2006 – July / August

July – August, 2006 Issue 39

The Positive Aging Newsletter

July – August, 2006

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 39

In this issue:

COMMENTARY: Buddhist Practices For All Seasons

The two of us have spent many hours these past two months in helping to bring into print a new book, Horizons in Buddhist Psychology. The book begins with the account of a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Aaron Beck, a major figure in cognitive behavioral therapy. It is followed by 27 chapters, with contributions by therapists and scholars from 12 different nations. The book describes a range of Buddhist practices that are used to enhance well-being; the chapters include studies of the efficacy of various practices and explorations of the relationship between Buddhist and western thought. This work has been especially illuminating for us, in that it has pointed to significant ways in which Buddhist practices can contribute to positive aging. These practices also seem especially applicable to this time of changing seasons.

Many of us in the Northern hemisphere have just survived a very long hot summer. One of the positive aspects of this season has been its invitation for us to slow the pace, set aside our many projects, and enjoy the backyard hammock. Buddhist practices provide ways of achieving this same kind of tranquility at any time of the year. Practices of “mindfulness,” or the training of attention, provide important means of living in the here and now, appreciating more deeply and fully what is before us at the moment. Buddhist practitioners encourage sharp focusing on details of sight, sound, taste, and touch. And with this attentive focus, one experiences a respite from other concerns and involvements. All your attention is directed to an isolated event. As the Buddhist monk advises, “You may find an entire universe in a drop of dew.”

Many of us also approach the fall season with the apprehension that there will be many stressful demands. It is here that Buddhist practices also have much to offer. Normal life will not let us escape difficult or anguished times, and the challenge becomes that of responding with composure, balance and clarity. Chief among the practices that achieve these ends is, of course, meditation. However, as this book shows, effective meditation does not necessarily require hours of training and quietude. With a little guidance, one can learn meditative techniques that require only a few minutes, and allow one to step outside the stress and strain of everyday experience, to return with a fresh outlook. We have found breathing exercises particularly useful in this respect.

There are two other aspects of Buddhist practice that we have found particularly inviting. First, as many authors point out, there is a close connection between these various practices and a sense of compassion toward others. Buddhist practices often deepen one’s sense of relationship with all other elements of the universe, of connection to all other creatures, and thus the practices affirm more caring relationships. Finally, there is no attempt in the Buddhist tradition to treat our states of fear, tension or anguish as pathological.

People are not categorized in terms of depression, traumatic stress, attention deficit and the like. To engage in practices of focused attention is to move more effectively and positively in a world where suffering is simply a normal part of life. We find wonderful potential here.

Ken and Mary Gergen
Kwee, M., Gergen, K.J. and Koshikawa, F. (2006) Horizons in Buddhist Psychology. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute Publications. Just off the presses as of Aug. Being placed on the website www.taospub.net, order online.

RESEARCH: Remembering Names

One of the constant complaints as people grow older is that they cannot remember names. (Younger people complain about this as well, but somewhat less often.) While we all do forget names from time to time, it is still an embarrassing event, and one we might well try to overcome. In this research, strategies were developed both for younger and older subjects in experiments designed to test how well names and faces might be recalled. Two significant strategies were tested:

Make the name meaningful: A common reason that people forget names is that the name is not linked to any meaningful activity. To support this, psychologists have noted that it is easier to remember that someone is a baker than to remember that his name is Mr. Baker. (It’s called the Baker-baker effect.) Thus, to improve memory for names, it is helpful to make the name meaningful in some way.

Make the name important: It is also helpful in recalling names if one realizes that it will be important to later interactions. One’s intention to learn another’s name for some future purpose facilitates remembering it.

To test the effects of these strategies, older and younger participants were studied. To test for importance, the participants were told that they would be shown pairs of faces and names about whom they would be asked questions and given information. In addition, they were told that later they would be tested on some of these faces and names, but not on others. The examiner presented 30 pairs composed of a name and face to the participants, each for 20 seconds. For each pair they were told either that they would be tested on this pair later, or that they would not.

To test for meaning, in one group the researcher said something meaningful about the face. For example, if the person’s name was Mr. Reed, the examiner might mention how slender the man is, as thin as a reed. For one group of participants, the examiner asked them to generate their own meaningful connection between face and name. In the control condition the examiner asked participants to learn the name and face or just to read the name and look at the face.

Later, after an interval in which they were actively distracted from the task, the participants were asked to remember all the names and faces, including those they were told they didn’t have to remember. (How cruel these researchers were!) As the results showed, there was better name-face recollection made when participants thought they would be tested on the pair than when not. Thus the original intention to remember a name is very important in name recall.

Further, making some meaningful connection between the name and other information was also helpful in remembering the name. There was a tendency to remember names better when participants themselves generated a link between the name and something meaningful.

Interestingly, there was no age difference between the groups. To the extent that older people have more difficulty remembering names, our hypothesis is that each year as we age we acquire a large new set of names to recall. No wonder around 60 we may feel rather full of them. (How many John’s did you know at 10 or 30 or 50? And new ones being born every minute!) Thus, it becomes a more daunting task at 60 to recall a name than at 20. Although it is very helpful to use semantic links between faces and names and to realize that one will need the name later, most people do not automatically use these strategies of recall in everyday situations. We recommend it.

From: Name and face learning in older adults: Effects of level of processing, self-generation, and intention to learn by Angela K. Troyer, Andrea Hafliger, Melanie J. Cadieux, and Fergus I. M. Craik. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 2006, 61B, P67-P74.

RESEARCH: Good Retirement: Europeans Views

There are wide variations in the U.S. in the satisfaction people find in retiring. What does the pattern of satisfaction look like in Europe, and what are its major sources? In this cross-EU study, 1,686 recently retired people responded to a Retirement Satisfaction Inventory. The questionnaire surveyed satisfactions with life in retirement and the sources of that enjoyment. All of the respondents belonged to some form of voluntary organization in their countries. All were receiving a pension, and were not employed. About half of the participants were women, and three quarters lived in urban areas. The participants were on average 66 years old, and had been retired for almost 5 years. Among the participants, a third had been office workers; another were middle ranking managers, some 20% were senior executives, and the remainder were unskilled workers and farmers. In general the Belgian, British, Finnish, French and Spanish retirees all expressed a very high rate of satisfaction with their retirement, with the average score of 5 on a 6 point scale. The least satisfied were the Portuguese, whose average was 4. Interestingly, participants most frequently rated life after retirement as better than life before it.

In terms of sources of enjoyment, participants gave high ratings to their health and personal resources. Marriage and family were also important features of a satisfactory retirement. Overall, the British and French were the most pleased with retirement. In particular they scored highest in feeling they had regained freedom and control over their lives, had reduced stress and responsibilities, and enjoying social activities more. There were very few cultural differences among these Europeans; individual differences within the countries were more pronounced than across countries.

From: Perceptions of and Satisfaction with Retirement: A comparison of Six European Union Countries by Evelyne Fouquereau & Anne Fernandez, Universite Francois Rabelais; Antonio Manuel Fonseca, Catholic University of Portugal, Maria Constanca Paul, University of Porto, & Virpi Uotinen, University of Jyvaskyla, Psychology and Aging, 2005, 20, 524-528.

RESEARCH: The Walking Stick: Three Legged Power

“A three-legged stool is more stable than a two-legged ladder” or Why a Walking Stick may save your hide.
The website of the Orthopedic Surgeons reports that falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries to older persons in the U.S. Each year, more than eleven million people over age 65 fall – one of every three senior citizens. Treatment of the injuries and complications associated with these falls costs the U.S. $20.2 billion annually. Patients are often told to “get a cane” despite the fact that it is an unreliable aid. A cane is short, about 50% of a person’s height, and is poorly controlled by the weak muscles of the hand. The cane supports weight only if pointing directly at the shoulder. It is inherently unstable and unsafe. “Get a cane” is not the best medical advice.

The walking stick or staff is a proven practical support used world-wide for thousands of years. It is controlled by the stronger muscles of the shoulder, giving a person a more stable mobile base. This “Third Leg” gives better support when walking on level ground or uneven terrain, when going up or down stairs and when arising from a deep, soft chair or from a fall. In a fall a good stick gives time for the strong muscles of the shoulder and arm to contract and slow the speed of the fall, thereby reducing injury.

The stick can be made from bamboo or it may be a ski pole, 70% to 75% of the user’s height. The sling which holds the hand should be closely fitted to give comfortable and safe control, even by a weak or arthritic hand. A strong grip is not necessary for reliable stick control.

“The stick has saved my 82-year-old hide more than once without even a bruise when falls did occur. The stick also helps me get up. The stick is a versatile practical support which gives greater stability and safety, reducing falls and injuries. ‘Nordic Walking’ with two sticks is even better balanced, as well as good exercise”, says Nate Bushnell.

Research reported by Nate Bushnell. Nate also makes sticks and provides instructions on making a stick. Parts cost about $2.00 plus 15 minutes of work. For instruction email: nateb@ecentral.com


The Purpose Prize is dedicated to recognizing people over 60 who are making remarkable contributions to their local environments. The Prize awards $100,000 each to five people who are solving some of society’s most pressing problems in what used to be called the retirement years. Stay tuned for details on the five winners, coming in September, at www.leadwithexperience.org

A recent federal government’s drug use survey discovered that about 1.25 million people age 55 and older have used illegal drugs sometime during 2003. Not exactly the stereotype of grandma and grandpa, but clearly a problem for many people, as the drug use increased 12% between 2002 and 2003. The “Baby Boomers” have arrived, and some of them are turning to AA, residential clinics and other therapeutic resources to get that “monkey off their backs.” The major drug of choice is alcohol, but sometimes painkillers and other medications, both prescribed and unprescribed, can also be the culprits. Often the substance abuse begins when a traumatic event occurs, such as the loss of a spouse or with some big life change, such as losing a job.

The bright side of the picture is that older people are easier to help than younger ones. They are seen by psychiatrists as more ready for reflection and reappraisal, which are critical to overcoming their problems.

Websites related to this issue:
U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration www.samhsa.gov

 From: Calling it Quits by Reed Karaim. AARP Bulletin, March 2005, 26-28.

For over 20 years, Dr. David Snowdon has been studying the Catholic order, School Sisters of America. The 700 nuns who started this memory research project agreed to annual physical and mental examinations, and upon their deaths to donate their brains to science. So far, 520 brains have been stored at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. This is a treasure trove of scientific potential. The benefit of studying nuns, dead or alive, is that they share similar life styles for long periods of time. Alcohol and drugs do not dim their capacities, and they live regulated lives, which include healthy diets and sufficient sleep. In his book, Aging with Grace, Snowdon described his work, including his belief that intellectual activity helps ward off diseases of the brain. Interestingly many of the nuns live to be 100 without any signs of dementia, although autopsies show that their brains, as is typical of Alzheimer patients, are riddled with plaque and tangles. Somehow these nuns had outsmarted the disease! Further research may be able to suggest why in more detail.

From: Alzheimer study blessed by its participants: Hundreds of aging nuns agreed to cooperate, including donating their brains by Tom Dunkel, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2006, E3.

Martin Condran grew up in Philadelphia, served in World War II in Europe, and then returned to Philadelphia to work for 50 years as a machinist for knitting mills. He occasionally wrote articles for industry publications. He and his wife, Eleanor, raised two boys and a girl. After he retired in the 1970’s, Mr. Condran began working for Star Tours, organizing bus trips for seniors to Atlantic City casinos, Amish farms, and other scenic locations on the East Coast. He was also active in Democratic Party politics. Three times a week, he drove to the local YMCA to lift weights and swim. On his 100th birthday, the Y gave him a party to honor him as the oldest active member of the YMCA in the country. Last year he broke his hip, and moved to Texas to be with his surviving daughter, Rachel. He died June 25, 2006 at 101. Not to be outdone by death, Mr. Conran dedicated his body to science. Like the scientists, we would all be glad to know the secrets of the successful longevity of Martin Condran.

From: Philadelphia Inquirer, July 1, 2006, B6.


Jim McFarland writes:
Last year I published a book to help baby-boomer men restore health, happiness, vitality and longevity to their lives through fitness, faith and food. The book is aimed at men between the ages of 45 and 64, what I call the danger zone when many men die of heart disease and other chronic conditions. My website where you can review material about the book is www.doordiebook.com. email: jim@mrgseattle.com

A friend sent us the following poem by Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”*

Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006.
This book is a nice companion to the Buddhist practices discussed above. It is about savoring life-the capacity to attend to the joys, pleasures, and other positive feelings that we experience in our lives. The authors enhance our understanding of what savoring is and the conditions under which it occurs. Savoring provides a new theoretical model for understanding the psychology of enjoyment and the processes through which people manage positive emotions. The authors review their quantitative research on savoring, as well as the research of others, and provide measurement instruments with scoring instructions for assessing and studying savoring.

Authors Bryant and Veroff outline the necessary preconditions that must exist for savoring to occur and distinguish savoring from related concepts such as coping, pleasure, positive affect, emotional intelligence, flow, and meditation. The book’s lifespan perspective includes a conceptual analysis of the role of time in savoring. Savoring is also considered in relation to human concerns, such as love, friendship, physical and mental health, creativity, and spirituality. Strategies and hands-on exercises that people can use to enhance savoring in their lives are provided, along with a review of factors that enhance savoring.

Book Series: We have been impressed with a series of offerings by a book company, Human Kinetics (www.HumanKinetics.com). They view themselves as, “The Information Leader in Physical Activity,” and possibly there is truth in advertising. The series is called, Aging and Physical Activity Resources, and includes a large range of books providing information on exercise for an older population. Among the many titles are “Fitness After 50”; “Active Living, Cognitive Functioning and Aging”; “Motivating People to be Physically Active”, and “Exercise for Older Adults”. An interactive online course called “Fitness for Older Adults” is available, as well as books for exercise professionals who develop courses for older adults.


* Penn State Social Structures Conference 2006: Social Structures and Aging Individuals: Continuing Challenges. October 9-10, 2006, Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, State College, PA
For information: www.outreach.psu.edu/C&I/SocialStructures

* 2006 Autumn Series on Aging:
September 11-14, 2006: East Coast: Philadelphia
September 25-28, 2006: West Coast: San Francisco

* The Gerontological Society of America, 59th Annual Scientific Meeting: Education & The Gerontological Imagination.
November 16-20, 2006:
Adams Mark Hotel, Dallas, TX,
(202)842-1275 www.agingconference.com

* The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education will hold its 33rd Annual meeting and Educational Leadership Conference, March 1-4, 2007. Hilton Portland and Executive Tower, Portland, Oregon.
See: www.aghe.org

* March 7-10, 2007: Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on Aging. Chicago, IL

* Careers in Aging Week, April 10-14. 2007. This is an annual venture between the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE). The goal is to increase awareness and visibility of the wide-ranging career opportunities that exist in aging and aging research. More information is forthcoming.


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See also the further activities of the Taos Institute:

BOOK REVIEWS RESEARCH: Good Retirement: Europeans Views RESEARCH: Good Retirement: European ViewsRESEARCH: Remembering NamesRESEARCH: Remembering Names

July 1, 2006 12:00 am

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