2006 – May / June

May-June, 2006, Issue 38


May-June 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 38

In this issue:

COMMENTARY The Enchantment of Everyday Life

A friend of ours is approaching her 90th birthday, and has just embarked on a project to redecorate her living room. She wants the room painted a different color, new furniture, pictures to match the décor, and more. Such decoration is scarcely required. Her present quarters are quite sufficient to her needs. Is her decision, then, irrational, a failure to simply accept the facts of life? On the contrary. As we see it, this flight of fantasy makes a substantial contribution to her well-being. She is looking beyond the plain and acceptable to create a space that adds a degree of sparkle to everyday life. To continue on the routinely functional path is secure enough, but unremarkable and uninteresting. It is the imagined world of the not yet real that generates the zest for living.

In effect our friend is engaging in what Morris Berman once termed the enchantment of the world. There is something about “the plain facts” that drains life of significance. It is only when we place value in something that life takes on its zest. Thus, if life is to be engaging, inviting, and compelling, means of adding enchantment to the ordinary are required.

What would this mean in practical terms? The possibilities are endless, but we have been struck especially by the ways in which some people can make an occasion of otherwise mundane events. By adding a flower to the breakfast table, calling distant friends on their birthdays, saving a chocolate for just the right moment, setting out for a walk in a beautiful place, playing favorite music while preparing dinner, wearing a robe that feels especially good, choosing a special film to share, or lighting an incense stick at bedtime, we have enchanted our world. These are not instrumental actions, means to exterior ends, but inject value into the ordinary as an end in itself.

Ken and Mary Gergen

Berman, M. (1981) The Re-enchantment of the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

RESEARCH: Maps of Aging for the Young

What kind of models of aging do we provide to future generations? Our actions and attitudes are not neutral. They enter society to create models for the future. The importance of this point is demonstrated in research on a younger (mean age 20 years) athletes. As the first phase of the research demonstrated, the young athletes viewed their aging process with anxiety and apprehension. In part this is due to the extensive amount of time and energy they spend developing a ‘high performance’ body for their sport, and the significance they attach to sustaining their identity as an athlete. For them, growing old is associated with inevitable physical decline and subsequent loss of athletic performance. It is therefore primarily viewed in negative terms.

In the second phase of the research, twenty-two of the participants were interviewed. Here, the researchers explored where these participants gathered information about growing old, given that none of them had first hand experience of ‘being old’ themselves. Two groups were especially important in informing the young athletes’ perceptions of self-aging: family members and older team mates. In particular, parents and grandparents were influential in shaping the ways the young athletes anticipated their own middle and old age respectively. The older family members project ‘narrative maps’ of what it is like to grow older, from which the young develop perceptions and anticipations of their own aging. In this sense, older people can be models of positive aging, which may create a brighter future for the next generation or two.

From: Phoenix, C. & Sparkes, A. C. (2006 in press). Keeping it in the family: narrative maps of ageing and young athletes’ perceptions of their futures. Ageing and Society. Email: H.C.Phoenix@exeter.ac.uk

RESEARCH: Brain Food and Alzheimer’s

Using the 10,000 plus members of the population-based Swedish Twin Registry, these researchers were able examine the relationship between doing difficult, intellectual jobs as a career choice and later being diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia. Decline was diagnosed by giving the sample a cognitive impairment test, followed by a full clinical examination. The participants in the study reached 65 years of age in 1998, so all of them are at least 73 or older now. The researchers controlled for the influences of age, gender, and level of education in order to explore whether doing more complex work reduced the risk of these diseases. They found that, indeed, those that engaged in greater complexity of work – both with data and with people – were less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or to evidence dementia. Presumably, a process of continuous engagement in complex challenges continues to support high cognitive functioning, even after retirement from a profession.

From: Complexity of work and risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: A Population-Based Study of Swedish Twins by Ross Andel, Michael Crowe, Nancy L. Pedersen, Jams Mortimer, Eileen Crimmins, Boo Johansson, and Margaret Gatz. Journal of Gerontology, PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 2005, 60B, P251-258.


Music researcher Barry Bortnick has described music as a great enhancer of older adults’ lives. Besides the joy of listening to music and playing an instrument, there is also the fun of moving or dancing to music, and exploring its history and forms. The research literature is replete with wide-ranging developmental outcomes of musical participation. Among them:
* Improved fitness levels through movements to music, including improved balance and gait;
* Enhanced sense of competence;
* Decreased sense of isolation and enhanced emotional and interpersonal engagement  
* Enhanced sense of identity and self-esteem.

A good overview of research is an annotated bibliography compiled by Adler (2004) on effects of music on cognition, behavior, communication, vision, mood, quality of life, and functional status. For a summary of the preliminary results of this study, visit www.creativeaging.org/who_research.html

Programs exist to provide people with the opportunity to perform a specific type of music and to teach people to create original vocal music. Judith-Kate Friedman has developed an approach to songwriting with older people through the organization Songwriting Works. www.songwritingworks.org

In some programs, music is combined with storytelling activities and artistic work. For example, Heather MacTavish and the New Rhythms Foundation present songs from previous eras to groups of older people and then encourage the participants to share life stories that relate to the song’s theme. www.newrhythms.org

From: “Music and older adults: An overview” by Dr. Barry Bortnick, Creative Aging, An E-newsletter of the National Center for Creative Aging, ncca@creativeaging.org

A Danish study involving almost 60,000 men and women concluded that alcohol may be the best medicine for keeping the heart healthy. Differences were found in how much of the medicine helps the heart to keep the beat. Each person gave information about their eating and drinking each week. A drink was defined as approximately 1 ounce of alcohol. The participants were studied for almost six years, and at the beginning of the study all were free of heart disease. At the end of six years there were 749 heart disease cases among the women, and 1,238 for the men. Interestingly, drinking histories indicated that for men, the more they drank, the lower their risk of heart disease. Those who drank once a week lowered their risk by about 7%. Those who drank every day had a 41% lower risk than those who did not drink at all.

For women, one drink a week lowered the risk by 36%, with no gain for drinking more than that. While it was not clear why the difference in genders, researchers suggested that for women the alcohol may boost estrogen production, which falls after menopause. (Approximately 80% of the women in the study were post-menopausal.)

From: Drinking and health: Another gender divide by Nicholas Bakalar. International Herald Tribune, June 8, 2006, pg. 11


The Golden Eight rowing team has been winning medals for their achievements since 1985. Their 14 medals won in international masters’ competitions is greater than any other boat, they contend. What is particularly noteworthy about this team is that the eight members range in age from 67 to 85. When asked how far they will row in the next race, one member, Ed Pressman, replied, “Til the first chest pains.” A few years ago, another member had a heart attack during a race, but continued to row until the race was won. He lived to tell the tale, and is the oldest boatsman in the group today. Many of the original rowers have died or retired due to physical constraints, and they are replaced by new members. Often the crew celebrate funerals for a fellow rower. In 2004, when the 7th man, Bart McCall died, they went out in the boat, leaving the 7th seat open. A bagpipe played on shore, and his wife, sitting in the coxswain’s seat, delivered his ashes to the river. For this team the great joy of rowing is the sense of coordination when all eight pull in time and the boat surges forward. As one rower said, “It’s a feeling of exhilaration to be together in that moment, one that no other can replace.”

From: Rowing to the End by Michael Vitez, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 19, 2006, B1, B6


Death is becoming increasingly unpopular in the U.S. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there was a 2% decrease in deaths this year. Health experts are shocked because the nation is growing older and fatter. There have been drops in death rates for heart disease, cancer and strokes. Three cheers for the medical support teams and three cheers for us. The average U.S. life expectancy has reached 78. (And each year you live, the average gets higher).

From: U.S. Population Older, Fatter, yet Staying Alive. By Mike Stobbe, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 2006, A-4.

Saving money on car insurance just got easier for drivers over 50. The popular AARP Driver Safety course is going on-line, and is now available in Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, and Missouri. More states to follow. This new option allows drivers to take the course at their own convenience, rather than on-site in two four-hour sessions in local communities. The topics include how to assess your own driving skills, negotiate busy intersections, and minimize blind spots. The online course costs $15.95 for AARP members and $19.95 for nonmembers. Those who receive certificates for passing the course may be eligible for discounts on their auto insurance. (Our policy allows a 5% discount, which more than covers the cost of the program.) Check out the course at www.aarp.org/drive

From: Driver Safety Goes Online. AARP Bulletin, June, 2006, pg. 35.


From Madelyn Blair, reporting on a message she received from Stephanie West Allen that she recommended we put in our newsletter. The article describes the making of memoirs. Thanks, Madelyn.

Andrea Gross, founder of Legacy Prose, found out first hand just how memories can enrich lives. A seasoned journalist and former contributing editor to Ladies Home Journal, Gross longed for positive fulfillment among the tragic stories she frequently covered. After being inspired to interview her parents and put the story of their lives to paper, something profound happened: “Afterward, my mother seemed more cheerful, so much so that an aunt who lived out of town called to see what caused the change. My father began to sit up straighter and phoned more often, ‘just to talk’,” she said.

Deciding to research the subject, Gross found her parents were not alone. “Numerous studies show when an elderly person is led through ’structured reminiscence,’ they become less depressed, require fewer doctor visits and even live longer,” she described.

Read the rest here:


* THE POWER YEARS: A User’s Guide to the Rest of your life by Ken Dychtwald and Daniel Kadlec, 2005, John Wiley Publishers. (From www.agewave.com)
Today, increased longevity, much higher levels of health and vitality, and the assumption of continued personal growth have redefined the Boomer generation’s expectations of their retirement years. This new chapter of life is becoming a period of renewal and reinvention, marked by personal wisdom, accumulated wealth, skills honed over the course of a career and a sense that this is not a time of decline but instead, the beginning of what the authors call the “Power Years.” This book is about how to prepare today for those later years, which are bursting with potential. The authors provide an optimistic blueprint for what to expect in the areas of health, jobs, lifestyles, investments and relationships, and how things will be so different from today as to be unrecognizable. The Power Years might serve as an excellent guidebook for boomers as they approach what used to be retirement years, offering useful and optimistic advice on how to get ready for what can be the best years of one’s life.

Ken Dychtwald is the author of twelve books on aging-related issues, including Bodymind, Millennium: Glimpses Into the 21st Century, Healthy Aging, and Age Wave.

* MEMOIRS OF THE SOUL by Nan Phifer , Ciincinnati: Walking Stick Press (2002).
This is a how-to-do-it book on writing a personal story, one that goes beyond the biographical facts to encompass one’s times of wonder, transformations, connections to special people and places, and path of your spiritual development. The reader is guided in simple steps in how to write one’s memoir, preserving the special moments that express who you have become over the years. The book includes 24 short chapters, which provide strategies to help one to complete the project of writing one’s life story. One exercise, early on, is to draw a large valentine heart on a page, and fill it with people, places, activities, things and experiences you “hold in your heart.” You may draw a second heart if the first one is overflowing. Excerpts from others’ memoirs help to guide and enliven the way. Author Pfifer has a special gift for encouraging a habit of writing that will be inspiring to the author or listener in you. The book is full of methods to help one see life in new and dynamic ways, and to capture these feelings in a text that can be shared with family members and friends.

Author Pfifer also presents her ideas at workshops. You may look further at www.memoirworkshops.com 0r email at nanpfifer@mac.com


* July 13-16, 2006: Regional Visioning Council of the Second Journey group to be held on lovely Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. The topic: Creating Community in Later Life (For council details, see www.SecondJourney.org/2006Councils.htm
Information provided by Anthony Bolton at BoltonAnthony@verizon.net

* August 12, 2006, Positive Aging: An Innovative Approach to Counseling Older Adults. An Introductory Workshop that stresses the principles of Positive Aging. 4 CE Credits. 1:00-4:50. Faculty: Robert D. Hill, University of Utah. Pre-conference workshop, American Psychological Association Meetings, New Orleans. www.apa.org/ce. Or call 1-800-374-2721, ext. 5991

*SENIOR THEATRE will be featured at the Summer 2006 conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE). The conference will be held August 3-6 in Chicago at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel.  The sessions will include: using life memories to create productions, directing the mature performer, the history of Senior Theatre, and a Senior Theatre performance. See www.seniortheatre.com for details as they become available.

* 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

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


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May 1, 2006 12:00 am