2014 May/June

Download the newsletter in PDF format: Issue_86_Positive_Aging_Newsletter_May-June_2014.pdf

May/June, 2014

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

Wall Street Journal

Issue No 86


A Unique Joy of Aging
We often like to think about aging as a stage of life, and like others, one that harbors both difficult challenges and openings to new and wonderful possibilities. As we moved from infancy to childhood, childhood to teens, and teens to adulthood, there were always struggles – pleasures disrupted, difficult learning curves to confront. Simultaneously there were great rewards – new possibilities, new pleasures, and so on. In this vein, as we write about positive aging, we like to emphasize the rewarding aspects of aging. So often these are swept aside as we recite the list of losses. We became especially aware of one unique pleasure of aging as we watched on television the final tennis match at Wimbledon. The championship at Wimbledon pitted the longstanding veteran Roger Federer against a much younger Novak Djokovic. The latter was at the top of the world’s standings, and much favored. Indeed, after a grueling struggle, he won the match. From our viewpoint, however, what was so special about the entire tournament was how reverently the tennis gurus, the newspaper reporters, and the television commentators spoke of Federer. They showered him with compliments regarding his form, his versatility, his “cool” and his elegant play. Much this same respect was reflected in the crowd’s support of Federer across the entire tournament.

In our view, this kind of respectful reverence is reserved for those who have made a sustained contribution to the world – great or small. Such a contribution may be highly visible, including the efforts of athletes, dancers, singers, musicians, and other artists who thrive, despite the competition from those who are younger. In military and economic ventures, in politics, religion, and law, the old warriors are revered for their long-term accomplishments. However, the same may be said for many of the folks around us – those who have shown enduring character, love, dedication, sacrifice, generosity, and so on. These dear people acquire a special reverence, one that is unavailable to the young. Not only do they earn our deepest gratitude and respect, but they also symbolize hope for the future.
- - Mary and Ken


Happily Ever After: Does the Myth Come True?
How do marriages hold up over time? Data from a study of the changing lives of older couples gives us some interesting answers. The study included over a thousand people and focused on the marital satisfactions of older married people. Participants in the study answered questions regarding how happy their marriage was in general, and then specific questions regarding positive and negative characteristics. The positives included such questions as “I make my spouse feel loved” and “My spouse is willing to listen to me.” For negatives they rated items such as “I am upset with our marriage” and “My spouse is critical of me”.

The good news from the study is that approximately 60% of the participants had high marital satisfaction scores and had many positive things to say about their marriages, with few negative things mentioned. About 30% had both positive and negative things to say, and the small remainder had negative profiles related to their marriages. If marriages last, they turn out to be quite happy!

The researchers were interested in the gender differences in terms of the qualities they rated in their marriages. In general, men were more satisfied with their marriages than women; they consistently made more positive assessments of their wives’ treatment of them than did the women of their husbands. At the same time, the “men tend to offer excessively positive evaluations of themselves relative to those offered by their partner on dimensions ranging from sexual attractiveness to household labor contributions.”

In the less happy marriages, the men said their wives were too demanding and critical of them. Among this age cohort, in general, women tend to “nag” their husbands about maintaining healthy behaviors and do more caretaking of them. Women have lower expectations of their husbands, and they also have a richer pool of social relationships that may compensate for an unsatisfactory mate.

From: “His” and “Her” Marriage? The Role of Positive and Negative Marital Characteristics in Global Marital Satisfaction Among Older Adults. By K. Boerner, D. S. Jopp, D. Carr, L. Sosinsky & S-K Kim, Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69, 579-589.

Cultural Change in Nursing Homes: Toward Self-determination
An older friend who resides in a fancy assisted living facility recently told us that an aid once woke her up in the middle of the night because her chart indicated that she had not had her tongue cleaned during the tooth brushing the evening before. He insisted on cleaning her tongue before she was allowed to go back to sleep. In fact, she has little say in when she sleeps, when she rises, when she eats, and when she is bathed. One day a nurse’s aid entered her room and announced he was giving her a shower that day. She had nothing to say about this, despite her reluctance to undress before this man. Despite the charm and prestige of this setting, this nursing home places strong control over the residents. The complaints are many.

Fortunately, there is a new model of nursing homes now sweeping the country, one that shifts the emphasis from “care” to self-determined well-being. This movement (sometimes called “cultural change”) is designed to change the way nursing homes are organized and operated, moving from a rule based, regulated, controlled environment of care-giving to one that is based on creating the least restrictive setting for residents. The new nursing home guarantees that residents are free from physical restraints, have privacy, are accommodated in terms of medical, physical, psychological and social needs, can participate in resident and family groups, be treated with dignity, be able to exercise self-determination, and to communicate freely. In contrast to traditional nursing homes, today’s residents within the “cultural change” model are able to select their own schedules, such as when to sleep and get up, choose their own food, bathe when they wish, come and go freely within and outside the home, have diverse relationships and be able to entertain companions as they might in their own homes. In many places, residents are being asked to decide which services, activities, and spaces are most important to them, rather than have the design of the facility and the programs decided by the staff and leadership of the home.

Aging and Disability Resource Centers are adopting person-centered planning to help potential clients understand the options for service. The website Nursing Home Compare posts quality measures for every nursing home, and a Five Star System that disseminates summary measures.

From: Implications for Policy: The Nursing Home as Least Restrictive Setting by Christine E. Bishop and Robyn Stone, The Gerontologist, 2014, 54, S98-S103.


Retiring at 101? Heck No…
Murray Shusterman is not the typical Philadelphia lawyer. Yet, he is devoted to his trade. Shusterman is a lawyer who can’t stop working. At 101, he travels from his home to his office every day to do real estate and corporate law. For his 100th birthday, he did give up driving and his beloved game of golf. But he doesn’t feature retiring. His image of retirement is to go sit in a rocking chair, and he won’t have it.

Shusterman says that when he turned 100, people started asking him the secret to a good life. He said, “The meaning of life? Life is not a riddle to be solved. It’s an adventure to be embraced. Go forward. Try your best. Get involved in causes that matter.” He described his parents as “wonderful”. “They gave me a sense of morality and generosity, and I’ve always acted accordingly.” He did admit that he did all the “good things and all the bad things that a young fellow does.”

Besides raising a family of three sons, he became involved in charitable works, and later in life gave millions to Temple University, the school that gave him a scholarship in the 1930s. He taught law there for more than three decades, served on the university board of trustees, and has a hall in the law school named after him. He has also been active in Jewish organizations in Philadelphia. An organized man, he has planned his funeral and picked a coffin, so as to spare his sons the burden of doing so. His advice to the younger set: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

From: Lawyer retire? AT 101? Heck no by Jeff Gammage. Philadelphia Inquirer, July 20, 2014, A1,A4.

Celebrating one’s 90th

More and more families are wondering how best to celebrate the 90th birthdays of beloved grandparents. The Family Bush, the Texas-New England bunch with two Presidents George, enjoyed the event for George senior by gathering at a church in Kennebunkport, Maine. The guest of honor arrived in a very special way, parachuting into the party. Retired member of the Army’s Golden Nights parachute team, Mike Elliott, jumped with Former President Bush riding tandem, into the Wild Blue Yonder. Fortunately, all were present to enjoy the birthday cake.

From: Making a Great Entrance into the 90’s by Robert F. Bukaty, USA Today, June 13, 2014, 7A.

Memory Cafés: Gather, Share, Enjoy!

Begun in The Netherlands in 1997, memory cafés are warm, friendly places where people diagnosed with dementia and their families and friends can gather for activities and sharing. With the support of Rotary International, the idea spread to the UK and then to the U. S. Often there is an educational program featured in the Cafes, but for the most part they are more for camaraderie and fun, as well as cultural enrichment, and community engagement. Today there are over 100 cafés in the US. The cafés offer people opportunities for informal socializing, with coffee, tea and treats. Some are located in existing restaurants or coffee shops and others are in churches, libraries and museums. Volunteers and staff members help to support the activities of the cafés.

The cafés have a facilitator who helps to run the social gatherings. The facilitators mount rituals - such as greetings and partings - that help to organize the gathering,. At one café a facilitator plays his ukulele, as the group sings a greeting to each person by name. He also plays a song when the café time is over. The local newspaper publicizes the schedule of the memory cafés each week. In July, 2013, the Wisconsin café participants had their first outing. A bus picked up people at several locations, and together they visited a chocolate shop, ate lunch at a restaurant, and cruised the Fox River in Green Bay. A poet who also trains volunteers in leading poetry workshops was with the 50plus people who went on the trip. Later he created a poem about the day, which the participants learned to recite - in a call and response form - on the bus ride home. With a subsidy from a local grant, the trip cost each person $10.

For these founders, the most important thing for people diagnosed with dementia is to have a non-stigmatizing environment in which to relate socially.

From: Popular Memory Cafés in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley Battle Social Isolation by S. H. McFadden and A. Koll. Generations, Journal of the American Society on Aging, Spring, 2014, 68-71.

Difficulties in Swallowing? Try Printed Food!

When we think of copy machines, we generally do not think of them as copiers of three dimensional objects. Recently, with the 3-D printer, it has become possible to do just this. Now, taking a step further, the 3-D printers are making food. The process begins by filling the ink tubes with pureed food, such as pasta or pork. A secret ingredient is added that solidifies the slurry enough to be squirted out of tubes and reconstituted as food. The product looks and smells much like the original, but with one amazing new property: Once the food is chewed, it literally melts in your mouth. The food is proving a life-saver for people who have difficulties swallowing, a condition that affects about 20% of people over 50. The food is being tested by German nursing home residents, who have been missing their weiner schnitzel and sauerkraut.

From: All the food that’s fit to print. AARP Bulletin, July-Augusts, 2014, p. 4.


Senior Theatre (www.seniortheatre.com) is a website that features a wide range of resources for individuals or groups interested in performance possibilities for the elderly. There is growing field of 700+ Senior Theatre companies and the prominent role of ArtAge Publications, described in the article as "a mecca for all things related to theatre for seniors." ArtAge, founded in 1997, produces materials and workshops for Senior Theatre performers and directors worldwide in keeping with the company’s mission to help “older adults fulfill their theatrical dreams.” ArtAge has the world’s largest collection of over 400 plays, books, and materials for older performers. Contact: Bonnie Vorenberg, President at - [email protected].

Retirement in the Mix: a blog by psychologist Janis Bohan, who shares her life and her views with her readers on a frequent basis. Her thoughts about aging are splendid reminders of how being old, as she likes to describe herself, is a blessing and a responsibility. She is eager to share and care for others and the Earth until she herself returns to “star dust”. http://retirementinthemix.blogspot.com

RainbowGray.com A website for LGBT folks 50+
Chaplainsonhand.org This website allows one to connect with a chaplain who offers spiritual comfort and support to anyone going through difficult times, regardless of religious beliefs. The chaplains are drawn from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths and all are board-certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains. The service was created for those facing illness, grief, and the burdens of being a caregiver. To call, 844-242-7524 (toll free)


Dennis M. Garvey, a gerontologist who has had a long career working with mature adults sent us a book, Sex, Drugs and Growing Old – A Boomer’s Guide to Aging, which he thought our readers might enjoy. It is a short, lively, informative, and enjoyable book – lighthearted and clear. Many basic facts about aging, with the opportunity for some self-evaluations, are included. $15. For more information, contact him at [email protected]


August 26 to 28, 2014: The Healthy and Active Aging Conference (HAAC 2014), Suzhou, China. For more information, please visit: www.engii.org/workshop/HAAC2014August.

Gerontological Society of America 2014
Annual Scientific Meeting, Nov. 5-9, 2014, Washington, DC.
Making Connections: From Cells to Societies.
Abstracts by March 5, 2014 to geron.org/2014.

Information for Readers

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