Doctor has Rx for
living long and well
By Angela Pirisi
DR. ROBERT BUTLER remembers when
“aging” was a dirty word that didn’t get much
respect from society or much attention from
medical science. When the now 80-something
professor of geriatrics and aging-research pioneer at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New
York City started medical school in 1949, geriatric medicine didn’t exist.
Since then Butler has worked tirelessly to
take aging out of the gray zone, promoting the
concept of healthy aging and demonstrating
that aging isn’t synonymous with demise. He
became very interested in both the biological
and socioeconomic aspects of aging, neither of
which had previously been explored, and they
became focal points for the research he carried
out as one of the founders of the National
Institute on Aging (
Butler coined the term “ageism” in 1968
and has been fighting prejudice against the
elderly ever since. In 1982 he made medical
history by founding the first department of
geriatric medicine in the U.S. at the Mount
Sinai School of Medicine. (There are presently 11 geriatric medicine departments in
the U.S., and Butler is pressing to see one at
every medical school.)
He has authored several books, including
the 1976 Pulitzer Prize–winning book entitled Why Survive?: Being Old in America. He
also helped to found the Alzheimer’s
www.alz.org) and the American
Association for Geriatric Psychiatry ( www.
aagpgpa.org), and is the CEO and founder of
the International Longevity Center (www.
ilcusa.org), a 20-year-old national think tank
devoted to research and policy aimed at helping seniors age successfully.
His career decision to become a doctor
was influenced early in life after his grand-
father (and father figure) passed away when
Butler was 7. He says he figured if he couldn’t
sway the decision-making in heaven about
who lives or dies, “becoming a doctor was the
next best thing since doctors try to keep peo-
ple alive and well.”
Still struggling with “getting geriatrics on
the map,” Butler concedes that progress is
happening, including victories such as
Medicare and the undoing of legislation that
made 65 the arbitrary retirement age.
The Costco Connection
The Longevity Prescription is available at
most Costco locations and on Costco.com.
Angela Pirisi is a freelance writer who covers a
variety of health topics.