From National Public Radio’s Joe Shapiro:
One of our favorite thinkers about what it means to grow old died the other day. Geriatric psychiatrist Dr.Gene Cohen enjoyed debunking the myth that aging means an inevitable decline of mind and body.
Cohen’s research showed us that old age can be a time of creativity. One study showed that older people involved in community-based arts programs were healthier and more independent after a year, than people of the same level of health who didn’t take part. This made sense, he said, because science shows that brain cells do not die off as we age, but continue to grow.
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And Beth Baker for AARP:
Gene D. Cohen, M.D., shattered an enduring myth about growing old—that it’s a time of decline and shrinking potential. Supported by his decades of research and treating older people, Cohen encouraged us to sing, dance, paint and write. And the more we do, preached the psychiatrist and health care expert, the more our later years can be a rich time for growth, creativity, and intellectual and emotional vitality.
“Some of life’s most precious gifts can only be acquired with age: wisdom, for example, and mastery in hundreds of different spheres of human experience that requires decades of learning,” he wrote in his 2006 book The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain.
Cohen, who died Nov. 7 of prostate cancer at age 65, combined an inquisitive mind and scientific rigor with humor and compassion. His gift was to apply the latest findings of neuroscience in a way that benefited ordinary people. For example, he developed a simple approach—he called it a “social portfolio”—that encourages people to treat their activities and relationships as future assets that are at least as valuable as financial ones.
“He was a luminary in establishing the field of creativity and aging, and I would say its foremost scholar,” says Judah Ronch, dean of the Erickson School at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and an expert on geriatric mental wellness.