Robert N. Butler

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Robert N. Butler
Robert N. Butler 2004.jpg
Butler in 2004
Robert Neil Butler

(1927-01-21)January 21, 1927
DiedJuly 4, 2010(2010-07-04) (aged 83)
New York, New York, US
Alma materColumbia University (BA, MD)
AwardsPulitzer Prize (1976)
Scientific career

Robert Neil Butler (January 21, 1927 – July 4, 2010) was an American physician, gerontologist, psychiatrist, and author, who was the first director of the National Institute on Aging. Butler is known for his work on the social needs and the rights of the elderly and for his research on healthy aging and the dementias.


Having grown up with his grandparents in Vineland, New Jersey,[1][2] Butler was shocked by the dismissive and contemptuous attitude toward the elderly and their diseases by many of his teachers at medical school, an attitude he later characterized as "ageism".[3]

He graduated from Columbia College of Columbia University, where he was editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator and a member of the Philolexian Society.[4]


Butler was a principal investigator of one of the first interdisciplinary, comprehensive, longitudinal studies of healthy community-residing older persons, conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (1955–1966), which resulted in the landmark book Human Aging. His research helped establish the fact that senility was not inevitable with aging, but is a consequence of disease.

In 1969, he coined the term ageism to describe discrimination against seniors; the term was patterned on sexism and racism.[5] Butler defined "ageism" as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about elderly people.[6]

In 1975, he became the founding Director[7] of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health, where he remained until 1982. At the National Institute on Aging he established Alzheimer's disease as a national research priority.[citation needed]

In 1982, he founded the Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, the first department of geriatrics in a United States medical school.[8] In addition, Butler helped found the Alzheimer's Disease Association, the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry, the American Federation for Aging Research and the Alliance for Aging Research.[9]

Butler was the founder, chief executive officer, and president of the International Longevity Center-USA,[10] a non-profit international organization created to educate people on how to live longer and better.[11] The International Longevity Center-USA is now housed at the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, a university-wide center of Columbia University based at the Mailman School of Public Health [12]


Butler is best known for his 1975 book Why Survive? Being Old In America, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1976.[13] A 2003 paperback edition is currently available (ISBN 0-8018-7425-4).

Recent books[edit]

Butler authored 300 scientific and medical articles.[14]


Butler was the recipient of the 10th Annual Heinz Award in the Human Condition category.[15] The award recognized his work in advancing the rights and needs of the nation's aging citizenry and enhancing the quality of life for elderly Americans.[16]

He received honorary degrees from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the University of Southern California as well as other awards such as the Lienhard Medal of the Institute of Medicine and a Hall of Fame Award from the American Society of Aging.[17]

Film appearance[edit]

Butler is featured in the 2009 documentary film, I Remember Better When I Paint,[18] which examines the positive impact of art on people with Alzheimer's disease and how these approaches can change the way the disease is viewed by society.[19]


  1. ^ Martin, Douglas. "Robert Butler, Aging Expert, Is Dead at 83", The New York Times, July 7, 2010. Accessed October 18, 2015. "Dr. Butler's mission emerged from his childhood, he wrote in his book. His parents had scarcely named him Robert Neil Butler before splitting up 11 months after his birth on Jan. 21, 1927, in Manhattan. He went to live with his maternal grandparents on a chicken farm in Vineland, N.J."
  2. ^ "Alliance for Aging Research". Archived from the original on 2008-10-23.
  3. ^ Kramarae, C. and Spender, D. (2000) Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge. Routledge. p. 29.
  4. ^ "Columbia College Today Alumni Profile".
  5. ^ Butler, R. N. (1969). "Age-ism: Another form of bigotry". The Gerontologist. 9 (4): 243–246. doi:10.1093/geront/9.4_part_1.243. PMID 5366225.
  6. ^ Wilkinson J and Ferraro K, Thirty Years of Ageism Research. In Nelson T (ed). Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice Against Older Persons. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002
  7. ^ "NIH Record". Archived from the original on 2009-09-23.
  8. ^ "AARP Radio". Archived from the original on 2010-12-18.
  9. ^ "Center for Brain Health". Archived from the original on 2010-01-22.
  10. ^ "International Longevity Center-USA".
  11. ^ "Reuters". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2012-09-08.
  12. ^ "Columbia Establishes Interdisciplinary Aging Center | Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health". Retrieved 2015-08-28.
  13. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes General Non Fiction".
  14. ^ "University of Nebraska Medical Center".
  15. ^ "Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine". doi:10.1089/109454503323028984. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ "Heinz Awards Recipients".
  17. ^ "American Society on Aging". Archived from the original on 2010-10-21.
  18. ^ "Pioneering doctor who championed dignity for the elderly, Financial Times". July 17, 2010.
  19. ^ "New York University Literature, Arts and Medicine Database". May 25, 2010.

External links[edit]