2003 – November / December

Nov-Dec, 2003 Issue 23

The Positive Aging Newsletter

November – December, 2003

The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen
Dedicated to Productive Dialogue Between Research and
Practice Sponsored by: The Novartis Foundation for
Gerontology and The Taos Institute
Issue No 23

In this issue:


This is first to express our sincere appreciation for those responding to our call for contributions to sustain the newsletter. At the same time, we wish to announce the very good news that newsletter distribution will now be sustained under the generous auspices of the newly developing foundation: The Web-based Health Education Foundation (WHEF). We continue to need your support for sustaining the newsletter, and hope you will find enough value in this effort that you can make a contribution small or large. All are tax deductible. Checks should be sent to:

Executive Director
The Taos Institute
63 Maple Hill Drive
Chagrin Falls, OH 44064-4210
For direct communication, click here info@taosinstitute.net

COMMENTARY: Gifts and the Valuing Process

It is currently the season in which giving and receiving
objects takes on special importance. At the same time, most
of us are wary of the materialism that creeps into the
holiday season. Indeed, most of us hope that it is not the
gift but “the sentiment that counts.” And we often make
special efforts to insure that our care and love are
symbolized in our gifts. Yet, regardless of our efforts,
over time the symbolic value of the gift is often lost.
Within months – sometimes even days – the giver is
separated from the gift. The gift itself becomes but
another addition to the inventory of possessions.

As we grow older we often surround ourselves with objects
that once had symbolic value – mementos of our travels,
photographs, trophies, and so on. At times, we may even
view our material possessions – a house, an automobile, a
wrist watch – as symbols of valued accomplishments. Yet,
just as with the gifts of the season, over time the
significance is often separated from the object. The
object is supposed to have value, but we no longer find it
there. The object remains inert, sometimes gathering dust,
and so often “the thrill is gone.”

Drawing from much of the research we have reported in this
newsletter over the last year, we propose that the key
ingredient to sustaining value in all that surrounds us is
the valuing process itself. This process is embedded in our
relationships. The objects cannot themselves sustain their
significance. Rather, from the very beginning the source of
their value was located in relationships. For example, a
winner’s trophy has significance for us only because at
some point we joined with others to create the value of
success at a particular activity. Outside these
relationships the trophy is relatively meaningless. (And so
it is that after our demise our children will willingly
sell objects of great emotional significance to us without
any sense of loss.)

Invited, then, is a nurturing of those relationships in
which value is created. Objects may come and go, but our
relationships may continuously renew and reinforce the
value we find in the world about us. It is a good season
for celebrating relationships. In doing so we contribute to
the very possibility of celebration itself.

Ken and Mary Gergen

RESEARCH: Transforming Negatives to Positives

Illness is not simply illness; so much depends on what we
make of it. Recent research has discovered that among other
consequences, having a serious illness may lead to positive
outcomes for the patient. Researchers have found that
people are able to draw positive outcomes from heart
attacks, HIV infections, lupus, MS, arthritis, and more. In
each case people can locate silver linings among the
clouds. For example, people speak of finding new strengths
and skills, developing a maturity of outlook, learning to
appreciate others, deepening their enjoyment of nature, and
even appreciating their own strengths in coping.

In the present study, 77 women with early stage breast
cancer completed various personality and attitude measures
and were interviewed by psychologists. The majority of the
patients were white, employed and married women, with an
average age of 52. Most had been diagnosed for 28 or more
weeks, and had had various types of surgery. Most had
received chemotherapy (60%), and most (58%) had had
radiotherapy. About 1/3 had attended a support group and
1/3 had consulted a therapist at least once.

Results indicated that 83% of those interviewed identified
at least one benefit of the experience of breast cancer.
The types of benefits they mentioned fell into three major
categories: First, many identified improved relations with
others. Their appreciation of others deepened; they learned
how much others cared, and so on. Second, many located
health-related benefits, as they learned to take greater
care of their body’s requirements Finally, many developed
new possibilities for living, including opportunities to
expand their knowledge, their sensual appreciation, and the
spiritual dimension of their lives.

While there are clearly many positive aspects to a life-
threatening disease, such as breast cancer, the authors
caution therapists, and others close to cancer patients,
not to engage with patients about the positive side of
their illness without careful assessments of their current
state of emotional adjustment. People often need to
experience various negative emotions before finding the
silver lining.

From: The Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City: Benefit
finding and posttraumatic growth by S. R. Sear, A. L.
Stanton, & S. Danoff-Burg, Health Psychology, 2003, 22,487-

RESEARCH: Improving Prostate Recovery

Although prostate cancer is quite common among men over 60,
there are significant differences in how they fare after
diagnosis. Well-educated and well-off white men are most
likely to seek information about the disease and are least
likely to suffer long-term consequences of treatment. Men
who are from a minority ethnic or racial group, low in
income, and less well-educated tend not to seek information
and to suffer the consequences. The question addressed in
this study is how to improve the level of outcomes for men
diagnosed with prostate cancer. Two forms of education were
contrasted. For one group, information was provided about
prostate cancer, its treatment and recovery. A second group
received the same information, but also participated in a
discussion group about these issues. A third group served
as a control. Approximately 250 men participated in the
study, and were randomly assigned to one of the three
groups. The potential effects of these treatments was
assessed one year later.

As the findings indicated, the discussion group was the
most effective means of improving outcomes. The men in
the discussion group were the least troubled by sexual
problems and were more likely to remain employed than
either of the contrasting groups. Further both the
discussion and the information only groups proved to have
better physical functioning and positive health behavior
than the controls. This elevation in physical condition and
health behavior was especially pronounced among those with
less education.

This research suggests that being the strong and silent
type may be detrimental to one’s health. Talking it out
may be very beneficial for returning to normal life
following diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer.

From: Improving quality of life in men with prostate
cancer: A randomized controlled trial of group education
interventions by Stephen J. Lepore, Vicki S. Helgeson,
David T. Eton, and Richard Schulz. Health Psychology,
2003, 22, 443-452.

RESEARCH: Aging and Successful Problem Solving

In the last issue of the newsletter we questioned the
conclusion drawn by much research that cognitive decline is
a necessary byproduct of aging. One of our arguments was
that many of the measures of cognitive ability were
irrelevant to the lives of older people. In general
people’s performance on a task is closely related to their
experience and interest. A group of Italian researchers
provide support for this possibility.

The researchers created a set of problems that were
particularly relevant to younger people (20-29) and a
second set that were especially relevant to older people
(65-75). A computer breakdown was an example of a younger
person’s problem, while having blood drawn by an
incompetent doctor was an example of an older person’s

As the findings demonstrated, younger people were better at
solving problems relevant to their lives. On these
problems they scored higher on a test of self-confidence
in their performance abilities as well. In contrast, for
the problems relevant to the older population, the older
group outscored the young. Likewise, their sense of self-
efficacy on these problems was elevated over the younger

From: Perceived self-efficacy and everyday problem solving
among young and older adults by Daniele Artistico, Daniel
Cervone, and Lina Pezzuti, (2003) Psychology and Aging,
18, 68-79.


RETIRE SMART, RETIRE HAPPY, by Nancy K. Schlossberg,
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004.

This upbeat book is a research based description of the
many facets of retiring and its aftermath. Reporting on the
results of survey research, focus group discussions,
individual interviews, and personal experiences,
Schlossberg conveys hope for individuals from all walks of
life to find a satisfying retirement lifestyle. In
addition, she provides self-assessment tools that may help
readers to focus on their own particular style of retiring.
For example, are you an “adventurer” or an “easy glider” in
terms of discovering your path? Schlossberg recommends
that once you know who you are and where you want to go,
you acquire certain skills and expectations, such as
preparing to be surprised, being optimistic, being
involved, seizing opportunity, and going with the flow.
No matter what, have a Plan B. The book is suited for
anyone confronting a transitional time of life, even if not

IN THE NEWS: Don’t Blame Menopause

Does menopause tend to make women scatterbrained and
forgetful? Not according to research just published in the
scientific journal, Neurology. Researchers gave 803
menopausal women, ages 42 to 52, memory tests over a two
year period. In one test, for example, they were required
to reverse a string of numbers from memory; in another they
read rows of symbols and recalled numbers previously
assigned to each. Researchers discovered that rather than
having diminishing memories, the women improved slightly
over time. The study concluded that if women are
forgetful from time to time, it is not due to hormonal
changes in the brain, but because they are busy and
distracted in everyday life.

From: “Menopause study says it doesn’t dim memory by
Lindsey Tanner, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 29, 2003,
C3. lll.

IN THE NEWS: Sex and the Single Senior

When former English teacher, Jane Juska, was 66 years old,
she realized that despite her busy life as a community
volunteer, she was missing something. Especially in the
evenings, she realized that she was lonely for the touching
that comes with intimate relationships. A mother of a
grown son, Ms. Juska had been divorced for 30 years, and
her dating relationships were nil. After seeing the movie,
“Autumn Tale”, in which a personal ad leads to romance, she
decided to publish her own personal ad in the New York
Review of Books in the fall of 1999. The ad said: “Before
I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex
with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope
works for me.” Within a month, she received 63 responses
and spent the next year investigating many of them. How
she fared is the topic of her first book A Round-Heeled
Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance published
by Villard.

Overall, Juska’s adventures were fulfilling and fun. Her
overall expectations were exceeded by her experiences. “I
never expected to have intimate friendships with
extraordinary men. True, I’ve met some men who are not
kind or thoughtful, but I’ve also met men who are kind and
thoughtful and funny and true. … I guess I found out
that men are people…. They’re just the kind of people I
like better naked.”

For more, see, “Sex and the Single Senior,” by Alex
Witchel, New York Times, April 27, 2003, 9-1, 9-6.

IN THE NEWS: Why Tai Chi Is the Perfect Exercises

Researchers at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene,
Oregon have reported that Tai Chi, an Asian form of
movement designed as a spiritual practice, offers great
benefits to older men and women who are healthy, but
relatively inactive. Most significantly, Tai Chi practiced
regularly helps reduce falls among healthy seniors. Tai
Chi is a gentle, slow-movement exercise, in which
individuals go at their own comfortable pace. “Pain is no
Gain, ” according to Tai Chi master Martin Lee from Los
Altos, CA. Results are not immediate, but after a few
months a change can be experienced; people often become
more active as a result of their participation. William
Haskell, an expert in chronic disease prevention at
Stanford University, concurs that the best thing about Tai
Chi is that people enjoy it, so they are more likely to
continue with it long enough to get some benefit. It helps
when something that’s good for you is also fun.

From: “Why Tai Chi is the Perfect Exercise by Christine
Gorman, Time, Aug. 5, 2002, p. 68.


A young reader, Erika Littera, writes in reply to our essay
on tasting life (Issue #21)

In other words, “Wake up and smell the roses; stop and
appreciate the corn growing!” My guess is that younger
people focus on the negative more out of the fear of the
unknown than their older counterparts do, though for the
young that fear is masked by false bravado. Older people
have faced more and come to terms with far more, therefore,
I think they are most often likely to be comfortable
looking at things from a different angle without as much
angst as the younger feel. Older people also have less to
prove as they have hopefully learned more about living in
the comforts of their own skins and feel more secure about
their faults as well as their good points. And it does seem
to take time for things to grow on us, such as certain art
or foods after our taste buds mature. So in getting older,
I think Living Life grows on us. I believe looking at the
positive and appreciating what we have is a cultivated
taste. Thank-you for including me on your mailing list…I
really like your positive affirmations.


Subscriptions to the Spanish translation of the newsletter
may already be obtained by leaving a message at our
website, click here http://www.positiveaging.net . However,
we have now received an offer for translation of
forthcoming issues into French. If you would like to
receive copies of the French version, or would like to have
it sent to someone, please send a note here gv4@psu.edu

– HUMAN VALUES in AGING is a free newsletter containing
news about humanistic gerontology including: late-life
creativity, lifelong learning and the humanities, arts and
aging. The newsletter is published by the Institute for
Human Values in Aging, affiliated with the International
Longevity Center, under support from the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation. For a sample copy or a free
subscription, e-mail a request, click here

– During 2004, SECOND JOURNEY will conduct a series of
regional visioning councils to generate new ideas and
creative innovative solutions to the challenge of creating
meaningful community in later life. Proposed dates and
venues include: the Denver area (May 20-23), the Seattle
area (August 19-22), and the Berkshires (September 9-12).
Invited participants will include architects, developers
and smart-growth advocates; educators, activists and health
care professionals; conscious aging advocates, social
entrepreneurs and other cultural creatives, and writers and
visionaries. The goal of the project is to launch a
national conversation that will culminate in a VISIONING
SUMMIT in 2005. Click here

INDEPENDENCE, Dec. 4-6, 2003, Washington, DC. Sponsored by
the EU and US and focusing on advancing technology and
services to promote quality of life. For more information,
click here http://www.asaging.org

– Save the Date: Taking the Journey Together 2004 Joint
Conference of the American Society on Aging and the
National Council on the Aging. April 14-17, 2004. Hilton,
San Francisco.


– Questions & Feedbacks
If you have question or material you wish to offer to newsletter
readers, please write to Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu

– Past issues
Past issues of the Newsletter are archived at:

– Recommend this newsletter to a friend
If you like to suggest this free e-mail Newsletter to your
colleagues and friends, click here to subscribe them:

– How to unsubscribe or change your e-mail address
We hope that you will enjoy The Positive Aging Newsletters. If you
should, for any reason, wish to stop receiving them, please send a
blank email to leave-healthandage-positive-186299A@nl.healthandage.com
To change addresses, write to gv4@psu.edu

Go to: http://www.healthandage.com
See also the further activities of the Taos Institute:

November 1, 2003 12:00 am