Columbia Establishes Interdisciplinary Aging Center

Ursula M. Staudinger Appointed Director of New Center Named for Robert N. Butler Aging Center

January 14, 2014

With a mission to explore and better understand the aging process and its societal implications, Columbia University has established a university-wide, interdisciplinary aging center. Its inaugural director is Ursula M. Staudinger, PhD, who previously served as founding dean of the Jacobs Center on Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, and is currently vice president of the German National Academy of Sciences.

“We are proud to have created this new center that will mobilize the intellectual resources of the entire University to address the challenges and opportunities that demographic change pose for individuals and society alike,” says Columbia University Provost John Coatsworth.

The Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center is named for the founding director of the National Institute on Aging — a physician, gerontologist, psychiatrist, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and graduate of Columbia College and Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Located at the Mailman School of Public Health, at Columbia University Medical Center, the Butler Columbia Aging Center reflects the University’s recognition that the study of aging is inherently multidisciplinary. The center organizes and builds on existing aging-related programs and activities, translating scientific knowledge into policy and practice. It focuses on the systemic nature of aging — the continuous interaction among biological, behavioral, and sociocultural factors that constitutes human development. It will forge partnerships with the academic, corporate, nonprofit, and public sectors to develop policies on aging, engage communities, and effect societal change.

The Butler Columbia Aging Center consists of an Aging Lab and the International Longevity Center, founded by Dr. Butler in 1990. The Aging Lab is dedicated to research on aging, as well as on ways that individuals and society can benefit from the latest scientific knowledge. That research enables the International Longevity Center to develop public policies and education and community-outreach programs. The longevity center is part of a global consortium of 13 such centers, including ones in Cape Town, Paris, and Tokyo.

Dr. Staudinger’s vision for the Butler Columbia Aging Center is best captured in its motto: “Living is Aging and Aging Means Living.” “The center’s mission is to strengthen the knowledge base needed to optimize aging for each individual, as well as to build a society that supports longer, healthier lives,” says Dr. Staudinger.
At the Jacobs Center, Dr. Staudinger focused on understanding the basis of productive aging, with an emphasis on educational processes and the labor market. Previously, she held a chair in lifespan psychology at the Technical University in Dresden and for many years was a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Her research produced important findings on cognition and personality aging, as well as new understanding of wisdom across the lifespan. In addition to her continuing role at the German National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Staudinger is chairwoman of the German Federal Institute of Population Research and vice chair of the Volkswagen Foundation.

“The establishment of this center reflects society’s changing expectations of the stages of the human lifespan in terms of health and productivity,” says Lee Goldman, MD, dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences at Columbia University Medical Center. “It also reflects the interdisciplinary approach that characterizes Columbia.”
“Our recruitment of Dr. Staudinger enhances Columbia’s position as a true leader in bringing knowledge and evidence to create a world of longer lives that is good for all ages,” says Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, dean of the Mailman School, DeLamar Professor of Public Health, and senior vice president of Columbia University Medical Center. “An essential component of that will be to lead the transition of public health to a discipline that emphasizes the preservation of health and prevention of disease at every age and stage of life.”

Dr. Fried, who will serve as a faculty member at the Butler Columbia Aging Center, is an expert on the prevention of frailty, approaches to harnessing the benefits of an aging society, and the design of health-promoting roles and activities for older adults. Frailty has been recently recognized as a new clinical syndrome.

Partnering with Drs. Fried and Staudinger is John W. Rowe, MD, professor of health policy and management at the Mailman School, former chairman and CEO of Aetna, Inc., and president and CEO of Mount Sinai NYU Health. Previously, he was a professor of medicine and the founding director of the division on aging at Harvard Medical School, as well as chief of gerontology at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. He currently leads the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on an Aging Society.