Positive Aging

28 May

This is a great article about Positive Aging, it is differently one you would want to keep in your files! 



March/April, 2013
The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen, dedicated to productive dialogue between research and practice.  Sponsored by the Taos Institute
Wall Street Journal
Issue No 79
– COMMENTARY: Positive Aging: Not all Smiley Faces : )
Grandparents: Key to Grandchildren’s Well-being?
“Positive Aging” Depends On Where You Do It
Shintaido: A New Route to Physical Well-Being
Reaching the 100 Year Marker
Grannies for Grass: The Latest in Social Disobedience
– Information for Readers
*** COMMENTARY Positive Aging: Not all Smiley Faces : ) ***
It is common for people to associate the word “positive” with smiling gaiety. This “happy face” idea is not the vision of positive aging we prefer, although we have nothing at all against being joyful. For us the dimensions of positive aging are far richer and more emotionally nuanced. Our purpose in writing this newsletter is to replace the “over the hill” metaphor of aging with one in which new life potentials are opened to us. We may acquire, for example, a richer sense of ourselves in relationship to others and our environment. We may learn new skills and explore new places. Our appreciation for life’s offerings may expand, our interests deepen, our awe at the unknown, rekindled.  The significance of this view has been sharpened for us in our various workshops on positive aging. Often we confront our participants with the challenge of reconstruction. That is, we present them with the various stereotypes of decline and loss we carry with us through life, and challenge them to work out the ways in which these “disasters of aging” may be viewed more positively. For example, in what ways can we possibly accept, and even appreciate, the so-called losses of our youthful appearance, our employment, or our physical abilities? Our participants are usually very creative in illuminating the new vistas of experience and appreciation opened by these events. Losses cease to simply be losses.  However, discussions become more difficult when it comes to the loss of spouses, partners, close friends, and, most especially one’s children. How in the world can one find anything positive about the death of those one loves?  Even the question seems abrasive. But this is again to equate the word “positive” with happy faces. The challenge here is to locate the kind of
significance in these losses that remove them from the ledger of “loss is loss.”  Can we, for example, find within our sorrows a deeper appreciation for the lives of those no longer with us? Can we count the many ways in which they have enriched our lives and those of others? Indeed, can we locate within our suffering an appreciation for the very fact that we suffer? Are such feelings not a tribute to those we have lost, and a signal of the depth of our relationship?  We have learned much from our friends and colleagues, Sharon and Bob
Cottor, who live in Phoenix, Arizona. For the past 7 years we have known that their grandson, Ryan, was diagnosed in infancy with a fatal disease, and that he has been living on borrowed time ever since. Although there is always the saddened brought about by this impending loss, Ryan’s life has helped create a significant blessing for the region where he and his family live. The Ryan House (, named for him, is the creation of his family and now the greater Phoenix community, as a respite home for families with
children with terminal illnesses. It has also become a hospice, a place where children go with their loved ones to spend their last hours of life. The illness and impending death of Ryan have thus brought people closer and more caring together, and helped families under stress to find relief. For us, such realizations are indeed among the positive outgrowths of growing older.
Ken and Mary Gergen
* Grandparents: Key to Grandchildren’s Well-being?
What helps keep kids feeling emotionally healthy, happy and thriving? Research done in 2001 by two psychologists, Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University, has much to say about this question. These researchers developed a measure called “Do You Know?
A scale of 20 questions related to their family history was given to a group of children. The children were asked such things as “Do you know where your grandparents grew up?” “Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school?” “Do you know how they met?” “Do you know the story of your birth?” They tape recorded answers from four dozen
families. As the study indicated, the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The scale was an excellent predictor of the children’s emotional health and happiness.  Then the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 occurred. Two months later the psychologists returned to the families they had
interviewed, and the children were reassessed. Dr. Duke reported that the children who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient and better able to moderate the effects of stress.  The reasoning for why knowing about your family history is helpful psychologically seems to be that the child has a sense of being part of an entity larger than him or herself. Knowing that one is part of a big story, with many facets, from the wonderful to the tragic, is comforting. No matter what happens, the family is there, and it will be
there tomorrow.  For us, as advocates of positive aging, the strong suggestion from this research is that grandparents can be key contributors to their grandchildren’s feelings of well-being and their reservoirs of resilience.  After all, grandparents hold rich resources for recounting family history.  In sharing the stories of their pasts – with pictures, songs,  humorous tales, and stories both of heroism and loss – children will learn that they are part of a long tradition. And they may come to realize that they will help to shape it future. Telling the old time tales does more than just gratify grandma and amuse the kids; it builds the future.
From: The Stories that Bind Us by Bruce Feiler, New York Times,
March 17, 2013 Lifestyle, pg. 1, 10-11.
* “Positive Aging” Depends On Where You Do It
Psychologists often yearn for universals in their efforts to understand human behavior. In what ways are people the same, regardless of where they live? In contrast, cultural psychologists explore how our lives are shaped by the cultural traditions in which we
participate. Such differences are important in understanding what positive aging might mean to people. In a Feature Article in The Gerontologist, Dr. Helen Fung summarizes the ways in which people fashion their identities, their values, and their ways of life, in synch with the cultures in which they are embedded. Her major contention is that “aging is a meaning-making process,” and as a result, the definition of good aging will reflect the dominant meanings of a particular culture.  Fung’s contrasts were primarily between Anglo-European individualism, on one side, and Asian values on interdependence on the other. As she summarizes, older Chinese people are more likely than their western cohorts to keep and expand their social relationships as they age, and to be more trusting of others, regardless of whether they are close friends or strangers. Loneliness, which can be difficult for older people in the West, is less of a problem for older Chinese people, who do not have such small circles of intimates as Western people often do. In contrast, much of the Western literature on aging recommends individual activity – exercise, self-development, and the like.  What constitutes positive aging, then, is a matter of cultural setting. In other cultures, our emphasis on maximum activity might be seen as a “chicken with its head cut off” approach to enjoying one’s senior years. Even within various ethnic subgroups in the same nation, different standards of what constitutes a good old age exist. One might
ask, “Where does the “Lazy Boy” rocker get any respect in the “activity” schema?” For some folks, it might be more relaxing and pleasureful playing the “couch potato” in one’s latter years.
From: Aging in Culture by Helene H. Fung, The Gerontologist, 2013, 53,
*** IN THE NEWS ***
* Shintaido: A New Route to Physical Well-Being
This research investigated the effects of Shintaido, a physical practice developed by Japanese karate teachers. Shintaido is a Japanese word for “New Body Way,” which involves a system of movement that is both physical and artistic. It has been developed especially for older people, those with physical limitations and pregnant women. Shintaido is also meditative, with gentle, expansive, and expressive movements, and can be done individually and with partners.  In this study, the participants were forty seniors, of both gender, with a mean age of 70, all self-sufficient and relatively healthy. The experimental
group attended the Shintaido physical training for 20 weeks, with one-hour sessions, twice a week. The control group continued with ordinary life activities. The exercise routine included specific activities of joint mobility, balance and breathing. At the begin and at the end of the 20 weeks, the participants were given three tests: 1) One-leg Stance test; 2) 6-Minutes Walking test; and 3) a Self-Efficacy Perception in Physical Activity questionnaire. The results show that: 1) the experimental group was superior to the control group in walking endurance and in balance, as well as in elf-efficacy; and 2) there were strong associations among Shintaido physical activity and feelings of well-being. The results suggest that a well structured Shintaido training can help to maintain a good level of physical and psychological functioning in old people. Such training is available in many
cities in the U.S ( For the rest of us, perhaps this is an invitation to experiment with mobility, balance and breathing in an aesthetically pleasing way…by dancing?
From: Shintaido in the elderly: The new way for physical and psychological
health by Mattia Roppolo, Anna Mulasso, Daniele Magistro, Antonella
Roggero, Patrizio Andreoli, and Monica Emma Liubicich, Advances in Aging
Research, 2012, 1, 22-30. doi: 10.4236/aar.2012.12003.
* Reaching the 100 Year Marker
Recent census data indicates that being 100 years old is no longer an anomaly. Remember when Williard, the weatherman at the Today show, used to wish all the new centenarians a “Happy Birthday”? As of today, he would have had to greet 53,000 people in the U. S., 80% of whom are women. There are 2 Centenarians for every 10,000 people. Of those 70 and older, 19 of 10,000 folks are that old. Living to 110 is still a rare accomplishment, as less
than 1% of all centenarians are that old or older.  Given the possibilities, people who retire from their usual work lives in their sixties may have another generation to live. Is this a great opportunity or a rather daunting proposition? It does suggest that there may be decades to design before one dies. An invitation to positive aging!  

From: Census Report Provides Centenarian Stats, Gerontology
News, April 2013, pg. 11.
* Grannies for Grass: The Latest in Social Disobedience
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in 2011 that over 6% of adults ages 50-59 are using marijuana, up from 3% in 2002. Various social groups are forming to encourage the legalization of “pot”, including Moms for Marijuana International. An off-spring of this group is “Grannies for Grass” with chapters in Illinois, Ohio and Missouri.
Mason Tvert, the communication director of the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that works to change the laws, said he started consuming marijuana two years ago with his grandparents, who are in their eighties. Author Richard J. Bonnie, who wrote a book on marijuana prohibition, argues that the baby boomers grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, when
getting high was the norm. Some people smoked all along; retirees with children now out of the house, are returning to the drug. People in some states where it has been legalized, such as Washington and Colorado, have an easier time about using it; many older people don’t like to break the law, even if it’s a questionable one. For some older people, the drug’s therapeutic effects are an incentive to use it. Vickie Hoffman has Crohn’s disease, which is very debilitating. With marijuana she can move about, feel energy and enjoy
socializing. Others with arthritis are much improved because of the pain-relief it provides. Many people prefer it to alcohol because there are no after-effects.  Those who don’t smoke like to cook with cannabis, as a tea before bed, or in a salad, not to mention the famous brownie recipe. Recipes can be found online through the Moms for Marijuana International Web site.  

From: Shuffleboard? Oh, Maybe Let’s Get High Instead by Alyson Krueger,
New York Times, March 24, 2013, 10-11.
* Advances in Aging Research.
Open access journal free to readers.
* Spiritual Resources on Aging for Individuals,
Professionals, and Communities. Wonderful website with writings and music
by Rabbi Dayle Friedman.
* A website created to help people talk about their wishes for a good death. Retired columnist, Ellen Goodman, is encouraging people to share their thoughts and wishes with family members so that dying is not a silent, forbidden subject, but
rather an important and focal one in our lives. Because people don’t have these conversations, certain things happen or don’t happen. For example, 70% of people say they’d like to die at home; yet, 70% of people die in hospitals, nursing homes or hospices.
We also recommend a book that has the same objective – Healing Conversations Now: Enhancing Relationships with Elders and Dying Loved Ones by Joan Chadbourne & Tony SIlbert, A Taos Institute Publication (find it at This website reviews the effectiveness of various psychological interventions using summary information (meta-analyses) published in 2011-2013. Included are several summaries of research with older people who have diagnoses of depression, anxiety or other difficulties. Produced by Kenneth S. Popo,
* From: Marsha McDonough, Ph.D.
Hi Ken and Mary,
Just wanted to share a story about my 88 year old mother, hoping it will inspire your readers, as it inspires me. Clara met Rose the first day of kindergarten, a very long time ago, in Bristol, Connecticut, both daughters of Italian immigrant parents. They attended school together as best friends, completed high school together, attended one another’s weddings, and witnessed the launching of one another into adulthood. Rose and Clara have never been out of touch even though Clara moved to Texas over 50 years ago
at the age 36. In that time, they have only talked face-to-face about 2-3 times.  Today, with each one approaching age 89, they remain in touch, having never stopped sharing the immense highs and unimaginable lows that make up their lives. In fact, today, their conversations have become even more frequent because, being smart and snappy women, they are Facebook friends and they use email!  Thank you for your contributions in the Positive Aging Newsletter. Marsha <;
From Greg Spiro
There is a wonderful recent novel – The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng which, while not being exclusively about ageing, has that theme running through it triggered by the narrator. Set in the nineteen fifties during the Malaya communist insurgency, a judge with
a degenerative brain condition retires from the bench to form an unlikely relationship with a Japanese gardener. Together they design a memorial for her sister who died as a Japanese prisoner of war The novel won the Booker Prize 2012 in the UK, and recently the Man Asia prize, and although these awards don’t guarantee a satisfying read this one is both accessible and richly textured.  

July 31 – August 4, 2013: American Psychological Association Meetings,
Honolulu, Hawaii
November 20-24, 2013: Gerontological Society of American Annual
Scientific Meeting:; Optimal Aging Through Research. New Orleans.
*** Information for Readers ***
– Questions & Feedback
If you have any questions, or material you’d like to share with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at
– Past issues
Past issues of the newsletter are archived at:
How to subscribe, unsubscribe or change your e-mail address. We hope that you enjoy The Positive Aging Newsletter.  New subscribers can join by clicking the link at this page: (right corner box) and can unsubscribe by clicking on the “unsubscribe button” on the email that was sent to you or by sending an e-mail to: 

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