2008 – September / October

September – October, 2008 Issue 52


September/October, 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 52

 Wall Street Journal announces that the Positive Aging Newsletter is:
              Sept. 13, 2008

In this Issue:

COMMENTARY: Meaning in Life

The two of us are in high spirits as we drive through the countryside,
stopping at designated houses, to “get out the vote.” We chat with each
other about how important it is that our candidate be elected, and how
worthwhile it is to sacrifice our normal routine to make even a small
difference. And then , on election night, we join the millions who
celebrate an election outcome that spells hope for the country and
possibly for the world. These have been weeks of high drama indeed.
Yet, these weeks also allow us to consider the perennial question of
what gives life meaning. We have been taught to look inward to find
what is important in our lives. What gives life purpose is supposed to
be found in the hidden reaches of the interior. Yet, when we consider
the enthusiastic sense of purpose demonstrated during these past weeks,
we find this traditional view quite lacking. For the two of us, the
importance of the election was not born in some isolated region of the
brain, but was kindled within our relationships. This was not
inspiration, or a spiriting within, but the result of spirited
discussion with friends and colleagues. Is this same relational process
not the origin of whatever joy we derive from our professional work?
And in our private lives? Even in bearing children and raising them to
adults, isn’t the sense of fulfillment provided by a longstanding
tradition that endows these activities with value?In effect, if the day
is to be filled with a sense of excitement as opposed to boredom or
depression, significant relationships are essential. There are
important implications here for the aging process. With retirement one
often exits a network of significant relationships; when children leave
the nest an absence also results; and the death of those near and dear
can be the loss of relationship. All such losses may bring about a loss
in life’s meaning. This first suggests that one should nurture and
cherish existing relationships. Taking one’s relationships for granted
or letting them deteriorate through disuse or abuse is an invitation to
ennui. Nor should one view the cast of significant others as solidified
somewhere during the middle years. Rather, as one grows older the
possibilities for new and life-giving connections should remain ever
open.  The same may be said for one’s interests, hobbies, and
activities. Exploring new vistas of interest will often expand the sea
of relationship. By nurturing and expanding relationships, the drama of
life will remain robust.

Ken and Mary Gergen

RESEARCH: Adjusting to Retirement

The challenge of retiring from a career is complex, particularly in
light of the needs of both the workplace and the workers. We have
continued to feature insights into these issues. A study of 778 older
Dutch workers offers valuable food for thought. This study focused on
1) their satisfaction with life, and 2) their  adjustment to their new
status. (As the researchers reasoned, adjustment requires acceptance of
a new social role,
whether or not one is satisfied with it.) Originally studied before
retirement in 1995, the participants were again interviewed in 2001,
after retirement. The major findings on feelings of satisfaction were
straight forward: Having “enough” money, being in good health, and
having a good marriage all contributed to feeling satisfied after
retirement. This was the case for both men and women. However, in terms
of  “ease of adjustment,” the researchers were surprised to find that
the factors involving satisfaction were of minor importance.  Factors
that most significantly affected adjustment included:

– VOLUNTARY DEPARTURE. Whether the retirement was voluntary. People who
chose the timing of  their retirement were most well-adjusted to their
new role. Involuntary retirement made adjustment more difficult.
– WORK STRESS. One could look forward to retirement from a stressful
job. It proved more difficult to adjust to retirement if work was
intrinsically satisfying.
– GENDER. Dutch women had a more difficult time adjusting than men. In
part this was because women who had careers in the Netherlands, tended
to be deeply committed to them.
– PRE-RETIREMENT ACTIVITY. One of the most useful findings from the
study indicated that pre-retirement engagement in volunteer work had a
strong beneficial effect on adjustment to retirement

From: Adjustment to and Satisfaction with Retirement: Two of a Kind? By
Hanna van Solinge & Kene Henkens.  Psychology and Aging.  2008,

RESEARCH: The Aging Brain in Question

In his new book, The Brain That Changes Itself, (Penguin) American psychiatrist Norman Doidge, has
again brought forth one of the favored argument in this newsletter,
that the brain is a flexible, renewable, retrainable organ, and that if
we do exercises to enhance its capacity, significant development and
wonderful recoveries can occur. This article, appearing in a British
newspaper, suggested that in the U.K., the idea that the brain has
these capacities is largely absent from mainstream medical thinking. Of
special import is Dr. Doidge’s contention that people who have suffered
strokes may well be able to regain lost capacities through exercising
the brain. One of the case studies in the book is the story of Stanley
Karansky, who began to worry at the age of 90 that he was slipping
cognitively. He had retired from medical practice at 70, then took
another degree and continued in medicine until he was 80. At 89 he
found that his speech was becoming less fluent, his driving was
deteriorating, and he found himself withdrawing from social life. So,
at the age of 90 he began an auditory memory program and increased his
time playing games on his computer; he worked on these exercises for 75
minutes, three times a week for three months. After six weeks, he began
to feel more alert, and the motor and social deterioration that he had
noted began to subside. He thought his social interactions and
communication skills had improved, and even his handwriting looked
better. This success story is one of many that have been reported in
various ways in scientific and public media outlets in recent years. To
what extent people with cognitive decline and strokes can be helped
remains an open question.  However, it certainly seems worth the
trouble to engage in these types of mental “workouts”, and they offer a
good excuse to play suduko without feeling guilty.

From: Brain, Heal Thyself  by Penny Wark.  The Times, September 8, 2008, 10-11.


We can all appreciate how the sounds of a calming voice or of ocean
waves lapping against the shore might help us to relax. They can also
help to lower blood pressure, as new research has shown. Jean Tang,
from the College of Nursing at Seattle University, and her colleagues
have demonstrated that the systematic exposure to such sounds may help
those suffering from high blood pressure. These researchers studied the
effects of listening to a relaxing CD on 42 older men and women with
hypertension. (Hypertension is defined as a condition in which the
blood pressure tends to remain over 140/90.) Half of participants were
asked to listen to the 12-minute-long relaxation CD, while the
remaining participants were asked to listen to a 12-minute-long CD of a
Mozart sonata. Both groups were asked to listen to the CD three times a
week for four months. Results showed that blood pressure dropped by an
average 6.4% in those listening to the relaxation CD, compared with
nearly 5% in those who listened to the Mozart CD. It has been suggested
that small reductions such as these in systolic blood pressure would
result in a 9% reduction in coronary heart disease related death and
14% reduction in stroke related death. According to Tang, in a news
release issued by the American Heart Association, “Higher systolic
blood pressure is very prevalent in the elderly population. This
program may provide yet another way to help manage hypertension in
conjunction with medication, lifestyle changes, exercise, diet and
stress management.”??

From: Presentation by Jean Tang at the American Heart Association’s
62nd Annual Fall Conference of the Council for High Blood Pressure
Research, 2008.?


For a brief look at a tv program about aging on which we were guests,
you may go to the website below.  We talk about changing the stereotype
of aging. http://www.securepathbytransamerica.com/app/


In a ten year long study, researchers at the University of Minnesota
have found  that people who care for cats are 40% less likely to die of
a heart attack than people without pets.  Petting a cat seems to reduce
stress and anxiety, which helps avoid heart problems.  Similar findings
have already been established for dogs.  From: Fluffy to the Rescue by
Melissa Gotthardt, AARP September/October, 2008,
pg. 28.


The job prospects are bright, now, for various skilled positions, and
by 2014 the country will need 900,000 engineers and 3.5 million new
teachers, trainers and researchers, and 1.2 million registered nurses.
As employers get the picture that older workers are better workers,
(and research suggests that they are more knowledgeable, loyal, and
reliable than younger workers), there will be more and more incentives
to find, keep and hire them. This suggests that older workers can call
the shots as to their working conditions. At Penn State University, for
example, the provost’s office has initiated a program where full
professors who have retired are now encouraged to return to their
departments to teach a course in return for a modest research stipend. 
Recently at the Brandywine campus, three professors retired, and all
three were back teaching a class the following year. This was a boon to
the students, the faculty, and the budget of the campus. One of the
facets of careering that is especially exciting is the chance to shift
one’s area of expertise. Sheila Umlauf, of Seattle decided at age 60
that after raising four sons and retiring from a nursing career she
would follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. Although at
first she was afraid her age would be a detriment to her studies, she
soon discovered that she was in fine shape to succeed. Three years
later, and with the bar exam behind her, she was ready to begin her new
profession. However, instead of taking a regular job, she decided to do
pro bono legal work, especially helping women and low-income elderly
with their cases. Today she said, “At 82, I am still enjoying
volunteering. An added bonus is having younger friends as well as the
opportunity to work with such a diversity of people in a
community”Braving a New World by Elaine Chao, AARP Bulletin, Sept.,
2007, pg. 32. Intelligent retirement planning: Its about more than
money by John Trauth & Alan Bernstein, Aging Today,  July-August,
2007, p. 11

* PAUL  NEWMAN (1925-2008)

Creating a world of positive aging requires its models, and in this
respect we owe much to the life of actor, Paul Newman. Many of us in
the Baby Boomer and plus generations always have had a special
attraction to Newman, who recently died of cancer. We have joined so
many others who appreciated such films as, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
(1958), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Sting (1973), and
perhaps most of all  his buddy film with Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy
and the Sundance Kid (1969). Besides his work as an actor, he involved
himself in many other endeavors. After learning to race cars for a
movie in 1969, he continued to pursue this passion, becoming a
dedicated race car driver. Eventually he won a 24 hour race at Daytona,
making him, at 70 years old, the oldest driver ever to win a major
professional auto race. He also loved to cook, and his friends
persuaded him to market his products, including the salad dressing we
all know. The millions of dollars in profits went into charitable
foundations, most prominent of which was the Hole in the Wall Gang camp
for seriously ill children. He often visited the camp, and even built a
cabin on the grounds so he could stay there over night. His 50 year
long marriage to actress Joanne Woodward was an exception for Hollywood
stars, and he was famous for commenting to Playboy magazine on his
faithfulness to her, “Why go out for hamburger when you can get steak
at home?” According to Woodward, the secret of their success was the
friendship they shared. Newman seemed to be very grateful for the lucky
breaks that helped him along his path, and he was dedicated to giving
back for what he had received. Some of Paul Newman’s last words, “It’s
been a hell of a ride.”      


* Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women By Bernice Bratter and Helen Dennis ( Scribners, 2008).

In the last few years a movement has sprung up among career women who
either have retired from desirable and demanding jobs, or are
contemplating it. The Project Renewment: A Retirement Model for Career
Women  began in October of 1999, when the authors met over a 4 hour
lunch and concluded there was much to discuss about women who love
their work and are trying to decide what to do after they retire from
the jobs they have. Then they moved out and started having
conversations with other friends and friends of friends, and the idea
spread The word Renewment is a combination of renewal and retirement.  
They wanted to stress that choices, vitality, opportunity and personal
growth are central to those who are retiring. The book contains 38
essays about the issues women in the group had discussed. One section
is on how to start and maintain a Project Renewment group. Another book
on a similar topic Women Confronting Retirement is coedited by Nan
Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh, (Rutgers University Press, 2003). They
too were looking at the need to create a retirement model for women,
with an emphasis on the special interests and values of women. The
women of Project Renewment are clear that they don’t want a traditional
support group moaning about their fates, nor did they want to become
involved in a  nonprofit organization, or found a national movement. 
However, the idea has grown. To date, 11 groups have formed. Over 100
women meet monthly to discuss diverse issues, such as: Who am I without
my business card? What if he retires first? Why do I feel guilty
reading a novel? How do I feel about not earning another productivity?
While the focus of these materials has been on women, who have often
been ignored in the post-work retirement world, the good news about
“renewment” is that it can apply as equally to men as to women.

From: Aging Today, July-August, 2008. , 14-15.

* September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years, by Maggie Scarf (Riverhead Books, 2008)

Maggie Scarf, a well-known journalist, has delved into the marital
lives of six couples, 50-75 years old.  She inquired about finances,
sex, children, religion, disappointments, and regrets, as well as the
happy times.  Each of these topics could be a bombshell, given the “hot
topics” involved, but this was not what Scarf found.  Instead, she met
with couples who seemed to be satisfied and generally happy, and not at
all simply enduring their remaining years together. Both the reviewer
and author tended to be  skeptical of the level of cont-entment found,
and Scarf accepted her therapist’s challenge to interview her and her
husband;  the therapist said, “Interview me. My marriage is a mess.”
Yet when Scarf interviewed the husband, asking “What do you think were
the smartest and dumbest moves you ever made in your life?” he
answered, “The smartest move I ever made … was marrying Julie, “who sat
with tears in her eyes. So this was as bad as it got. Among the
difficulties discussed were illness, impotence, and on-line porn. These
tended to evoke negative tensions. But in most instances, whatever was
an annoying aspect of one’s partner became background noise as the
years went by. (“He is never going to put his dirty clothes in the
laundry basket, so I might as well give up on asking him to.”) Unlike
past generations, when people didn’t have long marriages, today, there
are decades in which to create a good marriage in later adulthood. 
Scarf calls them the “bonus years” –time in which marriages are
strengthened and enjoyed.  
From: This Old Marriage: Interview with couples who have stayed
together yield surprising answers. By Hilma Wolitzer, The New York
Times Book Review, September 21, 2008, pg. 25.


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.


The just-released Winter issue of Itineraries, Second Journey’s e-newsletter, is now posted at SecondJourney.org/NEWSLTR.htm.
See especially,  Meaningful Work, Paid or Unpaid, Through the Last
Breath, in which Guest editor Janet Hively, founder of Minnesota’s
Vital Aging Network, has assembled articles exploring new approaches to
work in later life. Barbara Kammerlohr also reviews three related
books, including Marc Freedman’s newest, Encore: Finding Work That
Matters in the Second Half of Life.

November 12, 2008: The Second Annual National Positive Aging Conference
at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis focusing on “Achieving
Purpose, Meaning and Vitality in the Second Half of Life.” Broadcast
live from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and
Healing, world-renowned experts and best-selling authors will address
the importance of purpose and meaning in later life as well as lessons
for health and longevity learned from regions around the world. This
year’s Positive Aging conference will feature Richard Bolles, author of
LIVE FOR and founder of The Purpose Project; Harry R. Moody, Director
of Academic Affairs for AARP; and Dan Buettner, explorer, educator and
author of THE BLUE ZONE: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who
Live the Longest. For more information about attending the Positive
Aging  conference, hosting a site, or sponsorship opportunities,
contact Beth Somerville at somer012@umn.edu or visit:

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

November 23-25  Resilient Aging for Extrordinary Times, A series of
programs of the The National Center fro Creative Aging, in
collaboration with the Washington National Cathedral and the
Gerontological Society of America. At the Washington National
Cathedral. For more information, see: www.creativeaging.org.

Dec. 9-10 Creativity Matters: Lifelong Learning though the Arts
Symposium. At the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami
FL For more information, see: www.creativeaging.org.

Information for Readers

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