FIG1Few psychiatrists know the
name I.L. Nascher, M.D. Wrote Ewald Busse, M.D., and Dan Blazer, M.D., Ph.D.,
in their Textbook of Geriatric Psychiatry, published by American
Psychiatric Publishing Inc., that Nascher is frequently considered the father
of geriatrics and has been credited with coining the word"
Ignatz Leo Nascher, M.D., coined the term"
Credit: Courtesy of the NYU School of Medicine, Ehrman Medical Library
In an article headlined "Geriatrics" in the New York
Medical Journal in 1909, Nascher wrote that the word geriatrics is from
the Greek word "geras, meaning old man, and iatrikos, relating to the
[word] physician...." In Greek mythology, Geras is an old, shriveled man
who represents the spirit of old age; his mother was Nyx, the so-called
goddess of the night.
So the term geriatrics means a physician who specializes in the medical
care of individuals in old age—the opposite of the term"
pediatrics," relating to the medical care of children.
Senility "is a distinct period of life," Nascher wrote,"
a physiological entity ... a period of life where degeneration and decay
are natural and physiological.... [S]enility and its diseases should be
considered apart from maturity and assigned to a separate place in
Ignatz Leo Nascher was born in Vienna, Austria, and was brought to the
United States as an infant. His formal schooling in New York City led to a
degree in pharmacy in 1882 and his M.D. in 1885 from the Department of
Medicine of New York University.
He entered medical practice in New York and served in the outpatient
clinics of Mt. Sinai Hospital. Years later, in 1916, he took a position at the
Department of Public Welfare, then at the Department of Hospitals. In 1931, at
his request, he was put in charge of the 1,200-bed City Farm Colony on
Roosevelt Island in Manhattan. That facility later became Goldwater Hospital
and today is named Coler-Goldwater Memorial Hospital.
He lectured on geriatrics at several medical schools in New York, Boston,
and Chicago. He organized the New York Geriatric Society, though its existence
In 1914 Nascher published a 500-page textbook, Geriatrics: The Diseases
of Old Age and Their Treatment, which included physiological home and
institutional care and medical-legal relations. A second edition was published
in 1916. The book is said to be the first publication on geriatrics since the
1881 book by J.M. Charcot, M.D., and Alfred L. Loomis, M.D. titled
Clinical Lectures on the Diseases of Old Age. An introduction to
Nascher's book was written by Abraham Jacobi, M.D., president of the New York
Academy of Medicine. Jacobi is credited with coining the word"
pediatrics" and establishing pediatrics as a separate medical
Nascher's bibliography includes more than 70 titles (among them "The
Senile State," "Senile Debility," and "The Senile
Mentality") published in various medical journals.
In 1944 he read a paper on chronic brain syndrome at the annual meeting of
the recently organized American Geriatric Society, which dedicated the meeting
to Nascher and made him an honorary president.
Nascher divided the span of life into three distinct periods: development,
maturity, and senescence. His writings constantly emphasized that maturity and
senility are different entities and that diseases of each phase require
different treatment. Drugs reactions in maturity are different from those in
old age, he said. He viewed old age as a period of degenerating and decaying
cells and tissues, where the goal is not to cure disease as in maturity, but
to return the old person to the previous physiological degenerating phase and
"Senile degeneration is not a pathology and cannot be halted, though
it may be retarded," he wrote.
He was aware of the social implications of aging and urged that old
individuals be encouraged to feel young, maintain a good appearance and
positive attitude, and keep occupied. "Courtship and marriage between an
old person and one much younger ... will produce marked mental
In the 1995 book Profiles in Gerontology: A Biographical
Dictionary by W. Andrew Achenbaum, Ph.D., and D.M. Albert, the authors
wrote that Nascher "was a prophet in every sense of the word."▪