Theories about Aging from Antiquity to the Present

Marc E. Agronin, MD is a geriatric psychiatrist who presented “Remembering Our Roots” at The Creative Age conference last week. He explored the theories about aging from antiquity to present.

Marc E. Agronin, MD

Marc E. Agronin, MD is a geriatric psychiatrist who presented “Remembering Our Roots” at The Creative Age conference last week. He explored the theories about aging from antiquity to present.

board-certified adult and geriatric psychiatrist

A little bit of background on Dr. Agronin…

106 year old woman

This woman was still actively interested in politics at 106 years old. Everyone had a good laugh hearing the story of how she was interfering with her 80-something-year-old son’s love life. It’s evidence of the truth of the old adage, once a mother, always a mother.

secret to long life

“Most of the time I am deeply moved and inspired by how individuals adapt over time and learn to accept age-related changes and thrive in spite of them. They have shown me all of the strengths we retain even in the face of challenges in late life.” – Dr. Agronin

aging defined

Aging has historically been defined in negative terms with focus and emphasis on loss and decline. How depressing!

a better view of aging

Agronin suggested there’s a better way to view aging.

stoicism and aging

Agronin hopes to dispel misconceptions people have about aging, and to demonstrate how qualities like hope and creativity persist as we age.

freud aging

Obviously, a more balanced perspective on aging has developed in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go.

erik erikson

Agronin had the opportunity to meet Erik Erikson, a psychologist and psychoanalyst famous for coining the phrase “identity crisis.”


Erikson contributed to Agronin’s understanding of the often overlooked positive aspects of aging, such as increased wisdom, increased depth of purpose, and even new forms of creativity.


Dr. Agronin tries to help his patients push through despair and rediscover their emotional resilience and capacity for joy as they face new challenges.


Agronin had the opportunity to meet Gene Cohen, M.D. who helped found geriatric psychiatry. Cohen’s focus eventually moved away from the biological toward more emotional and practical perspectives on aging.


After Dr. Cohen retired from National Institutes of Health (NIH), he became head of the Center for Aging and Humanities at George Washington University.


Developing new skills is something people can (and should) cultivate at any age, but especially the more we age.


As we age, we can adjust our activities to accommodate retained abilities. For example, one who has to give up synchronized swimming can join a book club. This concept is especially important to the relationship between creativity and Alzheimer’s and related dementias (ADRD). Creativity persists and, according to Agronin, new forms of creativity develop with ADRD. Storytelling is an excellent platform for creative expression.

Henry Matisse

Henry Matisse is an excellent example of how the challenges of old age can become a catalyst for new forms of creativity. Adjusting to his new limitations, he overcame by inventing a new art form.


According to Agronin, “older brains tend to become more practical and positive with age.”



After Agronin’s presentation, we heard from three leading founders in the field. (Moderator: William Benson, Principal, Health Benefits ABCs)


Susan Perlstein is the Founder Emeritus for the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, DC and the Founder of Elders Share the Arts in New York City. She is an educator, social worker, administrator and artist. She has served as a consultant for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York City Board of Education, and regularly presents on a national level for organizations, most recently for Generations United, the American Society on Aging, the National Council on Aging, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies, and the Society for the Arts and Healthcare. Ms. Perlstein has contributed significantly to the training and educational offerings of American Society on Aging. She received the Cavanaugh Award for Excellence in “Creativity and Aging” training. She served on the American Society on Aging Board of Directors. She has written extensively on creativity and late-life learning. Her articles appear in numerous professional journals, including Arts in the Public Interest and Gerontology and in the American Society on Aging’s Aging Today, The Older LEARNer and Dimensions. Ms. Perlstein is the author of co-author of several books: Alert and Alive, Generating Community: Intergenerational Programs through the Expressive Arts and Legacy Works: Transforming Memory into Visual Art. In spring 2006, she was guest editor of Generations Journal on “Arts and Aging.” (


Liz Lerman is a choreographer, performer, writer, educator and speaker. Described by the Washington Post as “the source of an epochal revolution in the scope and purposes of dance art,” her dance/theater works have been seen throughout the United States and abroad. Her aesthetic approach spans the range from abstract to personal to political. 

She founded Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in 1976 and cultivated the company’s unique multi-generational ensemble into a leading force in contemporary dance until 2011, when she handed the artistic leadership of the company over to the next generation of Dance Exchange artists. Now she is pursuing new projects with fresh partnerships, beginning with a semester spent at Harvard University as an artist-in-residence. Other projects involve Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, of Urban Bush Women; an investigation of the impact of war on medicine; and comic book structures as applied to narration in performance. Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer, Liz’s collection of essays, was published last year by Wesleyan University Press. Liz has been the recipient of numerous honors, including a 2002 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship and a 2011 United States Artists Ford Fellow. Her work has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, American Dance Festival, Harvard Law School, and the Kennedy Center among many others. Her newest performance, The Matter of Origins, examined the question of beginnings through dance, media and innovative formats for conversation. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Milwaukee, Liz attended Bennington College and Brandeis University, received her BA in dance from the University of Maryland, and an MA in dance from George Washington University. She is married to storyteller Jon Spelman. Their daughter, a recent college graduate, is in Thailand working at the Shan youth Center in Cheng Mei. (


Stuart Kandell has been called a “pioneer in the field of creative aging.” He is nationally known for his leadership of Stagebridge, the nation’s oldest and most renowned senior theatre which he founded in 1978 and directed for 32 years. In 2010 he turned over leadership of the company to begin replicating the program around the country. Kandell is a popular keynote speaker; a trainer of trainers, artists and service providers; and a consultant who enables organizations to develop effective creative aging programs. Kandell studied theatre at Northwestern University and received his Master’s in Drama at University of Newcastle, England. In 1996, he was the first American to receive his doctorate in Intergenerational Studies from the Union Institute in Cincinnati. His awards include: the MetLife MindAlert Award; the first Generations United Award for Intergenerational Innovation; The California Wellness Foundation Sabbatical Award; and numerous grants. Kandell and his work with Stagebridge have been featured on CNN, World Monitor TV, PBS and in many national publications and magazines. He is a founding Board Member of the National Center for Creative Aging. He is featured in NCCA’s Creativity Matters: Arts and Aging Toolkit and helped craft the Teaching Artists Toolkit. He is a featured speaker at many national conferences, including the American Society for Aging, Senior Theatre USA, the Global Conference on Aging, and the MetLife National Forum on Brain Health among others. He trains and consults with organizations around the globe. (

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