History of Geriatrics

Dr. Clarfield, MD, FRCSC, is the Chief of Academic Affairs at the Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem, Director of Geriatrics in the Ministry of Health, and on staff in the Division of Geriatric Medicine, Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, McGill University, Montreal, PQ.

Geriatrics, the medical specialty which deals with the old, is still relatively young. Although not all Canadian medical schools offer a comprehensive approach to teaching this subject, progress has been made especially in the last two decades. There are now more clinical units, more research is being carried out, and certainly more attention is being paid to the subject of the elderly than ever before.

The roots of geriatrics can be traced back to the beginning of this century, and two of its pioneers hail from opposite sides of the Atlantic: Dr. Ignatz Nascher, an American whose medical career began at the end of the 19th century;1 and an English physician, Dr. Marjory Warren, who reached the zenith of her influence in the 1940s.2

Dr. Nascher was born in Vienna in 1863 and was brought up in New York. In 1882, aged 19, he graduated in pharmacy and several years later completed his MD and began private practice. Little is known about his early years, but Dr. Nascher's first paper on geriatrics ("Longevity & Rejuvenesence," New York Medical Journal, 1909) was to have a profound influence on the discipline simply by giving us its name.