Creative Aging Expert

March 2007

In This Issue

China with American Society on Aging

The American Society on Aging (ASA) annual trip to study “The Chinese Response to Aging,” will take place May 24-31, 2007. Participants attend lectures by noted researchers and gerontology professionals and visit numerous sites, inaccessible to Western tourists, where they witness firsthand China’s creative solutions to managing the needs of its rapidly growing population of elderly citizens. I took this trip several years ago and it was an amazing experience. For more information: or contact China Advocates at 888-333-2585.

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At the 2007 ASA-NCOA conference I attended a very interesting session on Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. This term is used to describe neighborhoods or buildings in which a large segment of the residents are older adults. Most commonly, they are places where community residents have either aged in place, having lived in their homes over several decades, or are the result of significant migrations of older adults into the same housing constructs or neighborhoods where they intend to spend the rest of their lives. NORCs often provide innovative approaches to bringing community-based, targeted health and supportive service delivery systems to these neighborhoods. To read more about NORCs, search the internet under Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities and you will find lots of fascinating information.

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Ageism Again

Ageism, like racism, is an insidious ingredient of our culture. It means to define a person by one characteristic — their age — and treat them in stereotypical ways. Dr. Robert Butler introduced the term in 1968 and defined it as “insensitive and impatient response to old people.”

Margaret Guillete, in Aged by Culture: Declining to Decline, defines ageism as, “a stereotype that aging is overwhelmingly a decline.”

When I mention racism everyone seems to know what I’m talking about; when I say ageism folks are not so sure. It is the latest “ism” on the block and not yet fully understood. I believe we all have some ageist thinking in us. It’s hard to avoid in a culture so focused on telling us to be young.

Take the “How Old I Am Test.” And see how you come out.

I have a body of a _____year old.
I have the mind of a ______year old.
How old do other people consider me to be? ___
I would like to be _____.
In my heart of hearts, my soul of souls, I consider myself to be _____.
My birth certificate age is _____.

How much did your answers differ from your actual age? Did your replies tend to make you younger or older? If you put yourself with a younger body – why? If you are 70 and keep fit, why can’t that be your body age? People, myself included, tend to list younger ages than they are if their mind and body are sharp. That sends the message that that you can’t be in good shape and with sharp mind at 70. In that way we feed right into the ageism society dishes out.

Let me know if this test raises any red flags for you. I am interested in ways you have experienced ageism in your life and ways you have found to reply to ageist comments, like: “How are you today young lady?” (“I am neither young nor a lady!”)

At the ASA-NCOA conference I presented a workshop, “Confronting Ageism in the 21st Century,” and we had a rousing discussion. Participants were well aware of ageist ideas in their work places, their boards, their staff, and sometimes themselves, and were looking for ways to face up to these false assumptions. For some interesting comments on ageism check out:

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Helen Mirren Rejects Oscars Goodie Bag

Academy Award winner Helen Mirren, who will be 62 in July, received a free pre-Oscars goodie bag containing vouchers for free plastic surgery and Botox injections. But she declined to use them. “I let go of vanity a while ago, let go of trying to look younger than I was. It’s brilliant really the way life organizes itself because you just slowly get used to what you are, don’t you?”

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Author Ruth Rendell Interview

“ ‘Still’ is a word I don’t much like. Nearly everyone I talk to asks me if I am ‘still’ writing: taxi drivers, shop assistants, members of parliament, traffic wardens, acquaintances lost for years but inevitably emerging from the past, doctors, vets, and hairdressers. The phrase ‘at your age’ doesn’t please me either, with its underlying implication that it would be better if women in their 70s were to stay indoors and pull down the blinds.” — Novelist Ruth Rendell

Read this interview in Melbourne’s The Age, as 76- year-old Ruth talks about aging and her attitude to it” .

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Gene Cohen’s New Book, The Mature Mind

The assumption that the biology of aging is inherently a biology of decline is widespread and indeed is the basis for much research. It is thus enormously refreshing to discover a broad based account of aging that takes the opposite perspective. To be sure abundant research does suggest a general though relatively minor decline in rapid information processing. However, as Gene Cohen proposes in The Mature Mind, such research misses a very important process of positive development. Namely, the biology of aging favors the development of a talent we might well call wisdom.

He cites the abundant research demonstrating that the brain remains quite flexible with age, and new neural connections are always being made. In addition, however, he finds research indicating that with advancing age people can increasingly rely on both sides of the brain to do various cognitive tasks. This sets them apart from the young. With this increased balance, argues Cohen, the aging are more capable than the young in their capacities for 1. Relativistic thinking (accepting uncertainty, suspending judgments), 2. Dualistic thinking (holding a view and its opposite possibility), and 3. Systematic thinking (seeing the bigger picture, the forest as well as the trees). These are major characteristics of mature thought.

For Cohen, aging is a period that can usher in greater engagement, more satisfying relationships, new intellectual growth, and more fun. Retirement is not over the hill, but a time of climbing new hills. Yet positive transitions are not guaranteed by biology. If one doesn’t use one’s capacities they may be lost. Among his recommendations for positive aging:

  • Forming active links with surrounding community
  • Balance group activities with solo ones, energetic action with relaxation
  • Increasing levels of activity over time, add to one’s activities rather than subtract
  • Locate long duration activities, and not simply short term or one-time adventures
  • Nourish close friendships
  • Consider learning a life-long activity

  • (From Mary and Ken Gergen’s Positive Aging Newsletter, Sept-Oct 2006)

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    Ashville Host to Cultural Creatives

    Ashville, North Carolina, opened its first Cultural Creative Community Center in February 2007 — calling itself the Center of Unlimited Possibilities. The Center is a wholistic blend of inspirational arts and entertainment, socially-conscious businesses, as well as an alternative resource and networking hub for western North Carolina. Asheville is at the forefront of a major cultural creative momentum that is sweeping the country and the Center of Unlimited Possibilities is the first community center of its kind celebrating this exciting new movement.

    The term “Cultural Creative” (CC) was popularized by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson in a book called The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. It defines an emerging population in the United States – already a quarter of the total population – who “share a previously undefined and unorganized set of visions about sustaining a healthy environment, caring for others, practicing alternatives to violence, committing to personal and spiritual development, reshaping the way institutions function in relation to people, focusing on values instead of money and possessions, and creating communities grounded in respect with the vision of peace among all people. CC’s cross all boundaries, backgrounds, age goups, religions, and political belief systems. Their common thread is that they are all actively involved in making the world a better place. For more information go to:

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    What’s ahead for Emily

    Keynoting the state-wide staff meeting of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired: Make Your Goals Happen: Life Lessons Learned from Long Distance Hiking.

    A car trip to northern Florida to participate in a 6-day Bike Safari event with my 44-year old son Josh, a tennis Elderhostel in Jekle Island, Georgia, and on to New Hampshire to keynote their State Conference on Aging: Get Acquainted with the New Age Senior.

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    Emily Kimball
    3220A West Grace Street
    Richmond, VA 23221-1306
    (804) 358-5536
    Fax (804) 358-2415