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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Creative Aging Pioneer Passes

As I get ready to attend the 3rd Annual Positive Aging Conference I am thinking about Dr. Gene Cohen one of the loudest proponents of aging creatively in the world. Here is an article from the Washington Post (edited for brevity):

Gene D. Cohen, an impish geriatric psychiatrist who championed the idea that people past retirement age have untapped stores of creativity and intellectually rigorous skills in their later years, died Nov. 7 of prostate cancer at age 65.

"The magic bullets are all blanks," he said in 1998, advising people to rely on "intellectual sweating" instead of pills and herbs for good mental health. "Make it a point to learn something new, instead of turning to hormones or ginkgo biloba."

Although the medical establishment tended to treat aging as a disease when he started his career, Dr. Cohen found that the later adult years can be a time of great creativity. Brains create new brain cells as long as people are encouraged to keep trying new pursuits, he reported, and people in the traditional retirement years have almost limitless capacity for intellectual growth.

"He wanted to move the paradigm from a focus on problems to a focus on potentials," said Gay Hanna, executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging.

Among his many research projects, a 2002 study showed that those who engaged in the arts late in life had fewer illnesses and injuries and more independence. Dr. Cohen, as a former federal employee with an eye on the looming national health-care debate, reported that arts programs also appeared to reduce "risk factors that drive the need for long-term care."

"Single-handedly he changed the image of aging from a period of senescence to a period of creativity," said Dr. Walter Reich, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University.
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Wielding a light saber at his lectures, with a cherubic face surrounded by untamed curls, Dr. Cohen sought to re-introduce fun to those suffering from physical ailments and provide a way for younger family members to engage with those whom he considered "keepers of the culture."

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