From Medicalization of Old Age to Biomedicalization of Old Age?

Dovilė Jankūnaitė


In scientific literature, two concepts are used – medicalization and biomedicalization. There rises a question which of these concepts and when they should be used when old age is analyzed?
Term medicalization is quite familiar and for many decades has been used in sociological and biomedical discourses. Conrad (2007, p. 4) defines medicalization as a “process by which nonmedical problems become defined and treated as medical problems, usually in terms of illness and disorders”. The first research examined medicalization of deviance: alcoholism, substance abuse, mental disability, etc. However, scientists identified that more and more humans conditions which have been considered as normal or natural became medicalized, and old age is one example of such alteration. The medicalization of old age manifests in various ways. First of all, old age itself and ageing process are defined as medical condition which should be treated (Estes and Binney, 1987; Weitz, 2010, Kaufman et al., 2004). Medicalization of old age manifests in attempts to control and to treat natural processes which take place in aging body: hormonal imbalances, flabby skin, boldness, graying hair, erectile dysfunction, etc. (Conrad, 2007; Marshall, 2007; Watkins, 2008). Physicians, pharmacists and ageing people themselves actively try to find cure or be cured from ageing “disease”; a wide spectrum of preparations, supplements, cosmetics and drugs are offered in purpose to do so.
Scientists (Clarke et al., 2003; Joyce and Mamo, 2006; Maturo, 2012; Bell and Figert, 2010) noticed changes which have emerged in health care sector firstly in Western countries since the end of last century and argued that medicalization concept and medicalization theoretical framework is not adequate to explain all of these changes. Thus, a new concept was introduced. Adele Clarke and her colleagues (2003) suggested term biomedicalization which supposes to encompass and explain these shifts. Biomedicalization is defined as “increasingly complex, multisited, multidirectional processes of medicalization, both extended and reconstituted through the new social forms of highly technoscientific biomedicine” (Clarke et al., 2003, p. 161). The main role in biomedicalization process is performed by technoscientific innovations, such as biotechnologies, genetic engineering, the newest medical innovations and interventions, molecular biology, etc. Biomedicalization of old age refers to radical and even drastic health care sector specialists’ intervention into ageing process with the purpose to control and manipulate of ageing process: stop, slow or even eliminate it from human life time.


medicalization; biomedicalization; old age; health care; concept analysis

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"Social Work" ISSN online 2029-2775 / ISSN print 1648-4789