2011 November / December

PDF version of the 2011 Nov/Dec Positive Aging Newsletter to download: Issue 71 Nov/Dec 2011


November/December, 2011

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

Wall Street Journal

Issue No 71


Positive Aging: Renewing the Vision
As the new year begins it may be helpful to many readers to review again the central mission of this newsletter. This should let you know of what you may anticipate and how you may participate as readers. Since its inception some nine years ago, the readership of the newsletter has expanded at a rapid rate – now reaching thousands of subscribers in five languages. Our readers include gerontologists, health related researchers, therapeutic practitioners, service providers for the elderly, and interested laypersons. Many new readers of the newsletter may be curious about the orientation guiding the selection of content.Our primary aim is to bring to light resources – from research, professional practices, and daily life – that contribute to an appreciation of the aging process. Challenging the longstanding view of aging as decline, we strive to create a vision of life in which aging is an unprecedented period of human enrichment. Such a revolution vitally depends on the communities of research and professional practices that focus on adult populations, especially people over 50. It is within these communities that new ideas, insights, factual support, and practices of growth enhancement can congenially emerge. By focusing on the developmental aspects of aging, and the availability of relevant resources, skills, and resiliencies, research not only brings useful insights into the realm of practice, but creates hope and empowers action among older people. By moving beyond practices of repair and prevention to emphasize growth-enhancing activities, practitioners also contribute to the societal reconstruction of aging.

Reader contributions to the Newsletter are most welcome. If you have writings, insights, or practices that you feel would be especially interesting to subscribers of the Newsletter, you are invited to share them in future issues. We also review selected books and films, and carry announcements of relevant conferences and workshops. Please send your suggestions to Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu. All past issues of the Newsletter are archived at: www.positiveaging.net
To reintroduce ourselves, Kenneth Gergen is a Senior Research Professor at Swarthmore College, and Mary is a Professor Emerita of Psychology and Women’s Studies at Penn State University, Brandywine. Ken and Mary both serve on the Executive Board of the Taos Institute, a non-profit organization working at the intersection of social constructionist theory and societal practice. Each has a long history of engagement with gerontological inquiry and therapeutic practice.

We hope you will join us in the present endeavor,
-Ken and Mary Gergen


This is also a time of year when we count our blessings and look forward to coming opportunities. We are especially grateful for the wonderful people who have volunteered to translate the newsletters this past year. Kudos first to Alain Robiolio, who has been at our side for many years, translating our newsletter into French, as well as helping various books we have written translated into French as well. We are also grateful to Thomas Friedrich-Hett, who with Peter Lausberg, has been so diligently translating our newsletters into German for many years. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a brother and sister team have been translating our newsletters into Spanish for a long time. Our thanks to Mario Ravazzola and Cristina Ravazzola de Mazieres, for their fine work. Most recently, we have been delighted by the dedication of Su-Fen Liu, who has been translating our newsletters from Taiwan, where she is an assistant professor of management. Last, thanks to Angelica Moretti of Sao Paulo, who volunteered to co-create the newsletter in Portugese.

We are also thrilled to have at our side a new advisory council composed of translators, Thomas Friedrich-Hett. Su-Fen Liu, and Angelica Moretti, as well as the couple who have the longest standing record as Taos Institute participants and supporters, Bob and Sharon Cottor of Phoenix, AZ. We also have on board a host of brilliant and well-known scholars in gerontology: Lorraine Hedtke of Redlands, California; Peter Whitehouse of Cleveland; Bill Randall of Fredericksburg, Nova Scotia; Glenda Fredman, London, UK; and Margaret Stroebe of Utrecht, NL. What a wonderful experience to have these good people working with us on this worthwhile project of the Positive Aging Newsletter. Our heartfelt thanks to all.


Helping Everyday Memory
It is commonly believed that aging brings about memory loss. In some degree this belief may result from the stereotype itself: unlike earlier years in school, for example, we simply attribute any lapse in memory to age. In any case, Gary Small, a UCLA memory researcher, describes the most common experiences of memory loss. Among these are forgetting where you put something, and forgetting names and faces.

Small also believes that there are simple strategies to overcome these challenges. A major strategy for remembering names, faces or lists involves the strategy he calls, Look, Snap, Connect. “Look” reminds one to focus attention on the situation at hand. “Snap” means to take a mental snapshot, or visual image of the object. “Connect” is the act of linking up what you want to remember with the visual image. For example, if you park in a public garage on Level 5, as you leave the car, you “look” by paying attention to where you have parked, you “snap” on the level sign 5, and “link” by finding a way of connecting them (“I got lost when I was five years old.”) The more personal or significant the link, the better. Another useful strategy in remembering a list of things – such as a grocery list or a series of complex directions – is to create a little story to link various things together. For example, if you go to the store to purchase milk, bread, butter, eggs, syrup, and tea, how can you connect them through a little story? What, for example, would you need to cook nice breakfast of French toast for your mate? But be careful not to forget where you parked the car!

From: From Brain Fitness to Mental Wellness as We Age by Gary Small. The 2011 MindAlert lecture. Supplement to Generations, 35, pp. 4-28.

Walking as Tonic for the Soul

Walking has long been recommended as a means of keeping fit over the years. Recent research suggests that health is not the only benefit. Researchers in this case believed that taking walks – especially in “green spaces” – would have a payoff in terms of cognitive functioning such as memory and attention. The latter possibility was especially interesting, as there was some evidence that walking could be an alternative to pharmaceuticals for people diagnosed with ADHD.
To explore these possibilities, researchers arranged for three groups of young adults to take 20 minute walks, either in a park, a neighborhood, or a parking. And this was all on a wintry day. All participants were discouraged from talking. The results defied the researchers: very little in the way of cognitive functioning was observed (a slight improvement in short term memory). Most dramatic, the effect on mood states was significant. Regardless of where they walked, all the groups reported feeling less tense, angry, and depressed. Rather, as a result of the walks they felt more energetic and reported more positive moods. It didn’t seem to matter whether the walk was in a “green” environment, or in the parking lot. Their only problem was in their attempts to avoid conversation. As it appears, after a tense, anxious day, a little walk – seemingly anywhere – can restore the spirits.

From: Walking in a natural winter setting to relieve attention fatigue: A pilot study by Scott Perkins, H. Russell Searight, Susan Ratwik. Psychology, vol. 2, Nov. 2011. 777-780. http://www.Scirp.org/journal/psych


Marital Happiness in a Cup of Tea
Researchers from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 870 women and men. In this study, generosity was defined as “the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly.” In our house, going to the basement to replace a fuse, blown from the overuse of appliances, is a good example. For several of our friends, it means making a cup of tea in the morning and taking it up to bed for their partner.
As the researchers found, those couples who scored highest on the generosity scale were far more likely to report that they were very happy in their marriages. This relationship was particularly strong for people who had children at home. Although parents may have agreements about what their fair share of caretaking is, going beyond one’s duties with regard to family activities is much appreciated. In a related study of 3-year-old twins, Israeli researchers found that children whose parents were generous with them were also more likely to be generous with other kids as well. It is nice to think that acts of generosity spread outward.
Other researchers have also indicated that commitment and good communication styles are important for creating the grounds for a happy marriage. John Gottman, one of the major researchers in this area, has suggested that if one partner makes a negative comment about the other, it must be offset by 5 positive ones for a successful relationship to be sustained. As for sex, if marital sexual satisfaction is rated below average, only 6.5% say they have happy marriages. Is it possible that generosity is a more powerful contributor to a happy marriage than good sex?

From: Is Generosity Better Than Sex? By Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, Dec. 11, 2011, “Well” pg. 26.

Home Remedies That Work

It is possible that there are cures in your kitchen for what ails you. That’s an assist to positive aging in our view.

Honey: For nighttime coughs, adults and children can take a teaspoon or two of honey. Honey coats the throat and can be used repeatedly. It works better than over-the-counter products.

Tart Cherry Juice: This juice is an anti-inflammatory agent, and can be good for various purposes – joint aches from running or arthritis, and for preventing attacks of gout. Patients who took a tablespoon of tart cherry juice concentrate twice a day for four months cut the frequency of their gout attacks in half.

Ginger: Chewed on in crystal form, fresh, or powdered, it is wonderful in preventing nausea. Various uses include reducing car sickness, nausea from chemotherapy, and after surgery. A large study from the National Cancer Institute found that taking as little as one-quarter of a teaspoon of ginger daily for three days before chemo cuts nausea by 40%.

Menthol Rub: Applying Vicks VapoRub to toenails that have fungus is a safe cost-effective treatment, often better than over-the-counter products. Even better, wipe the affected nails with a cotton ball soaked in white vinegar before applying the Vicks.

Liquid Dish Soap: For those who love to be out in nature, poison ivy or poison oak is a constant danger. If you come into contact, as soon as possible, wash the affected area with dish soap for 25 seconds, and then rinse. The soap should cut the oil and remove it from your skin. It may not do the trick entirely, but it works to greatly reduce inflammation.

Other helpful hints suggest cranberries for helping to reduce bladder infections; witch hazel to help reduce the pain of hemorrhoids, milk of magnesia for canker sores in the mouth, and water gargles to reduce colds, infections, and sore throats. Each of these remedies has research evidence from the medical community to support these claims.

From: 10 Home Remedies that Work by Candy Sagon. AARP Bulletin, Nov., 2011, pps. 14, 16, 18. 20.

Gloria Steinem at 77: Blithe Spirit and Feminist Icon
Gloria Steinem, one of the most well-known figures from “second wave” feminism, in the 1970’s, is now in her 70’s as well. Still inspirational, she claims that most everything about aging “so far has been a plus.” Steinem finds this time of life especially rich. She is still writing, which was her vocation as a young woman (when she took a job at a Playboy club as a Bunny in order to discover the behind the scenes life that such a job entailed). And she is still speaking, and traveling. The public has never lost interest in the life and times of Gloria, partly because of her outspoken views, which were promoted through her editorship of Ms magazine, and partly because of her beautiful face, with her high cheekbones, and her “Jacqueline Kennedy” style sunglasses.

Talking about her body as it has aged, she said, ‘What happens at 50, more or less, you lose what you need to create another person… you keep what you need to sustain yourself. And there’s something wonderful about that.” Never having had children, which is something she does not regret, she describes her family as the close friends she has – including her old lovers, with whom she has such comfortable relationships now.

In terms of feminism today, she is dispirited by the media efforts to sexualize young girls and to demean women in various TV shows, such as the “Housewives” series. She also thinks more can be done to provide for better child care options so that more men and women can work, have a family and enjoy their lives.

From: Gloria Steinem: Blithe Spirit by Amy S. Rosenberg. Philadelphia Inquirer, October 19, 2011, C1,C2.


An active space for women who are over 70 to share their experiences, both their inspirations and their ways of overcoming obstacles: 70candles.com

Promoting sexuality in mid and later life: Including blog by Peggy Brick, President of the Aging and Sexuality Consortium, and noted sex educator, on sexuality and older people. Find resources here for further information.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation offers a wide range of resources, including videos and a newsletter, all celebrating the positive effects of kindness in everyday life. http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/

Looking for an Artist for your Program? A free, evolving, online, searchable directory is available that lists professional teaching artist in all disciplines who are qualified to work with older adults in a variety of settings. Register online at www.lifetimearts.org to search for artists by location, discipline and language, and then contact the artists directly.


Judith Zausner writes:
Hi Mary, It was wonderful to meet you and Ken at lunch yesterday. . In discussion about NORCS and villages, I mentioned that I wrote about it in my blog, Creativity Matters. The goal of my blog is to inform and inspire by offering a synopsis of relevant content that would be especially interesting to older adults. I hope that you enjoy the links below and I would love for you to be a “Follower”!



Looking forward to meeting you again soon.

Pamela Seidel writes:

I run a website specifically for Senior Citizens to use for online dating called http://www.bestseniordatingsites.org. It has become a passion project of mine within the senior community.

I created this website as a way for older singles to explore the online dating scene and have fun while doing it. I am hoping that after you take a look, you’ll think its a valuable resource to help more African Americans enjoy the fun of online dating.

Pamela can be reached at pamela@bestseniordatingsites.org

Georgie Bright Kunkel writes:
I don’t know whether I have written to you about my latest activities. I, at age 91, [was] the luncheon speaker at the Washington Counseling Association conference in Spokane, WA on October 17th. The next evening I appeared at the Seattle Comedy Underground doing comedy here in Seattle.

You can Google me at West Seattle Herald (a paper that I write a column for) and type in Jay Inslee and see a great picture of me with our next governor. Of course I expect him to be our next governor as he has the blessing of our present governor and is a tried and true politician.

You can also Google my name in the West Seattle Herald website and find all my columns, one of which is about my date with my fellow. I can’t walk a long ways at a big fair so he pushed me in a wheel chair when I got tired at the Puyallup Fair, our biggest fair near Seattle.

Wasn’t that a great wheel chair date?

My date found me by emailing me after reading my column about Senior Dating in which I said that no man could keep up with me. He told me after dating me a few times that he thought he could keep up with me and he has. We each have our problems with aging but we both believe in exercise and keeping one’s spirits high by engaging in physical activity as often as possible.

I am a Rosie the Riveter and have produced a program to give to groups in my area. The Rosies are dying at a rapid rate these days so I plan to offer our program to the local schools so that the high school students and even younger people can experience meeting a real live Rosie before they are all gone.


“Reinventing love, intimacy, and sex after 50.” The Transition Network of the San Francisco-Bay Area Chapter (January 25, 2012, San Francisco, CA). Suzanne Braun Levine shares her exploration of the ways women are finding love and redefining relationships in their Second Adulthood. For details, visit: http://www.thetransitionnetwork.info/pages/events/114/chapters-san-francisco-bay-area/reinventing-love-intimacy-and-sex-after-fifty/?type=

“The Right to Age: Citizenship, Social Inclusion and Political Participation of Older People” (Jan. 25-27, 2011, Dijon, France). Conference languages are French, English, and Spanish. For details, visit: www.ledroitdevieillir.org

May 30-June 1, 2012: 6th Eden Alternative International Conference. Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Grand Rapids, MI. The Eden Alternative is an international non-profit organization dedicated to transforming care environments into habitats for human beings that promote quality of life for all involved. It is a powerful tool for inspiring well-being for Elders and those who collaborate with them as Care Partners. Their vision is to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.

For more information check out www.edenalt.org

Information for Readers

We are sending our newsletter from a new distribution point, and we hope you are able to receive it without difficulty. Please email me, Mary Gergen gv4@psu.edu if you have any trouble opening or reading it.

Questions & Feedback
If you have any questions, or material you’d like to share with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu

Past issues Past issues of the newsletter are archived at: www.positiveaging.net

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December 27, 2011 12:00 am