Center Founder

Center for Aging, Health and Humanities

Woman and man talking

The late Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, founded the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities in 1994 and 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 center, Dr. Cohen served as founding director of The Washington, D.C. Center on Aging, a think tank. He was president from 1996-1997 of the Gerontological Society of America and served as acting director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health from 1991-1993.

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's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

Dr. Cohen was a graduate of Harvard College 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 textbooks and his individually authored book The Brain In Human Aging. He completed a major 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 posthumously 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, the MacNeil/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.

Archive of Gene Cohen's Works

Gene Cohen Research Award

Dr. Cohen loved working with students who shared his enthusiasm for geriatrics and creative aging. Wendy Miller, Ph.D., Dr. Cohen's wife, has been working with the center and GW to fully endow the Gene Cohen Research Award, to create the opportunity for a lasting impact on the field. This new award at GW will fund interprofessional inquiry with aims to examine the benefits of the humanities and high-quality arts programs on the health and well-being of older adults. These scholars will continue his work in areas such as examining ways to increase social engagement to alleviate depression or reducing isolation to improve symptoms of dementia. Please join us in contributing to the Gene Cohen Research Award endowment to leave a permanent legacy and ensure the support of future scholars in the field of arts and the humanities. 

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