2015 July/August

Download the newsletter in PDF format: Issue_93_Positive_Aging_Newsletter_July-August_2015.pdf

July/August, 2015

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

Wall Street Journal

Issue No. 93



Aging and Expanding Appreciation
I recently drove through the neighborhood in which I had grown up many decades ago, and paused in front of the house where my best friend Tom had lived. Ah, the site of so much creative mischief! But I looked again, to realize something about the house to which I had been blind: it was in the Georgian architecture style, a rarity in that neighborhood. I looked again to see that the several fir trees in their yard were on the north side, obviously to protect from the fierce north winds. And there in the back yard stood an old copper beach tree, distinct from almost all the trees in the area. I had never noticed how beautiful it was, shimmering in the sunlight. There was a small wall along one edge of the property, but now I could see that Tom’s parents had carefully harmonized the wall with the house by selecting the same brick.

Slowly I began to reflect on what was taking place in my gazing appreciation. When I was young, I was insensitive to virtually all these many dimensions of my world. It was simply “Tom’s house.” Now, with age I had multiplied lenses for seeing. There were styles of architecture, landscaping, beauty and harmony. Give me another decade of life, I said to myself, and I bet I would see even more. All too often we approach aging as a period of loss in capacities - beauty, health, and so on. All too seldom do we consider what we gain. As we grow older, our experiences deepen, our understanding expands, and our appreciations grow in all directions: the foods we enjoy, the pleasures of music, the variations in nature, and the offerings of so many cultures. We can also compare the present with the past, finding interest in the smallest of changes – the disappearance of milk delivery, coal chutes, and curtain stretchers. And we are equipped as no one else to remark on the impact of new inventions on our lives together.

Growing older is not simply growing wiser, it is gaining a profound depth in our abilities to understand and appreciate.

I can only wish that Tom were still here to share the wealth.

Ken Gergen


A Dose of Exercise Keeps the Brain Sharp
Much research suggests that there is a close link between exercise and our cognitive abilities. In this case researchers looked more closely. Actually, how much exercise is needed? The researchers at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center began by recruiting 101 sedentary older adults, at least 65 years of age, who were generally healthy, and had no symptoms of dementia. The volunteers first completed a series of cognitive tests, along with measurements of their aerobic capacity. Then they were randomly assigned to one of four groups:

  • A control group continuing their normal lives.
  • Exercise for 75 minutes a week, half the current recommendation
  • Exercise for the recommended 150 minutes per week
  • Exercise for 225 minutes per week, or 150 percent more than recommended

Exercise consisted of walking briskly on a treadmill. After 26 weeks, all of the participants returned to the lab to repeat the original tests. There were significant differences. First, on the physical level, the more someone had exercised, the more his or her endurance capacity had increased, with those walking for 225 minutes per week the most fit of all.

However, that relationship between exercise and cognitive abilities was more surprising. Indeed, exercise did have a positive effect, but the gains were about the same whether people had exercised for 75 minutes a week or 225 minutes. Over all, “a small dose of exercise” may be sufficient to improve many aspects of thinking. On the other hand, more exercise will likely make you more aerobically fit. The encouraging conclusion from the research is that briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week — may help to keep our brains sharp as the years pass.

From: “Dose-response of aerobic exercise on cognition: A community-based, pilot randomized controlled trial” by Eric D. Vidoni, David K. Johnson, Jill K. Morris, Angela Van Sciver, Colby S. Greer, Sandra A. Billinger, Joseph E. Donnelly, & Jeffrey Burns. Published: July 9, 2015. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131647

Growing in Trust
Researchers replicated and extended previous work on age-related differences in interpersonal trust and examined associations between trust and well-being across the adult life span. In Study 1, a cross-sectional study of 197,888 individuals (aged 14–99) from 83 countries assessed between 1981 and 2007, results showed that older versus younger adults showed higher on interpersonal trust. Higher trust scores predicted higher well-being, especially for older adults. In Study 2, a nationally representative longitudinal study (spanning 4 years) of 1,230 individuals in the United States (aged 18–89), showed that interpersonal trust increased longitudinally across age groups and higher trust predicted increases in well-being longitudinally and vice versa. That is as people aged they grew more trusting of others, and at the same time, as people improved in their well-being scores, they also became more trusting. These findings suggest that interpersonal trust may be an important resource for successful development across the life span.

It is curious to speculate why some people grow more trusting as they age. Perhaps people who rate themselves as having a high level of well-being are those who have had many positive experiences trusting others; it may also be the case that having a trusting attitude toward others tends to bring out the best in others, as well. Being skeptical and suspicious of others, on the other hand, may encourage negative behaviors on the part of others. And if one has lived in a world where people have treated one badly, it is reasonable not to trust them. Overall to see the best in people may be the best way to enjoy a satisfying life. As one ages, it may be a practice that one can increasingly use.

From: Growing to trust: Evidence that trust increases and sustains well-being across the life span by Michael J. Poulin and Claudia M. Haase, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2015, 6, 614-621.


Resisting Disappearance
At the American Psychological Association meetings in Toronto this August, Mary Gergen gave a talk entitled Stereotypes of Older Women: Resisting the Disappearing Act. Her concern was with the common view that older women are without value. They have ceased to have babies, be sexually alluring, or to participate in the workforce. A recent study of Facebook groups that concentrated on older adults found that all but one of the sites voiced negative age stereotypes. Some 74% blamed older people for a variety of social ills, and 37% advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping!

This kind of ageism is not a harmless or frivolous issue. It can hinder people from opportunities for work, threaten morale, reduce social participation, and affect their health. One of the most serious consequences of ageism is that older people are also ageist themselves. Many people resist going to live in residential communities for older people or from going to the Senior center because they “don’t want to be with old people.”

The irony of the situation is that as one becomes a victim of the stereotype, one also becomes a fuller, wiser, and more emotionally satisfied person. A survey of midlife women indicates “an enhanced capacity for self-transcendence that develops in women as they age.” Women in their fifties “embrace an expanded sense of self marked by renewed energy…and a sharper awareness of life’s finiteness.” Positive developments that typically emerge as adults grow older include increased emotional stability, emotional and philosophical complexity and wisdom.

With the ever-expanding size of the elderly population, the stereotypes may wither. But for the immediate future, older people, themselves, must act. How can we resist? What must we do? Panelists at the conference had much to offer. One woman said, “Political and personal activities are helpful in resisting the stereotypes. Being involved in social justice actions, from local to global in order to undermine social conditions that produce stereotypes is one avenue.” Another said, “I am clear that I will continue to mentor and advocate for persons who are often relegated to the margins of society. I will look for potential in those who may be dismissed without cause because they do not fit.” Still another: “I have energy and a resolve to live life to the fullest. Postponement is no longer a part of my life script. I use everything now – not just for special occasions as every day is a special day, a gift.” For myself, I find it useful to speak up and voice my opinion, in whatever groups I am participating. I support my friends who join in classes such as yoga, dance, weight-training and sports, or take classes that expand knowledge and interests. The main thing is disregard your precious reputation for purposes of “acting your age.

On the Good Side of “Too Old for This”
In a recent essay in the New York Times “I’m Too Old for This” Dominique Browning – one-time editor of House and Garden - addressed the lessons learned, as a woman ages. Here are some of her pithy comments, mostly addressed to younger women.

Discussing the lifelong fears and dislikes of one’s own body: “Why waste time and energy on insecurity? I have no doubt that when I’m 80 I’ll look at pictures of myself when I was 60 and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty.”

I’m happy to have a body that is healthy, that gets me where I want to go, that maybe sags and complains, but hangs in there.”

“Weight gain? Simply move to the looser end of the wardrobe.”

“What matters most is work. Does it give you pleasure, or hope? Does it sustain your soul?”

“The key to life is resilience. … We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. … Resilience is the key to feeling 15 again. Which is actually how I feel most of the time.”

“I am too old to try to change people….what you see in someone at the beginning is what you get forevermore…. Toxic people? I’m simply walking away. It’s easier all around to accept that friendships have ebbs and flows, and indeed, there’s something quite beautiful about the organic nature of love.”

From: “I’m Too Old for This” by Dominique Browning. New York Times, Aug. 9, 2015, Sunday Styles, pg. 2.

A Retirement Coach?
We have career coaches and life coaches, and now we have coaches specialized in helping people plan their retirements. Typically hired by baby boomers some years before the planned retirement date, these coaches help people with many issues besides the financial. One of the most important questions is how will people find purpose and meaning in their lives, once the job title is relinquished and the nest is empty. Many people want a new part-time career, one that is stress-free or in which one is one’s own boss. The centrality of travel, family life and hobbies are also important to consider.

Retirement coaching is a relatively new field, but some coaches have certificates from training programs that require coursework, practicums and exams. Hiring a coach costs from $100-$300 per session.

From: Do you need a Retirement Coach? By Meghan Streit. Erikson Tribune, August, 2015, pg. 2.


Aging Together: Dementia, Friendship and Flourishing Communities, by Susan McFadden and John McFadden, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, 2011.

Growing numbers of people are diagnosed with forms of memory loss, some mild and some that become severe. When this happens to a friend, is the friendship lost? These authors, a psychologist and a Christian minister, argue that there are ways in which friendship can be maintained over the course of dementia, even when people do not remember us from moment to moment. The authors stress that remembering is not the only important aspect of a person’s capacities. Forgetting can also be a blessing. The central idea of the book is that one accompanies people who are experiencing cognitive loss, no matter how long and convoluted the process. In their view, “It is possible, necessary and rewarding to have meaningful relations with people traveling the dementia road.” Their lives have worth and value, and they have much to teach their friends about love.

Community groups can help to support these types of friendships. The McFaddens cite their own religious community as an example of this type of group. The community is committed to providing hospitality and acceptance of all people who come there, regardless of their human condition.


John Copelton writes:
Hi Mary,
I edit an online magazine aimed at the active retired and wondered if you might give us a mention (www.exploringretirement.co.uk). Our website is a completely free resource and we carry no advertising. We aim to answer the question "what is there to do when you retire" by exploring and sharing initiatives from around the world.
Regards, John

Theresa Bertram writes:
Earlier this year, Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh became aware of the Cycling Without Age program founded by Ole Kassow in 2012. Starting in Copenhagen, the program has taken off worldwide with chapters in Scandinavia, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, Singapore, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States. The program pairs volunteers piloting rickshaws and elders living in nursing homes interested in going for a ride and spending time outside.

In February, Lutheran Homes became the first elder care services provider in the United States to become a licensee and convened a coalition to launch Cycling Without Age in Oshkosh. Partners include the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, City of Oshkosh, Senior Center, and representatives from several cycling shops and clubs. Coalition members include seniors receiving skilled care and living independently on the Lutheran Homes campus.

From donations of a dollar to checks in the amounts of $1,000 - $3,000 - $5,000, Lutheran Homes has raised approximately $22,000 from individuals, charitable groups, and a foundation. A Bethel Home skilled nursing resident, who is an avid fan of the Cycling Without Age program and a member of the coalition, has independently raised thousands of dollars.

Three rickshaws have been ordered. Ole Kassow, Cycling Without Age founder, is coming to Lutheran Homes the last week of August to participate in several special events including the blessing of our fleet of rickshaws. Gerard Bodalski, Vice President of Health Care Services, is available to provide further information for members interested in the program. He can be reached at 920.232.5225 or at [email protected].

Additional information regarding the Cycling Without Age program is available at the following links: http://cyclingwithoutage.org/, https://www.youtube/watch?v=O6Ti4qUa-OU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9cWg8UApKI.

Please be sure to share this email with Ken. We would be thrilled for you to make the connection between the newsletter, Cycling Without Age, and Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh in a future edition of the newsletter.
Warmly, Theresa


  • Linking Gerontology & Geriatrics. Oklahoma State University, Tulsa. Topic: Wellness: Building Capacity for Tomorrow’s Older Adults http://osu-okgec.okstate.edu September 24-25, 2015
  • November 18-22, 2015, GSA, 2015, the Gerontological Society of America’s annual scientific meeting. “Aging as a Lifelong Process” in Orlando, FL. Registration and housing open June 2015. For more information visit: www.geron.org/2015
  • November 16-18, 2015: International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review, Orlando, FL 11th biennial international conference. www.ReminiscenceAndLifeReview.org
  • The American Society on Aging (ASA) Conference takes place March 20–24 in Washington, DC. ASA is always looking for new models, innovative programs and research-to-practice presentations for the conference. This is a fabulous opportunity to share your program developments and new ideas with this conference community of nearly 3,000 multidisciplinary professionals who, like you, care about improving the lives of older adults. www.asaging.org/aia.
  • The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE), GSA's 42nd Annual Meeting and Educational Leadership Conference is taking place from March 3 to 6, 2016, at The Westin Long Beach in Long Beach California — is the premier international forum for discussing ideas and issues in gerontological and geriatric education. The theme for 2016 is "Developing Educational Leadership in Gerontology Worldwide."

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