2015 Nov/Dec

Download the newsletter in PDF format: Issue_95_Positive_Aging_Newsletter_Nov-Dec_2015.pdf

November/December, 2015

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

Wall Street Journal

A new and exciting development of the Positive Aging newsletter is in motion. Under the leadership of our friend, colleague, and mentor Samuel Mahaffy, we have launched a website, Positive Aging in Action (positiveagingnewsletter.org). In addition to our Newsletter content, the website will include up-to-date news ideas, reviews, announcements, and other resources on positive aging. We are excited about the addition, and hope you can find it useful and inspiring.

Issue 95

In this Issue:


Placing Process over Product
As we move into a New Year, many of us pause and reflect on the condition of our lives. Often these reflections turn to matters of achievement. What have we accomplished during the past year, or indeed, in a lifetime? We may ask the same about our children, sometimes basking in the reflected glory of their achievements. While this focus on accomplishment is commonplace, seldom do we stop to ask “why this focus?” Why not ask, for example, about the beauty of our lives, our relations to nature, or whether our feelings or opinions are fully expressed? Some may ask these questions, but the fact is that most of us have spent almost a lifetime being evaluated on our products. What have we accomplished in school, or in our professions; did we manage to get married and have children; how much money did we make, how large is our house, how many countries have we visited? How are we on measures of health, fitness, world knowledge, cooking…and onward? Are we proud or ashamed of how much or how little we have done to reach our goals? From day to day, we may even have a checklist with our “to do’s” in sight, hoping we can cross each one off as we do our duty. The meaning of our life seems counted out in products.

Once freed from evaluation by institutions of education and work, however, we find it increasingly nourishing to shift our attention from the PRODUCTS of our activities to the PROCESS in which we are engaged. To be sure, we may never lose interest in the outcomes, but the exploration of process is increasingly fascinating.

Attention to the process by which we do things also allows us to focus on the details of our activities, to open ourselves to what gives us life-energies. For example, if our goal is simply to have a healthy meal, how are we doing it? Are we taking the time to prepare food that we really enjoy? And where will we eat? Perhaps a nice table setting would contribute to the experience, enhanced with flowers and candles. Are we taking time together to enjoy the food and company, as opposed to racing through so we can get on with other matters?

How do we talk together? Dinner need not be a business meeting, nor an excuse for more television, but instead a period of relaxed, mutual appreciation. The same goes for ordinary tasks, such as house cleaning, paying bills, or filling the gas tank. How, we ask, can we convert these from “let’s just get this over with” to “my life in this moment feels quite ok?” Yes, it’s an adventure, but the process of exploration is also a nourishing good in itself.

Mary and Ken Gergen


Purpose in Life: Health Advantages
Feeling that one has a purpose in life — a sense that life one’s life has significance and direction — is an important key to well-being. Most interesting, however, is the possibility that a sense of purpose in life may also be advantageous to your health. This is the conclusion being drawn by scientists at the Alzheimer's Disease Center of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Mental health, in particular positive psychological factors such as having a purpose in life, are emerging as very potent determinants of health outcomes," said Patricia Boyle, PhD, a professor at the center. "Clinicians need to be aware of a patient’s mental state and encourage behaviors that will increase purpose and other positive emotional states," she advised.

Earlier research from the Rush team had focused on the relationship between purpose in life and Alzheimer’s. As this research showed, elderly people with a strong sense of purpose in life are almost 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. The present research was focused on strokes. There were 453 participants in project, all of whom underwent annual physical and psychological evaluations, including a standard assessment of purpose in life. They were followed until they died, at an average age of 90. All of the participants were free of dementia when they entered the study. Over this period a total of 114 participants (25.3%) had clinically diagnosed strokes. According to the researchers, however, participants who had initially reported a stronger purpose in life were 44% less likely to have macroscopic strokes.

These findings remained "robust" after adjustment for vascular risk factors of body mass index, history of smoking, diabetes mellitus, and other factors. The reasons for these important linkages are many, including the fact that people with a strong purpose in life are more active, both physically and mentally, than those who feel there is little worth doing.

From: Stroke. Published online March 19, 2015.


Working for 85 years!
Felimina Rotundo works at a local laundromat and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, even at the age of 100. Rotundo washes clothes and handles dry cleaning at the College Laundry Shoppe in Buffalo, New York. She works from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. She says that she likes being out and working because it “gives her something to do.” Rotundo said that she hasn’t considered retirement. She says she doesn't think that "old people" should be sitting idle, and doing nothing, because that is a waste of time. So when would be an acceptable age to retire? According to her, 75 would be a good age but only if health is an issue.

Rotundo was born in 1915, and this past August she reached the century mark. She says she has been working for 85 years of her life. She has worked in the area for nearly 40 years. When she first started she only made about 25 cents for washes.


Living to 100: Good News for Men
On average, women have longer lives than men. However, if men do manage to reach a century of life, they have the advantage. Researchers from King's College London analyzed electronic health records on age, chronic illnesses and age-related problems during the years 1990 to 2013 for 11,084 centenarians. The study indicated that the likelihood of reaching 100 was four times higher for women than for men. Yet, interestingly, centenarian men tended to be healthier than same-aged women. They suffered from fewer chronic illnesses and had fewer age-related problems. "We found a surprising number of 100 year-olds who had no major illnesses", said lead author Nisha Hazra. Further research is needed to find out why some people reach old age in good health and others do not. In the future, this knowledge could improve the care and quality of life, she said.

From: Nisha C. Hazra, Alex Dregan, Stephen Jackson, Martin C. Gulliford. Differences in Health at Age 100 According to Sex: Population-Based Cohort Study of Centenarians Using Electronic Health Records. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/jgs.13484

Writing Toward the Twilight
Clive James is often regarded as one of the western world’s greatest writers - a critic, poet and explorer of the universe. For decades he has sent out his missives to the world from Cambridge, England. Of late, he has been writing up a storm, in the face of a diagnosis of a potentially lethal leukemia. His recent book of poems, Sentenced to Life sings with the sensibility of one who is dying. He writes of the positive possibilities in aging:

This much: you get to see the
cosmos blaze
And feel its grandeur, even
against your will,
As it reminds you, just by being
That it is here we live or else

His poetry reminds us all that the wonders of life are here, under our noses, for us to cherish everyday.

From: Writing toward the Twilight Prolifically by Dwight Garner. New York Times, January 14, 2016, pg. C1, C4 (Sentenced to Life is published by Liveright Pub.)

Web Resources:

www.AARP.org Dozens of resources that are tailored to their membership of people over 50, from health to caretaking, volunteering, financial information, discounts and coupons, information on products, and other services to promote positive aging.

.Northwestern.edu National Research Center for Osher Lifelong Learning institutes at Northwestern University. The 119 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes exist in all the states and DC. Each is part of a college or university, and specializes in adult education.


Dr. Bella DePaulo writes:
Hi Mary and Ken,

I am still reading your Positive Aging newsletters and I am so impressed that you have kept them going for so long. When I went to look for your email addresses, I noticed all the different languages the issues appear in and that was amazing, too.

I just wanted to let you know that I wrote a book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century; chapter 7 is called "Lifespaces for the New Old Age – Institutions Begone!"
You can read more about the book here if you are interested, http://belladepaulo.com/how-we-live-now/. The very short version is that I traveled around the country asking people to show me their homes, tell me about the important people in their lives, and describe how they had found a place to live and a way to live that was personally fulfilling. The older people I interviewed provided some great examples of positive aging.

Thanks for all that you have been doing to make aging more positive for all of us.

Twitter: @belladepaulo
"Living Single" at Psychology Today
"Single at Heart" at PsychCentral
"All Things Single (and More)" at BellaDePaulo.com


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 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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Past Issues:
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