2014 Nov/Dec

Download the newsletter in PDF format: Issue_89_Positive_Aging_Newsletter_Nov-Dec_2014.pdf

November/December, 2014

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

Wall Street Journal

Issue No 89


Reconstruction as Resource
We often encounter headlines warning of the hazards accompanying a long life – physical impairments, loss of memory, slackening abilities, the death of friends, and the like. But it’s also important to consider our common definitions of “hazard.” A broken leg is not simply a “painful setback.” That is a common way to define it, but not the only way. What if it could be defined as “an opportunity to read some novels that I never had time for,” or to “invite my children or grandchildren in for conversations for which we were always too busy”? What had been a reason for grimacing and, now becomes an inviting opportunity. As we see it, the capacity for redefining our condition is one of life’s major resources.

This conclusion has been vividly illustrated by two experiences of recent weeks. On the lighter side, we were fortunate enough to visit New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, and see a major exhibit of Matisse’s famous cut-outs. Many readers may recognize the graphic we include here. But one of the most interesting things about this blazing array of works was its origins. In his early 70’s Matisse’ eyesight was failing, and after surgery for cancer he was confined to a wheelchair. His days as a skilled painter were over. Rather than retiring from the scene, however, Matisse found that he could cut pieces of colored paper into shapes, and with the help on an assistant, arrange the shapes into collages. In the 14 years that followed, hundreds of works were produced. These became some of the most admired and influential works of his entire career. Effectively, Matisse had achieved a radical reconstruction. The world is all the richer as a result.

Closer to home, we were saddened to learn of the death of one of Ken’s college classmates, Carter Volz. The story he left behind, however, stands as a beacon for us all. Carter went on from Yale to receive an MBA, and to advance swiftly up the ranks in the corporate world. Within 20 years he became the Vice President of one of America’s top corporations. Then tragedy struck. Carter was mugged on a street in New York and left for dead. He did survive, but with serious brain damage, he was no longer able to hold his executive position. His time became devoted to recovery. It was during rehabilitation that he discovered Reiki, a Buddhist inspired form of hands-on healing. So effective did he find this form of therapy, that he began to learn the skill. Over time he became a Master, and apprenticed many students. Further, in the last twenty years of his life, he went on to write books on Reiki, Jungian analysis, grief, and self-healing. He reconstructed his life, with positive consequences for himself, as well as the world.

The lives of these two men underscore the enormous potentials residing in our capacities for reconstructing meaning. In exploring “new ways of seeing things,” we open new ways of being. As we grow older, this may be the key resource for well-being.

Ken and Mary Gergen


Exercise and Age
Active older people resemble much younger people physiologically, according to a new study of the effects of exercise on aging. The common view equating advancing years with physical decline may be off the mark.

In a new study, recently published in The Journal of Physiology, scientists in England decided to look more closely at the relationship between physical activity and well-being. “We wanted to understand what happens to the functioning of our bodies as we get older if we take the best-case scenario,” said Stephen Harridge, senior author of the study. To do this, the scientists recruited 85 men and 41 women, between 55 and 79 who bicycle regularly. The volunteers were all serious recreational riders, but not competitive athletes. The men had to be able to ride at least 62 miles in six and a half hours and the women 37 miles in five and a half hours, benchmarks typical of a high degree of fitness in older people.

The scientists then ran each volunteer through a large array of physical and cognitive tests. They determined each cyclist’s endurance capacity, muscular mass and strength, pedaling power, metabolic health, balance, memory function, bone density and reflexes. The researchers compared the results of cyclists in the study against each other and also against standard benchmarks of supposedly normal aging. As it turned out, the cyclists did not show their age. On almost all measures, their physical functioning remained fairly stable across the decades and was much closer to that of young adults than of people their age. As a group, even the oldest cyclists had younger people’s levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability.

Some aspects of decline did, however, remain. The oldest cyclists had less muscular power and mass than those in their 50s and early 60s and considerably lower overall aerobic capacities. Age does seem to reduce our endurance and strength to some extent, even if we exercise. But even so, both of those measures were higher among the oldest cyclists than the average among people aged 70 or above.

Dr. Harridge, himself almost 50 and an avid cyclist, said this study shows that “being physically active makes your body function on the inside more like a young person’s.

From: How Exercise Keeps us Young by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, Jan. 7, 2015, Phys Ed, pg. 1. http://nyti.ms/1yz5SUu

The Benefits of Demanding Jobs

A recent research study investigated the mental acuity of a large group of 70 year old Scots within various occupations. In general, it was found that people with intellectually demanding jobs, those requiring flexibility, focus, problem-solving, and lots of interaction with others, were smarter and had better memories than those whose jobs were less cognitively demanding. This finding held up even after accounting for early differences in intelligence, education and childhood circumstances.

Among men and women who worked with complex data, not only did they maintain a high level of intelligence, but their speed of processing incoming stimulation remained high. Their general intelligence, memory and IQ were higher at age 70 than for those who had less complex jobs.

This research suggests that if we become involved in more complex work as we age, we can compensate for early childhood limitations. However, bright children, who engage in simple, repetitive work will lose some of their abilities as they age.

From: Study: A complex occupation protests brainpower in old age. Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 30, 2014, G2


Scuba Diving for a Cause
The Garden City Underwater Recovery Unit of Milford, NJ is an all volunteer group, many of whom are experienced scuba divers. They specialize in handling virtually any type of water-rescue emergency in and around NJ and the tri-state area. Since their creation in 1957 the members have responded to thousands of incidents involving drowning victim recoveries, police searches, underwater structural inspections, and flood rescues. They are often called in to help find the bodies of those who have died in water accidents.

The scuba divers are men and women who have been engaged in this volunteer work for many years. Interestingly, the average age of the divers is over 50. Despite regular employment and family activities, they devote themselves to this community service. Unlike most rescue units, theirs is entirely self-supporting, and they receive no financial aid from any governmental agency. To support their work, they do various forms of fundraising. They meet every Thursday evening, and spend most of their time together training for various emergencies and underwater tasks. Check out their website at www.GSURU.ORG.

Grandmother: The New Game in Town

This generation of women is getting a new lease on life as they acquire the title of grandmother. The Boomers are making a difference in how this next phase of life is being defined. No more on the periphery of their grandchildren’s lives, but rather, active contributors to the well-being of their off-springs’ off-springs. Credit for much of this new model of grandparenting must be given to the longer life span and healthier conditions of older people. In the last 100 years, women’s lives have been extended by 25 years, on average. For many women, being a grandmother can be a “do-over” time, giving their grandchildren the care and attention they were too busy to offer their own children when they were young. For many women, the care they give grandchildren is also a gift they give their own daughters and sons, helping them feel that they are giving their children gold-plated care at no cost.

For many grandparents, the benefits of the internet have enlivened family ties, with texting, emails and Skype calls expanding connections. One grandma in Washington DC makes a monthly trip to Boston to visit two granddaughters, and she goes to Israel to visit her daughter’s family for a month every year. The role of grandparent extends one’s commitments to the world, as well as to one’s own families. As one grandmother said, “We care more about what lies ahead. We care about the earth, air and water, the legacy we’re going to leave behind.”

From: “Grandma “Gets a Reboot by Barbara Graham, AARP Bulletin, September, 2014, 10-12.

Employment After 55
Generally speaking, the older we are, the harder it is to find a job. For those over 55 the length of unemployment is about one year. For younger employees it is 7 months. Ageist assumptions are part of the problem, and older job seekers need to find ways to combat them. Among the false assumptions are the ideas that older people will not stay on the job; that they are less productive than younger workers, that they want higher salaries, and that they are techno-illiterate. Some hints for getting hired include these recommendations, according to various researchers in the field:

  1. Try to look fit and energetic. Pay attention to the dress styles of places you would like to work. Feel good about your appearance.
  2. Include in your resume something that indicates your comfort with technology.
  3. Get career counseling or attend workshops that encourage and help people find work.
  4. Use your networks, keep up with people, meet new people. At least half of all jobs are filled through personal contacts.
  5. Explore consulting and contract work, which can be short-term, project-based or seasonal.

Older Job Seekers Find Ways to Avoid Age Bias by Kerry Hannon, New York Times, Jan. 17,2015, B5


The Upside: How Long Life is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy, and Purpose
by Paul H. Irving (Ed.) (2014). New York: Wiley.
In this optimistic review of aging in the western world, Paul Irving, President of the Milken Institute, gathered together a group of outstanding scholars who find the silver lining in various aspects of aging, from the personal to the political. In 16 chapters, these experts share their views about aging and the changes that can be expected in the future in various facets of aging. These areas of life that will be changing are highly varied, including medicine, marketing, the global economy, lifestyle choices, political activities, urban planning, financial security, and the meaning of this third stage of life.

Although the chapters are diverse, the overall theme is that some exciting, challenging, and positive things are going to take place in terms of living well in old age, especially in the western world. In Laura L. Carstensen’s chapter, for example, the benefits of growing older are summarized. As we have described in previous newsletters, older people are wiser than younger people; they continue to add to the stores of their knowledge, as they age; they are more emotionally balanced, and can see events from multiple perspectives; and they are more comfortable in their skins – less likely to be anxious or depressed than younger people.

In Pinchas Cohen’s chapter, the emphasis is on the diversities of aging people. “The portrait of ‘healthy aging’ will differ for each person, but this approach provides many opportunities for empowering people to make choices that are best for them, socially and scientifically.” (pg.31). Medical advances of various types are reviewed in Freda Lewis-Hall’s chapter, “The Bold New World of Healthy Aging” in which she highlights the technical wizardry that will be improving our well-being in years to come, from a smart toilet that analyzes our urine, blood pressure and weight, to 3-D printers that could make a new liver.

“Disruptive Demography: The New Business of Old Age,” a chapter by Joseph Coughlin of the MIT AgeLab, along with and Ken Dychtwald in his chapter, “A Longevity Market Emerges” review questions of how businesses can design and deliver products and services to meet the needs of older populations, and how government and non-profit organizations can become involved in this enterprise. Coughlin describes older adults as disrupting the taken for granted tendencies of businesses to ignore the older population. Businesses do this at their own risk. Other chapters are dedicated to issues of employment, philanthropy, education, minority status, and a brief exploration of Healthy Aging in Britain and other parts of the world.

In contrast to the dire predictions that the increasing size of the aging population is a danger to the well-being of the young, these authors outline many ways in which the elderly population benefits society. In a highly readable style, with many personal stories, the book provides a succinct and optimistic picture of what our world, with many more older people in it, will become. These may be the golden years that have often been imagined as the rightful heritage of those blessed with a long life. And happily, the prospects for the younger generations are also seen in glowing terms as well. MMG


Philip F Crouch writes from Tasmania, Australia:
Dear Mary,
My name is Philip F Crouch aged 67 years passionate, based in Tasmania, Australia. Firstly, I'd like to say thank you for the BRILLIANT Positive Aging newsletter for which I became a recent subscriber. In context, as far as I'm aware we don’t have similar publications in Australia that communicate this format and readability of information promoting Positive Ageing [in Australia we use the 'e' in Ageing] to the wider community.

Locally, part of the community project Soul Work Ensemble, www.soulworkensemble.org consists of central themes, including: Dreams, Spirituality, Conscious and Creative Ageing, Eldering, Meditation, Paranormal and similar. In addition, a quarterly newsletter, SoulWork-eNEWS, home based group, "Circle of Wisdom" for persons age fifty and more, and currently I'm developing an introductory manual for the "Soul Table Talk" Conscious Ageing - A Journey in the Second Half of Life community service activity. Also in May of 2015 will facilitate a Conscious Ageing workshop at a seniors’ conference in Tasmania.

If requested, I am happy to submit more detailed information about the above. Inspirationally, the project began intuitively following an inner yearning to move beyond a seniors theatre group which I directed/performed/wrote for 2006-2012. As they often say in boomer classics …the beat goes. Thank you for reading this email, and for your brilliant informative succinct newsletter. All the very best for Christmas and may you and your team along with the Taos readers have a healthy, positive, creative and spiritually fulfilling 2015.

Kindest regards, Philip F Crouch

Jakob Nørlem, from Copenhagen, Denmark, sent us the following:
Cycling Without Age is a movement started in 2012 by Ole Kassow. Ole wanted to help the elderly get back on their bicycles, but he had to find a solution to their limited mobility. The answer was a rickshaw, and he started offering free bike rides to the local nursing home residents. He then got in touch with a civil society consultant, Dorthe Pedersen, at the municipality of Copenhagen, who was intrigued by the idea and together they bought the first 5 rickshaws and launched Cycling Without Age, which has now spread to all corners of Denmark and Norway.

Volunteers sign up for bike rides with the elderly through a simple booking system as often or as rarely as they want to. It’s all driven by the volunteers’ own motivation. At present, more than 30 municipalities in Denmark offer Cycling Without Age from over 140 rickshaws – and the numbers are still growing. More than 500 volunteers ensure that the elderly get out of their nursing homes, out on the bikes to enjoy the fresh air and the community around them. They give them the right to wind in their hair.

We are working on spreading the movement to other countries, so if you are interested in starting a chapter in your city, sign up here: http://cyclingwithoutage.org/your-city/. Currently more than 40 countries across the world are ready to get started.

Ole Kassow also did a TEDxCopenhagen talk about Cycling without age - Get the full story about how it all began and how bikes, conversations and experiences bring life to both young and old people.
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6Ti4qUa-OU


  • Feb. 26-March 1, 2015: The Changing Face of Aging Around the World. Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. Sheraton Nashville Downtown, TN http://www.aghe.org

  • March 23-27, 2015 Aging in America Conference, the annual conference of the American Society on Aging, at the Hyatt Regency, Chicago, will offer five days of intensive learning, networking and community-building. With topics relating to aging in community, retirement, health and wellness, elder justice, caregiving, older workforce, long-term services and supports, and public policy, Aging in America is an important event for all who want to better understand older adults, their challenges and their potential. Visit www.asaging.org/aia to learn more.

Information for Readers:

Questions & Feedback:
If you have any questions, or material you'd like to share with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at [email protected]

Past issues:
Past issues of the newsletter, including our translated issues in Spanish, German, French, Danish, Portuguese, and Chinese are archived at: www.positiveaging.net

We hope that you enjoy The Positive Aging Newsletter.

New subscribers can join by visiting this webpage and clicking on the SIGN UP link in the right column.

If you want to change your email or subscription or unsubscribe, also click on that link to make changes your information.

If you have questions please e-mail: [email protected]