2004 – September/ October

Sept-Oct, 2004 Issue 28

The Positive Aging Newsletter

September – October, 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
Issue No 28

In this issue:

COMMENTARY: The Challenge of Replacing Losses

The common view of life development approximates a rainbow. First there is upward growth, then a long period at the top of the rainbow, and then decline. Yet, as we have demonstrated in previous editions of the Newsletter, this metaphor has damaging consequences. To accept decline as the true nature of aging is to invite depression, inactivity, incapacity, and early death. Alternative metaphors are much in need. As one colleague ventured, would it not be more promising to see us entering a butterfly period in which we emerge from the chrysalis and spread our wings?

Of course, the common answer to such a proposal is, “but you have to face the facts; people do lose various capacities. Your body won’t let you do the same things you did as a youth.” As such reasoning suggests, aging is ultimately about facing losses in capacity. In this context recent research by Tel Aviv scholars, Yael Benyamini and Jacob Lomranz is illuminating. They carried out research with 423 older adults whose physical condition required them to give up various activities (e.g. soccer, volleyball, back-packing). As might be anticipated, the research indicated a strong association between the loss of activity and expressions of depression. However, a large sub- sample of the group this correlation did not hold. These people had located alternative activities to replace those that had been lost. Someone who loved to play ball on the beach learned to enjoy jogging or growing vegetables. For this group the feelings of well-being were essentially the same as for people in full health.

Research reported by Laura King and her colleagues at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Association adds dimension to the Israeli findings. Her concern was with major life transitions and particularly with older women whose marriages ended in divorce. As she reasoned, in order to find a satisfying alternative to married life, these women might need to investigate new “possible selves.” She found that divorcees whose accounts of their history emphasized the importance of intimacy and their loss of a marital partner remained low in feelings of life satisfaction. They were unable to locate an alternative script that satisfied their needs. However, for those women whose stories of self positively emphasized their ability to act autonomously, life satisfaction was high. Finding a satisfying replacement for a married lifestyle, then, may require that one locate an alternative conception of self – one that takes account of changes in one’s life. Rather than believing marriage is essential to happiness, it was possible to envision another self that valued an independent style of life. Thinking of ourselves as multiple potentials helps us thrive when life throws an unexpected “monkey wrench” into our well-laid plans.

Ken and Mary Gergen

From “The Relationship of Activity Restriction and Replacement with Depressive Symptoms among Older Adults” by Yael Benyamini and Jacob Lomranz, Psychology and Aging, 2004, 19, 362-366.

Change, happiness, and maturity: narrative accounts of the good things in life by Laura King, Amber Baker, Chad Burton, and Leia Velasquez. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, August, 2004.

RESEARCH: Positive Protection Against Frailty

One threatening change often confronted by the very old is becoming frail and vulnerable to falls. Much traditional research simply charts the onset of frailty as if it were a natural event. However, the present research takes a more pro- active stand. What can be done, the investigators ask, to protect oneself against frailty? More dramatically, they ask whether it is possible that a positive attitude toward life may help us avoid becoming frail.

To explore these questions, a sample of 1,558 Mexican Americans from the Southwestern states in the U. S. was studied. At the outset of the research, the average age of the sample was 72 and all were in reasonable health. At that point each participant was given a standardized test of frailty (including assessments of weight loss, exhaustion, walking speed, and grip strength). A measure of positive affect was also administered. The participants rated themselves on such items as, “I feel just as good as other people;” “I feel hopeful about the future;” “I am happy;” and “I enjoy life.”

The sample was tested again after seven years, when the average age was 79. By that time, approximately 10% of the sample could be classified as frail. Importantly, however, for those who had high positive affect seven years earlier, the chances of becoming frail were significantly lower. As suggested by the results, having a positive attitude toward life may have a number of beneficial health outcomes, including greater functional independence, mobility and survival.

Of course, because this is correlational research, one might also suppose that being active contributes to being happier. Why should positive affect be so important to well-being? The researchers do not answer this question, directly, but quite possibly the reason lies in the fact that those who look optimistically toward the future are more likely to remain physically and socially active. It is also likely that feeling good and being active are reciprocally related, each enhancing the other.

From: Onset of Frailty in Older Adults and the Protective Role of Positive Affect by Glenn V. Ostir, Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, and Kyriakos S. Markides. Psychology of Aging, 2004, 19, 402- 408.

RESEARCH: Walking and Well-Being

In previous editions of the newsletter we have reported a number of findings linking physical exercise with a positive orientation toward life. However, until now we have discovered no research on the positive effects of mild forms of exercise, such as strolling about or gardening, on mood and mental health. The absence of such research suggests that for exercise to be effective, it should be vigorous and systematic. A significant addition to the picture is thus provided by a group of Japanese gerontologists who studied 341 community dwelling people ranging in age from 65-79. In this study approximately a third of the group was placed into a program of mild walking for approximately three weeks, and another third into an educational program that included no exercise. A control group received neither treatment. Assessment of the participants’ feelings of well-being were made both before and after the treatment periods.

As the results showed, those who engaged in a program of mild walking showed significantly greater gains in feelings of well- being than either the education or control groups. One of the especially encouraging outcomes of this research was to discover that even frail elderly people can engage in this type of activity without risking any injury.

Age differences in the effect of physical activity on depressive symptoms by Yasuyuki Fukukawa, Chiori Nakashima, Satomi Tsuboi, Rumi Kozakai, Wataru Doyo, Naoakira Nino, Fujiko Ando, Fujiko, and Hiroshi Shimokata, Psychology and Aging, 2004, 19, 346-351.

RESEARCH: To Do or To Have: That is the Question

Which ultimately provides the greatest happiness, an object such as a luxury car or a pearl necklace, or an experience like a trip to Paris or visit to see old friends. In terms of the pleasure we will ultimately obtain, should we invest our discretionary income on objects or experiences? Researchers Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich devoted themselves to this question. Especially illuminating were answers given during a long national telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive. Over 1200 respondents were asked questions concerning their attitudes and economic activities. Among the queries, they were asked to describe an experiential and a material purchase they had made during their lifetime with the aim of increasing their happiness. They were then asked to compare the two purchases as to which made them happier.

Almost 60% of the respondents claimed that their experiential purchase make them happier than the material one. Only 34% said the reverse. There were differences among sub-groups. Women, younger individuals and those living in metropolitan areas were more likely than men, older people and rural dwellers to claim that experiences made them happier than things they had bought. However, in all categories, experiences won out over objects. Among the favorite experiences mentioned were travel, concerts, outdoor vacations, and dining. Among the material purchases, “clothing and jewelry” was a clear winner, followed by “televisions, music and computer equipment”. Interestingly, the more money a person had available to spend on discretionary items, the more experiences were valued over material goods as a source of pleasure. The higher the educational level the more pleased people were with experiential purchases over objects.

Why should experiences have such an edge over material objects? The researchers suggested, for one, that experiences are more open to positive reinterpretations. In other research by the same group, the longer the passage of time, the more people preferred the experiential purchase. It appeared that people could retrospectively find increasing ways to appreciate their experiences. After all, a car can break down and end up a junker, while memories of a trip to Rome can be a source of endless pleasure. In many circles, experiences also have greater social value.” They create better conversations, which enhance social relationships. Bragging about one’s new Porsche may be fun , but it can also be alienating. In contrast, sharing an experience can often be entertaining and informative.

From: To do or to have? That is the question” by Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2004, 85, 1193-1202.



Most of us know that older voters are more likely to vote than any other age group. In Iowa, for example, 84% of the eligible voters in the 65-74 bracket voted in 2000, compared to the state average of 64%. In the coming elections this fact is especially important. It may indeed be crucial in the eight states regarded as the “Swing States.” Together these eight states (Florida, Pennsylvania,West Virginia, Iowa, Maine, Arkansas, Missouri and Ohio) have 22% of the nation’s 55 + population, 20% of its voting population, and 101 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win a presidential election.

The power of the ballot for older citizens is not lost on the Presidential candidates. Both have featured elderly friendly policies related to health care, Medicare, prescription drug coverage and Social Security. A poll among older people this summer indicated that Kerry’s prescription drug policy (including importing cheaper drugs from Canada) was solidly favored, as was his plan to strengthen Social Security. Bush received stronger support for his views on taxes and terrorism. In 2000, Bush lost to Gore among the 60+ population 51-47%. Much hangs in the balance during the coming election.

From: How Older Voters Could Make a Difference by Bill Hogan, AARP Bulletin, October, 2004, p. 6, 8.


Research indicates valuable outcomes from eating a range of vegetables. The diets of women in their 60’s were assessed, with special attention given to their intake of broccoli, cauliflower, romaine lettuce and spinach. When measured in their 70’s, those who regularly ate these vegetables showed less overall decline on tests of memory, verbal ability and attention than those women who did not. Eight servings of vegetables a week topped the high end of the “veggie” scale. The participants in the study were 13,388 nurses, who have been answering questions about their eating habits for 10 years. The federally financed study by Dr. Jae Hee Kang, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, was presented at a recent conference on Alzheimer’s disease. Although they have not been studied, Dr. Kang believes that the results would also apply to men. So it appears that Popeye was right to be eating his spinach.

From: “From Green and Leafy to a Sharper Brain” by The Associated Press, The New York Times, July 20, 2004, D8.


Would you like to officiate at the games of a Youth Sports League? What about learning to drive, repair, maintain and build toy box cars, and teach others? Perhaps you would like to work at a visitors center, feed baby birds, sing in a choir, host visitors from Moscow, or track legislative bills on women’s health issues? If any of these, or 20 other opportunities to volunteer, appeal to you, Hawaii is waiting.

Without the support of older people, the mainstays of volunteer efforts, many important community organizations in the United States would cease to exist. Yet the vast power of seniors is under-utilized; often this is because it is difficult to know when, where, and how to volunteer. Hawaiians have come up with an excellent means for bringing those who want to volunteer together with opportunities to do so. Organizations that need people send in announcements to the local newspaper, which appear in a special section, called [Volunteers]. What is particularly helpful in this listing is that specific jobs are named, along with the skills needed or training to be given to do the job. The listing may even include what to wear and bring along to the site. Thus someone who wishes to volunteer does not get thrust into a position that is unappealing or unsuited to one’s talents. In addition to helping advance valued community goals, people who volunteer get the chance to expand and renew their skills and curiosities, as well as meet new people with similar interests. As reported in previous newsletters, people who volunteer enjoy happier and longer lives. Also, volunteering may become the pathway to new careers and paid employment. Everybody wins!

We hope that among our readers there are those who could start such a column in their own local newspapers.

From: [Volunteers] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 2, 2004, D3.


We are consistently interested in stories of older citizens who continue to “make the world go round.” Here are several from recent news reports. Lillian Willoughby, age 89, chose to go to jail rather than to pay a $250 fine for blocking the entrance to the federal courthouse as part of a peace demonstration against the war in Iraq. Willoughby uses a wheelchair to get around, but this does not deter her from expressing her opinions through public acts. At her trial she gave the judge “Fifty-two Stories of Non-violence” and then declared her sadness over the U. S. involvement in the war. Despite having been arrested in the past during her long involvement with Quaker Peace movements, she has never been sentenced to jail. She described going to jail as “the start of a great adventure.”

Another great adventure describes the recent flight by pilot Michael Melvill. Melvill persevered during a dangerous ride in a privately funded space ship in order to help his company win a $10 million dollar first prize for being the first privately built, manned rocket ship to fly in space twice in a span of two weeks. Owners of the plane noting problems in maintaining the trajectory of the flight path asked the pilot to shut down the engines before reaching the altitude required by the contest. As spectators watched, SpaceShipOne began spinning out of control as it moved through space at three times the speed of sound. It rotated over a dozen times, but Melvill ignored the order and finally was able to bring the rocket ship under control. “I did a victory roll at the top,” he joked after landing safely. What a way to celebrate one’s 63 year!

Lastly, and sadly, Richard Avedon, 82, world famous photographer died this same week, in the midst of a “shoot” designed to celebrate democracy around the world. Avedon’s career spanned over 60 years. His well-known portraits were of the world’s most famous celebrities, including Winston Churchill. He also created portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, and many other fashion notables of the last century.

From: “Prison for 89-year-old peace activist,” by Joseph A. Slobodzian, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 2004, B-1. “Rocket plane spins but lands safely” by John Antczak, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 2004, A-2. “Avedon Dead at 82” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 2004, B-6.


* Volodymyr Dzyobak, Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Association of Retired Persons emailed us. Dzyobak points out that the goals of this newsletter and of his organization are almost the same: improvement of people’s lives as they grow older. “Due to the team-work, exchange of experience and information…we are able to drop the society’s negative attitude towards the elderly and, correspondingly, the isolation of the latter… We are a non-political, non-profit, non-religious public organization. It was founded in October 2000 and nowadays the Association comprises about 18, 000 members. We are carrying out the programs aimed at improvement of the elderly’s situation under the fundamental indicators: health, nutrition, social security, communication, medicare, credit services and the dialogue of generations. Our programmes act at the national level as well as at regional ones. More detailed information…one can get on our web-site: www.uarp.org

* Judi Patterson writes about recent contents of the Newsletter, ” I just returned from driving cross-country by myself, something I had always wanted to do. I knew that I would enjoy it, but I hadn’t known just how important it would turn out to be. I was amazed at the sense of empowerment, strength, and increased sense of well-being and optimism that I gained from those two weeks!

And in response to your first article–oh, yes, the importance of touch! So true! I am very blessed to be surrounded by friends–men and women, young and old– at church and in my personal life who continue with hugs and other touch. Most interesting in your article to take the well-documented old studies about the importance of touch in babies and extrapolate to the older population. I think your analysis of it is right on–when you aren’t touched, there is the sense that you are no longer desirable. I hadn’t exactly thought about that before, but you are correct, I think.

One more thing–I think what you said about staying in one’s own home as an older person–even an “OLD” person, is right on! I live in a lovely three-bedroom home with a big backyard. I’ve lived here since 1973, and I hope to stay here in “my place” until the day I die (or must go off to some hospital or hospice on the way to death). My favorite aunt moved out of her little place when she was 92–not because she felt she actually needed to be in an assisted living situation, but because her friends were worried about her living alone. They would stop by so frequently that she worried that she was negatively impacting their lives, so she moved. But even in that assisted living facility, she was reading to the “old folks,” etc. She died at 94, after having been sick for only a few days. I remember the last letter I received from her–she had written it after going in to see the doctor for some sort of treatment, and her only real comment about that experience was how pretty the flowered “sheets” were on the examining table!


* EMOTIONAL LONGEVITY: WHAT REALLY DETERMINES HOW LONG YOU LIVE by Norman B. Anderson & P. Elizabeth Anderson. New York: Viking Press, 2003.

At the core of this book is the message that we don’t have to live by bread or biology alone. Beyond the usual candidates for living a long and healthy life – nutrition, genetic gifts, avoidance of accidents and diseases – these authors stress the ways in which our emotional/social lives help or hinder us in our passages through life. Of special importance, according to the Andersons, are our emotions and thoughts, our personal achievement and feelings of being treated fairly, how we relate to the environment and to other people, and our spiritual satisfactions.

This book effectively informs readers that they have a great deal of choice when it comes to the quality and length of their lives. We may not pick our parents, but we can pick our partners, our work, our friends, and our social habits. Also important are our expectations for the future and the stories we tell ourselves about our pasts. The narratives of life influence us in our choices, and in the ways we respond to set- backs and to emotionally unsettling experiences. Emotional responses, for example, are not biologically programmed. Rather, people can shape their responses in health-giving ways. Anger and hostility, for example, do not have to dominate one’s responses to social events. Road rage is not the only response to aggressive drivers, and traffic jams could be a place for meditation rather than for madness. We have a choice.

At the same time, the Andersons also emphasize that certain social inequities, over which we have too little control, also reduce the health chances of many. One’s social-economic status has effects on one’s health, with poor people having poorer outcomes. There are many reasons for this correlation, including a lack of adequate health care, poor environmental conditions for growing, and anxiety over financial matters.

While the book is interestingly written with many stories to illustrate their major points, the authors have also have integrated research from wide ranging health domains. Written to appeal both to laypeople and professionals, the message is an optimistic one that counters the biological blaahs.


www.geron.org : The Gerontological Society of American (SGA) promotes the scientific study of aging. Gerontologists study the aging processes and individuals as they grow from middle age through late life. The Behavioral and Social Sciences Section includes scientists from psychology, anthropology, economics, history, political science and sociology.

www.geropsych.org: This is the website for people interested in he clinical side of Geropsychology. Information on research funding, student research, and public policy updates.

www.appliedgerontology.org/cag_Id.cfm is the Edward R. Roybal Centers for Research on Applied Gerontology. Research is being conducted in areas such as preventing frailty by exercise and strength training, improving driving ability of older drivers, and providing peer-support for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

http://Apadiv20.phhp.ufl.edu is the American Psychological Association Div. 20 of Adult Development and Aging. Information on specialization in adult development and aging is available. Syllabi for undergraduate and graduate adult development and aging courses are given.


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

* HUMAN VALUES AND AGING electronic newsletter, edited by Harry (Rick) Moody, is published by the Institute for Human Values in Aging at the International Longevity Center-USA (60 E. 86 Street, NY, NY). The Newsletter contains items of interest about humanistic gerontology; it does not publish original writing but is limitedto brief and timely announcements. To submit items of interest, contact hrmoody@yahoo.com . The website is http://www.HRMoody.com To see the Archive of previous issues of this newsletter, visit the ILC website at: http://www.ilcusa.org/pub/news.htm

* EDEN ALTERNATIVE. The 2nd International Eden Alternative Conference: “Seasons of Eden: Tools for a Bountiful Harvest Honoring Elders, Empowering Caregivers, Building Relationships.” (Oct. 24-27, 2004, Tacoma, Washington). For registration and information, visit: http://www.edenalt.com/conferences.htm

* VISIONING COUNCIL: (Oct. 21-24, 2004, N. Carolina). Second Journey’s second annual Wildacres Visioning Council, “Living and Dying into Wholeness: Health and Well-Being in the Second Half of Life,” at Wildacres Retreat Center in western North Carolina. Program limited to 40 participants; of interest to healthcare professionals and others. For information, see: http://www.SecondJourney.org/2004Wildacres.htm

* Earn social work CEUs by taking online courses and working at your own pace. ASA and the Institute for Geriatric Social Work at Boston University have teamed up to create online self-study programs on a variety of geriatric social work issues using articles from ASA’s quarterly journal, _Generations_. CEUs are free for some of the courses and $5 per credit hour for others. Registration for the courses is free of charge. For more information, visit http://www.bu.edu/igsw

* THE CHANGING FACE OF AGING. 2005 Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on the Aging. March 10-13, 2005, Philadelphia, PA http://www.agingconference.org/jc05/call


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September 1, 2004 12:00 am