2015 May/June

Download the newsletter in PDF format: Issue_92_Positive_Aging_Newsletter_May-June_2015.pdf

May/June, 2015

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

Wall Street Journal

Issue No. 92


Relational Life Review
Older people are often encouraged to engage in a life review, that is, to thoughtfully explore the details of their lives as a whole, to put together the “story of my life.” There are groups for producing such memoirs, and younger family members are encouraged to interview their elders “before it is too late.” By engaging in this process with an appreciative eye, one not only derives pleasure, but an enhanced sense of meaning and of peace. Life reviews focus on the self, as the center of activity. We try to discover “what happened to me, what I felt, decided, or thought…” Although the life review is a popular genre, the subject is very narrow. Time after time, national surveys indicate that the most important or valued aspects of people’s lives are their relationships. So, we ask, what about laying aside the “story of my life,” for a while, and instead review the story of the relationships of which I have been a part? What could we learn; how would this expand our consciousness or appreciation?

The two of us have played with this idea for some time, in one case trying our hand at a “duography,” or a biography of our coupleship. We now find it illuminating to think back on the history of various other relationships in which we have participated. For example, what do we recall about early family life? Rather than thinking of “what happened to me,” one might ponder what happened to my family over time, the relationship of father, mother, and siblings, and how we functioned together – for both good and ill. Here we begin, for example, to think of the economic struggles of our parents and their sacrifices for us, along with the way we brought them pleasure…and a bit of pain! We begin to appreciate the way our mothers seemed to hold us all together, and how, after her death, our relations with our brothers and sisters changed. And we also think of friendship relationships, some now inactive, some enduring. We don’t ask in this case, “what did I get from this,” but, for example, “how did we flourish so well,” and “what joy did we create together?” And of course, there are the teams in which we have participated, the clubs, and the communities. All add significant layers to our understanding and appreciation.

Relations have a life of their own; we can participate, but like a lively conversation or a dance, the directions they take are born in the interaction. As we grow older, we need to explore the dynamics of these relationships, appreciate the dimensions they have added to the lives of the participants, including ourselves, and relish these sources of meaning and inspiration.

Ken and Mary Gergen


Older Drivers are Safer Drivers
Stereotypes about “old drivers” suggest that they are the worst drivers on the road --slow, inept, and dangerous. Perhaps it is time to change some of these views. In fact, older drivers are among the best on the road. The evidence? AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety has concluded that these negative stereotypes are an undeserved myth, and that there are many positive aspects to the safety record for older people. Among them:

  • 86% of Americans age 85 and older still drive, and 75% of them drive five or more days a week. Driving is not just for occasional jaunts.
  • Nearly 90% of older drivers (65 and older) reported no accidents in the last two years.
  • 90% of older drivers reported no moving violations.
  • 65% of drivers age 75 and older report never using a cell phone while driving.
  • 80% of drivers over age 75 favor medical screenings for drivers within their age bracket.

Despite this view, age-based testing has been evaluated many times, and results indicate that it has no impact on highway safety. At any age, certain medical conditions must be of concern, such as serious heart conditions, epilepsy, complications related to diabetes, as well as dementia. States should focus on these issues and not on age.

From: Older drivers Among the Safest on the Road, Erikson Tribune, May, 2015, pg. 2

Re-partnering After Widowhood
What kinds of partnering relationships do those who are widowed engage in after their spouse dies? These Canadian researchers believed that widowed people over 45 would prefer to live together, rather than remarry. Co-habiting would be an easier and faster way of forming a partnership, with less financial and familial issues to settle. For the most part they were deeply mistaken.

Using the 2007 Canadian General Social Survey, and longitudinal data, the researchers first found that overall, men are about four times as likely to re-partner as women. This is mainly because there are many more women than men who are widowed. Men are in demand! At the same time, neither group does a lot of re-partnering. At least within ten years after their loss, only 7% of widows and 29% of widowers have formed new unions. Yet, most interesting, for both woman and men, twice as many are likely to remarry as to co-habit. Among people of this era, marriage is the preferred state, regardless of financial obligations and family issues that may occur.

There is one exception to this trend: the widowed people of Quebec are more likely to live together rather than to remarry. Although the reasons are unclear, the researchers suggest that this tendency may represent a general resistance to strictures of Catholicism prevailing in the region, and the power of feminism. Women may not want to become tied down with marital obligations.

From: Repartnering After Widowhood by Zhong Wu, Christoph M. Schimmele, and Nadia Ouellet, Journal of Gerontology, series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 70. 496-507.


Self-empowerment as a Response to Ageism
In North America, and perhaps elsewhere, negative stereotypes of aging are common. For example, a Yale study looking at Facebook groups that concentrated on older adults found that all but one of the sites focused on negative age stereotypes. Further, 74% blamed older people for a variety of social ills, 27% infantilized them, and 37% advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping!

Ageism is not harmless or frivolous. It can hinder people from opportunities for work, increase financial insecurities, and threaten people’s morale and energy, perhaps even their health. Eventually society will change, as the value that older people bring to society will be recognized, but for the immediate future, older people, themselves, must act.

Paul Irving, Chairman of the Milken Center for the Future of Aging, calls for a stance of self-empowerment against this prejudice. He believes it is imperative that people fight against the tide of antagonism, rather than buy into the image of impotent agers or retreat in the face of it. His recommendations for self-empowerment are these:

  1. Prepare: read, listen and enlarge our relational networks to learn how best to navigate “the system”. Take care of ourselves, physically as well as mentally.
  2. Return to School. Life long learning of any sort helps to create opportunities, enhance confidence, and redefine who we are.
  3. Keep working. Work helps people to remain cognitively astute and lively. Work also helps people stay healthy.
  4. Arrange an optimal schedule. Create a life style that is suited to your rhythms of rest and activity. Change the way in which you arrange your time, including your work schedule.
  5. Start a business. If this suits you. The people now most likely to consider themselves as entrepreneurial are the baby boomers, and they are starting the most new businesses.
  6. Retire differently. Consider phasing out of work and into another life style. Simply dropping out and doing nothing is a recipe for disaster.
  7. Volunteer or pursue an encore career. Get involved with civic and community groups, and become a local leader. Through it all keep a sense of humor, smile and accept that there are always struggles in every life. So What?

    As we see it, this seems to be good advice – not for fighting ageism in particular, but for positive aging in general.

Reference: Levy, B. R., et al. (2014). Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes. The Gerontologist, 54, 172-176.

From: Self-empowerment in Later Life as a Response to Ageism by Paul Irving. Generations, 39, 2015, 72-77.

92 and Still Going the Distance

Thinking of sitting in a rocking chair, watching the next marathon on TV? That’s not the choice of 92 year old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte, NC. On May 31, she ran the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, with a time of 7 hours, 24 minutes, to become the oldest woman to finish a marathon. Mobs of well-wishers gave her kudos for her performance, and she was delighted to be there. What is particularly special about her achievement is that she only began running marathons in her 70’s. A member of her church asked her to support her run for a cancer charity. Ms. Thompson decided that she would not only support her, but she would go along on the marathon. Her plan was to walk, but when she saw all the others running, she decided to run, as well. She has been running ever since. A classically trained pianist, she used her memory of playing old piano pieces to get through the 26 miles. Raising money for charity is one of her motives for running, and as a cancer survivor herself, she doubts she’d be alive today if she didn’t run.

From: 92 and still going the distance, Associated Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 2015, A4.

Always at the Edge: Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda

Netflix is developing a new show called Grace and Frankie. The stars of the show are Jane Fonda, who is Grace, and Lily Tomlin, as Frankie. The premise of the show is that their husbands, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen, are gay and want to marry each other. As unlikely as this may seem, it provides the motivation for the two wives to find some common ground. As one of the show’s creators, Howard Morris, said, “We felt an urgency about the subject matter… this population is aging rapidly, all the baby boomers. This is the time to hit this show.” Fonda wanted to do the show about being an older woman. “When women pass 50, in some ways their lives get better. It’s like: Who cares? What do we have to lose to not be brave…. I wanted to do a series about that.”
As Tomlin also explained, “I did have a fantasy that we would live out this show in our lives.” Jane added, “It’s fun, doing a show about getting old, and we’re going to be getting old.” The actresses are over 74.

From: Youthful Demographics be Damned by John Koblin, New York Times, April 26, 2015, 22.

Book Preview and Web Resources:

This summer The Taos Institute will publish a book entitled, 70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade by Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole. The book includes first hand accounts of women who have found the 70+ years enriching. Many also share their wisdom. Here we share an excerpt from an essay by a 94 year old woman, who began self-publishing after her work career had ended. Here she begins with reference to a book she had written for social bridge players: For reasons of procrastination, and I get feeling I’ll live forever, I never did get around to publishing that bridge book until the end of 2009, at 89, with the title Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? An Affectionate Look Back at Sociable Bridge & Ladies Lunch . By this time self-publishing had become widespread, far easier than back when I started. BUT one still must do the harder less fun job of marketing yourself. And so I started a blog, http://bridgetable.net as part of a rather desultory effort at marketing.

Meanwhile I moved to retirement heaven in Florida near a daughter. I’m still a political junkie, play bridge at least twice a week—and blog.

If people ask how come I do so well at 94 I emphasize the mental aspect. I do walk a bit, but I loathe sports--always have--and I don't even take my vitamins as I should. I believe mental activity is at least as important as physical activity—perhaps more important. I do watch to see that I eat enough protein and greens, but don’t deny myself fried foods or yummy desserts when I eat out.

And I usually add--just for a laugh--have a martini every night and go barefooted as much as possible. [I kind of believe in that Asian stuff about all those nerve endings in the soles of one's feet needing to be massaged by going barefooted or at least wearing thin-soled shoes.] Just a couple months ago on 60 Minutes they did a piece on nonagenarians and what they have in common – came down to being slightly overweight and having a couple of drinks every day! I fit that.

My unscientific opinion is that heredity probably has more to do with reaching the 90s dementia-free than seems fair. But being mentally active is next – interested in life and the world, open to taking up new hobbies and activities that bring you in touch with a new set of acquaintances and friends. And, one thing more, learn to play bridge as early in life as you can. But it’s never too late – take it up in your 70s - for sure if you’ve reached 70 without bridge!

Web Resources

  • www.spry.org
    Setting priorities for Retirement Years. Nonprofit organization that helps prepare people for successful aging. Four key areas of health and wellness; mental health; financial security, life engagement.
  • www.seniorcorp.org
    Volunteer program for people 55 and over. Programs include Foster Grandparent Program and Senior Companion Program.
  • www.globalaging.org/index.htm
    Global Action on Aging (GAA) is a nonprofit organization with a special status with the UNESCO. Does research on various topics related to aging, and posts materials on its web site.
  • www.seniortheatre.com
    Senior Theatre Resource Center is "a mecca for all things related to theatre for seniors." Founded in 1997, the ArtAge Center 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.” The Center has the world’s largest collection of over 400 plays, books, and materials for older performers.


  • September 18-20, 2015: The 2nd Healthy and Active Aging. Conference, Shanghai, China. For more information see www.engii.org/conf/HAAC/2015Sep
  • 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
  • The American Society on Aging (ASA) Conference takes place March 20–24, 2016 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 , 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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