– , quarterly)

This peer-reviewed journal, published quarterly, features lots of useful information about the importance of nutrition and nutrition education for older adults. Articles are based on published research papers from experts in a variety of fields in the biological and social sciences examining the role of nutrition in disease prevention and management, functional performance, and quality of life for older adults.

Journal of Women & Aging (New York: Haworth Press, 1989– , quarterly)

This multidisciplinary quarterly of psychosocial practice, theory, and research shares the knowledge of professionals who are concerned about aging and women. Full-text access and abstracts and indexing of past issues are provided by several library databases, including Academic Search Elite, AgeLine, CINAHL, Expanded Academic ASAP, and many others.

The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences (Springfield, Ill.; Washington, D.C.: The Gerontological Society of America, 1946– , monthly)

The Gerontological Society of America publishes two monthly peer-reviewed electronic journals devoted the study of different fields of gerontology, the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, and the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Biological Sciences covers all aspects of aging, such as biochemistry, endocrinology, exercise, genetics, nutrition, physiology, and biological underpinnings of late-life diseases.

Medical Sciences publishes articles discussing various medical sciences pertaining to aging, such as clinical epidemiology, clinical research, and health services research for professions including medicine, dentistry, allied health sciences, and nursing. Articles share original research pertinent to human biology and disease as well.

The contents of each journal are accessible without charge from the society’s Web site ( This includes the most recent editions, as well as searchable abstracts of journals from January 1, 1995, to December 1, 1999, PDF and abstracts from January 1, 2000 to February 1, 2000, and full-text articles and abstracts from March 1, 2000, to December 1, 2008.

Psychology and Aging (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, March 1986– , quarterly)

Published quarterly by the American Psychological Association, Inc., this psychological journal reports on applied, biobehavioral, clinical, education, experimental and psychosocial research concerning adult development and aging. Besides emphasizing original research, articles also offer theoretical analyses, practical clinical problems, or policy as well as critical reviews of a content area.

Research on Aging (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 1979– , bimonthly)

For more than two decades, this outstanding journal has covered the most current knowledge on critical issues facing the elderly of interest to scholars, researchers, and professionals alike. Peer-reviewed articles in each issue examine a wide range of issues, practical research findings, future directions in the field, age demographics, age discrimination, age and inequality, aging and social stress, Alzheimer’s disease, and migration patterns of the elderly. Full-text articles and abstracts are available through EBSCOHost (1999– ) and Ingenta (1999– ).

Selected Web Sites

The Age Concern Institute of Gerontology (

Founded in 1986, the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology (ACIOG) promotes the study of aging and old age with particular emphasis on interdisciplinary research. The institute’s Web site offers free access to the latest research from experts and gerontology data by subject and from A to Z.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), previously known as the HCFA: Health Care Financing Administration (

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is responsible for such programs as Medicare and Medicaid. Available through the CMS’s Web site is a host of information related to aging, including coverage, quality initiatives, and statistics and data.

Resources in Social Gerontology (

This online directory features a large variety of resources with links covering all aspects of gerontology, including general references, academies, institutes, centers of study, and other vital sources of knowledge and information.

SeniorNet (

Providing education for and access to computer technologies for senior citizens and older adults, this international nonprofit organization, based in San Francisco, was born out of a research project funded by the Markle Foundation in 1986. It supports more than 240 learning centers throughout the United States and abroad. The group’s Web site features instructional materials, research, and hundreds of discussion topics on older adults and technology.

Senior Women Web (

One-stop source of information covering news and issues, culture and arts, health, fitness, and style, and relationships related to senior women.

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