2004 – March / April

March-April, 2004 Issue 25

The Positive Aging Newsletter

March – April, 2004

The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen

Dedicated to Productive Dialogue Between Research and Practice Sponsored by the Web-based Health Education Foundation and the Taos Institute

In this issue:

COMMENTARY: The Elderly and the Internet

The Internet provides enormously expanded access to information
and human connection, as you, our readers, are certainly aware!
Yet, as many early studies demonstrated, internet usage among
the elder population was far lower than among younger
generations. The figures were particularly lamentable because
of three major resources furnished by the Internet: free health
information, information on policies and opportunities related
to aging population, and rapid and affordable communication
with family and friends. As others point out, the net can also
serve as a major stimulus to lifelong learning. For the
physically infirmed, there are additional facilities for
avoiding boredom and loneliness. The net provides substantial
resources for entertainment and the ability to  communicate
with significant others.  For these reasons, many initiatives
have been created (notably in the Netherlands and Finland) to
enhance Internet usage among the elderly.

There is now evidence for a reversal of the earlier trend.
Statistics show that the use of the Internet by seniors is now
accelerating. One recent study showed that 20 percent of those
who started using the Internet over the past year were age 50
and above. In the U.S, 41% of the adult population is now on-
line, including an estimated 40 million seniors. In part the
upward trend can be traced to lowered costs of computers, the
development of user-friendly operations, and the ease of entry
into the World Wide Web. People are more likely to get involved
if others they know are also on line. From our personal
experience it appears that children and other young family
members can spur internet interest. One elderly father told us
that he never had such a close relationship with his daughter
as when she went abroad and email became their major source of

As yet, however, the Internet is not generally being pursued to
full advantage. Research shows that elder users are chiefly
searching for weather information, doing on-line shopping, or
looking for special offers. On-line newspaper reading is also
popular, but both education and health searches are less often
utilized. In responding to such facts, The National Institute
of Aging has helped to establish guidelines for elder-friendly

Despite these advantages, there are critics who view the
“netting” of the elderly with suspicion. Some are concerned
with the increased ability of “scammers” to exploit the elderly
population. Others are critical of the invitation for people to
spend hours in front of a computer screen while missing
opportunities  for “real” relationships, spending time in
nature, or participating in activities outside the home. Thus
far, the data on the time devoted to Internet activities among
the elderly do not support these fears. However for the elderly
who live in close-knit communities there may be less need for
the Internet. This may also be the message derived from the low
Internet usage among the elderly in Europe. At the same time,
for most of us, whether alone and isolated or   super-saturated
with social life, the Internet opens new worlds of potential.

Kenneth and Mary Gergen


RESEARCH: Count Your Blessings

Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough were
interested in whether counting one’s blessings would, in fact,
make people happier. They conducted an experiment with 65
adults who suffered from a form of neuromuscular disease, such
as a post-polio condition. Their ages ranged from 22 to 77,
with the mean age of 49. Participants were given forms on which
they could rate their daily experiences. Half the participants
were asked to rate how grateful they were each day. To assess
gratitude, they were asked to describe events in their day for
which they were grateful. One wrote, for example, “my paperboy
is so reliable.” All participants were asked to evaluate their
emotional experiences, well-being, and a global appraisal of
each day.

Results indicated that those participants who were in the
gratitude condition were rated as higher in positive affect and
life satisfaction.  In addition, these subjects also reported
more sleep, better quality of sleep, greater optimism about the
future, and a greater sense of connectedness to others. There
was also a reduction in negative affect.  The researchers
concluded that counting one’s blessings was a fairly simple way
to improve one’s sense of life satisfaction.  As to the
benefits of gratitude, they write, “Gratitude, and the actions
stimulated by it, build and strengthen social bonds and
friendships…  [It] leads them to feel loved and cared for by
others…Gratitude…is also likely to build and strengthen a
sense of spirituality… it broadens the scope of cognition and
enables flexible and creative thinking; it also facilitates
coping with stress and adversity. Gratitude not only makes
people feel good in the present, but it also increases the
likelihood that people will function optimally  and feel good
in the future.”  (pg. 388).

From: “Counting Blessings versus burdens: An experimental
investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily
life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, 84,

RESEARCH: Emotions Age Well

The stereotypic view that aging people decline in all of their
functions is widespread. In previous issues of the Newsletter
we have questioned the research supporting this common
stereotype in the case of cognitive functioning. In the present
case we take up the question of emotions. We draw here
primarily from the work of the late, and renown gerontologist,
M. Powell Lawton, of the Philadelphia Geriatric Center. In a
summary of cross-generational comparisons  of emotional life,
he concluded that “There is compelling evidence that older
people continue to direct their own affective lives as they do
other sectors of their lives.  There is little evidence of
affective loss at the subjective level” (pg. 122).

To summarize in greater detail:

1. Life satisfaction ratings are higher among older people than
younger people.  And once health is controlled for, older
people also report fewer negative emotions.  In one study only
among the “oldest old” was there a decline in positive
feelings.  Other research indicated that older people are less
likely to suffer from emotional disorders such as depression
and anxiety, although those who are isolated and bereft of
social companionship can suffer from depression.

2. Older people rate themselves as emotionally less intent,
less moody, lower in sensation seeking, and more likely to
experience a leveling of positive affect.

3. By late middle age there seems to be a more complete
integration of cognitive and affective functions than earlier.
Older people experience emotions in ways that are more complex
and realistic, but also more fulfilling.  Older people seems to
utilize emotion-based judgments in decision making in a way
that is adaptive and reflective of an increased ability to deal
with uncertainty and complexity in social relationships. In
using emotional experiences, elders have a greater range for
accommodating to life situations.

4. Some studies have shown that older people become less
aroused than younger people in experiments designed to elicit
arousal. However, this diminishment in arousal could be
interpreted as a resource in that people seem to have more
control over their emotionality as they age.
Gerontologist, Laura Carstensen, argues that as people grow
older they move toward valuing the emotional rewards of social
relationships more highly.  Older people do not use social
relationships as much for novelty or information-seeking as
younger people do. They become more selective as to what they
want from life, which is often centered in emotionally rich
social relationships.

From: “Emotion in Later Life” by M. Powell Lawton. Current
Directions in Psychological Science, Aug. 2001, 10, 120-123.

Also, “Older and untroubled” by Etienne Benson, Monitor on
Psychology, June, 2003, pg. 24-25.

RESEARCH: Successful Life Transformations

Robert B. Mintz  was generous enough to share with us his
recent dissertation work on life transitions. The work is
particularly relevant to those moving from busy occupational
worlds into a retirement context. His central concern was with
how individuals who have achieved high levels of success in the
world of business discover ways to transform their lives,
leaving behind their former careers.

The sample consisted of 25 white men, aged 40-60, who lived
across the United States, and who had been nominated by others
as highly successful executives. Mintz criss-crossed the
country in order to engage with these men in a “Life Story
Interview.” The interviews revealed many interesting details.
For example, all the men had suffered setbacks, disappointments
and frustrations along the way. However, each man noted that
these negative experiences turned out to have positive
repercussions. They gave important food for thought and
prepared one for the future. These men also discovered on their
journey that they could not control the future.

However, by resisting the urge to control the world around
them, they gained in a sense of personal control.  Many learned
that they would have to do as the poet, Walt Whitman,
suggested, and embrace their contradictions.  This sample
learned that it was not always necessary to be consistent in
thought, word and deed.

Each man, in his earlier life, had also played the game of
“beat the clock”, that is, of reaching targets as rapidly as
possible (and faster than the other guy.)  In the process of
transformation, they were able to give up their helter-skelter
race and shift from the view that  “time is money” to “time is
my wealth.”  The result of their transformations included a new
sense of personal power, creativity, and a new and more
meaningful relationship to their life work. As Mintz concluded,
“Out of personal chaos, each of these men demonstrated a
spontaneous emergence of a new self, new roles, and perceptions
of the world around them.  They learned that self-making is an
interactive sport and fragmented selves can be repaired and
renewed through interaction.”  (pg. 185).

From: Mintz, Robert B. (2003) The scripts we live by: How
individuation, proteanism and narrative disruption relate to
personal transformation and renewal. PhD Dissertation, Fielding
Graduate Institute.



While the medical and pharmaceutical industries have been
promoting the idea that menopause is a “hormone deficiency
disease,” not all women are buying it.  Especially with the
controversies raging over the wisdom of taking hormone
additives, women are stepping back from the assumption that
they are headed for trouble once menopause begins in earnest.
(Although women typically begin menopause in their mid-
thirties, “in earnest” is more likely to occur in the late
forties). Over the last 20 years, surveys of women approaching
or past menopause have consistently found that they have
neutral or positive attitudes about menopause.  This finding
persists despite variations in symptoms, marital status, or
socioeconomics.  An attitude taking hold of today’s aging women
is that life begins at 50, with many options available in terms
of careers, romance, and freedom from family concerns that were
not as accessible before.  Even the film making industry has
begun to envision the possibilities of older women as sensual
creatures, with Diane Keaton , Charlotte Rampling and Kathy
Bates sporting their birthday suits in recent movies.

For a more scholarly look at the potentials rather than the
pains of menopausal women, see: Komesaroff, P., Rothfield, P.,
& Daly, J. (Eds.) (1997). Reinterpreting Menopause: Cultural
and Philosophical Issues.  London, New York: Routledge, and
Martin, Emily (1987) The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis
of Reproduction.  Boston: Beacon Press.

From: “Now, Women are Putting Menopause in its Rightful Place”
by Marie McCullough, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 2004, C1,


A Golden Age Passport is offered by the National Park service
to Americans, age 62 and older.  This lifetime pass, which
costs  $10, admits the holder free to thousands of U. S.
national parks, historical sites and areas managed by the U. S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as many other federal
government agencies.  The website: www.nps.gov  helps one to
discover all the options available.

The Golden Age Passport also offers discounts on fees for
camping, swimming, parking, boat launching and tours.  To
obtain the Passport, go to a federal area that charges an
entrance fee. Bring along your state driver’s license or other
evidence that proves you are 62.

Another option for those interested in park service is working
as a volunteer at one of the sites.  Senior Americans make up
the bulk of those working gratis at these locales.  The web
sites maintained by the federal agencies related to the sites
offer information on how to become a volunteer.

Another volunteer act would be to write to your legislators
about properly funding the federal park systems. In recent
years, cuts in the budget have endangered our national
parklands, in terms of repairs, restorations, and staffing.
National park administrators have been collecting private funds
and using volunteers in place of getting necessary
appropriations.  We believe tax monies should support our
federal parks, not kind-hearted citizens alone.

From: “For traveling seniors, there’s no better way to spend
$10″ by Marcia Schnedler, Philadelphia Inquirer,  March 21,
2004, N9.


Elderhostel has launched a new program, “Road Scholar,”
expressly designed for aging Baby Boomers.  Elderhostel has
long been the world’s largest education travel program for
participants over age 55. The new program, open to adults of
any age, will be similar in format, but organized into smaller
groups and providing more flexible time on tours.

One of the first offerings under the Road Scholar program is a
three week trip to India, which focuses on  its spiritual
heritage;  talks with artisans descended from the builders of
the Taj Mahal are featured.

For more on the new program, visit: http://www.roadscholar.org


– Dr Leonid Gavrilov, at the Center on Aging, NORC/University
of Chicago, calls attention to a site offering scientific and
educational materials on human longevity, click here

– Reader “Haber, David A.” dhaber@bsu.edu, has let us know that
the third edition of his book, HEALTH PROMOTION AND AGING
came out in 2003 from Springer Publishing.
The book treats professional-client communication, clinical
prevention services, changing health behaviors, exercise,
nutrition, weight management, a variety of health education
topics, social support, mental health, community health,
diversity, and public health. The discussions are research-
based with 450 citations between 2000 and 2003.
Recently Dr. Haber led a round table discussion on this topic
at the national meetings of the Association for Gerontology in
Higher Education.

– Carolyn Heilbrun wrote about taking up an interest in science
and scientists in her 70’s: “There are, I surmise, three
alternative, reasonable roads to a workable compliance with old
age: One is to go on doing what one was doing, preserving as
far as possible those physical aspects and activities that help
to deny aging; another is to contemplate the past, reflect upon
it, and, if one is talented, write about it in the form of
memoir; a third is the way I have taken, of a u-turn onto
something hitherto ignored.  This last, I have found, has the
benefit of stimulating one’s mindfulness, one’s new-found
capacity for attention, the faculty most readily lost in old age.”

From: “Taking a U-turn: The aging woman as explorer of new
territory.”  The Women’s Review of Books, 2003, 20, 10-11, 18.

– Lynn Huber writes to share the news of her new book,
issues “for all of us on our spiritual quest” and provides
exercises to work on those issues.  One chapter is specifically
about aging;  all are useful for mid-life and older adults.
Additional information can be obtained at the  publisher’s web
site, (www.wovenword.com) and Lynn says that “all are welcome
to write me if you want more information.” She can be reached
at lotus.spirit@comcast.net

– Ted Ryan, from Dallas, Texas, writes:
I have had a great deal of health related adversity including
being clinically dead three times. I have four kinds of heart
disease, seizure disorder, and am a recovering alcoholic with
almost 15 years of sobriety.   I realized early on that I had
two choices. I could curl-up in the fetal position, dwell on
the negative symptoms and my odds of early death and have a
horrible life or I could stand tall, grab each adversity by the
throat, fight the symptoms and have the best, longest and
happiest life possible. I choose the latter and it has really
paid off for me. I’ve lived 24 years longer than my sister, 17
more than my grandfather and 13 more than my dad.
I belong to two health related supported groups in Dallas and I
have seen hundreds of people take each of the options. The
differences are amazing.

My next area of interest is stimulating life and brain cells. I
ran my own experiment in this area two years ago. When my
family lived in Singapore in the late 70’s we fell in love with
the island of Bali. We returned there in 2002 for a month stay
at an inexpensive hotel, and I decided that in addition to the
normal tourist activities I’d see if my “aging brain” could
learn Bahasa Indonesia. Now, in one month I didn’t become
totally fluent, but I am able to order meals, shop and do many
of the other things that make you feel like you belong in a
foreign country. My feeling of elation is hard to describe.


– Lorraine Hedtke and John Winslade have just published a new
Grief is frequently thought of as an ordeal we must simply
survive. This book offers a fresh approach to the negotiation
of death and grief. It is founded in principles of constructive
conversation that focus on “re-membering” lives, in contrast to
processes of forgetting or dismembering those who have died.

Re-membering is about a comforting, life-enhancing, and
sustaining approach to death that does not dwell on the pain of
loss and is much more than wistful reminiscing. It is about the
deliberate construction of stories that continue to include the
dead in the membership of our lives. The book specifically
rejects common assumptions about the need to seek closure,
complete unfinished business, work through stages, or say final
goodbyes. Re-membering also rejects the idea that relationships
end when biological life ends.

The authors offer this innovative approach by weaving inspiring
stories with accessible practices that can be used by
professionals and others to ease the transitions that death
brings. The book demonstrates and illustrates the practical
implications of recent and radically divergent thinking in the
field of death and grief. It is a book that has the potential
to startle and at the same time to bring fresh hope and comfort
to many who walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Baywood
Publishing, INC.
e-mail: baywood@baywood.com
web site: http://baywood.com

– Dean Ed Schneider’s recommendations for successful aging can
be found, click here

– CRONES. CronesUnlimited.com is a web site used to promote the
wise stories, poetic songs and essays of energetic elders, who
have shed stereotypes and ego desires.


– Positive Aging Newsletter is now available in German, French
and Spanish. You may subscribe free of charge by visiting

– Bolton Anthony wishes to share the following:
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 :

– American Society on Aging Summer Series provides continuing
education for professionals who work with older adults and
their families. San Francisco, June 7-10, Philadelphia, July 12-
15. See www.asaging.org/summer-series

– Enhancement Technologies. (July 31 – Aug. 5, 2004, Hiram
College, Ohio). 12th Annual Summer Seminar sponsored by the
Center for Literature, Medicine, and the Health Care
Professions. Themes focus on Enhancement–Better Children,
Superior Performance, Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls. Based on
President’s Council on Bioethics’ report, “Beyond Therapy:
Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Deadline for
discounted price: May 1. Further information, contact: Martin
Kohn at: mfk@neoucom.edu or (330) 569-5380  Or visit:

– Toward a New Perspective: Ageing to Ageing Well – An
International Conference to be held October 3-5, 2004 in
Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The program will include
presentations by well-known experts in the field, as well as
facilitating discussions between health care professionals,
researchers, and government representatives, the corporate
world and anyone interested in a new vision of gerontology. For
more details, refer to http://www.geronto.org

– Save the Date: The Changing Face of Aging.  2005 Joint
Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National
Council on the Aging.  March 10-13 Philadelphia, PA


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with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu

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March 1, 2004 12:00 am