Welcome to a virtual tour of the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Today we are featuring materials exploring research and education about aging.
These collections document how people think about, experience, and adapt to changes that come with aging. They document recommendations of medical professionals and public health officials for maintaining health and improving quality of life. They also highlight scientific research related to the aging process and illnesses that occur later in life, and they reveal many stories at the intersection of individual and public health.
NLM archivists, historians, and librarians have selected these highlights from the collections for you to explore. We welcome questions! Use the comment feature below to share your thoughts.
Selections from NLM Digital Collections
NLM Digital Collections is the National Library of Medicine’s free online repository of biomedical resources including books, manuscripts, and still and moving images.
Explore images related to aging in NLM Digital Collections under these search terms:
Ready for Edna (1964), produced under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, examines the broad range of health and support services needed to sustain the physical and mental health of older adults. The case of Edna, who suffers a stroke while in the process of moving with her husband John to a small flat from their larger family home, is highlighted. The film describes advances in health care that enable longer lives, but also the complications of growing old, including medical or financial challenges, the need to relocate, the loss of a spouse, and the distress of grown children coming to terms with their parents’ frailties. The film is directed at health authorities and community leaders to encourage them to think about and implement solutions locally to care properly for the elderly. There are increasing numbers of “Ednas” in American communities—are we ready?
Two more films in the collection from the Mental Health Film Board (now known as Metropole Film Board) address the hardships of aging and the need for individual effort, but also the ways in which government can help.
Rights of Age (1966) combines a human interest case story with a public service announcement of sorts—about a new federal program called Medicare. It dramatizes the story of one reclusive woman, Mrs. Vickery, who attempts to be self-sufficient long after she is able. Released one year after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Medicare and Medicaid programs, it features a nurse urging Mrs. Vickery to enroll in Medicare and offering help to do so. Says the narrator, “Many of the old-age benefits that were social theories or political promises 30 years ago are realities today. A nationwide social security system has reduced the threat of hunger and want in the declining years. Special senior housing facilities are available in scores of our communities. And now Medicare provides some help in dealing with the illness and accidents that are part of growing old.”
Steps of Age (1950) describes the challenges of aging as seen through the eyes of Mrs. Potter, whose husband becomes listless and unhappy following his forced retirement at age 65. After Mr. Potter’s death, she goes to live with her daughter’s family, which presents challenges of its own. She has disagreements with her daughter about child-rearing, and seeks a job but is turned away, apparently because the shop would prefer to hire someone younger. Mrs. Potter reflects on how to manage these jolts to her mindset, and how to continue to live a rewarding, engaged life.
The NLM collection contains nearly 800 moving image titles dealing with aging, geriatrics, Alzheimer’s and other age-related topics, which can be found through keyword searches of the Library’s LocatorPlus Catalog.
Rare Books and Journals
Incunabula is a term coined in the 17th century to refer to books printed “in the cradle” or infancy of the Western printing press, generally from the early 1450s to 1500. The root word derives from the Latin for the leather straps that were used by the Romans to bind or swaddle infants in their cradles.
- Libellus de regimine senum et seniorum Arnaldi de Villa Nova. Paris, approximately June 1500.
Wrongly attributed here to Arnoldus de Villanova, this text is in fact Roger Bacon’s (1214?–1294) De retardandis senectutis accidentibus et de sensibus conservandis (The cure of old age, and preservation of youth), a book on aging first written in the 13th century.
This group of materials consists of selected digitized English language monographs which demonstrate the evolution of American medicine from colonial frontier outposts of the 17th century to research hospitals of the 20th century. Here are a few items relating to aging:
- An Essay on the Disorders of Old Age by Sir Anthony Carlisle. Philadelphia, 1819.
This American printing follows two editions published in London beginning in 1817. The 2nd English edition appeared in 1818. In it the author speaks to young and old alike as well as to medical professionals. He encourages the adoption of a healthy regimen early in life to secure longevity, describes diseases common to old age, and discusses the problems of performing surgical operations on the aged.
- The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life by William Kitchiner. Lexington, Ky., 1823.
Celebrity chef William Kitchiner was a household name during the 19th century, best known for his writing on cookery. In this book, he breaks down life into three stages by age and offers a different regimen for each to improve health.
- Eighty and How to Reach It by J.H. (Joseph Hammitt) Schenck. Philadelphia, 1888.
- Rejuvenation: How Steinach Makes People Young by George F. Corners. New York, 1923.
A pioneer in endocrinology, Eugen Steinach was a physiologist, hormone researcher and biology professor who became the Director of Vienna’s Biological Institute of the Academy of Sciences in 1912. His rejuvenation procedure, essentially a partial vasectomy, was thought to revitalize the glandular system and restore youthful characteristics but has since been debunked. “Getting Steinached” was highly popular amongst men in the early 20th-century who wanted to turn back the clock and experience a “second blooming.”
Archive and Manuscript Collections
View the Finding Aid.
When future researchers look back at our time, what resources will they want to explore? Of the news and information that is created and shared digitally over the web, what will remain to be examined one, ten, or even fifty years from now? This content is in a constant state of change and at high risk for loss.
The NLM web archive collection on Autism and Alzheimer’s is a collection of websites that represent a sample of available web resources related to Autism Spectrum Disorder and Alzheimer’s Disease in 2013. Sites include perspectives from government and policymakers, researchers and health care workers, caregivers and individuals experiences. Learn more about the creation of this collection on Circulating Now.
NLM Exhibitions and Events
The National Library of Medicine curates stories about the social and cultural history of science and medicine that enhance awareness of and appreciation for the collections and health information resources of the National Library of Medicine. This work encourages enthusiasm for history and nurtures young professionals in the fields of history, the health professions, and biomedical sciences.
Explore scholarship around the history of aging at NLM.
“And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the Four Humors explores the theory of the four humors—the terms through which Shakespeare and his contemporaries understood personality, aging, and health, and its influence in Shakespeare’s works.
John E. Fogarty (1913-1967) was an American legislator who became known as “Mr. Public Health” for his outstanding advocacy of federal funding for medical research, health education, and health care services. As Democratic representative for Rhode Island, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1941 to 1967, and chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare from 1949. During his congressional tenure, Fogarty championed a vast expansion of the National Institutes of Health as well as aid to the elderly, medical schools, libraries, and programs for disabled children. He sponsored or contributed to virtually every piece of health-related legislation introduced during these years including the Older Americans Act of 1963.
Other Resources on the History of Aging
The Medical Heritage Library was formed in the summer of 2009 when curators of historical collections at the medical libraries of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and the National Library of Medicine together with the Open Knowledge Commons collectively received a start-up grant of $1.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. By 2014 NLM had contributed its 50,000th item. Participating institutions also hold copies of two seminal works on aging in the NLM collection and have digitized and made them available on MHL:
- Medicina gerocomica; or, The Galenic art of preserving old men’s healths by Sir John Floyer. London, 1724.
- Gerontocomia by Gabriele Zerbis. Rome, 1489.
This work is recognized as the “first printed book on geriatrics – a guide to proper hygiene, physical and mental, and particularly to the diet of the aged.” Access the NLM copy under call number: WZ 230 Z58g 1489 via our LocatorPlus Catalog.
- The cure of old age, and preservation of youth by Roger Bacon. London, 1683.
An English translation of Bacon’s De retardandis senectutis accidentibus et de sensibus conservandis. Access the NLM copy under call number: WZ 250 B1293drE 1683 via our LocatorPlus Catalog.
Current Information on Aging
- National Advisory Council on Aging—September 2022, The National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA) advises the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Director of NIH and the Director of NIA on it’s mission. The Council meets three times a year to consider applications for research and training grants.
- Focus on Aging: Federal Partners’ Webinar Series—Promoting Healthy Aging to Reduce Dementia Risk Is a New National Goal, National Institute on Aging, 2022
- Creating Healthy Longevity: A Basis for a Third Demographic Dividend for Society, Wednesday Afternoon Lectures (WALS), 2021
NIA at NIH
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) leads a broad scientific effort to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life. NIA is the primary Federal agency supporting and conducting Alzheimer’s disease research.
CARD at NIH
The Center for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias (CARD), is a collaborative initiative of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) that supports basic, translational, and clinical research on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. CARD’s central mission is to initiate, stimulate, accelerate, and support research that will lead to the development of improved treatments and preventions for these diseases.
On September 19, 2022, the National Institutes of Health dedicated the new building for CARD to U.S. Senator Roy Blunt for tireless advocacy and unwavering commitment to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Watch the dedication ceremony on the NIH VideoCast site.
The NLM Collection Tours series provides highlights from the diverse historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) on a variety of contemporary topics in health and medicine. Some library services, such as our scan on demand service are temporarily suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but staff are available to answer questions.