2020 January – March

Download the newsletter in PDF format: 2020 January – March Issue 112


January/February/March 2020
Issue 112

In this issue:

From Quantity to Quality-Oriented Living

Retirement has become a bad word. It once signified that the drumming demands of work could finally give way to more relaxed days in which one more freely chose the content of the hours. Yet, while “retiring at 50” was once a symbol of success, there is now a general aversion to retiring at all.Somehow, remaining at work, productive, participating in the hustle and bustle, has become a sign that one is still young. It is also to sustain quantitative orientation to living, that is, a lifestyle where the main emphasis is on MORE.It may be more in terms of accomplishments, money, travel. Facebook friends, health food knowledge, phone aps, or simply having more in comparison to others. And even if retirement is officially required, many continue to import a quantitative lifestyle into a period of life in which retiring is almost unthinkable.

Yet, with the global pandemic most of us live in a stay-at-home world, restricted for weeks and possibly months to our places of living. This also means a radical reduction in quantity oriented living. No longer can we fill the days with shopping, endless errands, exercise clubs, cafe chatter, religious services, meetings, travels, movies, dinners with friends, and so on. Rather than focusing on the possible losses in lifestyle, let us consider it an adventure into a qualitative orientation to living. Rather than “getting and spending” the full day through, here is the opportunity to pay close attention to what have passed as the smaller things – subtle tastes, smells, colors, forms, or fabrics…the movement of the skies, the shape of a flower. All of these may then spark distant memories, now knitting together a life story. Here we are also drawn to the idea of what the Danes call Hygge (pronounced Hugh-gah). Hygge is roughly defined as a feeling of contentment and well-being that comes from such things as a fire in the fireplace, soft rugs, soft lightening, candlelight, mulled wine, or an afternoon tea. Some say it is the secret of Danish culture, one reason the nation is consistently ranked as one of the happiest in the world. It is also a glimpse into a form of quality enriched living. Perhaps this period of “stay at home” living can leave us all enriched by explorations in quality.

By: Ken and Mary Gergen

Hire the Old!

In addition to the tragic loss of life, the current pandemic is also playing havoc with the world economy. Jobs are lost, unemployment is skyrocketing. As we gradually return to health, and re-hiring is set in motion, who will get the jobs? Typically it is the young workers before the old, as it is commonly supposed that age brings decline, and the young are thus preferred. The stereotype is deeply flawed.

Consider the results of one major study that compared 101 young adult workers (20–31) with 103 older adult workers (65–80). Both groups were measured for 100 days on 12 different tasks, including cognitive abilities, perceptual speed, and working memory. Researchers first expected that the younger workers would perform more consistently over time, while the older workers would be more variable. However, this was not found. Instead, the 65–to-80-year-old workers’ performance was actually more stable, less variable from day to day than that of the younger group. It was also assumed that younger workers would perform better on these tasks, not just more reliably. But this was not found either. Why? Probably because the older workers’ wealth of experience enabled them to design strategies to solve problems. In addition, their motivation was higher than the younger workers’. This conclusion is supported by other studies showing that older people are less distracted and more focused on the job at hand.

Of course there are exceptions, as jobs vary greatly in what they require. Older workers have been shown to perform particularly well when it comes to being organized, writing, and problem solving. However, as Axel Börsch-Supan of the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy summarizes, “On balance, older employees’ productivity and reliability are higher than that of their younger colleagues.” Experience helps older workers compensate for the physical and mental changes that accompany aging. Professor Peter Cappella at the Wharton School of Business is even more forthright: “Older employees soundly thrash their younger colleagues. Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age,” he declares. “I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.”

From: Older workers can be more reliable and productive than their younger counterparts. It’s a real mistake to assume that “old” and “tech” are opposites. By Rivers, C. and Barnett, R.C. Oct 18, 2016, 8:00am EDT VOX Recode; and, The case for hiring older workers by Bersin, J & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. Harvard Business Review, Sept. 26, 2019.

Dancing Away Dementia

Research has long shown that singing and listening to songs has emotional and behavioral benefits for people with dementia. Could dance movement also be beneficial? With this question in mind, these researchers recruited 204 older adults (average age 79) diagnosed with mild dementia into one of two programs, a dance movement program, or an exercise class; a third group was placed on a waitlist as a control group. Both the dance movement classes and exercise classes were of similar intensity and comprised 24 hours of activity that spanned 12 weeks. All participants completed self-report questionnaires on psychosocial well-being, daily functioning, and cognitive competencies. These measures were taken before the classes began, and at 3 later intervals, which spanned over 1 year.

The outcomes were impressive: the dance movement group showed significant decreases in depression, loneliness, and negative mood. They also showed improved daily functioning. These effects on daily functioning remained even at the 1-year follow-up. Interestingly, however, the exercise group showed no significant effects in any of these areas. Nor did the control group. Researchers were surprised by this finding, as similar studies have almost always found a positive after-effect for exercise.

This is the first study that has examined the effects of dance movement training on the functioning of adults experiencing dementia. They are encouraging, and such exercise could easily be included in programs to providing psychosocial support to older adults. One might also explore the possibilities of dance programs to buffer against decline in daily functioning. And why wait for organized programs: Let the cha-chas begin!

From: Psychophysiological Effects of Dance Movement Therapy and Physical Exercise on Older Adults With Mild Dementia: A Randomized Controlled Trial by Ho, R.T.H.,et al. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 2020, 75, 560–570, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gby145

Good Reasons for Reading

How often have we heard the complaint that life has become so busy that there just isn’t time left for reading. And if there is leisure time, efficient escapism is immediately available on TV. With the pandemic upon us, times have changed. Many of us do find ourselves with hours to spare, and we soon learn the slim potentials of television fare. It may be time, then, to return to reading. In addition to simply enjoying the activity for itself, a recent report adds the following good reasons:

  1. Reduces Stress. Reading provides a delightful distraction from the worries of the day. That is relaxing.
  2. Stimulates mental activity. Given the right book, the brain is challenged by new perspectives and questions.
  3. Increases your knowledge. Whether fiction of non-fiction, books create opportunities for learning new facts about the world. New facts create new neutral circuits, as you integrate old knowledge with new.
  4. Expands your vocabulary. Almost automatically reading introduces one to new words, which are integrated into existing vocabulary, and thus give you more options when talking with others.
  5. Increases your awareness. Few of us have access to social groups far beyond our own. A book can take us far beyond our usual geographic and cultural borders.
  6. Improves your memory. Every book demands that you keep track of what has gone before, especially if you are reading a mystery. It’s a workout for your memory.
  7. Develops better analytical skills. Book often require you to imagine what comes next, or whether the author is justified or not in making an argument.

From: Seven Reasons to Read More by Chloe Jefferson. Erikson Living Tribune, Feb. 2020, pg. 5.

Earning Extra Income

It’s no secret that today’s retirees are living longer, on average, than previous generations. What is less obvious: In the U.S. many have not saved enough in retirement funds to live on. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those over 65 spend, on average, about $46,000 a year. With social security payments, the average couple earns about $28,800 a year. This means that many people will face a monthly shortfall of about $1500. If one has access to the internet, there are websites that offer a variety of ways to significantly supplement one’s monthly income.

Websites such as Upwork, Fivver, Freelancer and Guru allow people to build a profile and search for part-time jobs that may fit one’s particular expertise, professional background, or hobbies. Upwork, for example lists more than 20 jobs for travel writers. One may also propose doing a job that can be created on the site. Jobs vary in terms of hourly wages, but the average for editing a business oriented manuscript is over $50 an hour. Teaching an online course can be lucrative. At Udemy there are tens of thousands of online courses, from meditation to management consulting. Tuition prices are divided between the teacher and Udemy. Most courses generate less than $5,000 in sales, but a popular course may generate much more. Putting money aside, you can also see that many of these activities could be engaging in themselves.

From: If you must work, by Jeff D. Opdyke, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 1, 2020, E3

Sex and Seniors

We thought it might be interesting to many readers to include the answers to a number of common questions provided by a science writer on issues of sex:

If you are doing on-line dating, should you practice “safe sex”?
If you are not in a long-term monogamous relationship, you will be safer if you practice safe sex. There has been a significant increase in reports of the whole range of sexual diseases in the last five years among older adults. Safe sex means intercourse with a condom.

If it takes too long for a man to get an erection, should he ask for medication, such as Viagra?
It might be a good idea – or not. Often other medications can have an adverse effect on sexual desire and getting erections. Anti-depressives can be especially bad in this regard. Some sexual medications can have side-effects, too, and your doctor can help you to consider whether another kind might be better for you.

Are sexually active older people happier than those who are not?
A number of studies show that sex is good for your mood. This may be related to certain hormones that are released during sex. A large longitudinal study recently published indicated that older adults who are sexually active report greater enjoyment of life. Couples who are sexually active are more likely to share a closer relationship and this can lead to better mental health.

Are seniors who are sexually active healthier than those who are not?
Here it is hard to know which comes first, sexual interests or health. People who have health problems are less inclined to have sexual interests if they are concerned about their illnesses. Sexual activity seems to be especially good for women, as it seems to be a stress reducer. Men who have sex weekly have a greater risk of elevated blood pressure and cardiac issues. It is possible this is related to taking Viagra type medications, and the exertion of sex itself. However on the plus side, seniors who have sex report less pain, better bladder control and less risk of certain cancers, including prostate cancer.

As Newsletter editors, we do think it important to point out that “sexual activity” in the above comments, should not be equated with intercourse. Intercourse is only one form of an enormous range of relevant sexual activities.

From: Myths and Facts about Sex and Seniors by Lisa M. Davila. Ericson Living Tribune, Feb., 2020, pg. 8.


A major aim of this Newsletter is to offer a more positive and robust alternative to the stereotype of aging as decline. In a similar vein, in this time of the pandemic, the days may often seem bleak. Thanks to the suggestions of readers, we share two websites that offer uplift and inspiration:
-An offering of joy from Rotterdam and Beethoven

-Dimensions of appreciation


From Diana Whitney, Author of Thriving Women, Thriving World: An Invitation to Dialogue, Healing and Inspired Actions:

Mary, a friend sent me this article which is sweet. Perhaps it will offer something for your Positive Aging newsletter.
Love Diana
The Transforming Spark of Late-in-Life Love http://bit.ly/3bhhaTE


We hope that you enjoy The Positive Aging Newsletter.

Questions & Feedback

If you have any questions, or material you’d like to share with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at gv4@psu.edu

Past issues

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

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April 16, 2020 11:10 am

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