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Dr. James E. Birren, Ph.D., (born 1918) is one of the founders of the field of gerontology, since the 1940s. He is a past president of The Gerontological Society of America and author of over 250 publications.
Birren is known for defining aging as three distinct processes: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Birren has long been associated with the UCLA Center on Aging. A leading gerontological theorist in the area of neurocognition and psychology, Birren established much of the framework of modern gerontological theory, such as "quality of life" as a multidimensional concept involving biological, psychological, and sociocultural domains.
James Birren is considered a living legend. He was instrumental in the growth and expansion of the field of gerontology in the 1950s, and his career has now spanned six decades.
Birren received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University and began his research career at the Naval Medical Research Center. In 1947, he joined the U.S. Public Health Service in Baltimore and did research on aging at the Gerontology unit. Birren attended the very first meeting of The Gerontological Society of America in 1948 at the Hotel Commodore in New York. As he quips, "The hotel where the first GSA meeting was held has been torn down, but I'm still here." In 1950, he joined the National Institute of Mental Health and created the first section on aging. In 1964, he became the Director for the Program on Aging for the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Jim moved to the University of Southern California in 1965 where he remained until 1989. There he was the founding director of the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center. In 1989, Jim moved to UCLA, where he remained as the Associate Director of the UCLA Center on Aging until he retired in 2003.
Birren's early research had an experimental base and he studied cognitive change and aging. Since developing the course Guided Autobiography more than thirty years ago, he has devoted much of his time and energy in the area of autobiographical studies.
James Birren's accomplishments and awards are far too numerous to mention. Most recently, he received the Exemplar Practice Award at the International Reminiscence and Life Review Conference in 2005. In 2004, Birren was presented with the "Ollie Randall" award by the National Council on Aging and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the American Society on Aging (ASA). In addition to more than 250 publications in academic journals and books, Birren is Series Editor for the internationally recognized handbooks on aging, e.g., The Handbook on the Psychology of Aging. The handbooks are currently in their sixth edition. He has written two books specifically on Guided Autobiography: Guiding Autobiography Groups for Older Adults with D. Deutchman (1991) and Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography with K. Cochran (2001).
Birren continues to teach the Guided Autobiography method and to facilitate groups. He is currently Senior Distinguished Research Faculty at California State University Fullerton. Currently living in Pacific Palisades, he frequently gives presentations on Guided Autobiography in the Southern California area. He is working with ASA and the MindAlert program to bring Guided Autobiography to locations as diverse as Kelowna British Columbia and Atlanta, Georgia. Birren has organized a devot], ed group of colleagues who comprise a work group whose purpose is to spread the Guided Autobiography program.