An increasing elderly population involves nurses with older people in a wide sphere of activities. It is essential that an understanding of ageing and its effects is included as part of the knowledge which is common to all nurses. The study of gerontology has intensified in recent years but an interest in the phenomenon of ageing can be traced back through the centuries. A number of theories about the causes of ageing have been put forward but the evidence in support of these is still inconclusive. Control of the ageing process remains beyond mankind, but it is known that environmental and hereditary factors contribute to the rate of ageing.

Knowledge about the effects of ageing is accumulating. The influence of ageing on the functions of the body can be measured. Most functions are reduced in efficiency and the lowered levels of performance have to be considered in their relation to the medical and nursing care of older people.

Ageing also has psychological and social implications. Changes in behaviour patterns can occur as a result of the influence of ageing on personality, intellect and memory. There are also changes in the social circumstances of older people resulting from such factors as retirement and bereavement.

The growing problem of an elderly population is stimulating increasing research into the causes and effects of ageing.