2015 Sept/Oct

Download the newsletter in PDF format: Issue_94_Positive_Aging_Newsletter_Sept-Oct_2015.pdf

September/October, 2015

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


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 - join in at: www.positiveaginginaction.org. In addition to our Newsletter content, the website will include up-to-date news ideas, reviews, announcements, and other resources on positive aging. This website is designed to be interactive and we invite you to join today. We are excited about the addition, and hope you find it useful and inspiring.

Issue 94

COMMENTARY: Keeping in Touch

As we grow older we are in danger of losing touch, that is, physical contact with other human beings. There are no more parents to cuddle us. The days of courtship have largely passed. Close dancing is now passé. The grandchildren pass the stage of curling up on your lap. And as we feel less and less physically attractive, we begin to doubt that others should wish to join in an embrace. Among those most deprived of physical contact may be the elderly widows. In part, this could serve as an invitation for all of us to be more sensitive and creative as we grow older, so as not to lose what many scholars feel is a vital source of well-being. In the 70s, everyone was hugging, on any possible occasion. Although no longer so fashionable, we have been loathe to give up the pastime. With some friends we do backrubs. And we don’t let our grandchildren grow up as fast as they might wish. These are just a few ways we try to keep in touch (not to mention how we two keep in touch as bedtime partners).

We were recently struck by a news article describing the use of dogs for boosting the spirits of hospital patients. Patients are especially fond of patting the animals. It is also apparent, then, that humans are not the only ones to provide us with creature comforts. Our dog Julian liked to sit under Ken’s desk when he was working. At the same time, when Ken hit a hard patch in his writing, he would often go and lie down beside Julian, stroking his fur and feeling his warmth. As Ken said, it was a great way to relax and restore his brain. A good friend of ours recently told us of the pleasure she experienced having her dog curl up with her in bed. Another friend likes her cats beside her as she sleeps. There are even some clothing materials that seem to have some nourishing qualities. I think of angora and cashmere, for example.

The nourishing pleasure of touch is subtle. It is like the shade of color on the wall, the amount of light in the room, the number of hard surfaces surrounding us, or the presence of grass and trees. While scarcely noticeable, all can affect our well-being. So, my crusade of the moment is to put touch higher on the list of contributions to aging well.
- Mary Gergen


Best Way to Retire: Choose it!
Retirement by choice is a pretty good choice, as suggested by a recent study of over 1,300 Dutch workers. The study was carried out over a six year period, during which about 50% of the workers retired. The first finding of importance was that the people who retired rated their life satisfactions as higher than those who remained on the job. During the study the satisfaction of people who continued to work declined. The researchers speculated that this group of employees might have wanted to retire, but could not, possibly due to financial considerations. A second important finding was that those who had retired involuntarily were the least satisfied with their lives. Those who had retired because of health, downsizing, or being let go for other reasons experienced a decrement in life satisfaction. Those who had retired voluntarily were most satisfied with their lives.

Not surprisingly, over the course of the study, health changes affected the level of life satisfaction. Also important was the status of their intimate life. People who lost a spouse or were divorced during the time of the study also experienced a reduced sense of satisfaction with their lives. The researchers also suggested that the reduction in life satisfaction following involuntary retirement might be short-lived. Once retired, with all of the potential opportunities retirement offers, the perceptions of life satisfaction might rebound.

Employers who have the power to end employment for their workers should be sensitive to the transitional stages and offer ways to smooth the path to a life without a job. Early retirement planning is one possible program to help employees find the right time to retire. Other organizational initiatives allow retirees to become involved in mentoring programs for younger employees, as well as other types of social service activities that benefit the company or the community.

From: Impact of Different Types of Retirement Transitions on Perceived Satisfaction with Life, by Douglas Hershey and Kene Henkens, The Gerontologist, 2013, 54, 232-244. Doi:10.1093/geront/gnt006

What do Adult Children Give to Their Parents?

Most research studies of child-parent relations focus on how parents help their children - from infancy to adulthood - in terms of financial, emotional and social support. This study is a turn-about, asking what young adults in their 20’s do in terms of supporting their parents, who are, by and large, middle aged. Participants completed a questionnaire that asked about forms and frequency of support they gave. For example, listening to a parent talk about daily life; giving emotional support, companionship, and advice; and providing financial support were all evaluated.

As the researchers found, the two most frequent forms of support from the younger to the older were described as providing emotional support and listening. One might say that the parents were expressing their feelings to their children, who were listening empathically and bolstering their morale. A large percentage of offspring (about 90%) reported listening to parents talk about daily life at least once a month. However, in terms of financial support, researchers found little evidence that the young adults gave money or practical support to their parents.

Researchers were also interested in the relationship between intergenerational ties and patterns of support. Here the parents were also asked about how much help they gave, and how much help they received from their children. Interestingly, the parents did not recall that their children gave as much help as the children claimed. This finding can be interpreted in many ways. However, when both parents and children rated their relationship as high in quality (with much affection), both children and parents agreed that more help was given. One might say that giving help proved to be reciprocal in this case, with both parents and children giving a lot to each other. At the same time, the parents’ support of their children was more likely to be financial. In close relationships, parents tend to give money and receive emotional support. Alas, when parents needed money, it seemed to make little difference in how much their children helped them. At least one conclusion to be drawn, is that parents should give special attention to kindling and sustaining affectionate ties with their children.

From: Young Adults’ Provision of Support for Middle-Aged Parents by Yen-Pi Cheng, Kira S. Birditt, Steven H. Zarit, & Karen L. Fingerman. Journal of Gerontology: Series B. Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2013, 70, 407-416. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbt108


The Grateful Alive Band Plays On
The Grateful Alive band is a group of 16 musicians - from the classically trained to the self taught - who get together to play music of all varieties for people living in group residences, patients at medical facilities, or visitors at senior centers. The transformative power of the music, whether a polka or a waltz, is well noted by the musicians. The people in the audience go from being “just OK” to “joyful.” Band members themselves range in age from the 70’s to the 90’s. Once a week they gather to practice or perform. Band director, Mary Aldworth, describing the group said, “We don’t retire, we die.”

Mastering new music is a constant challenge for the group. They prefer to introduce new numbers to keep from getting bored. They are evolving, not stagnating. In addition to the popular music that many of the audience once danced to, the group has a repertoire of military service anthems, and when they are played, servicemen and women are asked to stand for their branch’s song. One of the regular venues of the band is the VA Medical Center in Coatesville, PA. Patients are vitalized after being at a concert. As a cello player, Virginia Schawacker, 76, described her pleasure in playing, “I love … seeing fingers begin to tap, faces becoming alert, people singing whole songs….There’s something about music.”

From: Grateful Alive, with no member younger than 70, plays for peers by Ann L. Rappoport, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 14, 2015, C11, C8.

Toward Fall Proof Worlds

For people 65 years old and older falls are the number one cause of death from an injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2013 alone, more than 25,500 seniors died from injuries sustained in a fall. The most common form of fall is a ground-level fall (where a person is standing on the ground before the fall). A study from the University of Mississippi, found that seniors older than 70 years experienced a three-fold increase in their risk of death after a ground-level fall when compared with those 69 years and younger.

What's behind this increased risk of death? According to the CDC, trauma to the brain was the cause of death in 41% of fall fatalities among seniors in the year 2010. Not every fall can be prevented, but taking certain steps can reduce a person's risk:

  • Constructing a fall proof environment: Removing clutter, throw rugs, and low-lying furniture can prevent tripping and installing grab bars in the bathroom and other slippery areas can provide additional stability. A slender friend of ours wears a padding around her hips to protect her if she falls.
  • Double-check medications: Certain prescription meds can make an older person dizzy and thus increase the chance that one might fall. Find out if medications being taken increase a risk of a fall. Try to find a substitute and reduce reliance on medications altogether, if possible.
  • Exercising: Exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise can increase coordination and strengthen bones, which can help prevent and/or minimize the negative effects of fall.
  • Eye testing: Vision problems can be corrected.

From: CDC Compendium of Effective Fall Interventions: What Works for Community-Dwelling Older Adults, 3rd Edition. On the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls are no fun.

Steven Spielberg, A Director Who Never Gets Old
Steven Spieberg’s recently released movie, Bridge of Spies about the exchange of captured American pilot, Gary Powers, for a Russian spy, served as the opportunity for a recent profile in USA Today. Spieberg, 68, has been a highly successful director, whose early films - Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Jaws stunned many moviegoers in the 60’s. He took risks with films that were viewed as impossible to succeed. “You really test yourself when everybody says this is not a good choice and you persevere.” E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was a prime example. For the future, Spielberg is finding a new burst of creative energy. As his 7th child heads off to college, he is working on a new film, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s fantasy children’s book, The BFG, about a big, friendly giant. In terms of retirement, Spielerg believes that not working takes more energy than working. He is described as being more fascinated by life now than ever before. As an actor who works with him said, “In the center of a multibillion-dollar industry, … he’s preserved an innocence and a love for what he does.”

From: Spielberg Builds a ‘Bridge’ to Cold War Era by Brian Truitt, USA Today Life, Oct. 16, 2015, pp. 1D, 3D.

Web Resources:

www.creativeaging.org - The National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) was founded in 2001 and is dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging and to developing programs that build on this understanding. Based in Washington, DC, NCCA is a non-profit organization with 2,500 members and is affiliated with The George Washington University.

www.agingnepal.org - Website dedicated to enhancing the lives of older people in Nepal. Website contains news of Nepal, and the newsletter, Voice of Senior Citizens.

Human Values in Aging Newsletter

This electronic newsletter, edited by Harry (Rick) Moody, is sponsored by the Creative Longevity and Wisdom Program of Fielding Graduate University and is distributed by the Humanities and Arts Committee of The Gerontological Society of America. The newsletter mentions the following websites as worthwhile for those interested in positive aging:


Andrzej Klimczuk ‪‬ writes:
I would like to distribute information about a new book "Economic Foundations for Creative Ageing Policy, Vol. I"

The book mixes the silver economy, the creative economy, and the social economy to construct positive solutions for an ageing population. It covers theoretical analyses and case study descriptions of good practices to suggest strategies that could be internationally popularized. For further information on the book, please visit:

You may use a discount code, visit www.palgrave.com and quote discount code PM15THIRTY, or email your order to [email protected]. Special offer is valid until 12/31/2015.


  • 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 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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