Founder's Tribute

Image of Gene Cohen
Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD (1944 - 2009) Founder

View Dr. Cohen's obituary in The Washington Post

The late Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, founded The Center on Aging, Health & Humanities (The Center) in 1994, where he served as Director until his death. At The George Washington University he also held professorial positions in Health Care Sciences and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. In addition to founding The Center, Dr. Cohen served as Founding Director of The Washington, DC Center on Aging, a think tank. He was President (1996-1997) of the Gerontological Society of America. From 1991-1993, he served as Acting Director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health.

Before coming to NIA, Dr. Cohen served as the first Chief of the Center on Aging of the National Institute of Mental Health - the first federal center on mental health and aging established in any country.  In addition, he also coordinated the Department of Health and Human Services' planning and programs on Alzheimer's disease, through the efforts of the Department's Council and Panel on Alzheimer's Disease.  During his tenure with the federal government, he received the Public Health Service (PHS) Distinguished Service Medal (the highest honor of the PHS).

Dr. Cohen was a graduate of Harvard College (with Honors) and the Georgetown University School of Medicine and had a doctorate in Gerontology from The Union Institute. He also authored more than 150 publications in the field of aging, including several edited text books and his individually authored book The Brain In Human Aging. He completed a major new book on creativity and aging written for the general public, published in 2000 by Harper Collins/Avon Books, The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life; the paperback version and Japanese translation were released in 2001.  His new book, The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, was released by Basic Books in January 2006. 

Other past positions included those of Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown, Chairman of the Clinical Medicine Section of the Gerontological Society of America, and Chairman of the Council on Aging of the American Psychiatric Association.  He was the first Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, and he was also the first Editor-In-Chief of International Psychogeriatrics (the official journal of the International Psychogeriatric Association).  He was elected to the Board of Directors of The American Geriatrics Society and served as Chairman of the Committee on Aging of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry.  He was the primary investigator of a 25-year longitudinal study of ill older adults, with problems ranging from depression to dementia, living independently in the community, as well as having conducted extensive longitudinal research on both healthy older adults and those residing in nursing homes. 

His Creativity and Aging study looked at the impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults. It was the first controlled study to look at the impact of tapping into creative potential apart from treating problems to promote health with aging. He received numerous honors and awards, including the Kent Award from The Gerontological Society of America and First Place in the Blair Sadler International Healing Arts Competition from the Society for the Arts in Health Care, and had been recognized in Best Doctors In America, Who's Who In America, and Who's Who In The World. He post-humously was the first recipient of the Gene D. Cohen Research Award in Creativity and Aging.

Dr. Cohen additionally had been very active in the dissemination of knowledge about aging on national television and in other major media.  He was on Nightline interviewed by Barbara Walters, theMacNeil/Lehrer Show, CBS Nightly News, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, the CBS Early Show, and in a series of public service messages with George Burns (the latter was awarded a public service gold medal media award).

Dr. Cohen's interests included both creativity and aging, and in intergenerational programs involving older adults and children.  He developed three new intergenerational board games that have received recognition in national and international, juried game and art shows and attention on national TV; the games were the subject of three featured lectures that he was asked to give by the Smithsonian Institution.

Recent Research and Publication:

  • Cohen, G.D. (2009). Historical lessons to watch your assumptions about aging: relevance to the role of International Psychogeriatrics. International Psychogeriatrics, 21(3): 425.
  • Cohen, G.D. et al. (2009). The first therapeutic game specifically designed and evaluated for Alzheimer's disease. American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias, 23 (6): 540-551.
  • Cohen, G.D. (2006). Smarts and aging: The learning potential of the brain in later life. The Older Learner, 13(4): 1, 6-7.
  • Cohen, G.D. (2006). The mature mind: The positive power of the aging brain.  Adult Development & Aging News, 34(1): 4-6.
  • Cohen, G.D. (2006). Research on creativity and aging: The positive impact of the arts on Health and illness. Generations, 30(1): 7-15.
  • Cohen, G.D. (2006). The geriatric patient. In M.A. Agronin & G.J. Maletta (eds.), Principles and Practice of Geriatric Psychiatry. New York: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. (pp 3-16).
  • Cohen, G.D. (2006). The Mature Mind: The positive power of the aging brain. New York: Basic Books.
  • Cohen, G.D. et al. (2006). The impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults. The Gerontologist, 46(6):726-734.

*Image courtesy of Joshua Soros.