2013 July/August

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July/August, 2013

The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen Sponsored by the Taos Institute (www.taosinstitute.net)

Wall Street Journal

Issue No 81
July/August, 2013



Lighting the Fire of Relationships

It is a special privilege to be allowed to share a message sent to us by the Danish translator of the Newsletter, Geert Mork:
In January 2013 I was sitting in a small wooden house next to the sea, alone, with nothing but snow around me. 10 miles to the nearest town - and no one to make coffee to in the mornings. Life wasn´t showing me its most smiling face those days.

At that moment one of the most important emails in my life showed up in my mailbox: the Positive Aging newsletter no. 77. Ken talked about waking up in the morning in a cold and colorless landscape - pretty much like my own experience that very morning. And Ken - your beautiful story about motivational sources in our lives always having a relational source, touched me deeply. Just one year earlier me and my wife divorced after 35 years together, and I was slowly losing relations in my life, I felt, though, with the help of social constructionism we have managed to reconstruct our relation, based on all the good things we have had together during the many years, and today we´re better friends than we´ve ever been. But that´s another story.

That morning in January I suddenly realized that my focus on relations had been much too weak for many years. A couple of months later I was turning 60, and I started to think this as a unique opportunity to make some important changes in my life. I sent out invitations to people I hadn’t talked to for years but who used to be good friends in earlier years. I contacted family members I hadn’t seen for 15 years - and invited them too. And they all showed up in April to celebrate, and really made some warm and loving days, recreating some important relations in my and their lives. And the best part of it was that almost everybody started talking about the importance of relations and the importance of not forgetting each other, which has now led to several more meetings during the spring and summer. Life started to show its most smiling face again:-)

What I also want to share with you is this: in February I received an invitation to celebrate the 40-years high school anniversary. Normally I wouldn’t respond to this. I did not participate in either the 10-year or the 25 year anniversary. But Ken´s commentary made me think differently. I accepted the invitation, and actually became one of the members in the planning-committee. And during the planning meetings during the spring an old appreciation of the most beautiful girl in the high school slowly grew again.

Thanks to your comment in your newsletter my whole life has changed dramatically. From being concerned about life and future to becoming aware of all the love and good things in life, based on old and new caring and close relations.

Thank you so very much!


Nostalgia: A Welcome Companion

Nostalgia could be defined as wistful reminiscing, thinking back on wonderful old times that will not come again. While it does have a painful side, people often feel that life is more worth living and death less frightening, as they experience nostalgia. Research has suggested that when people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.

Recent research indicates that most people report experiencing nostalgia at least once a week, and nearly half experience it three or four times a week. These reported bouts are often touched off by negative events and feelings of loneliness, but people say these reflections help them feel better. The memories combine feelings of joy mixed with a sense of loss. Yet, the positive elements greatly outnumber the negative elements, as University of Southampton researchers found by analyzing stories collected in the laboratory as well as in the magazine, Nostalgia.

“Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function,” one researcher said. “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.” Nostalgia has also been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories.

A quick way to induce nostalgia is through music. Professor Vingerhoets of Tilburg University and colleagues found that listening to songs made people feel not only nostalgic, but also warmer physically. On cold days, people can use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

From: What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows by John Tierney, New York Times, Science, July 9, 2013, D1

Purpose of Life: Older Men Speak
The intent of this study was to describe how very old men experience and reflect on the “purpose in life”. Conducted in northern Sweden, researchers invited individuals aged 85 and over to participate. This article describes the results of the study for the 69 men who filled out questionnaires and were interviewed. A majority of the men lived alone, five lived in an institution, ten were independent in activities in daily life, two had impaired reading vision, and ten of the men had impaired hearing.

The participants talked about purpose in life from various perspectives. Work was a theme that dominated their lives, when describing life’s purpose. Forming a family was also a main purpose in life— both living with a loving wife and feeling that the marriage was a success.

Some men focused on the present. Making the most of one’s day was expressed as a purposeful act: “I see the positive in every day, and tomorrow is a new day.” Finding joy in everyday situations and taking each day as it comes were important for purpose in life. To have confidence in relation to other people, society, and a higher power was stressed as important for experiencing purpose in life as a whole. The confidence in God was expressed as the ability during life to rely on God and place everything in God’s hands.

Being able to adapt to bodily changes, to continue to feel satisfied in life despite functional decline, and maintaining everyday activities were also mentioned as contributing to purpose in life.

Continuing with hobbies was also stressed as giving purpose in life; it was still important to feel that they could do their duty to make life meaningful: “I have to fill in my income-tax return and do my duty.”

In general, the men believed what was important to leading a life of purpose was: Living an honorable life, being good to others, doing their best and being decent.

From: Purpose in life among very old men by Pia Hedberg, Yngve Gustafson, Christine Brulin, & Lena Aléx, Advances in Aging Research, 2013, 2, (Article ID:35355,6 pages DOI:10.4236/aar.2013.23014

Reclaiming Joy: A Peer Support Program
Reclaiming Joy is a program that tries to improve the lives of people who are aging, poor and physically disabled. The program matches older volunteers from the community with these older adults who have physical health problems. The volunteers receive training in strength-based approaches to life, goal setting and attainment, the use of community resources and safety. The pairs meet once a week for 10 weeks. Their first task together is to complete a strength-based inventory, which is then used as a basis for setting new goals for the Medicaid recipient. Guided by the recipient the pair work on new goals. Goals for the recipient may include better self-care and more social engagement, for example. The program is run by a services agency for the aging, at very low cost.

Outcomes of the program indicate that the program has positive results for the participants. Of the 32 people who completed the project, many showed a decrease in depression. Quality-of-life indicators for health and functioning improved for people whose evaluations indicated both depression and anxiety. Case managers who knew the participants suggested that Reclaiming Joy was effective in improving the clients’ physical health and reduced their need for home and community services and for hospital and nursing facilities. These cost savings are significant in light of shrinking state budgets for mental health benefits.

From: Reclaiming Joy: Pilot Evaluation of a Mental Health Peer Support Program for Older Adults who Receive Medicaid by R. K. Chapin, J. F. Sergeant, S. Landry, S. N. Leedahl, R. Rachlin, T. Koenig, & A. Graham. The Gerontologist, 2013, 53, 345-352.


Oliver Sacks: On Celebrating an 80th Birthday

Oliver Sacks, a well-known psychiatrist and author of fascinating books on interesting mental patients he has known, writes about his 80th birthday in the New York Times.

“Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over. My mother was the 16th of 18 children; I was the youngest of her four sons, and almost the youngest of the vast cousinhood on her side of the family. I was always the youngest boy in my class at high school. I have retained this feeling of being the youngest, even though now I am almost the oldest person I know….

At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive — “I’m glad I’m not dead!” sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect. … I am grateful that I have experienced many things — some wonderful, some horrible — and that I have been able to write a dozen books,… and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called “an intercourse with the world.”

I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done.

My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective….. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. … One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like… I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together. I am looking forward to being 80.”

From: The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) by Oliver Sacks, New York Times, July 7, 2013, SR12.

A Farewell Fortissimo to Marian McPartland
Jazz pianist and performer Mary McPartland died at 95 of natural causes at her home on Long Island. Ms. McPartland was a well-known figure on the music scene, and at age 60 developed a jazz program on National Public Radio. For 33 years she performed and joined with her guests in ensemble tune-making. Among her guests were international jazz favorites, including Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Benny Goodman and Norah Jones. McPartland retired from hosting at the age of 93, although she continued as artistic director. Her 1987 autobiography, All in Good Time, recorded her long life, from her British childhood, through her marriage to an American jazz player, Jimmy McPartland, who was part of a USO troupe entertaining French solders in 1944, to her long and illustrious career in New York. Despite being English, white, and a woman, (as her first music critic described her), she prevailed in the macho world of jazz. Thanks for the music, Marian.

From: Jazz pianist and longtime NPR host by Felix Kessler, The Inquirer, August 22, 2013, C-1,2.


Over the Moon! A Guide to Positive Ageing
By Dr. Hannetjie van Zyl-Edeling, 2013, Porcupine Press.
It is not possible to properly report the title of this book because the usual phrase “Over the Hill” appears on the cover, only to have the word “Hill” crossed out and replaced by “Moon.” This clever move says much about the tone of the book. The work incorporates a huge variety of topics related to positive aging. The message of the book is clearly in line with our view that getting older is an opportunity not to be missed. Dr. Zyl-Edeling, a South African counselor, with degrees in dietetics, psychology and philosophy, provides a series of steps one can take to improve the quality of one’s life as one ages. Much of her advice is backed up by research relevant to the issue. Her views on aging emphasize the potentials of taking a positive perspective on aging, and of thinking of suffering as optional, age as relative, our cultural conventions of aging as detrimental, and the importance of humor. The book is charming in its inclusion of cartoons that emphasize the major points, and relevant quotations allow us to see how many folks, ancient and modern, have found ways of living purposefully and with excitement in the latter decades of life.

Some examples:
“We’ve replaced the saying, ‘The older you get, the sicker you get’ with the more accurate, ‘The older you get, the healthier you’ve been’.” Dr. Thomas Perls.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” Irish Proverb.

“Your power to live a pleasurable, prosperous life lies in your willingness to focus your attention on thoughts, people, places, and events that are joyful, fun, sexy, and uplifting,” Dr. Christiane Northrup (author of The Secret Pleasures of Menopause).

The author has a special interest in descriptions of brain chemicals, nutrition, and meditation, in addition to psychological and sociological research areas. Self-evaluation guides are also included. As with any book, it is possible to enjoy the parts that speak to one, and to ignore those that do not. There is much to value and enjoy in this compact, yet inclusive, volume. MMG


Next Avenue is a website for people over 50, “where grown ups keep growing.” You can sign up for this upbeat newsletter that advances the mission of the Positive Aging newsletter. Free, fun and factual.


Heather Hill writes from Australia:
I thought I'd take the opportunity to congratulate you on your newsletters which I always find interesting to read. I have just joined a Positive Ageing Reference group for our local shire council here in Victoria, Australia, and passed on the newsletter link to them. Our Shire has a positive ageing strategy - and one that is actually being enacted! It is very comprehensive, covering everything from work and community participation, to services to older adults, to infrastructure (eg putting benches along walking paths). I'm hoping that I'll be able to contribute positively over time to this strategy along with my fellow committee members.

Laura Michaels (www.assistedlivingtoday.com) writes:
I’d like to pass along some web resources I thought the readers of your newsletter might find of interest:

For what it’s worth, the Ellison Foundation (http://www.ellisonfoundation.org/) is my favorite.

There is a tool seniors can use to find a physician who is right for them - physicians can be searched by specialty, location, and/or insurance.

Physician Connection for Seniors

A guide to healthy aging; while it's a little dated (2011), the information is still relevant in keeping our seniors

Health Issues in an Aging Population

And finally, a resource page containing invaluable information for seniors preparing to transition to assisted living:

Senior Care Guides, Infographics and Glossary

Thank you! I hope you have a great week!

Warm Regards, Laura


CHOOSING CONSCIOUS ELDERHOOD (Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 2013, at Ghost Ranch Retreat Center, New Mexico.). Guided by Ron Pevny and Anne Wennhold. this retreat is for people 50 and up who seek a path to aging consciously. Structured as a rite of passage into conscious aging, the program includes life review and legacy work, sharing councils, ceremony, and time for solitary reflection amid magnificent natural beauty. For details, visit http://www.centerforconsciouseldering.com

November 20-24, 2013: Gerontological Society of American Annual Scientific Meeting:; Optimal Aging Through Research. New Orleans. Geron.org

February 27-March 2, 2014: Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. 40th Annual Meeting & Educational Leadership Conference. Denver, CO. aaghe.org/am

March 11-15, 2014: American Society on Aging 60th Anniversary. San Diego, CA. www.asaging.org/aia

Information for Readers

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