2008 – March / April

March- April, 2008 Issue 49


March/April, 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 49

In this issue:

SPECIAL OFFER TO OUR READERSSeptember 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: The Creative Age

To us, the concept of the “third age” is a chronological term, without specific qualities. We propose to define it as “the creative age.” This conclusion was prompted this last month by a provocative critique of “retirement” published in the Baltimore Sun on March 26. As Andrew L. Yarrow, a professor of history at American University, wrote, “Retiring when you’re still in good health isn’t just wrong, it’s profoundly selfish and unpatriotic…Dropping out of the workforce while still in one’s prime means ending one’s contributions to America’s strength, mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s future, and leeching trillions of taxpayer dollars from the economy… If millions of Americans worked until age 67 instead of 62…[they] would increase national output and personal wealth and keep the labor force at a healthy level.”

These were strong words, but they were met with some fierce rebuttals from contributors to Encore.com, where they had been highlighted. As one reader wrote, “How times change! It used to be that people were encouraged to retire as soon as they reached the statutory age so as to ‘get out of the way’ of younger workers… Now we’re ‘unpatriotic’ if, after slogging away in the work force for 40 or 50 years, we want to devote our remaining years of good health to traveling or pursuing our hobbies … give me a break!!” Another was more indignant,” “I had to laugh after reading Andy Yarrow’s plea to keep the shoulder to the wheel until age 65 or longer. He’s got a cushy University job while the rest of us blue collar types work in physically punishing jobs. He is the classic case of an egghead who doesn’t even know where eggs come from…an older person who wants to get the hell out of the rat-race should be able to do so when they want to.” However, one further comment seemed most compelling,” Seniors can become extremely productive without having to associate with the corporate lifestyle. We need to see a paradigm shift for seniors from basically consumption efforts to more creative and productive projects. This new direction can always be combined with family, leisure or any ‘other’ pleasurable retirement activities.

With this comment, the image of the creative age becomes clearer. Provided one has the financial security, the years following a full-blown career offer an unprecedented period in which one can envision, explore, and create a richly fulfilling lifestyle. As survey research indicates, the majority of those working in the private sector would prefer work that more directly benefits society. The creative age offers just such possibilities. As it now stands, those in the creative age already contribute enormously to the well-being of their children, grand-children, and their communities. And, as we see it, exploring the world, developing new skills, meeting new challenges, savoring these joys, and sharing our enthusiasm with those around us, is the ideal scenario for the “creative age.”

Mary and Ken Gergen

RESEARCH: The Blessings of Helping Out “the Kids”

In previous issues of the newsletter we have reported on research suggesting that altruism benefits both the giver and the receiver. Recent research continues to build the case. In one study researchers asked 632 Americans to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5. They were also asked to report their annual income and how much money they spent on various items, including buying gifts for others and giving to charity. The research indicated that personal spending was unrelated to happiness; spending or saving are roughly equal in their implications for immediate happiness. However, the more people spent on others, the greater their happiness. In another study 16 employees of a Boston company were followed after each had received a profit-sharing bonus. They were asked about how happy they were one month before the bonus, and after 6-8 weeks. Those who spent more of their bonus on others were happier than those who spent less. Giving to others seemed to have a strong positive influence on feelings of happiness, more powerful, in fact, than giving a gift to oneself.

Most interesting, however, is a recent study on an increasingly prevalent phenomenon: Parents who find themselves giving material support to adult children. Most parents feel that their grown children should be self-supporting; their parental responsibilities have been fulfilled. Yet, the issue has become more complex in these stressful economic times. In this longitudinal study the participants were 304 parents, ages 50-72, mostly from white middle and working-class families. Researchers measured symptoms of depression at a starting point, then three and six years later. Each parent was matched with one of their children, chosen at random. Researchers were interested in the extent to which the child was reliant on the parent for instrumental support. This type of support included money and other material benefits. Would parents who materially supported their adult children become more depressed?

In fact, the opposite proved to be the case. After controlling for such things as age, gender, income, self-rated health, and the child’s depressive symptoms, the researchers discovered that parents were less likely to be depressed if they were materially supporting their children in some way. Being supportive in other ways, such as giving complements or encouragement, was not found to contribute significantly to the parents’ mental health. The researchers suggest that for parents, being useful to their children and having their children acknowledge this support, are highly influential in giving parents a sense of fulfillment. Parents may gain from being nurturing– even if it is materially costly – no matter now old their children are.

From: When Parents Matter to their Adult Children” Filial Reliance Associated with Parents’ Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Gerontology, PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 2008, 63B, P33-P40.
&Science and Bible agree: It is better to give by Randolph E. Schmid, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 2008, A13.

RESEARCH: Writing and Stress Reduction

Research is continuing to indicate that the weight of one’s misfortunes and stresses can be reduced by putting them into words. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association adds to the accumulated research. In this case researchers found that writing down details about particularly stressful events can improve the health of patients who suffer from asthma and arthritis. In the study, the participants were divided into two groups. One group simply wrote about their plans for the day. Patients in the other group wrote about their feelings surrounding a stressful event in their lives. All of the people continued their regular medical treatment, and had their condition evaluated at two weeks, two months, and four months. Researchers found that 47% of the patients who wrote about their feelings showed improvement while only 24% of the other group did.

In another study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers examined the effect of writing about a traumatic event. In this study, some participants wrote about their thoughts and feelings surrounding the trauma. Others simply wrote factually about the daily news. Those who focused on thoughts and feelings developed a sense that the stressful event had even produced positive effects in their lives. As Vickie Beck, a nurse psychotherapist at the University of Maryland, concluded from her related work, “Journal writing is not for everyone but for many it can be cathartic, insightful, and even fun. It can be shared or kept private, and still be beneficial as a tool for therapy. And long after therapy is needed, it can still be utilized to maintain health.”

From: Journal Writing: A Prescription for Good Health by Marla Hardee Milling in Writing Helps Chronic Conditions from www.beliefnet.com.

RESEARCH: How Long do you Want to Live?

We often think that most people would like to live “forever”. Medical science is committed in many ways to sustaining life for as long as possible. Yet, only recently have researchers begun to ask people to speak about their own desires for longevity. In this study 1200 German adults of all ages were asked in a telephone interview how long they would like to live. Regardless of the age of the respondent, the most popular age was 85. How interested people were in the scientific study of aging varied; for those who were interested, the news from the scientific community about longevity was influential in affecting the answer to the question of how long one might want to live. In a second study, done with a face-to-face computer-assisted interview, people were also asked about their interest in news from the scientific community about longevity. Not surprisingly, those who wanted news also wanted to live longer. Many participants expressed a strong desire to control the “when and how” of one’s death. 75% of the men and 80% of the women agreed they would like to decide when and how to die. This desire was not related to the age of the participant.

Sadly, Paul B. Baltes, the Principal Investigator on this project and a major contributor to the field of gerontology, died on November 7, 2006.

From: Desired Lifetime and End-of-Life Desires Across Adulthood from 20 to 90: A Dual-Source Information Model by Frieder R. Lang, Paul B. Baltes, and Gert G. Wagner. Journal of Gerontology: PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES., 2007, 62B, 268-276.

In the News

HI HO, BACK TO WORK WE GO“In the next 10 years, the number of 55-plus workers is expected to grow at more than five times the rate of the overall workforce,” according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2006 almost one in three adults in their late sixties was working, up from one in five in 1985. Government agencies and private enterprises are searching for older workers to fill their skilled jobs. Many older people are returning to schools and workshops to hone their skills in new or forgotten areas. For example, Art Nied, a former data analyst, spent two years studying aviation technology at a local community college, and is now repairing private jets. The federal government is eager to hire more 50-plus workers. They are joining AARP’s National Employer Team to fill their vacant job slots (see www.aarp.org/employerteam).

If you do look for new work, there is the financial side to consider. A home care aide’s hourly wage is at the lower end at $9.70. Retail sales is not much better at $10.33 on hour. Veterinary assistance, pharmacy technicians, customer service representatives, and auto mechanics make around $14 an hour. MRI technicians, Account executives, RNs and dental hygienists average about $29 an hour, and database administrators top the scale at $41. Of course, money is not the only object, as Art Nied’s case suggests. With one career at an end, it is time to make choices based on many other factors, especially personal fulfillment.

From Your Money by Elizabeth Pope, AARP Bulletin, March, 2008

SHALL WE DANCE? (OR WALK, OR GOLF, OR…)“Life would be just great…except for the arthritic pain in my knee or my hip.” This is a familiar theme among our friends. Today the possibility of getting a knee or hip replacement is one that both attracts people, and puts them off. Recent advances in the surgery have made the option of joint replacement available to most people of all ages. One reason replacements are better is that the manufacturers are now making many more different sizes of knee and hip parts. One size does not fit all. New ways of making bones grow also has improved the hip operation, and making a small incision (three inches instead of 12) helps as well. Using an epidural sedation instead of general anesthetic for surgery is also useful, and pain management has become a higher art. Patients often get out of bed the same day of surgery, and that helps with healing as well. The benefits of having pain free knees or hips allows people a whole new lease on life, in terms of mobility. Dancing, golf, and walking become sources of pleasure, not sites of pain.

From: Shall we dance? (or golf? Or walk?) by Wendy J. Meyeroff. The Erickson Tribune, March, 2008, 8.

MENTAL IMPAIRMENT: ON THE DECLINEUniversity of Michigan researchers interested in cognitive capacity have studied the intellectual abilities of 11,000 Americans over 70 over a nine year period. Somewhat surprisingly, they found that over the years, the rate of significant cognitive impairment, including various forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, has diminished from 12% to 8.7%. over the nine years It is not clear why fewer older people seem to be having cognitive difficulties, but the researchers suggest that as more people are engaging in mentally stimulating activities and physical exercise (which enhances circulation in the body), the better they perform on these assessments.

From: Senior Memories by Alice Park, Time, March 10, 2008

TIPS FOR THE HEALTHY AND WISETips to be Healthy and Wise (if not Wealthy)

1. Spend part of your evening away from the “tube”. People who watched TV or used a computer more than three hours per evening are more likely than others to report insufficient sleep even if they slept only slightly less than their non-“Tubing” comparisons, according to a study done in Japan.2. Eat your spinach! People who eat their spinach, romaine, tomatoes (or watermelon) had higher scores on IQ tests than those who didn’t, according to a study conducted in France.3. Get a new hip, if you need one, even if you are 100, according to research in the U.S. People who live that long deserve it.4. Read this newsletter! Reading and understanding health-related information is good for longevity, according to a study at Northwestern University. “Among people 65 and older, during a six-year study, the risk of dying was 50% lower for those who had scored in the “adequate’ range on a health-literacy test than for those who were in the ‘inadequate’ range.

From: Research by Melissa Gotthardt, AARP Magazine, January & February, 2008

Book & Film Review

What Color is your Parachute for Retirement: Planning Now for the Life You Want by Richard N. Bolles & John E. Nelson. 2007. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Most of us are familiar with the book, “What Color is My Parachute?” the classic book about career and life transitions. The present book is focused on these issues for people over 50. Co-authored by Richard Bolles, the author of “Parachute books” and John Nelson, an expert on gerontology, it is a serious exploration of all facets of life transition, from money matters, working, and social and intimate relations to housing, health, and wellbeing. In order to plan for your future, the authors stress the need to carefully reconstruct your past. Who have you been, what have you done, where do your passions lie? Readers fill in forms, assess their own skills and interests, and put together portraits of themselves from the choices they make.

In one chapter, for example, readers learn to bring forth an awareness of their life strengths, which may be about transcendence, wisdom, humanity, justice, courage, or temperance. Another chapter focuses on your ideal place to retire. Where do you want to live, and how? In the end the reader is guided toward making a life-plan that takes into account all the choices that preceded it. Not only are readers encouraged to do this, but to share their plans with those who are closely connected to them in their everyday life. One important lesson of the book is that life is not lived alone, but rather, retirement is a joint undertaking of all the significant people in one’s life.

This book is a good investment for people who need some prodding to think ahead to their future lives, the “fourth movement” as in a symphony, according to the authors. While unanticipated events and lucky breaks, as well as unexpected mishaps, will be a part of this new phase of life, some preparation helps to keep the unknowns from growing too large.

Film: Still Doing It: The Intimate Lives of Women Over 65

This film explores the lives of nine older women (67-87) as they talk about sex and love in later life. According to one reviewer “it’s touching, humorous, and most of all, gives an aging nation hope for more fun in the future.” Check it out at www.Stilldoingit.com.

Readers Respond

* Connie Goldman writes:
Information about me, my public radio broadcasts and five books — all on the changes and challenges of aging are available on my website www.congoldman.org.
* Betty Greenberg writes:
I am 83 yrs old and have been going for therapy for over 4 yrs and find it so helpful in learning to “grow” and being able to see things in different perspectives. This truly enhances my life and helps me to accept changes more readily. Your articles are great and present, for me, not only a positive outlook but also a realistic one. I thank you!!

* Barbara Beizer of Washington, D.C. writes:
I am a 65 year old woman, and would like to see more studies on how other women feel for whom the aging process is positive in terms of their appreciation of their own physical appearance.

I never thought of myself as attractive, and did not view the world through that lens, nor did others respond to me in that way. It took a long time for me to become comfortable with my body (even though I was tall – 5’9″ – and thin; voted “best figure” in my high school senior year book), and even longer to be okay with my face. Now that I am older I find myself without the self-consciousness that plagued my earlier years, and in that way, now experience others more fully and with much more appreciation. This change has evolved through ongoing inner reflection and therapy.

Another phenomenon I’d like to see discussed is the ability to change and adapt to new circumstances. I find that I am a very adaptable person (there is a lot of evidence for this observation); however, what I also know is that I am simply tired of reinventing and renewing certain things, mostly at work where there is a continuous cycle of change brought about by new leaders and market conditions- change which has the ring of age-old underlying principles, but which is wrapped in new trappings, mostly technology, but maybe also just the latest colors of slick marketing.

A few of the ways in which I seek and make change happen include: the reawakened perspective that comes with a child discovering the world, playing tennis a few times a week with the intention of learning and getting better every time, reaching out to meet new people on a frequent basis, and traveling to remote places to be immersed, however briefly, in and touched by the life lived by others who are different from me.

So, I’d like to see more information on the shape of change as older people experience it. Thanks again, and best wishes for a healthy and content new year.

Open Invitation

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.

Announcements and Upcoming Events

June 19 – 22, 2008: Wisdom of the Heart: From Age-ing To Sage-ingThis workshop presents a new vision of growing older based on the Spiritual Eldering work of Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. It empowers us to harvest the wisdom of our life experience; face our mortality and learn from it; mature in our relationships; develop a regenerative spirit; and take active leadership roles in society. Taught by Shaya Isenberg and Bahira Sugarman. www.elatchayyim.org — 800-398 2630, Elat Chayyim Spiritual Retreat Center, Falls Village, Ct.

June 20, 22: San Luis Obispo, CA: Spirit, Service and Community in the Second Half of Life . Join Second Journey founder Bolton Anthony, philosopher John Sullivan and Chris Kennedy for a stimulating morning of exploration, followed by an afternoon of World Café conversation. See SecondJourney.org/Calif.htm for further information and to register.

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 atwww.agingconference.com.

Information for Readers

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