2008 - July / August

July- August, 2008 Issue 51


July/August, 2008

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 51

In this issue:


September 24-27, 2008:  Hyatt Hotel, Sarasota, FL.Dialogues that Deliver: Generative Practices in Collaboration, Conflict, and
Community.  Sponsored by the Taos Institute, and featuring talks  and workshops with Ken and Mary Gergen and others:  therapists, organizational consultants, educators, and health  practitioners.  For more information and to register go to www.taosInstitute.net  A discount of $100 is offered to our readers.  The discount code is XuBBVX

COMMENTARY: A Wild and Precious Life

Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?
- Mary Oliver

Each of us loves this question, and yet it also makes us shudder a bit.   With some anxiety we ask if we have done enough with the decades already given to us. We hope, perhaps, that if others were to hear us tell our stories, there would be much that was precious, and indeed, an ample supply of advice. At the same time, there is something about the question that also suggest closure. It asks us to think backward from the present moment, as if we had reached the end. As so much of the research we report in this newsletter suggests, this would be unfortunate. Rather, as the common adage goes, we gain in health, energetic engagement and a sense of well-being if we can think about each day as the first day of the rest of our lives. In this way, we ask about the potentials for each day to bring forth flowers of both precious and wild varieties. Ideally no hour should go by in which we cannot find a little gem.. of wisdom, of humor, of love, of action.  If it isn't right there beside us, then we would be well-served by stretching our arms a bit to find it. There is always a piece of chocolate to eat, a hug to share, a thank-you note  to write, a phone call  to a friend,  an instrument to play, a book to open, a putt to make, a sweater to knit, a child to play with, a new recipe to try, a new journey to plan, a neighbor to visit, or a  hammock to swing in. Today, a man in a shop talked about his mother.  She had rented a house in the Alps in Austria and was taking a hiking trip.  He said, she is trying to find her life again.  My Dad died this year, and this is what she's doing to start over.  When I was a baby my folks were tour guides for teenagers, traveling by bus around Europe.  I went on my first trip to France when I was 2 weeks old. Then they stopped touring so they could raise a family and stay in one place for awhile.  I guess my Mom is trying to jump start her life again, going back to where they left off.  This is the first time she's ever been in Austria, so I guess she is starting something new as well. She's not wasting any time discovering herself again. And, when we think of wild, perhaps we should ask what there is about ourselves that could now be discovered. Sometimes we ask ourselves what has been enriching about this day.

Mary and Ken Gergen

RESEARCH: Older Workers are the Best Workers

A common stereotype in the work world is that in most ways young workers are better than the old. They are more motivated, more energetic, more dedicated, and learn more rapidly. The elder worker, according to this stereotype, loses energy and dedication, becomes disinterested,  and more or less just put in the time. To explore these possibilities further, a survey was conducted in health care agencies and nursing homes regarding how workers of various ages performed at their jobs.  These employers compared workers over 55 with those who were younger. The results were dramatic: Older workers were judged as more loyal, independent, knowledgeable, understanding, patient, cooperative, and motivated to do a good job than the younger. They also enjoyed more fully the challenges of caring for the sick, gaining trust of the clients, and communicating well with clients. They were less likely to leave within ten days of training, have background check problems, have problems with outside family respon- sibilities, or be absent. The only significant way in which the older workers were judged negatively was in the fact they were less willing to use the computer!

From: Older workers: An opportunity to expand the long-term care/direct care labor force by Melanie Hwalek, Victoria Straub, & Karen Kosniewski. The Gerontologist, 2008, 48, special Issue 1, 90-103.

RESEARCH: Disability in Late Life: Fact or Fiction?

It is generally believed that old age brings with it increasing disability. We often fear that as we grow very old we may be unable to walk, to see, to hear or that we may lose control of vital functions. How justified are such fears?  In this longitudinal study, Swiss researchers focused on the lives of 340 people, 80-84 years old. Participants included women and men, living in both the city and country, and representing all economic levels. The participants were interviewed annually for many years, up until approximately 8 years before their deaths. Of those who had died, the average age was 87. The major question was one of disability. How often, when, for whom? As the study found, there were no gender differences, no geographic differences, and no urban/rural differences in percentage of the sample who were disabled. Most interesting was that disability did not seem to increase in probability the older one became. It was not the case that the oldest suffered longer periods of disability.  One could be 85 or 80, and age differences did not predict to disability. People who had higher economic class levels postponed disability until the very last year of life. The researchers speculated that the generally high levels of health and the habits of walking to various places in Switzerland helped to keep these octogenarians free from disability. Whether such results are duplicated in other nations remains an open question.
From: Social Status and Mortality with Activity of Daily Living Disability in Later Life by Edith Guilley and Christian J. Lalive Epinay, Journal of
Gerontology, 2008, 61B, S192-S196.



A Singapore based pharmaceutical company has presented data at a medical conference in Chicago that suggests a new way to stop the progression of Alzheimers in its tracks, at least for 19 months according to their research. Director Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, of  Alzheimers research at the National Institute on Aging has agreed, These are the first very positive results we have seen for stopping mental decline. In the study, 321 patients were given a medium dose of Rember or a placebo 3 times a day. Using a test of mental performance, the researchers found that the people on the placebo lost an overage of 7% of brain function over 6 months, and continued to decline thereafter. In contrast, those in the treatment didn't decline at all. People on the mid-level dose remained at their initial level of competence to the end of the study (19 months). While more testing is essential, and it will be awhile until the drug is available to the public, the main chemical in Rember is available now in a prescription drug that has been used occasionally since the 1930's for chronic bladder infections and in methylene blue. It was never tested thoroughly because it predated the FDA, but it may explain why we have had such smart great grandparents, especially if they had bladder problems.

From: Test drug shows promise in halting Alzheimers by Marilynn Marchione,
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 2008, A6.


Researchers at the Harvard School of  Public Health studied 143,000 people average age of 63 over a ten year period.  They found that people who had moderate to vigorous activity levels were 40% less likely to develop Parkinsons disease than those with no or light activity levels.  Exercise is also helpful to those who have Parkinsons disease. While it is unclear what causes Parkinsons Disease, a complex, chronic illness that is related to dopamine levels in the brain, there are drugs and therapies to control symptoms, and recently researchers at Northwestern University hospital have been studying the use of isradipine, a calcium channel blocker used for high blood pressure, to slow or stop the symptoms.
From: What older adults should know about Parkinsons disease by Lisa M. Davila, The Erickson Tribune, September, 2007, pg. 7-8.


Retiree Ronald Tschetter is now director of the Peace Corps after a long career in finance.  His goal is to bring many older people back to work, in one of the 75 foreign countries where the Peace Corp has projects, as a resource that, if tapped, could just bring tremendous value to these countries, he says. Many of the  new volunteers are former Peace Corp members. Veterans of the Corps from 30 years ago, Kenneth and June Nicholson of Vermont are teaching in Bulgaria; Charles Harkness of Minnesota took a challenge from his daughter, and went to Kyrgyzstan to teach.  The Peace Corps has almost 8,000 volunteers, most of whom are in their 20's, but Tschetter wants the baby boomers for their expertise and
experience in agriculture, business, education, energy and health. Recruitment is difficult, but efforts are being made to interest older people to take the fling. "I had a really nice life, but something was missing," said Nancy O'Connell, of North Carolina, who served in Surname in South America in 2003.  The hardest part for O'Connell was learning Dutch, which she did by studying 6 hours a day for 7 weeks. Safety for the volunteers is a primary concern, and a health assessment is made before being assignment to a post. The Peace Corps is willing to work with most problems, if the people are willing, according to Jack Bardon, of Minnesota, who joined with his wife at age 70.

From: Peace Corps is going after U. S. retirees by Brady Averill, Philadelphia
Inquirer, October 16, 2007, C, A8


At the beginning of December 1965, when he was 22, Mick Jagger approached a microphone in a Los Angeles recording studio and, assuming the persona of a woman, made an announcement: what a drag it is getting old. Ironic no more! His state pension is ready for collection next month and in December the elderly citizen Keith Richards will join him in some of the other benefits that retirement age has to offer. There is a mood of optimism, and a belated recognition from the British government last week that older people have a right to everything available to their children. We have softened our belief that retirement is forced upon us at an arbitrary age. Turning 65 is not the thing it was when we were young. In the past 35 years the UK population aged over 65 has grown by 31 per cent, from 7.4 to 9.7 million, and the Office for National Statistics predicts this figure will double in the next 20 years and treble in the next 30. You don't need to work at one of the Saga travel or insurance companies to know that the grey pound is a vibrant force or that the active pensioner isn't confined to the garden centre or bowling green any more. We now know that nothing actually happens at the age of 60 or 65 to prevent anyone participating in extreme sports or attending gigs performed by people they went to school with. The best news may be that the elderly are not a passive, disorganized group any more. In her new book, Not Dead Yet, Julia Neuberger issues a 'manifesto for old age', a call to arms with such chapter titles as 'Don't treat me like I'm not worth repairing' and 'Don't assume I'm not enjoying life, give me a chance'. Among her heroes are elderly parachutists and octogenarian topless sunbathers.
Excerpt from: You Calling us old?  We Never Felt So Young,  by Simon Garfinkel.
Observer, June 29, 2008, pg. 4 Features.


Wellness Made Easy: 365 Tips for Better Health.  A booklet from the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter. To subscribe visit their website: www.WellnessLetter.com

Each month the Berkeley Wellness Letter gives out tips for healthy living.  The following are samples from the advice you will find in the booklet:
  1. Cooked tomatoes, as in tomato sauce, (or as they say in South Philly, red gravy) is even healthier than raw tomatoes.  Add garlic and onions to be even healthier.  And fresh oregano and marjoram are the best herbs for health!
  2. Discard the soaking water from dried peas and beans. This eliminates more than half of the indigestible carbohydrates that cause gas.
  3. When your mouth is on fire from hot pepper, one way to cool it off is to drink milk or a spoonful of yogurt. (In Indian restaurants try the cucumbers and yogurt.)
  4. Two quarts of plain popcorn have the same calories as 20 potato chips.
  5. To prevent dry skin, limit bathing to 15 minutes a day, and favor a tepid shower over a hot bath.  Excessive bathing and use of strong soap washes away the natural oils that trap water in the skin.  Maybe the French have got it right.
  6. If you often encounter aggressive dogs on your exercise route, carry a pop-open umbrella to scare them away (one of the choices.)
  7. Don't worry about swallowing pits, seeds or even apple cores. Think fiber.
  8. If you are scheduled for a PSA test, do not ejaculate for about 48 hours beforehand.  Ejaculation temporarily boosts PSA levels. 
  9. Kissing a boo boo is not a bad idea. Licking a wound helps disinfect it and promotes healing. (warm water is easier.)
  10. Don't warm-up before exercising.  Stretching cold muscles can injure them.  Warming up by jogging in place for 5-10 minutes prepares you for exercise.
Eager for your kisses: Love and Sex at 95.  A film by Liz Cane.
This film documents the determination of a 95 year old man in his efforts to retain a romantic life, including sexual liaisons. After mourning the
loss of his wife of fifty years, Bill Cane, a singer and music teacher found ballroom dancing as a promising way to meet new women.  Singing and wooing went together and Bill produced two new CD’s and found new love.   Available on HS & DVD www.newday.com (1-888-367-9154).

An excellence source of materials on aging can be found through the Ageline database sponsored by AARP. The database includes summaries of more than 90,000 publications (professional & provider publications, general interest & consumer publications) about aging and the 50+ population.

ASPEC  The Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida Sharing Learning, Sharing Lives From the Visual arts to the Culinary Arts, Philosophy to Bicycling, Religions and Faiths to Science and Society, Literature to Laughing Matters, ASPEC Study Groups enrich the minds, hearts and souls of its 300 plus members. We interact regularly with students and faculty of Eckerd College as mentors, colleagues, and friends. Weekly Social Hours at Lewis House on the campus and monthly events at local restaurants provide ASPEC members with the opportunity to socialize with each other and strengthen the ASPEC community.

This website allows members  to plan and share funeral details, including music, form and location of burial with their loved ones.  These people   can have online access to the member's information, including  location  of the will and bank accounts.

is a similar British-based website.  Members of the site can join and share ideas for funeral services, or as one member calls them, ongoing way parties.


Readers ask if they may reprint or circulate materials published in this newsletter. We are most pleased for any expansion in circulation. You are free to use any or all that you find in the newsletter, but trust that you will acknowledge the Newsletter as the source.


Road Scholar offers educational travel adventures designed for Baby Boomers across the globe. Places are discovered through experiential learning, with local resident experts and hands-on activities.  Programs balance scheduled and independent time.  Programs such as whale watching in Baja and wandering in the Swiss countryside have been designed for women only.  Road Scholar is a division of Elderhostel. (1-800-466-7762)November 21-25, 2008: The Gerontological Society of America 61st Annual Scientific Meeting:  Resilience in an Aging Society: Risks and Opportunities.  Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland.  Information and call for papers and online abstract submission form available at www.agingconference.com

September 4-6, 2008, Washington, DC: [email protected] is the title of the annual AARP festival of aging.  Check it out at www.aarp.org/events  or 1-800-883-2784

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