Dr. Gene Cohen

Floating high in the ionosphere there are balloons with instruments that pick up traces of exploding stars. You cannot travel across the United States, attempting to navigate a way through the territory of creative aging, without continually breathing in the presence of Dr. Gene Cohen. Way back before knowing of this journey, I had dared to hope that I might meet him. In November 2009 he died. Down here no need for balloons. Dr. Cohen has been present in almost every other conversation that I have had between the Pacific and the Atlantic. He was a geriatric psychiatrist, the first chief of the Center on Aging at the National Institute of Mental Health and in 1994 he was the first director of George Washington University’s Center on Aging, Health & Humanities. His research, his passion, his strength as a communicator has supported change. There was huge shift under his watch from old age being regarded as a disease towards the understanding that we had the story wrong. The last decades of our lives can be a time for reimaging, for reconnection, for intellectual growth.  He showed us a new map; (rout as they say over here). The gradual decline towards  ‘sans everything’ being replaced by a new paradigm:  ‘Mid life re-evaluation’,  ‘liberation’, ‘summing up’ and ‘encore’. Dr. Cohen’s later research work provided proof that engagement in professionally conducted arts programmes by older adults leads to significant health benefits.  His work and his vision lives on through the dynamic practice of The National Center for Creative Aging .

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