2002- April

April, 2002 Issue 13

The Positive Aging Newsletter

Thursday, April 25, 2002

by Kenneth and Mary Gergen
Dedicated to Productive Dialogue Between Research and Practice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Issue No 13

In this Issue:


Anti-Aging, Natural Aging, and Positive Aging

The Winter issue of Generations, the Journal of the American Society on Aging, contains an excellent set of papers discussing the pros and cons of the “anti-aging” movement. While the term “anti-aging” is used in many ways, perhaps the most frequent reference is to medical initiatives to combat the outward signs of an aging body and/or add years to the life-span. Putting aside the controversies over quack medicine on the one hand and the societal wisdom of doubling the life-span on the other, many criticize the anti-aging movement on ideological grounds. For them, efforts to subvert the biological process of aging constitute a subtle form of ageism. To celebrate anti-aging is to define the normal path of biological change as undesirable, unwanted, and inferior. It is to render inferior those who “look old;” those attempting to avoid such a fate enter a race that they are destined to lose. For many of these critics, we should learn to be satisfied with the natural process of aging. The naturalist critique is an important one and worthy of the most serious consideration. However, in our view there is a further step to be made. Specifically, there is much to be gained by viewing the concept of aging as a byproduct of culture – its values, institutions, and forms of thought. In this sense there is no “natural course of aging.” To define natural aging as a form of “biological decline” is itself an outcome of our cultural values and beliefs at a particular time in history. And it is this realization that invites us to enrich the conception of aging. This is not only to say that we are free to reconceptualize what we have hitherto called “biological decline.” For example, is “slowing down” necessarily a decline, or could we begin to appreciate such bodily changes as an opening to new dimensions of tranquility? More significantly, we are challenged to diminish the importance of biological markings in our lives. We do this as we explore and create ways of understanding aging in terms of increments in generativity, wisdom, meaningful reflection, freedom, altruistic expression, familial bonding, community service, creativity, spiritual consciousness, political potential, and more. These are signature moments in what we like to call positive aging.

Ken and Mary Gergen


 – Choosing Well: A Skill Enhanced by Age

A leading theory of life span development, created by Berlin gerontologists Margret and Paul Baltes, proposed that individuals manage their live successfully through three processes: Selecting desired goals; Optimizing choices to achieve these goals, and Compensating when they cannot manage their activities as before. In this article, authors Alexandra Freund and Paul Baltes describe a self-report measure designed to assess these processes (SOC), and relate the outcomes to life satisfactions and happiness over the life-span. To measure Selecting goals (S), items such as the following were included: “I know exactly what I want and what I don’t want;” for Optimization (O), “I make every effort to achieve a given goal;” and for Compensation (C), “When things aren’t going so well, I accept help from others.” The results of the research indicated that the scale seems to be reliable and valid and to support the model of SOC. In general, people who scored high in these various areas of life management were more satisfied and happy with their lives. Most interesting and surprising to the authors, Selecting desired goals was positively associated with age. The indication is that as people gain in years they become increasingly able to select life goals that are satisfying to them. This ability to refine one’s life goals is a key to life satisfaction regardless of age.

From: Life-Management Strategies of Selection, Optimization, and Compensation: Measurement by Self-Report and Construct Validity by Alexandra M. Freund and Paul B. Baltes, (2002) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 642-662.

Related article: Review — “Defy Aging” http://www.healthandage.com/Home/gm=20!gc=5!l=2!gid2=1740!gnews=07250402

– Prayer, Optimism and Confronting Surgery

People who are optimistic before surgery for coronary heart disease recover from surgery more effectively than those who are not, and people who engage in private prayer before surgery are more optimistic on the day before surgery than those who do not. So reports a recent study by Amy Ai and her colleagues.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of premature, permanent disability in middle and later life in the United States. It should not be surprising, then, that people facing cardiac surgery should experience great stress prior to the operation or that the degree or type of stress may be predictive of post-operative recovery. Recently researchers have inquired into the personal resources that might influence post-operative success, independent of overall physical condition. The research sample for the study was 226 persons over the age of 35 admitted to hospital for cardiac surgery over a period of 18 months; they were interviewed in person prior to surgery, and by phone one day before surgery, when stress was assumed to be high. The interview inquired into a variety of issues, including the patient’s reliance on private prayer. The findings indicated a strong correlation between engagement in private prayer and pre-operative optimism. No differences were found among people from different religions, nor between the more or less religious. Interestingly, the older patients proved more optimistic as a group than the young. Perhaps most importantly, those who were optimistic going into surgery demonstrated more effective recovery and feelings of well-being than their less optimistic counterparts. The authors conclude with recommendations for interdisciplinary intervention by clinicians to support private spiritual endeavors. Also, hospital social workers should assess patients’ spiritual needs along with other psychosocial needs. In short, patients in medical crisis should be allowed, even encouraged, to mobilize their own positive resources, including prayer.

From: Amy L. Ai, Ph.D., Christopher Peterson, Ph.D, Steven F. Bolling, MD,, and Harold Koenig, MD, (2002) Private Prayer and Optimism in Middle-Aged and Older Patients Awaiting Cardiac Surgery. The Gerontologist Vol. 42, pp. 70-81.

Related article: What The Preacher Practiced http://www.healthandage.com/Home/gm=20!gc=5!l=2!gid2=1161!gnews=07250402


 – Handbook of Theories of Aging, edited by Vern L. Bengston and K. Warner Schaie. New York: Springer, 1999

In his contribution to the present volume, James Birren notes that the term “gerontology” was first used in a 1903 volume, in which Metchikoff, the author, theorized that aging is the “result of gastrointenstinal putrefication.” The present volume celebrates a century of enormous enrichment in our conceptions and practices. Edited by two doyens of life-span development, the volume provides an excellent survey of major conceptual orientations to aging currently informing inquiry in biological, psychological and social based gerontology. Special emphases on the positive potentials of aging are found in Gubrium and Holstein’s chapter, “Constructionist Perspectives on Aging”, Fry’s “Anthropological Theories of Age and Aging”, Dannefer and Uhlenverg’s “Paths of the Life Course”, and Gatz and Zaarit’s “A Good Old Age: Paradox and Possibility.”


Davidson Films has created a wonderful series on successful aging with five films, approximately 30 minutes long, featuring some of the most renown names in the gerontological literature. In previous issues we highlighted contributions by the Baltes and Joan Erikson. We now add:

– These Vital Years: A Conversation with Betty Friedan at 76. Betty Friedan originally gained fame for her important role in the Women’s Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. She continues to be an insightful and often pithy social critic. In this video, she discusses the research she has done about the myths and realities of aging, and her personal experience of being over seventy. Her zesty style of speaking and her sharp analysis of the mistaken beliefs we have so long accepted about aging make this video both stimulating and provocative.

– Older Brains, New Connections: A Conversation with Marian Diamond at 73. Best known for her pioneering work in the positive effects of enriched environments on brain growth, Dr. Marian Diamond describes research in the area of neurophysiology. Her research, and that of others, indicates that given the right conditions, the brain continues to grow during the entire lifespan and not just in the early years. Dr. Diamond presents a summary of this research and its practical implications in her cordial, accessible manner. This video won the prestigious Bronze International CINDY Award in 2001. The videos are distributed by Davidson Films: (805)594-0422; fax (805) 594-0532, www.davidsonfilms.com.


 – A reader has written to share information on The OASIS Mission, a national nonprofit educational organization designed to enhance the quality of life for mature adults. Offering challenging programs in the arts, humanities, wellness, technology and volunteer service, OASIS creates opportunities for older adults to continue their personal growth and provide meaningful service to the community. Website address is www.oasisnet.org OASIS was founded in 1982 by Marylen Mann and Margie Wolcott May as a resource for older adults who wanted to continue to be active, productive members of the community. Based on an educational model rather than a social service model, OASIS recognizes that our capacity for creativity, growth and participation in society continues through retirement. OASIS initiatives now function in 25 cities.

– For an extended bibliography on the “Quality of Life,” see: http://acqol.deakin.edu.au/bibliography/


 – David Myers, noted social psychologist and writer, wrote to share important information about a new, nationally aimed initiative to introduce “a wonderful new hearing assistance technology”. For further information see: http://www.hearingloop.org

– Resonating with an earlier Newsletter entry on uplifting ways of approaching grief, Ralph Kelly wrote with the following story: “A friend of ours was discovered with an inoperable cancer of the abdomen. We, and his family and close friends, walked together through the pilgrimage of dying. For that funeral Jim wanted to lie “in state” in the small church building and then, since he was a great jazz fan, wanted a jazz funeral. What really was wonderful was that the “lying in state” gave a couple of days time for people to come and gather and tell stories and remember. The night before the burial I awoke about two in the morning. I was curious about what might be happening in the church – there was an appointed group who would keep vigil during the time of lying in state. So, I went to see. It was an amazing time for me. The small church building was softly lighted, even some nice jazz music was to be heard from a side room. There were a few people kneeling at the front close to the casket holding Jim’s body. There were a couple of circles of people sitting in the back of the church telling stories of Jim, his life in the community, what a generous business person he was, and what an occasional rascal. In the kitchen was a group of folks who were sharing some wine and telling wonderful stories and laughter about Jim and his family – in fact two of his adult children were there. All told, there must have been thirty or forty people there — at two o’clock in the morning! All those people were grieving, and all were doing so in ways which really honored relationships, the past, and what was yet to come the next day. I know that all those shared in all the possibilities, just at different times. The day of the burial was truly a celebration, with the Olympia Brass Band from New Orleans playing for the service inside and leading us outside to the hearse and then from the hearse to the grave. The doleful songs, as is the custom, gave way to “When the Saints go Marchin’ in,’ and then a remarkable impromptu jazz concert in the cemetery which went on for about an hour!”


 The Elderhostel Experience

Until you have seen the Elderhostel Catalogue, which weighs about seven pounds, you have no idea of the range and depth of experiences this unique program offers to people of all interests and ages (over 55). From laboratories, to cruise ships, to mountain villages, in college classrooms, archeological digs, and filmmaking studios, the Elderhostel program is there. Programs typically run from five to six days, with some 30 participants in each. Weekend programs are also numerous. The instructors are highly skilled experts in their fields, and they enjoy the close communication with the participants. Recent programs included “Tibetan Buddhism: Living, Aging and Dying,” “From Oak Park to Taliesen: The Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright,” and “Explore the Houses and Gardens of Southern California.” Elderhostel. which was created in 1975 by two lifelong learning visionaries, Marty Knowlton and David Bianco, is dedicated to extending educational adventures to older adults. It served 175,000 people in 2001. For more information on Elderhostel programs visit the website at http://www.Elderhostel.org or call the toll-free registration line at 877-426-8056.


 – SILVER IMAGES FILM FESTIVAL. The Ninth Annual Festival will be presented in Chicago from April 25-May 12, 2002, at 40 locations throughout the Chicago area. The Festival was founded by Terra Nova Films, Inc., specializing in films that challenge stereotypes about aging. Visit www.terranova.org and go to “Film Festival” for more information.

– ART THERAPY WITH THE ELDERLY (Apr. 27-28, 2002, Berkeley, CA). University of California-Berkeley Extension presents a weekend workshop for art therapists who engage seniors in private practice, community, rehabilitation, hospital, and hospice settings present the theory and practice of art therapy processes. Presenters are certified art therapists from VA Hospital in San Francisco and Alta Bates Herrick Medical Center. Sat.-Sun., 9 am – 5:30 pm Berkeley: Room 206, UC Berkeley Extension, 1995. To register, call 510-642-4111.

– RETIRE AND THRIVE: The Best Years are Yet to Come.” (Apr. 28-May 3, 2002, Tampa, FL) 5-day interactive seminar exploring wellness; lifelong learning; volunteer opportunities; and late-life creativity. Individual goal-setting and life planning. At the Eckerd College Conference Center and Lodge. For more information, contact: Dr. James Frasier, 800-456-9009/ext. 7155; or email frasieje@eckerd.edu.

– LIVING LEGACIES: New Ways to Understand Death, Dying and Bereavement. May 18, 2002, 9:00 – 1:00. Franciscan Renewal Center. This workshop will be presented by Lorraine Hedtke MSW, ACSW, CISW and the Institute for Creative Change faculty. The program will focus on death, dying and grief utilizing socially constructionism and narrative framework. A socially constructed perspective can inspire invigorating and appreciative conversations that promote re-membering rather than disremembering those who have died. It stories death as a period of relational transition rather than on the ultimate finality. If death doesn’t mean saying goodbye, how are we freed to grieve differently? What are the clinical implications? This workshop is for counselors, social workers, psychologists, students, medical professional and those who are interested in death and dying. CEU’s Available. Tel. 602.280.9505 for more information or to register.

– MAKING OUR WORLD A GOOD PLACE TO GROW OLD: The 2003 Joint Conference of The National Council on the Aging and American Society on Aging. March 13-16, 2003, Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Chicago, IL. “We will converge with changed attitudes and points of view, as recent events have forced us to look at our strengths and weaknesses as individuals, citizens of a nation and an international community. How can we make our world a good place to grow old? Special attention will be given to proposals that reflect the theme of the conference. The call for presentations indicates that the submission of applications deadline is June 3, 2002. Web site: www.agingconference.org


 If you have material you wish to offer to newsletter readers, please write to Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu

April 1, 2001 12:00 am