Gerontologist Robert Butler Dead At 83
News outlets remember Pulitzer-prize winning gerontologist Dr. Robert N. Butler, who died Sunday at the age of 83.
Butler was "a psychiatrist whose painful youthful realization that death is inevitable prompted him to challenge and ultimately reform the treatment of the elderly through research, public policy and a Pulitzer Prize-winning book," The New York Times reports. He "worked until three days before" dying of acute leukemia. "Dr. Butler's influence was apparent in the widely used word he coined to describe discrimination against the elderly: 'ageism.' He defended as healthy the way many old people slip into old memories - even giving it a name, 'life review.' Dr. Butler was the founding director of the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health and advocated for the aging before Congress and the United Nations. He helped start and led the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, the Alzheimer's Disease Association and the International Longevity Center. President Bill Clinton named him chairman of the 1995 White House Conference on Aging" (Martin, 7/6).
Los Angeles Times: "The United States has undergone a transformation that he explained in his recent book on the phenomenon, 'The Longevity Revolution.' In the last century, the average American gained 30 additional years of life, an increase greater than that achieved during the previous 5,000 years of human history. Expected life span grew from 47 years in 1900 to more than 77 today, but medicine has not kept pace with that growth, he argued. Butler chose medicine as a career because he was profoundly affected by the death of his grandfather, who had helped raise him, and he planned to be a hematologist. But he was shocked by what he viewed as the callous disregard for the elderly among his medical school professors" (Maugh, 7/7).
The Washington Post: "'Bob was certainly the person, more than any other single individual, who helped create the modern notion that aging is a time of choice, of opportunity, of growth,' said Dan Perry, who leads the Washington-based Alliance for Aging Research. 'He was really the father of modern gerontology.' He was perhaps best known by the general public as the co-author -- with his wife, social worker Myrna I. Lewis -- of the manual 'Sex After 60,' first published in 1976. The book, republished since as 'Love and Sex After 60,' offered advice for dealing with everything from the complicated emotions of remarriage to the mechanics of aging bodies." An earlier book, "Why Survive? Being Old in America," which was based on his observations of "how difficult it was for the elderly to find adequate health care and live with dignity," won the Pulitzer for general nonfiction in 1976 (Brown, 7/7).
Time: "As he grew older, he became his own, and most eloquent, argument against ageism, visible proof that the elderly can be as productive, engaged, open to ideas and, yes, fun, as younger folk. 'Strictly speaking, longevity is measured in numbers: it is the arithmetical accumulation of days, weeks, months and years that produces our chronological life,' he wrote in his latest book, The Longevity Prescription, published only last month. 'Yet aging - or, more accurately, its converse, staying young - is in no small measure a state of mind that defies measurement.' Butler attributed his own apparent healthy aging at least in part to his optimistic outlook" (Mayer, 7/7).
CNN blog The Chart: Butler "warned that stigma against the elderly can take a toll on their lives. 'Treating old people negatively, which is not an uncommon thing, also shortens life, by virtue of providing more stress,' he said" (Landau, 7/7).
In a blog posting on The New York Times, a Columbia University fellow who interviewed Butler just two weeks ago, remembers a poignant conversation. "At the end of our talk, Dr. Butler surprised me by asking how long I want to live. 'As long as I enjoy life,' I said. I immediately regretted my vague answer. Perhaps he knew he didn't have long to live. I can't help but to be touched now that he asked the question. 'I think you've said it right,' he assured me. 'You want to live as long as you enjoy life. That's the real truth'" (Tapper, 7/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.