Adult Development &
Aging News
Volume 26, Number 3
Spring, 1999
In Memory of Margret M. Baltes, Ph.D.
Dr. Margret M. Baltes, a distinguished Fellow of APA (Division 20), died unexpectedly of an acute cardiovascular event on January 28, 1999. She was Professor of Psychological Gerontology and Head of the Research Unit for Psychological Gerontology in the Department of Gerontopsychiatry at the Free University, Berlin. Margret Baltes was highly respected in the international community of psychologists studying lifespan development and aging. She was well-known for her research dealing with everyday competence and dependency in old age, the role of the social environment in shaping behavior in older adults, cognitive plasticity and Alzheimerís disease, and successful aging.

In her work, Margret Baltes aimed to create bridges across different areas of psychology as well as across interdisciplinary boundaries. Her research was known by psychologists in research and in practice. She addressed concepts and strategies that could be applied in lifespan, clinical, and social psychology, gerontology, social work, nursing, social medicine, and policy making. Her book, "The Many Faces of Dependency in Old Age" published by Cambridge University Press in 1996, illustrates her breadth and depth of scholarship. This book is a classic reference for researchers and practitioners interested in the meaning and social-environmental foundation of dependency in old age. Synthesizing insights gained from her extensive research on nursing home environments, caregiver behavior patterns, and everyday competence, Margret Baltes draws attention in this book to the late-life consequences of cultural systems that place a higher value on the virtues of independence over the vicissitudes of dependence. In this, and in other work, Margret Baltes highlighted the juxtaposition of individuality and connectedness in adulthood and old age. Her longterm research collaboration with Paul B. Baltes produced two edited books that have contributed significantly to shaping the direction of psychological research in the field of adulthood and aging: namely "Successful Aging: Perspectives from the Behavioral Sciences"(Cambridge University Press, 1990) and "The Psychology of Control and Aging" (Erlbaum, 1986).

Margret Baltes began her career as a clinical psychologist in Germany (MA from the University of Saarland), specializing in child guidance. She received a Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 1973 from West Virginia University. Prior to moving to the Free University of Berlin in 1980, she was on the faculty of The College of Human Development at The Pennsylvania State University. At the Free University, she directed a Research Unit for Psychological Gerontology and was intensely involved in developing a curriculum of graduate and undergraduate teaching in lifespan psychology and aging for the Psychology and Psychiatry Departments. These efforts culminated in 1998 with the establishment of a special multidisciplinary program of graduate study in gerontology at the Free University funded by the Federal German government. Since 1988, in collaboration with the Psychiatry Unit (directed by Prof. Helmchen), Margret also played a key role in research associated with the Berlin Aging Study (BASE). In this study, she headed the subgroup examining everyday competence and activities in very old age. In the longitudinal study of BASE participants and in an additional sample, Margretís group had begun to examine strategies of selection, compensation, and optimization in everyday life that contribute to successful aging.

Over the last years, Margretís ideas and advice were widely sought in areas of science and public policy making. She was a member of several European and German Research Advisory Boards (including being the chair of the 5th European Community Programme on Scientific Research of the Aging Population) and also participated in Expert Committees advising federal government policy on health research and dementia programs. She was an Associate Editor of The International Journal of Behavioral Development and a member of the editorial board of Psychology and Aging as well as the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. 

Colleagues and students will remember Margret for her unique ability to provide constructive support and, at the same time, to instill the importance of striving for excellence. She assumed that in academe, and in life, no one would or should settle for anything less than the best. She also engendered a sense of tolerance and harmony and displayed a determination to enjoy life.

Margret Baltes is survived by her husband, Paul, and children Boris and Anushka. A memorial service attended by many colleagues from Germany, Europe, and the USA was held in Berlin on February 5, 1999. For those wishing to pay tribute to Margret Baltes, a Memorial Fund has been established to support Gerontology Training Fellowships in a multidisciplinary Graduate Program that was recently established by Margret Baltes and colleagues in Berlin.

Jacqui Smith &
Toni Antonucci