2008 – November / December

November-December, 2008 Issue No 53


November/December, 2008

The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen,
dedicated to productive dialogue between research and practice.
Sponsored by the Taos Institute.


Issue No 53

In this issue:

COMMENTARY: From Turmoil to Tranquility

One of our guiding hopes for this Newsletter is to replace the tendency to view aging in terms of what we lose with an emphasis on what we gain. Among the gains we have reported is a generalized increase in feelings of emotional well-being with age. Replacing the gut wrenching agonies of the earlier years are feelings of greater tranquility. One has a more balanced understanding of life and its ups and downs. Researchers Michaela Riediger and Alexandra Freund now add a new dimension to the earlier work. Daily life in the adult world is often one of breathless turmoil. It is not simply that one so often feels “behind” in one’s work, but there is never time enough to care for family and friends, for attending to one’s personal needs, for repair and upkeep of one’s living place or possessions, and this is to say nothing of planning for a vacation or one’s financial or professional future. The personal investments are enormous, and we are spread all too thin. Particularly agonizing for many is the sense of unrest that accompanies virtually all one’s activities. Time and effort devoted to one need, desire, or ideal are always at the cost of something else. Catching up on work is often at the expense of family; time with family may mean the loss of friends; immersion in the social world means no time for personal needs, and so on. It is here that the research of Riediger and Freund is very helpful. In two studies, with over 140 participants ranging in age from 20-70 years of age, the researchers took measures of motivational conflict (i.e. the feeling that one wants to or should be doing something else in a given situation). As both studies demonstrated, such conflicts tend to disappear with increasing years. Possibly there are fewer tasks or commitments as one ages, and more time available. Further, one may have learned to move more gracefully and confidently through a multiplicity of motivational goals. These researchers also took measures of emotional well-being. Similar to preceding studies, these measures also showed increases in feelings of well-being with age. And, most significantly, the increase in feelings of well-being were correlated with reductions in motivational conflict. So, although the end of year activities and demands may extrordinary, for our younger readers, there is a lightness of being ahead.

Ken and Mary Gergen
From: Riediger, M. and Freund, A.M. (2008) Me against myself: Motivational conflicts and emotional development in adulthood. Psychology and Aging, 23, 479-494.

RESEARCH: Beliefs in Benevolence: A Revitalization?

One common view is that as people age they also become less idealistic and more skeptical about the world. They have witnessed so much intolerance, avarice, and deception in their lives, and have seen so many hopeful movements fail, that their high hopes for humankind are now jaded. Little can be done; there is no use trying. And of course, with this attitude one’s sense of well-being is diminished. But is this common view accurate? This research set out to explore what they called “World Benevolence Beliefs,” that is, a belief in a kind and generous world, as they changed over the life-span. A large sample of people answered questions on the internet about their beliefs in benevolence. In addition to these questions, demographic information on gender, age, race, ethnicity, education and income was obtained. People also rated their lifetime mental health, lifetime and recent negative events in their lives, and questions about their life satisfaction. The results of the study were revealing. First of all, the researchers found that beliefs in benevolence did not decrease over the life-span. On the contrary, they increased. Second, and more to be expected, there was a positive relationship between these beliefs and feelings of life satisfaction. Looking on the bright side seems to be a general orientation. Interestingly, feelings of benevolence were higher among those who had lost their partners in the distant past. Is this to say that negative life-experiences simply fail to be registered in the outlook of the aging? Not exactly. Those in lower economic or minority group status did score lower in their beliefs in benevolence. However, it is interesting to ask, in this case, if the move into the “third age” may not be accompanied by a revitalization of idealism? With the advent of grand children, hope may be rekindled; with time available to join in worthy causes, one sees the possibility for change. For many, the election of a new American president also brings a sense of hope to those of all ages, but especially to older generations who have witnessed the ups and downs of politics and public life many times.

From: World Benevolence Beliefs and Well-Being Across the Life Span by Michael Poulin & Roxane Cohen Silver. Psychology and Aging, 2008, 23, 13-23.

RESEARCH: Drinking to Your Health

The medical community has a tendency to warn people about the dangers of drinking alcohol. Especially in American culture, the puritanical tradition supports the reluctance of many to sanction activities tinged with stains of “immorality.” Despite this tendency, recent research indicates that moderate alcohol consumption on a regular basis, especially for women over 65, is associated with better self-perceived health status, improved cardiovascular health, and lower rates of hospitalization. For women in particular, one or two drinks a day was related positively to their perception of their health. Up to three drinks per day was associated with increasing levels of cardiovascular health and with lower rates of hospitalization. No effects, either way, were found for the men in this study, although other studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption produces a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, and early death among men and women. These findings were the result of the analysis of data from the National Epidemiological survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a nationally representative sample of approximately 8,000 individuals. What good news this is for holiday merry-makers!

From: Alcohol consumption and health among elders by Ana I. Balsa, Jenny F. Homer, Michael F. Fleming, & Michael T. French. The Gerontologist, 48, 622-636.

Comic Relief: Humor and Stress in Retirement
For many, retirement can be a stressful transition. Good coping skills are much appreciated. One skill that is often overlooked is that of finding the humor in life. As this research also indicates, all humor is not the same in its potentials. In this study 138 retired individuals completed a humor measure, which tapped both positive and negative forms of humor. On the one hand there was Self Enhancing Humor (e.g., “I intend to live forever. So far, so good”); this type contrasted with Aggressive Humor (e.g., “Stupidity is not a handicap. Park somewhere else”). The participants also completed surveys regarding retirement stress and daily life hassles. Results of the study indicated that for both men and women, increased reliance on Self Enhancing Humor was related to less intense daily hassle ratings and lower levels of stress. Researchers also found that the use of Self Enhancing Humor was associated with the ease of navigating daily frustrations (waiting in line, listening to noisy neighbors, being stuck in traffic). While men used Aggressive Humor more often than women, the women seemed to suffer its consequences more fully. Females who use this style reported higher stress scores on both retirement stress and daily hassles measures. These findings imply that Self Enhancing Humor, in particular, may be the best medicine for alleviating stress for retirees. As with all research, one must be careful of alternative explanations. For example, it may simply be that individuals who report less stress tend to use more positive humor styles.
From: Freeman, G. P., & Ventis, W. L. (2008, July). Humor styles and retirement: The impact of humor on retirement stress and life hassles. Paper presented at the 20th Annual International Society of Humor Studies Conference, Alcala de Henares, Spain.

In the News

The Purpose Prize is awarded to individuals 60 or older who are producing significant social innovation and accomplishing work of great importance. These award winners, while fashioning a new vision of the second half of life, are applying the expertise and talent of a lifetime in order to address challenges in our communities, our country, and the world. They are living proof that aging does not equal stagnation and decline, that later life is a time of innovation, productivity, and creativity as rich as the younger years.In 2006 Civic Ventures, launched a major initiative to honor this new generation of social innovators. The Civic Ventures initiative also includes building a national network of socially engaged leaders. At the heart of the effort is The Purpose Prize. These are a few of the 2008 winners: Arlene Blum, a UC Berkeley chemist, who discovered that her cat had become ill from absorbing a fire retardant chemical in her couch. She began a campaign against the use of certain chemicals in consumer products. Blum is working to bring all sides to the table for policies and regulations that protect human and environmental health. Her approach led to a recent victory that kept 1.7 billion pounds of chemicals out of electronic equipment made worldwide, and she is pressing California regulators to reduce toxic fire-retardant chemicals in furniture and children’s products. Her Green Science Policy Institute is a new model for engaging industry, scientists, governments and nonprofits in mutually beneficial research to support healthy communities. Jock Brandis, Wilmington, NC: A film lighting director by trade, Brandis decided to invent a nut sheller after a trip to Africa, where he learned that the people didn’t have anything to crack the shells of their cash crop of nuts. His Universal Nut Sheller, built for $28, is now revolutionizing work in developing countries by cutting down on labor hours and allowing farmers to increase their profits. Village incomes are up 20 percent, according to some studies. Brandis’s organization, The Full Belly Project, has placed machines in 17 countries, created similar machines for other products, and trained aspiring social entrepreneurs to locally manufacture and distribute the machines.Michelle McRae, Fargo, ND: A federal resettlement program has delivered thousands of refugees from more than 40 war-torn countries to the Fargo area. Immigrants from Iraq and Somalia arrive with little knowledge of English, and no ideas as to how to apply for a job, food stamps or a driver’s license. McRae, a retired language professor, has brought local residents and the refugees together to ease the transition – for everyone. She took a small pilot project engaging older adults as tutors for new Americans and turned it into a volunteer operation of more than 500 people who teach not only basic language skills, but also help the refugees get their GEDs, pass driver’s license exams, find jobs and more. Giving+Learning is breaking down barriers across age, culture, race and ethnicity. It’s the American dream in the plains of North Dakota.

In the News


Despite the media blitz of the last several weeks, the economic fate of retirees is not as dire as predicted. Three reasons not to be so worried about financial affairs after retirement:
1. You lost less than you think. While the stock market has been down 40% this year, one would imagine that retirees have a portfolio that is more balanced than simply owning stocks. When one has bonds and cash in the retirement mix, the losses from stocks might total something closer to 30%. While that is not good news, many retirees have a smaller percentage in stocks than what the younger buyer might have. Thus, it is more likely that the loss is closer to 20%. (And if one doesn’t sell, it might turn around before it is spent.) 
2. The worst is over. The stock market tends to be a predictive measure, looking forward to the future. The economic crisis is already in its 16th month, although most people were not aware of it right away. Now, we are at least four months into the worst of it. Yet, Warren Buffett is now making stock investments, in order to capitalize on the turn-around that he is anticipating over the long haul. Selling after such a big decline is not reasonable for most people. It is important to be ready to invest more in the market, or the rise will catch one off-guard when it comes along.
3. You need less savings. Prices are being slashed on most things. The inflation that is normally a problem for retirees is not so likely to be bothersome. According to some experts, the major enemy of retirement is inflation, not the stock market decline. Living in a time of low inflation is lucky, despite the current market crisis. We may have an advantage once we figure out how to live within our means. From: Don’t Panic, Retirees! 
By Dan Kadlec, Time, December 8, 2008, pg. 58.
Listening to and playing music can greatly help people with Parkinson’s disease and those recovering from strokes to improve their physical health. “We see patients develop something like an auditory timing mechanism. Someone who is frozen can immediately release and begin walking. Or if they have balance problems, they can coordinate their steps to synchronize with the music,” said Oliver Sacks, neurologist and professor at Columbia University. The area of the brain that processes music also overlaps with speech networks, which is why neurologists recommend music therapy to re-train people to speak. Music also helps reduce stress and anxiety which in turn relieves depression, improves communication and stimulates memory.
From the Denverpost.com, September 8, 2008
Forget the treadmill and the barbells for encouraging fitness. The latest idea in exercise is called Plyometrics, which means using your own body weight as the instrumental source. Simply put, we are encouraged to return to some childhood play. Jumping, hopping and skipping are all forms of exercise that increase muscle power, strength and explosiveness. A study at Loughborough University in England found that regular hopping was among the best ways for women to improve their bone density. The amount and strenuousness of the plyometric activity depends upon the condition of one’s joints, so don’t stress your knees or hips. The following are some ways do plyometric exercises. 
– Climbing upstairs two at a time
– Drop jumping: Stand on a box a few inches off the ground. Drop to the ground and then jump upwards and forwards as high as you can. Repeat 10 times (or less)
– Skipping: The U.S. National Institute of Health claims that skipping burns more calories than any other popular exercise except running. Start with a one to three ratio. For every minute skipping, rest for three. 
– Lateral hops: Place an object by your right foot. Hop over it to the left then back again. Do this 15 times, if you can. Then repeat this with your left foot.
From: Plyometrics by Peta Bee. The London Times, July 14, 2008, 12

Web Resources

If conducted with care and skill, conversations – especially between two people – can be a great source of energy, optimism, and creativity. They can also build awareness of competence and personal resources. The purpose of the website is to help people to participate and lead in inspiring conversations http://conversationsthatinspire.wetpaint.com.
A new Medicare website with information on navigating Medicare, health care services, and has links to partner organizations that assist caregivers and personal caregiver anecdotes. This is a one-stop resource for caregivers: http://www.medicare.gov/campaigns/caregiver/caregiver.html. 
This web-based service allows people who are dealing with end-of-life issues to leave a special gift of their choosing, known only to the giver, a trusted family member or friend, and those offering the service. The recipient is unaware of the gift until it is presented to them at a specified time after the passing of the gift giver. www.myhiddenlegacy.com.
It is difficult to keep abreast of research on aging? And it’s not always easy to get past the jargon of specialists. But help is on the way. Summaries of aging research published in peer-reviewed academic journals are now available for non-specialists at the ART (Aging Research Translator) website. The site has been created with community-based practitioners in mind. The ART website was developed by Cornell University researchers and helps make available the latest findings from the academic world. news.aarp.org/UM/T.asp?A910.52852.7401.2.3321137

Readers Respond

Ed Menaker, at Terra Nova Films shares news of a significant new departure:I wanted to tell you about our new all-video caregiving site at www.videocaregiving.org. Our hope is that it can become a powerful new resource for the at- home family caregiver. The site features videos in two different areas– Alzheimer’s and General Caregiving. Award-winning journalist and documentary producer Bill Kurtis introduces the user to the site and speaks to the importance of the storytelling power of these documentary videos.

We’re very proud of our work to this point, but hope that we are only at the beginning of what can be one of the most unique and important caregiving sites on the web.

Open Invitation

Readers often 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

February 26-March 1, 2009: Deep in the Heart of Aging, Promoting Healthy Futures Through Education and Training sponsored by AGHE (Association for Gerontology in Higher Education) San Antonio, TX. Crowne Plaza Hotel-Riverwalk 

March 15-18, 2009: Aging in America, a conference sponsored by ASA-NCOA, to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Offers a comprehensive educational program and dynamic networking opportunities. Plenary sessions feature Debby Reynolds and Louis Gossett Jr.
 For more information: www.agingconference.org/asav2/conf/jc/jc09/index2.cfm

Information for Readers

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November 1, 2008 12:00 am