From Disengagement to Balance: The Journey to Positive Aging

 

Many of you reading this are not old enough to remember the disengagement theory. When I started out in gerontology in the 80s this was one of three theories of aging I learned about, and the most depressing.

The disengagement theory of aging states that “aging is an inevitable, mutual withdrawal or disengagement, resulting in decreased interaction between the aging person and others in the social system he belongs to”.[1]The theory claims that it is natural and acceptable for older adults to withdraw from society.[2]. . .

Disengagement theory was formulated by Cumming and Henry in 1961 in the book Growing Old, and it was the first theory of aging that social scientists developed.[5]Thus, this theory has historical significance in gerontology. Since then, it has faced strong criticism since the theory was proposed as innate, universal, and unidirectional.[6](Wikipedia)

Thank goodness there were two other theories that challenged disengagement theory: the activity theory and the continuity theory.

I mention the disengagement theory to show how negative attitudes surrounded the elderly from the inception of geriatrics as a medical specialty and how far we have come in understanding the aging process, which, of course, is not a-one-size-fits-all.

It’s been over 50 years since the disengagement theory first described aging. I am witness to the evolution of a more realistic description of the multifaceted components of growing old. I try to blog about uplifting examples of the latter stages of our lives.

Two weeks ago, I spoke about one of my favorite TV shows, Grace and Frankie,women in their 70s (at least when the show started), who are depicted in a positive light. Both are strong, independent, smart, creative and refuse to wear the stereotypical label of “old woman.” The show’s popularity delights me because I can envision an audience that not only enjoys the antics of the women but perhaps is learning that the inevitable losses of growing older are intertwined with pleasurable gains.

Then last week I re-blogged my friend Lois’ post about turning 77 after her husband’s recent death. Another positive take on aging even in the face of loss and grief. She closes her post with this observation: “I thank God for the countless blessings I experienced during this first birthday week of my solo life; there’s more fun to share . . .”

With this week’s post, I’m including a New York Times article about women in their 70s. Is it just me or have you also noticed that older women are getting more positive exposure?

Mary Pipher writes, “We (women in their 70s) can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs. We can say no to anything we don’t want to do. We can listen to our hearts and act in our own best interest. We are less angst-filled and more content, less driven and more able to live in the moment with all its lovely possibilities.” Mary Pipher, “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s,”New York Times, 13 January. 2019: 10.

Pipher’s book, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” is now out in print. I intended to buy a copy.

 

 

 

Growing Older – On Turning 77

My friend, Lois, turns 77 and shares her thoughts on celebrating her birthday without her husband, Marv, and cooking a dinner for her family.

Write Along with Me

“Can I help you?“ a butcher yelled from a packaged meat display.

A few feet away, I was standing, clueless, in front of an impressive array of glass-encased chunks of red meat. “Yes, I guess,” I bellowed back. When he was situated across from me, I asked, “How many pounds of a chuck roast do I need to serve six adults?”

“About three and a half.”

“How long would I have to bake it in the oven?”

After he outlined exact hours and temperatures, I gushed my thanks. “It will be the first roast I’ve made in forty-seven years; I want to impress my family.” After no response, I added, “I’ll take about four pounds; I’ll want left overs.”

As excited as I was to purchase this $25.00 piece of thick, marbled and bladed meat, his bland facial expression told me he was not interested in why it was the…

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Netflix Show Gets Aging Right

I am reblogging this post because Grace and Frankie are coming back this Friday on Netflix with the fifth season. You can bet I will be sitting on my sofa in the TV room ready to laugh, cry and thoroughly enjoy these two older women breaking down the stereotypes of aging. My only problem is how to make Season Five last a really long time.

Nursing Stories

I am thrilled that the third season of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie is finally here. As one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners to be certified by the ANA back in the 60s and now a 70-something woman, I am depressed that the very same stereotyping and dismissal of the aged I first encountered is still happening.

I came across this article by Ann Brenoff who says, “Season 3 of the Netflix series gets a lot right—and it’s funny.”

Read what Brenoff says about the series and how Grace and Frankie attack the entrenched biases that are reflected by laws, business opportunities and interpersonal relationships in our social networks, including family.

Grace and Frankie

LIFESTYLE 

03/30/2017 03:37 pm ET

‘Grace And Frankie’ Totally Nails What It Means To Be Getting Older

Season 3 of the Netflix series gets a lot right — and it’s funny.

By Ann Brenoff

The Netflix

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Dream Deferred 

Dream Deferred 

by Langston Hughes

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 

I read this poem in Roger Cohen’s essay The Year Not to Defer Dreams, New York Times, December 27, 2017. He looks out of his window in Brooklyn Heights at the Staten Island Ferry, which he has never taken, as it is “crisscrossing the water.” He advises us to wander aimlessly, pay attention to detail, and re-examine the familiar.

At the end of his essay, Cohen finally “boarded the ferry, not to go anywhere, just to be transported.”

In closing, he writes, “In 2018, take the time, dear reader, to gaze at the familiar, board the ferry to nowhere—and do not, at risk of an explosion, defer your dreams.

Don’t defer your dreams seem an admonishment to those of us who are growing older. I hadn’t thought that many, regardless of age, might not acknowledge dreams we harbor silently in our hearts.

I wrote in my last post that I had never planned to write a book. Say what? Why did I take classes, attend seminars, write about my patients, and focus most of all on the stories surrounding a single experience of becoming a coordinator of a new clinic in Chicago in the 80s? Not write a book?

 

My friend, Helen (not her real name), called me a few weeks ago. Without salutation she said, “I am in love.” I knew she was taking about Tom, a friend of more than 30 years.

Helen and her husband, and Tom and his wife, were friends back in California. After Helen and her husband moved to North Carolina, both couples began sending Christmas letters over the years. Tom and Helen were the scribes. Helen called to give her condolences after Tom’s Christmas letter noted the tragic loss of his beloved wife after a brutal battle against Alzheimer’s. Soon the two were reconnecting and updating their lives. They found they had much in common. “I’m going to tell him that I am not interested in a relationship,” she had told me. And then her phone call.

Their frequent phone calls and messages erupted into deep emotions. Tom flew from California to North Carolina for Christmas, leaving two days after the New Year. He stayed with Helen in her one-bedroom apartment. They laughed constantly. Sang familiar songs. Finished each other’s sentences. Fell into a routine as if they had co-habited for years!

And the sex was great!

Helen will visit Tom the end of this month. Both in their seventies, they are investigating on which coast they will live—together.

From my vantage point of Tom and Helen’s relationship—I am more observer than an intimate—I wonder if each had had the dream of finding a kindred spirit. Tom having a wife who was becoming more of a stranger to him probably left him grieving more than thinking of a new wife to replace her. Helen, who often spoke of her deceased husband as the “love of my life,” was not planning to get remarried. Yet when they met each other and felt the warmth of this new love and recognized the potential of a happy life together, the dream was born. And I believe that both Helen and Tom will not defer their dream now that it has materialized.

I wish them happiness.

Nurse at the Switchboard

Ten of us from a class of 44 traveled to Cape May, New Jersey to attend our 55th nursing reunion. We first met as young Catholic teens in the late ’50s enrolled in the diploma program at Saint Peter’s School of Nursing in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hard to believe we are now in our mid-70s.

At our luncheon at the Inn of Cape May on a glorious sunny day this past September, we laughed and reminisced about the three years we lived together, when Connie mentioned that she had to man the switchboard at night during the psych rotation at a private psychiatric facility in a Maryland suburb.

Never heard of this we said. But one of us (can’t remember exactly who that was) chimed in to say she remembered at the time how glad she was that she never had to do this. So there was validation that Connie’s memory was intact. Imagine having to work at a telephone switchboard! What does this have to do with learning about psychiatric patients?

lady at switchboard

I found a picture of a telephone switchboard for you too young to remember this contraption that connected folks to each other via telephone lines. Or you could just watch the old movie: Bells Are Ringing with Judy Holiday and Dean Martin.

 

 

 

After hearing about the switchboard, we began outdoing each other with anecdotes about our early nursing days.

I wanted to take notes to capture these unique tales but decided I would rather just enjoy the fellowship. Later, I asked my classmates if I could call them, one by one, and document what they would want to share with current nurses about life in the “olden days.” They all consented.

So now I have a new project. I had been thinking about surveying my classmates about their nursing lives for quite a while. Since our 55th celebration is over, I realize it is now or never. We are dying off. Sad to say but true. Who will remember us? Or what nursing was like years ago? Who would believe that as part of the educational program to learn to be a psych nurse you had to know how to work a telephone switchboard?

You’ll be hearing more about my classmates.

The Danish Secret to Happiness

I wrote about a new initiative from Pfizer (getold.com) back in July 2014 that posts issues on positive aging. I checked the site recently to see if it was still active. It is and looking good.

Here is one of their latest articles.

GET OLD: FIVE LESSONS FROM HYGEE: THE DANISH SECRET TO HAPPINESS

by Shelley Levitte

April 10, 2017

Denmark regularly earn one of the top spots on the World Happiness Report, an annual survey on the state of global happiness that ranks more than 150 countries. The Danes’ successful pursuit of happiness has a lot to do with the concept of hygge.

Pronounced HOO-ga, the Danish word doesn’t have a direct translation in English. It’s an amalgam of coziness, comfort, conviviality and contentment.

Hygge often involves the company of good friends and time spent at home with soup bubbling on the stove and unscented candles burning (the typical Dane burns 13 pounds of candle wax a year). Hygge is the subject of more than 20 new books with titles like Hygge Habits and How to Hygge.

Though it has become the latest lifestyle trend, hygge dates back hundreds of years and originates from the Norwegian word for “well-being.” Alex Beauchamp, who grew up on a small farm in Denmark, now lives in Topanga, California, and blogs at HyggeHouse.com, says that Danes created hygge because they were trying to survive the boredom, cold and sameness of the long Scandinavian winters, where darkness lasts up to 17 hours a day. “Hygge was a way for them to find moments to celebrate or acknowledge and to break up the day, months or years,” Beauchamp writes.

Here are five ways to add more hygge to your life.

  1. Gather with others. According to Meik Wiking, CEO of the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute and author of the bestselling Little Book of Hygge: Danish secrets for Happy Living, Danes are the most social of all Europeans, with four out of five socializing with friends, families or colleagues at least once a week. “While you can hygge by yourself,” Wiking writes, “hygge mostly happens in small groups of close friends or family.” Hyggelig evenings often takes place in someone’s home rather than at a restaurant, with everyone taking part in cooking and cleaning.
  2. Create a hyggekrog, or a nook. It’s the place in your home where you can settle in with a good book and a cup of coffee or tea. Your hyggekrog doesn’t need to be fancy. Just a corner of a room, with a comfy chair or a few cushions, soft lighting and a warm blanket.
  3. Live with a light heart. Beauchamp says, “Play more. Remember what it’s like to be seven. Have more questions than answers and don’t put everything into words. Sometimes just feel things and be. Be quiet more often.”
  4. Make something. Knit a hat or a scarf; cook a stew; bake a loaf of bread; paint; draw; build a fire. Crafty activities allow you to slow down, savor the moment and stay centered in the present. Don’t worry about the results of your creativity; the more rustic and handmade it looks, the better.
  5. Stock a hygge emergency kit. When you’re having a rough day, are feeling too tired to socialize or just need some soothing time alone, you’ll have what Wiking calls “a fast track to hygge.” He suggests filling a box or cupboard with comfort essentials like candles, quality chocolate, a favorite book, treasured letters, a photo album and a notebook and pen.

coffee_beans_hd_picture_2_167192

80 year-old male model

As a retired gerontological nurse practitioner and a woman dealing with my own aging, I am always happy to read about successful aging. This one comes all the way from China. I hope you enjoy 80 year-old Wang Deshun’s story as much as I did.

 

An 80-Year-Old Model Reshapes China’s Views on Aging

 

Sinosphere

By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW NOV. 3, 2016

 

Wang Deshun, who turned 80 this fall, at the China Fashion Week in Beijing last year. Credit Quan Yajun
Wang Deshun, who turned 80 this fall, at the China Fashion Week in Beijing last year.
Credit
Quan Yajun

BEIJING — Before cranking up the techno music at his 80th birthday party, the man known as “China’s hottest grandpa” paused from his D.J. duties to poke fun at the country’s staid traditional celebrations for the elderly.

“I should wear a long robe, with the word ‘longevity’ embroidered on the front,” the birthday boy, Wang Deshun, said at his party in September.

Far from looking frail, the silver-haired actor, model and artist wore a crisp white shirt and black jeans, his back straight and his eyes glittering with humor.

“Two young maidens should help me into an old-style wooden chair,” he added, pretending to hobble.

Determined to avoid mental and physical stagnation, Mr. Wang has explored new skills and ideas while devoting ample time to daily exercise. Last year, he walked the runway for the first time, his physique causing a national sensation. He takes obvious joy in subverting China’s image of what it means to be old.

Wang Deshun explains how he became a runway model last year. Video by Redstart Media

And old age in China begins relatively early. The legal retirement age for women is 50 for workers and 55 for civil servants, and 60 for most men.

Being older in China typically means being respected, but also, often, sentimentalized. Someone as young as 50 may be addressed as “yeye” or “nainai” — grandpa or grandma — regardless of whether they have offspring.

Mr. Wang is having none of that.

“One way to tell if you’re old or not is to ask yourself, ‘Do you dare try something you’ve never done before?’ ” he said in a recent interview at a hotel in Beijing.

“Nature determines age, but you determine your state of mind,” he said.

Mr. Wang has not escaped being called grandpa — he has two children and a 2-year-old granddaughter — but the honorific is accompanied by accolades for his vigor and his embrace of the new.

“Grandpa, you’re my idol!” one admirer wrote on Mr. Wang’s Weibo social media account, one of thousands of similar comments.

Sex appeal is part of the mix.

“Grandpa, your stomach is so gorgeous! Incredibly handsome!” another person wrote next to a photo of Mr. Wang, topless in a gym, his skin smooth and pectorals buff.

Mr. Wang said he was always athletic. An avid swimmer as a child, he still swims more than half a mile each day. “Morning is my learning time,” he said. “I read books and news. From 3 to 6 p.m. is my exercise time, in a gym near my home.”

He also drinks less alcohol now, he said, but that is about as far as his dietary restrictions go. “I am not picky at all about what I eat. I eat whatever I want.”

Mr. Wang was born in the northeastern city of Shenyang in 1936, one of nine children of a cook and a stay-at-home mother. At 14, a year after the Communist Party came to power in 1949, he began working as a streetcar conductor.

Mr. Wang blowing out the candles on his 80th birthday cake in Beijing on Sept. 20. Credit Shen Qi

 

“I liked acting, singing, dancing, playing musical instruments so much that I joined my work unit’s band,” he said. At the Workers’ Cultural Palace in Shenyang, he took free lessons in singing, acting and dancing. He later took a job at a military factory and joined its art troupe. Sometimes they entertained soldiers.

“Even if there was just one sentry, say, at the top of a hill, like once in Dalian, we’d surround him and perform,” Mr. Wang said.

Later he worked in radio, film and theater. In the early 1980s, Mr. Wang, who would teach runway modeling at a Beijing fashion school, staged what he believes was the first modeling show in the northeastern city of Changchun.

“In 1982, the clothes Chinese wore were so out of date,” he said. “I went to the city’s biggest department store and told the sales clerks, ‘Give me your nicest clothes, and I’ll organize a show.’ They agreed. The best clothes they had were fur coats, and for men, woolen Sun Yat-sen suits” — also known as Mao suits.

Back then, he said, “Chinese had no sense of color or style. People wore black, white, gray or blue. Some people wore army uniforms. I wanted to start a sense for fashion among ordinary people. We did a swimming-suit show. The girls refused at first, thinking it was indecent. But I insisted.”

By 49, Mr. Wang was eager to move to Beijing, China’s cultural capital. He wanted to be a “living sculpture.” He also needed money.

He began working out, determined to have a lithe body that would allow him to interact, almost naked and covered in metallic paint, with copies of Auguste Rodin’s and Camille Claudel’s sculptures of women. The idea, he said, came from his wife of 48 years, Zhao Aijuan.

After the first show in Beijing, in 1993, the authorities, disturbed by its sensuality, barred Mr. Wang from performing in public. He continued to perform privately.

“I really admire him very much,” said Xiao Lu, 54, a performance artist. “I do body art, and you know, after a certain age. a person’s abilities decline. But he has this amazing sculpted body and spirit. Such power for life really comes from the inside. He makes the feeling that’s in the Rodin sculptures come alive.”

Last year, he appeared bare-chested in a fashion show in Beijing’s 798 arts district, featuring designs by Hu Sheguang.

His appearance on the runway earned him a cultlike following. Some fans call him laoxianrou, or “old fresh meat,” making a play on the word for teen idol: xiaoxianrou, or “young fresh meat.’’

So has old fresh meat replaced young fresh meat?

Perhaps not. But Mr. Wang’s physicality, notable in a society where men rarely highlight their attractiveness, also sets an example in a nation that is growing older fast.

“People can change their life as many times as they wish,” he said. Having a goal is important, he said.

“Being mentally healthy means you know what you’re going to do,” he said. “For example, a vegetable vendor, when he wakes up, he has a goal, he works hard. And when he finishes, he feels fulfilled.”

For Mr. Wang, fulfillment comes in many forms: acting, modeling, exercising and creating art.

And one day soon, he said, parachuting. That is the plan.

 

 

 

 

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