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This Week in Elder News: 31 May 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

Mark down this guy’s name: Joel Stein. He’s a columnist for The Los Angeles Times and yesterday’s column had me laughing out loud.

It begins, “Dear old people” and after reporting that only 36 percent of old folks support same-sex marriage, Joel makes a charming plea for elders to change their minds and vote for gay marriage in California. Even if you take issue with some of his characterizations of old people, he is so funny about it and does it with such affection that you have to forgive him.

According to the Urban Institute, if you are 65 or older and are working in the U.S., you are most likely to be employed in retail, on a farm or in janitorial services - in that order. Not exactly the kind of entrepreneurial endeavor touted in magazines, as one interviewee put it. Read more. (Hat tip to Cynthia Friedlob of The Thoughtful Consumer.)

Most elders want to live independently for as long as possible and technology is playing a big part these days in making that possible – all the more important as numbers of elders increase and the availability of space in retirement communities, assisted living and nursing homes shrinks. Here is a good overview of how aging in place is going high tech. (Hat tip to amba of ambivablog)

No matter what your personal beliefs are in regard to legalization of drugs, smuggling them is no laughing matter, especially if you get caught. Still, it amused me to read that elders are apparently being used to tote drugs across the Mexican border into the U.S. Read about it here.

As if there were not already enough reasons to wish Senator Joe Lieberman would leave the political scene (he chairs the Senate homeland security committee where the “thought crime bill", S.1959, is currently sitting), he now he wants to censor the internet. Lieberman has demanded that YouTube remove Islamic videos. “…it is profoundly disturbing that an influential senator would even consider telling a media company to shut down constitutionally protected speech,” noted a New York Times editorial last week. Right on, as we used to say.

In the five years the American military has been Iraq, we’ve pretty much bombed that country back to Ur, destroying most of its infrastructure. Water and electricity (outside the Green Zone) hardly work at all. Now, one of my state’s senators, Susan Collins, has introduced a bill that would transfer all reconstruction costs to Iraq. Senator Collins is up for re-election this year, and I won’t forget this come November.

There are federal and state mandates for ombudsmen to inspect nursing homes, but they are underfunded and understaffed. Here’s a story from north Florida that explains how they ought to work: "There are so many people who do not have advocates," said one Florida ombudsman about nursing home residents. (Hat tip to Susan Fisher of Suzzwords)

Hah! Crabby Old Lady knew all along it was true: grumpy = intelligent.

“In the cognitively superior older group, who outperformed both the cognitively comparable older adults and the younger adults on every ability tested, ‘agreeableness was found to have a contrary relationship with general knowledge suggesting that a disagreeable nature may go hand in hand with better vocabulary and knowledge retention in older age,’ said Baker.

“This result supports previous research that suggests that those who are highly intelligent may be more aloof and independent.”

“Harrumph,” says Crabby Old Lady. (Hat tip to Pete Sampson of As I Was Saying…)


Science and the Wisdom of Age

[EDITORIAL NOTE: A good blog friend I met in the earliest days of Time Goes By is having a birthday today. I'll bet Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles would be pleased to get a greeting from you at her blog.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Jokes about fading memory in old age are commonplace even among elders themselves. “I’m having a senior moment” is our standard filler when a reference eludes us - an excuse that contains within it a not-so-hidden fear of incipient dementia.

For the past couple of weeks, a short, little story in The New York Times has received a lot of attention because the research it reports suggests that it is not forewarnings of dementia causing our senior moments, but what could be called wisdom:

“When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong,” [writes Sara Reistad-Long].

“Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.”

In a study of reading retention given to young and old involving extraneous, unrelated words tucked into the text, elders took longer to absorb the information, but they were better able to answer questions about those words.

“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”

This mirrors earlier studies reported a couple of years ago in Time magazine:

“Far from slowly powering down, the brain as it ages begins bringing new cognitive systems on line and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before. You may not pack so much raw data into memory as you could when you were cramming for college finals, and your short-term memory may not be what it was, but you manage information and parse meanings that were entirely beyond you when you were younger.

“What's more, your temperament changes to suit those new skills, growing more comfortable with ambiguity and less susceptible to frustration or irritation.”

According to this earlier study, as we get older, the functions assigned to the two hemispheres of our brains change:

“As we age, however, the walls between the hemispheres seem to fall, with the two halves working increasingly in tandem. Neuroscientist Roberto Cabeza of Duke University dubs that the HAROLD (hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults) model, and judging by his work, the phenomenon is a powerful one…

“Again and again, he found that the high-functioning older adults were using either a hemisphere different from the one the other subjects were using or both hemispheres at the same time.”

Not infrequently, research turns up proof that the folklore of current and past tribal cultures has a basis in scientific fact - finding, for example, that a plant used for centuries as a remedy contains a chemical compound or enzyme that explains the efficacy of the remedy.

Similarly, tribal cultures around the world have relied on their elders as storehouses of the group’s knowledge and as sources of wisdom. Now, as with physical remedies and cures, science is beginning to find proof of that wisdom, as both of the studies referenced here conclude:

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”
- The New York Times, 20 May 2008
"In midlife," says UCLA neurologist George Bartzokis, "you're beginning to maximize the ability to use the entirety of the information in your brain on an everyday, ongoing, second-to-second basis. Biologically, that's what wisdom is."
- Time, 13 January 2006

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells a sad but also uplifting truth in Sisterhood of the Abused.]


Workplace Generational Divide?

Every now and then, something comes along that makes me wonder if I’m not hopelessly out of step with the culture.

The 60 Minutes segment below is getting a fair amount of commentary around the web, mostly from young workers who think it’s unfair. In it, 76-year-old correspondent Morley Safer reports on the millennial generation, 70 or 80 million people born between 1980 and 1995, or 1999, depending on who is defining them.

In the report, Safer interviews managers who have had to modify office procedures to accommodate millennials (and their parents) who, apparently, require large amounts of praise and kitschy awards just to show up for work on time. He also talks with some millennials who are helping their generation navigate the workplace.

In their defense, millennials say they learned from their boomer parents that friends and family are what matters, not careers, and they don’t intend to sell their souls to the company store as they watched their parents do. Of course, one difference is that many of them live at home after college well into their twenties, sometimes 30 and beyond, and don’t yet have family responsibilities.

Personally, I find it hard to argue against family and friends first. And, I’ve been fairly appalled as, over the past 20 years, 80-hour work weeks have become commonplace and, for some workers, a badge of honor.

On the other hand, I suspect I would be fairly intolerant of costumed parades around the office when I’m trying to get some work done, and finding a coworker I needed to speak with snoozing in the “nap room”.

Take a look and let us know what you think. (12:29 minutes)

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey reviews a cruise vacation in A Purple and Orange Product.]


LGBT Elders Contemplate Marriage

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

At a fundraising party for a candidate in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, a male friend confided slightly furtively:

"But I don't want to have to do that...we've been together 20 years. My employer puts him on my health insurance. Why should I get married?"

Reaction in the gay community to the decision of the California Supreme Court that the state constitution does not allow discrimination against same sex couples was not uniformly ecstatic.

A moment's reflection makes it obvious why this muted reaction is quite frequent, especially among gay and lesbian elders: we belong to a generation which largely managed to grow up and "come out" never imagining in our wildest dreams that marriage would be available to us. Marriage simply was not an option.

So we went about our business, formed our relationships, solemnized them if we wished either with our own ceremonies or perhaps in our churches (if liberal), sometimes privately negotiated the painful process of uncoupling (whether gracefully or not), and sometimes stuck fiercely to one another until death did us part -- just like anyone else. But we didn't expect to live our couplings while "married."

Yet, though younger folks and especially prospective parents, are often some of the loudest advocates of gay marriage, legal inclusion of gay couples within the marriage status might be just as, or even more, vital to gay elders.

Apart from romance, marriage is a useful, practical set of legal categories that set the rules for people living together. In 2004, the General Accounting Office enumerated some 1138 legal provisions in which marital status conveyed benefits, rights and privileges.

At the simplest level, if one member of a married couple is incapacitated unexpectedly, any hospital is going to be downright eager to find a spouse so that someone can make medical decisions. But if a couple aren't married, that same hospital could be terrified of facing a lawsuit for letting a partner of whatever longevity speak for the patient.

And what if that unmarried patient dies and leaves no will? If the couple were married, the law of inheritance would take over. On the other hand, the bereaved unmarried partner has no relationship automatically recognized in law. If the dead person's next of kin wants to be a cad, s/he can walk off with the couple's joint property if there is no will. It happens.

It is more or less possible in more tolerant states for a gay couple who cannot marry to write wills, share powers of attorney, and otherwise protect themselves from these problems. But setting up one's private legal arrangements isn't cheap. My partner of 28 years and I spent several thousand dollars recently, in liberal San Francisco, to try to replicate protections that male-female couples have the minute some authority signs off on a marriage license.

Reasons like these have pushed the AARP to act as an unlikely ally to gay marriage advocates in campaigns (mostly unsuccessful) to defeat state bans on the inclusive status. For example, in Ohio in 2004, the organization stated:

"State Issue One would deny property ownership rights, inheritance, pensions, power of attorney and other matters of vital interest to the health and well being of unmarried older couples."

AARP's analysis raised the specter that the gay marriage ban might be stretched by snoopy fundamentalists to extend to heterosexual elder couples who lived together without marriage in order to continue to qualify of a deceased partner's pension.

Even if additional liberal states join Massachusetts and California in legalizing gay marriage, that won't entirely create marriage equality for gay couples. The federal Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996, means that gay couples cannot file joint tax returns (no matter how economically entwined they may be) or receive each other's Social Security. And it explicitly says that if states don't want to, they are not required to recognize marriages or other partnership statuses legally authorized by other states.

This exception recently hammered a friend who moved to Idaho seeking rural quiet after surviving escape from the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attack; his employer decided that it no longer had to provide the health insurance he had enjoyed through his domestic partner when they lived in New Jersey because Idaho recognized no such status.

So - unlike my friend at the fundraiser, I do find myself contemplating whether California's new marriage option means my partner and I have to legally tie the knot. Of course, first we have to see whether legal gay marriage survives an anti-gay constitutional amendment the state will vote on in November. We've got some chance to win this campaign because attitudes are changing so rapidly on this issue.

Unhappily, it is among elders that there is the most resistance to legalizing LGBT marriage; in 2006 according to an analysis of census surveys,

"...the older the respondent, the lower the probability of supporting gay marriage."

Still, even if we don't win in California this fall, I think the possibility of marriage for LGBT couples is something that will be won, and relatively soon.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean explains how a favorite destination has changed for her over the years in I Love New York.]


Routine and Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Is routine, I wonder, more important as we get older? It has always played a part in my life, but now I am discovering that routine is crucial to maintaining my energy level and accomplishing what I’ve planned. And what’s more, I like it that way.

“They” tell us that the world is divided into larks and owls – that some of us jump out of bed rarin’ to go (larks), while others of us drag around until well past noon before we can get moving with the day’s plans (owls). I’m a lark. I always have been and if it (whatever “it” is) isn’t done by about 3PM, it won’t happen. By then, I’m fatigued and stupid.

When I have evening plans, it is essential that I pace myself during the day and perhaps even have a nap so not to fade before the entrée is served. I gave up going to evening movies years ago; no matter how compelling (or loud) the film is, I fall asleep.

The simplest tasks are impossible late in the day. Organizing a sink of dirty dishes feels like a feat equal to climbing Mt. Everest. In the morning, it takes five minutes while simultaneously starting the coffee, feeding the cat, watering the plants, absorbing the days’ headlines on TV news and making notes for the next blog post I want to write.

I plan for interruptions to my routine. When houseguests are expected, I write several evergreen blog posts to publish while they are here so I’m not stuck at the computer during their stay. I sort my day differently when I have meetings away from home or errands that are out of the ordinary.

Careful organization might appear boring to many, but it keeps me moving. I alternate brain and physical tasks during the nine or ten hours a day that I’m capable of functioning well and I don’t often vary my routine. Claude Covo-Farchi of Blogging in Paris has a reverse routine from mine:

"I'm getting more and more of a spinster in that way,” wrote Claude in an email. “I don't want my daily life to be any different than it is.

“Quite differently from you, I don't have a routine, so visitors sometimes intrude insofar as I can't change my mind about what I'm going to do seventy times a day. This is probably the reason why I can't find time for everything!"

I like Claude’s “spinster” reference to our different kinds of routine. The word feels right for the way I order my days, and my apparent need to keep it that way most of the time. Like Claude, there are many things I can’t fit in to the schedule each day, but I’m always optimistic about the list (yes, I make a list and enjoy ticking off items when they are done) and no matter how far into the future some items get pushed, eventually I get there.

Even as a lifelong lark, during the 46 years I was a member of workforce, I looked forward to the day, in old age, when I wouldn’t be required to rush out of the house first thing in the morning. And I happily don’t do that now – unless I want to.

But I keep that daily list and I still feel compelled to get everything important done by 3PM. When, on the rare occasion I ignore the list and the routine, the day is lost to idleness and lethargy, and I am more tired by evening than when I am more disciplined.

Routine works for me and I have no idea if it is my nature or somehow connected with age.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda gives us a modern-day O. Henry story, Stumbling Blocks.]


Holiday Repeat: Memorial Day 2008

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The revolution of Earth notwithstanding, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of the summer season in the U.S. which for me means a lot of time on my deck, often working there all day. So I must now confront the conundrum of Ollie the cat's understandable desire, as a feline, to be out there among the birds and bees and flowers. Here is the difficulty, as published last fall under the title, How Ollie the Cat Lost His Outdoor Privileges.]

category_bug_oliver This tale of Ollie the cat begins in mid-2006, when he and his housemate, Ronni, moved from Greenwich Village to a new home in Portland, Maine.

The Maine apartment is much bigger than their New York City home – specifically, much longer with lots of room for a young cat to gallop from one end to the other (when he is not snoozing).

Snoozingollie


For an entire year, Ollie the cat lived inside this house and took pleasure, when windows were open, in ka-ka-ka-ing at the birds and squirrels who hang out on the electric lines in front of the house.

Electricsquirrel


During that first year, Ronni did not allow Ollie on the deck because cats are known to get distracted while stalking birds and bees and butterflies. Who knows, he might forget himself and take a flying leap off the second-floor deck.

Deck1


It was a distraction when Ronni, on a beautiful day, took lunch or dinner among her flowers and plants or read a book lying on the chaise longue, purchased just for that purpose, while Ollie screamed through the screen door demanding to join her. But Ronni has lived with cats all her life and knows their wandering ways. So Ollie was deprived of the one thing he wanted most – to be outdoors.

Deckivy


It wasn’t easy keeping Ollie in the house. Cats are born experts at whisking between human feet when they want to get somewhere they are not allowed. Especially when Ronni was carrying dirty clothes through the kitchen door and back hall to the laundry room or was hauling the big watering can to the deck, Ollie sometimes escaped, but not for long. Ronni is practiced at catching errant cats.

Backhall


Still, it was tiring for Ronni to keep constant watch on Ollie when doors were opened and closed and she did feel sorry for the little fellow who desperately wanted to frolic in the fresh air and take in the heady aromas that only cats and dogs can smell. And so, when the snows had melted and spring arrived, Ronni relented.

Olliewithflowers


At first, she stayed with Ollie when he played on the deck so she would be there to grab him if his interest in a bug took him too close to the edge. But humans – or, at least, Ronni – are more easily bored with bug stalking than cats and in time, Ollie was allowed on the deck alone.

In fact, when Ollie altered their morning routine by yelling to have the kitchen door opened before breakfast and even, sometimes, before sunrise, Ronni left all the doors open on good weather days so Ollie could come and go at his whim. And all was well - or close enough, if you don’t count regurgitated dead bugs on the rug.

Deadbug


When it wasn’t raining, Ollie spent most of his summer days on the deck chasing bugs or snoozing on his favorite outdoor chair. It was his habit to check in with Ronni at her desk a couple of times in the afternoon or, on hot, humid days, to loll around indoors stretched out on the cool porcelain of the bathtub. And on a few occasions, he spent the night sleeping on the chaise. Ronni tried that one time herself and understood the attraction on a summer night.

Deckchaise


Ollie likes to eat at about 5:30PM and if Ronni hasn’t filled his bowl by then, he tracks her down and taps her on the arm in a certain way that means, “Hey, it’s dinner time. You don’t expect me to eat those leftover crumbs from breakfast, do you?”

Several days ago, Ronni looked up from her laptop and realized it was an hour past Ollie’s dinner time. He had not reminded her and she had not seen him since early afternoon. Where could he be? She checked the deck. No Ollie.

Deck2


Ronni called his name from the kitchen - he usually comes – but no Ollie. She checked behind the sofa…

Behindsofa


No Ollie. She checked his cupboard hidey-hole…

Cupboard


No Ollie. She checked the guest room closet…

Closet


Still no Ollie. She looked under the bed. There were some lost cat toys, but…

Underbed


…no cat. She hadn’t done laundry that day, but just in case, she checked the washer and dryer…

Washerdryerpsd


They were empty - of a cat, anyway. She checked behind Ollie’s favorite deck chair where garden equipment is kept.

Behindchair


No Ollie. The cat was gone, gone, gone. How could that be? wondered Ronni. Then it struck her in all its horror - perhaps Ollie had fallen off the deck. You see, there is a six-inch lip of flooring beyond the fence of the deck. Ronni could never watch when Ollie patrolled out there.

Deckedge


Heart pounding, Ronni grabbed a flashlight – dusk was settling in – and ran downstairs to the small back yard. She looked behind every bush and flower and weed. With great relief, Ronni found no dead or injured cat. She looked up at her deck – it was a long way down.

Exteriordeck


Back upstairs and again on the deck, Ronni pondered this mystery of the disappearing cat and softly called his name. Was that a meow she heard? She called again. Yes, yes, it WAS a meow. But where was it coming from? The adjoining laundry room? No cat there.

Ronni called to Ollie again from the deck. There was no doubt this time; it was Ollie’s voice – coming from the yard.

Ronni raced downstairs to find Ollie peering out from under some plants behind the birdbath.

Birdbathplants


Even after several hours on the loose, Ollie wasn’t ready to come home and he nearly evaded Ronni's grasp. But cats sometimes forget humans are bigger and stronger than they are.

He yowled as Ronni caught him by the tail, but what’s a little pain, thought Ronni, compared to being squashed beneath a car’s tire or torn apart by the rumscullion cats who prowl the yard at night. Nevertheless, he fought her all the way upstairs.

How did Ollie get to the yard? Did he fall by accident and just happen not to hurt himself? Did he forget where he was and leap after a bug? Or did he carefully calculate the distance and deliberately jump to the ground from the second floor?

We will never know. But two mornings after Ollie’s escape, Ronni woke to a dream image of him sailing off the deck with all the magnificent grace of feline gazelle.

And that is the tale of how Ollie the cat lost his outdoor deck privileges. Ronni is certain she lost a few weeks off the end of her life due to stress and fear.

When she recovered, she was angry with Ollie. So angry, in fact, she is publishing this formerly secret, inelegant photo of him in the chair where he will undoubtedly spend more time now that he has lost his deck privileges.

Ollieinlibrary

[New postings begin again tomorrow at The Elder Storytelling Place.]


This Week in Elder News: 24 May 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

In February, I published a TGB Interview with Australian novelist Peter Carey, an old friend and New York neighbor of mine who has been honored in the past with two prestigious Booker Prizes. Now, to celebrate their 40th anniversary, the Man Booker Prize is allowing the public to vote in a one-off special “Best of the Booker” prize and Peter is one of six previous winners nominated for his brilliant, Oscar and Lucinda. You would be doing me a personal favor if you would vote for Peter here.

It is established fact that the media has been giving Senator John McCain a pass in asking the hard questions. Brave New films is taking up the slack for us with their YouTube videos. In less than a week, this one has been viewed by more than 1.1 million people which, as alternet.org points out, is way beyond the audience numbers of the cable news networks. (3:14 minutes)

While we are discussing Senator McCain, a new Pew survey shows that more old people think he is too old to be president than young people. Check out the numbers.

A sinking economy and corporate layoffs are hitting older workers harder than young ones. It is particularly difficult for those in their 50s who haven’t accumulated enough savings to retire, but can’t get hired after being downsized. One excuse is that older workers cost too much compared to 20-somethings. But even slashing salary requirements can’t get 50-somethings hired. Read more here.

In Melbourne, Australia, a week or so ago, pensioners took to the streets for a shirtless protest against the stinginess of government pensions. "…it's about standing up for your rights," [said one protester]. "Who can survive on $270 a week?" (Hat tip to Peter Tibbles)

Australianpensionprotest

I had intended to direct you to a news story in the West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota, about the benefits to elders of Nintendo Wii. But the story is now behind a firewall that requires either a long registration page or payment of $2.95 for the one article. So too bad for them. And anyway, it is probable that Erickson Retirement Communities were the first to recognize the benefits.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve agreed with Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. This is one of them: her comparison of Senator Hillary Clinton with three former and formidable women heads of government.

UPDATE: Although I stand by my thoughts on this Noonan/Clinton column, it became moot within an hour or two of my finishing the weekend elder news update yesterday for publication this morning due to Senator Clinton's unfortunate Robert Kennedy reference in South Dakota. Given the instant and near-universal revulsion to her comment, Senator Clinton's candidacy is undoubtedly over. But she lost my potential vote in March when, on 60 Minutes, she said that Senator Obama is not a Muslim, "as far as I know", [emphasis added] - as unredeemable a political statement as I've ever heard.

My brother once sent along a video of him singing Happy Birthday to me while he accompanied himself on the ukulele. That’s excuse enough for me to end today’s news features with blues guitarist, James Clem, playing a lovely version of Sunny Side of the Street on ukulele. (3:02 minutes) (Hat tip to lilalia of Yum Yum Café)

Quote of the Week:

"The propagandist's purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human."
- Aldous Huxley

Is There a Candidate Who Can Rise to the Occasion?

Crabby Old Lady is sick of this election campaign: the candidates, their surrogates, the media and by god, the electorate too. Every day, there is a new non-issue blown out of proportion that has nothing to do with the serious problems our country faces.

Flag pins? Guilt by association at age eight? Sisterhood? Let me tell you how little Crabby cares about any of them when millions of people have lost their homes while Wall Street barons enrich themselves. While the Iraq war drags on maiming and killing our young men and women along with some uncountable number of Iraqis. While our borders and ports are still not secure. While our food is tainted and doubles in price between trips to the supermarket. While our kids are growing up ignorant because the schools don’t teach. While Crabby wonders if she will be able to afford heating fuel next winter? While the Constitution has been ripped out from under us and nary a candidate has addressed these issues seriously.

“I’ll get us out of Iraq in six months,” says one. “The Iraq War will be over by 2012,” says another. “My health plan insures more people than his/her plan,” they all say, apparently not caring about the citizens their plans don’t cover.

Crabby is equally tired of the media who are barely reporting even the horse race now (beyond the delegate count) compared to their fortune telling. They may as well be dealing Tarot cards or throwing yarrow sticks: Can Obama get the working class vote? Will Clinton take the fight to the convention? Does President Bush help or hinder McCain’s chances of winning?

Who cares - we’ll know those things in time and don’t need guessing games masquerading as news. Meanwhile, where is the hard information? Why haven’t reporters analyzed the healthcare issue with a thorough examination of the possibilities and difficulties? Can’t we have an intelligent public discussion of the country’s responsibilities to Iraq’s infrastructure which is nearly non-existent now thanks to our bombing? Hope is an admirable leadership quality in a candidate – better to have it than not - but we also need facts and plans and achievable goals to be outlined in black and white.

Why aren’t candidates answering the hard questions? When will the media ask them:

What will you do as president about those hundreds of Bush signing statements that negated laws duly passed by Congress?

What are your plans for the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, habeas corpus, secret wiretapping and all the other administration acts of the past eight years that have left American citizens stripped of rights guaranteed by the Constitution?

How will you address the terrifying deficit and the U.S. debt paper held by countries in the Middle East and China? Specific steps, please.

Where do you stand on that fence between the U.S. and Mexico? And what are your ideas to deal with the immigration issue that has been shoved off the public agenda without an answer?

How will you hold accountable those in the government who have approved and/or carried out torture in Guantanamo and all those secret prisons the U.S. has set up in other countries?

What will you do about laws and regulations that allow giant corporations to avoid paying billions in taxes by having not much more than a mailing address in places like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands?

What are your plans for repair of the crumbling U.S. infrastructure – the bridges, roads, sewers and water conduits that are falling apart? Where will the money for it come from?

Crabby Old Lady wants specific answers to these and a hundred other questions.

And you in the electorate – get serious. If you’re a Democratic Clinton supporter and refuse to vote for Senator Obama - or vice versa - because he/she is not your original candidate, you’re an idiot. If you’re a man who won’t vote for a woman on sexist grounds, you make Crabby wish for intelligence tests as a prerequisite to voting. And if, as a woman from somewhere in Appalachia said on cable news recently, you won’t vote for a person “with a name like Barack Obama,” you are beyond contempt.

In the lifespan of anyone alive today, there has never been a more important election. Our country and its people have never been in worse trouble. And if you believe it can all be solved during the tenure of one president, you’re dreaming. It will be a long, hard slog of a generation or two to set things right again and then, only if we elect someone this time with vision, integrity and intelligence who will call on and appoint helpers who are equally so – people who won’t make conditions worse.

Crabby doesn’t believe any of the candidates sufficiently meet these criteria. She longs for a great man or woman to lead us out of our abyss, who won’t sugarcoat the huge number of problems we face, who will tell us what we each will need to sacrifice to get the country on the sound footing we now lack.

But we are stuck with what we’ve got. And Crabby can only hope voters will pay enough attention to choose the one who comes closest to what we so desperately need – who has the will to reject partisan politics along with the almighty corporate lobby interests and rise to the occasion.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek delivers another of his MEMOIR essays: How My Dad Downed a Nazi Dirigible and Became a "Saint".]


Hospital Reality Check

[EDITORIAL NOTE 1: Eric Schubert, who is vice president, Communications and Public Affairs at Ecumen, Minnesota's largest non-profit senior housing, services and development company, interviewed me for the company's blog, Changing Aging (not affiliated with Dr. Bill Thomas's blog of the same name). He asked some good questions and I enjoyed the interview.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE 2: Ann Austin, the college student I quoted in Tuesday's post, When Elders Return to College, has posted a response titled - ahem - Continuing on the Elderly.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE 3: For those who are annoyed that Typepad is not remembering your data when you leave a comment here, I have no explanation; it is not my doing. The best I can offer is that it happens to me on other blogs more often than not and I just type in my name, etc. The blogosphere, unfortunately, is not a perfect world.]

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Hospitalcomparead You may have noticed an advertisement in your hometown paper yesterday that looks similar to this one on the left. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) bought space on the same day in newspapers large and small in all 50 states to raise awareness of their Hospital Compare service.

Despite its connection with CMS, this website is a resource for all adults, not just Medicare beneficiaries. You will find comparative data about your local hospitals ranging from hospital-reported information on outcome of treatment for certain conditions and procedures and how much Medicare paid for them, to patient satisfaction surveys of services such as cleanliness of rooms, the responsiveness of the staff and more.

Speaking during a media telebriefing on Tuesday, CMS Acting Administrator, Kerry Weems, said that 2521 hospitals are included in the website and the data is updated quarterly. The next update is due in July so it's never far out of date.

Hospital Compare shows how often hospitals provide some of the care that is recommended for patients being treated for a heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia, or patients having surgery. Hospitals voluntarily submit data from their medical records about the treatments their adult patients receive for these conditions, including patients with Medicare and those who do not have Medicare.

We can all cite our favorite instances of waste of taxpayer money (that famous bridge to nowhere comes to mind), but it’s been my experience that within agencies of the federal government, there is some excellent work being done to keep us informed. This is one of them and you can find an overview of the service here.

Depending on our health requirements and our physicians’ affiliations, we don’t always have a choice of hospitals when we need one, but we often do and this website is worth bookmarking for when you or a loved one requires hospitalization.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Leah Aranoff wonders Erato Where Art Thou.]


Full-blooded American Bigotry

category_bug_politics.gif There has been some to-do around the web – although not enough – in the past week about syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker’s attack on Senator Barack Obama, an attack of so low an order, simultaneously an outrage and embarrassing, that I choked reading it.

Parker begins her column by quoting a young man from West Virginia who says he prefers Senator McCain over Obama because McCain is “a full-blooded American.” You should read the entire column to get the full-blooded impact, but here are some of her points in defense of racism, complete with well-known code words and phrases:

“Who ‘gets’ America? And who doesn't?

“The answer has nothing to do with a flag lapel pin, which Obama donned for a campaign swing through West Virginia, or even military service, though that helps. It's also not about flagpoles in front yards or magnetic ribbons stuck on tailgates.

“It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.”

“We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants - and we are. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations of sacrifice.”
“Yet, white Americans primarily - and Southerners, rural and small-town folks especially - have been put on the defensive for their throwback concerns with "guns, God and gays," as Howard Dean put it in 2003.”
“Republicans more than Democrats seem to get this, though Hillary Clinton has figured it out. And, the truth is, Clinton's own DNA is cobbled with many of the same values that rural and small-town Americans cling to. She understands viscerally what Obama has to study.”
“Some Americans do feel antipathy toward "people who aren't like them," but that antipathy isn't about racial or ethnic differences. It is not necessary to repair antipathy appropriately directed toward people who disregard the laws of the land and who dismiss the struggles that resulted in their creation.

“Full-blooded Americans get this. Those who hope to lead the nation better get it soon.”

One must ask of her last sentence, “…better get it soon” or what? I suppose I’m not versed enough in the code words of white racism to know.

This is the most repellent incidence of race-baiting I’ve read in the mainstream press and I fear we will be treated to much more when/if Senator Obama becomes the Democratic nominee. It wouldn’t be important if Ms. Parker wrote for an obscure Klan publication; but she is part of the Washington Post Writers Group who is syndicated in many newspapers throughout the country.

Somehow I’ve missed Kathleen Parker until now. She appears to be an Ann Coulter wannabe without the four-letter words. Where DO conservatives find these women? And isn’t anyone embarrassed to be associated with them?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda speaks of Penance for a transgression that will surprise you and give you a smile.]


When Elders Return to College

category_bug_ageism.gif Yesterday, there appeared in my inbox a message from Marla Fisher, the higher education reporter for The Orange County Register. She directed me to a blog entry on the newspaper’s website from Ann Austria, a freshman, journalism major at California State University Long Beach.

Ms. Austria’s post is so offensive on its face that I feel more pity for the young woman than anger. Here it is in its entirety:

“I’ve noticed an increase in the number of elderly individuals in some of my general education classes. Not that I mind, but sometimes it gets excruciatingly annoying - no offense.

“Take my math class, for example. I’m taking a math class called Math Ideas - it’s basically applying math to real-world situations, nothing that would require too much thinking. There are four elderly persons in that class, but there are two who sometimes don’t completely understand what’s going on - like the review of the Pythagorean Theorem.

“There was also one time where the professor spent like a good twenty minutes trying to get one of them to understand the distributive property. This is the part of the class where I start banging my head on the table.

“But this makes me wonder why a group of people, who look to be between fifty and sixty years old, are taking an undergraduate general education course. Did they get bored of retirement and just wanted something to do? Sounds like a plausible reason, but really, what are their motives for taking a class like this?”

Several OCR readers responded to Ms. Austria. I’m surprised that none (including me, in my haste) commented on the laziness of a student who would take a class she believes doesn’t “require too much thinking”. But my favorite response was from someone who calls him- or herself “student of the revolution”:

“…you’re in the right here. Old people have no purpose in life. Everyone over 55 should just be mashed up and turned into the world’s new food supply. We can call it ‘Soylent Gray.’”

Funny/sad as that comment is, I would like us, elders who share the blogosphere with Ms. Austria, to instead take seriously her question about why old people would take an undergraduate course and whose participation in the class causes her so much frustration.

My inadequate answer is at the OCR website. I’m eager to read yours in the comments below, which I’m sure Marla Fisher will pass on to Ms. Austria, and I am offering space here at TGB for Ms. Austria to respond.

[At The Elder Storytelling Space today, Richard Mims tells of times long past in My Country Grandparents.]


How Well Private Medicare Works - Not

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“Kerry N. Weems, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sent ‘secret shoppers’ to 240 marketing events [for Medicare Advantage plans] last fall, and they found inaccuracies or omissions in three-fourths of the sales presentations.” [emphasis added]

- The New York Times, 5 May 2008

Maybe that’s why, two years ago when I signed up for Medicare, I couldn’t make sense of what Medicare Advantage plans are. I still receive dozens of mailings in the fall of each year urging me to give up my government Medicare in favor of these private plans – which is what Medicare Advantage is: privatized Medicare.

It first came into existence in 1997, when it was called “Medicare+Choice” and renamed Medicare Advantage in 2003. It is also referred to as Part C. These private plans replace traditional Medicare and often include prescription drug coverage which many traditional Medicare beneficiaries purchase through Plan D, also private coverage for which Medicare is not allowed to negotiate prices.

But there is a big problem with Advantage plans. Medicare pays those private insurers an average of about 13 percent more that it would spend for the same beneficiaries in traditional Medicare.

“…privatized Medicare provides inefficient coverage, steals years of solvency from the program, costs $10 billion more each year than traditional Medicare while passing more costs on to seniors.” [emphasis added]
- entitledtoknow.com, 13 March 2008

The bottom line is that traditional Medicare beneficiaries are subsidizing the already rich private insurance carriers and that’s on top of the fraud in high-pressure sales tactics involved in many Advantage plans.

Now, the Bush administration wants to set new rules that would crack down on the insurer’s aggressive sales tactics. Among the proposals:

“The Bush proposal would prohibit door-to-door marketing of private Medicare plans. Agents could not accost beneficiaries in the parking lot of a center for the elderly, a clinic or an apartment building. Agents could respond to telephone inquiries, but they could not make ‘cold calls’ to beneficiaries.”
- The New York Times, 9 May 2008

I suppose that’s a start, but it’s a typical Republican solution – hard to enforce and preserves the 13 percent giveaway to private insurance companies.

Explain to me again how market forces - which the healthcare plans of all three current presidential candidates maintain - keep prices down for everyone?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz offers a clever solution to a tired, old marriage question in Hi Hon. What Did You Do All Day?]


This Week in Elder News: 17 May 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

A few weeks ago, I noted that the blue-haired cartoon character, Maxine, had started blogging. In response, she posted this nifty version of my Time Goes By banner showing Maxine through the years:

Maxbabytoadult

One of the reasons for inviting Dr. Bill Thomas to help educate us about health and aging in his bi-monthly column at TGB is that there are not enough geriatricians to treat old people in the U.S. and the numbers are getting worse. According to the Association of Directors of Geriatric Academic Programs, in 2000, the ratio of geriatricians to people 75 and older was 4.7/10,000. By 2050, it will be 1.6/10,000. Compared to other medical specialties, geriatrics is the lowest paid which might have something to do with the problem. You can read the report here [pdf].

Sometimes, in following political punditry, you have to pry your jaw off the floor even when it’s not Fox News. In a Thursday Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Gail Collins wrote this in support of Senator Clinton’s continuing fight for the Democratic nomination: “If Clinton wants to continue, there’s $11 million that says she has paid for the right to go the distance.”

That $11 million is, of course, a reference to Senator Clinton’s own money she lent her campaign. Even though we all know personal wealth is the surest road to political power, isn’t this an obscene acknowledgment of it?

And while I’m on this particular rant, it has been said that should Barack Obama win the Democratic nomination, there is precedent for him to hold a fund raiser to help refill Senator Clinton’s personal coffers. This is disgusting – moreso in a time of $4/gallon gasoline, 47 million people without health coverage and skyrocketing food prices. If there are going to be fundraisers, certainly there are more deserving beneficiaries than rich presidential candidates.

Two women, one white, the other black – each born into a dictatorship a world apart in Germany and Haiti. Now 68 and 71, they share the memories of their lives in a remarkable series at thewip.net. I started with Part 8, On Aging, but it is worth backing up to read the entire series.

Tango has a long and intricate history, probably originating in Spain and although it is most associated with Argentina, it springs into popularity in Europe and the U.S. every few years. An important aspect of the dance is an emotional connection between the dancers and the music and between the two dancers themselves. Here is a lovely short film about a couple who have been dancing the tango together for a long, long time: Tango Octogenario, from Video 13. (about 6:00 minutes)


The First Amendment and S.1959

category_bug_politics.gif You may think S.1959, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act – the “thought crime bill” – has been forgotten at Time Goes By. Not so.

Passed by the House of Representatives last October in a 404 to 6 vote, the bill moved on to the Senate where it has been sitting in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs chaired by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut with Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who sponsored it, as the ranking minority member. They have not been idle.

Five hearings have been held during the 110th Congress and on 8 May, the Committee issued a report titled, Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat [pdf] covering, as the introduction states:

“…how violent Islamist terrorist groups like al-Qaeda are using the internet to enlist followers into the global violent Islamist terrorist movement and to increase support for the movement, ranging from ideological support, to fundraising, and ultimately to planning and executing terrorist attacks.”

What the 24-page report boils down to, basically, is: “Oh, dear. Jihadists are on the internet. We must stop them,” which further extends the frightening implications of S.1959 that, should it become law, could gut the First Amendment.

A response to the Committee report from the ACLU correctly notes:

“Our concern is that this focus on the internet could be a precursor to proposals to censor and regulate speech on the internet. Indeed, some policy makers have advocated shutting down objectionable websites…

“Moreover, testimony at the hearings indicates that such an approach not only fails muster under speech principles, but is unlikely to be effective…

“Lt. Col. Joseph Felter, PhD, Director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West :Poiint, testified to the Senate Committee that ‘Attempts to shut down websites have proven as fruitless as a game of whack-a-mole.’”

Nevertheless, Committee hearings and reports will continue. Meanwhile, however, the United States doesn’t appear to need any new legislation to stifle free speech and the First Amendment.

In 2005, Veterans Administration nurse, Laura Berg, sent a letter to a local Albuquerque weekly, The Alibi, criticizing the bungled rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. Soon, her office computer was seized, her boss reported her action to the FBI and the VA began an investigation into possible charges of sedition against Ms. Berg. All for nothing more than writing a letter to the editor critical of the federal government.

With the help of the ACLU and New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, the investigations were dropped and on 28 April 2008, Ms. Berg received the Katherine Anne Porter First Amendment Award from the PEN American Center which “honors a United States citizen or resident who has fought courageously to safeguard the First Amendment’s right to freedom of expression as it applies to the written word.”

About the award, PEN Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems stated:

“Berg published her letter in perhaps our darkest hour for freedom of expression. Around the same time, members of Congress and the administration were openly encouraging the prosecution of journalists reporting on illegal administration programs under the Espionage Act.

“While we believe that the pendulum has swung back from that extreme, Berg’s experience is a reminder of how quickly our most basic values can fall victim to exaggerated fears for national security. And her story is a reminder of how much one individual voice can mean in such a time.”

Which is why Time Goes By will continue to keep its eye on the thought crime bill, S.1959, and the questionable motives of The Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs related to the bill.

(Past stories about S.1959 from TGB and other media can be found here.)

[Postings at The Elder Storytelling Place will return on Monday.]


A Personal Lesson in Elder Adaptability

category_bug_journal2.gif In his first TGB Geriatrician column yesterday, Dr. Bill Thomas wrote about the new skill of adaptability old people develop as we accommodate the natural effects of gravity and time. That adaptability, he notes, is not a one-time achievement after which it’s all smooth sailing:

“An older person wakes up to a new body with new requirements and limitations not once,” he said, “but many times. This reality batters our relationship to the status quo.”

Over the past ten days, I’ve been having a close encounter with that reality in a big way, and I do feel battered.

During the two years since I moved to Maine, I have led a simple life. Awake early, I devote the greater portion of most days to whatever is necessary to produce this blog about aging. In good weather, I walk an hour a day or so, play with the cat as he demands and in the evenings, I read or watch a movie or putter around at whatever amuses me before bed at 9PM or 10PM.

When it became evident a few years ago that I could no longer tear through housecleaning in one morning a week without losing the rest of the day to exhaustion, I spread the work over time, one room a day. I’ve slowed down in recent years, but as Dr. Thomas discusses, I’ve adapted, and without much effort.

Routine is my friend, giving me the freedom to work hard when necessary and not overdo. When that routine is interrupted, as with a trip away from home or houseguests, I’ve been able, in the past, to accommodate the disruption by planning and pacing myself so that I can enjoy the interlude to the fullest without the need for excessive recuperative time.

This time it was different. My recent houseguest, an old friend I’d not seen in a long time, is younger than I by 20-odd years. We were up every evening until hours past midnight (we are both great talkers with a wide variety of interests) so that rising each morning became increasingly difficult for me and I tired earlier in the day. But I was loath to admit it to my friend, so I did not and kept going. Stupid.

Beyond stupid, in fact, because my friend had arrived after I had barely crawled out from under three days of excruciating back pain of no known origin which had kept me trapped in the apartment; the flight of stairs to the street may as well have been a sheer mountain cliff for my ability to get down them during those days.

So I had started the visit already exhausted and tried to behave over the four days as if I were 30 years younger than I am.

When I returned from dropping my friend at the train station Monday morning, I fell into bed and hardly moved from there until yesterday afternoon when I finally began to feel my normal self again. Now I am eager to see if I am recuperated enough to get through today without an hour or two time out later.

It is not my intention to give you a blow-by-blow of my recent distress. Instead, it is an opportunity to think out loud about the infirmities of age, how we deal with them - and Dr. Thomas’s first column on elder adaptation arrived in my inbox right on cue for that.

Until this past week, I had adapted easily to waning energy much as Dr. Thomas describes and without putting much thought to it. When difficulties with such as housework in one morning and late nights become evident, I have made the changes necessary to maintain a schedule I like. And when I travel by plane, an tiring endeavor these days (more particularly from Portland, Maine, from which there are direct flights to nowhere), I plug in rest time so that I can be sharp and smart when I need to be.

Dr. Thomas seems to say that adaptation is a quality that arrives naturally with age. That is apparently what happened to me in the past, but which I ignored last week. I behaved, through false pride in wanting to keep up with a much younger person, as though I am 37, not 67, and I paid for it with several days lost to the misery of zero energy this week.

I have been wondering, as I've rested a lot, if pushing myself beyond my limit is an artifact of the constant cultural pressure to pretend that we are not old and that we should not reveal to others that we – or, in this case, I – cannot do everything that was once possible. Maybe yes, maybe no, but I suspect it was, in addition to enjoying the visit, part of my reason.

It will not happen again. I have spent too many years now lobbying on this blog for acceptance of normal, natural aging to fall victim to indoctrinated bias against being old. In the future, I will allow myself to adapt as Dr. Thomas describes:

“As we age, we encounter an unexpected and highly significant rise in the power of adaptation. The emergence of adaptability is perhaps the most important and least acknowledged of the virtues of aging.”

Yes, IF you pay attention. I experienced that adaptability on my own long before I learned from Dr. Thomas that it is a common phenomenon. From now on, I will trust those instincts as I “watch and marvel," as he says, at my own and others' “miracle” of adapting to new realities.

[Postings at The Elder Storytelling Place will return on Monday.]


Pinnacle of Adaptation

category_bug_geriatrician.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: I am proud today to launch a new category at Time Goes By, The TGB Geriatrician. It's been a long time in planning and I'm proud that Dr. Bill Thomas has agreed to take on the duties of writing this column which will appear in the first and third weeks of each month.

Dr. Thomas is a world-renowned geriatrician and advocate for the dignity of elders. Long-time readers of TGB will be familiar with him from the many times I've quoted from his book What Are Old People For? You can find out more about Dr. Thomas here, and he also keeps his own daily blog, Changing Aging. I know you will welcome him to the TGB fold.]

I am excited about guest blogging here with Ronni Bennett. TGB is a terrific blog and if I can add something of value to this community, I will be happy.

I am a physician and my background is in Family Medicine and Geriatrics.

My approach to medical issues tends to focus more on the big questions of emphasis and interpretation and less on specific remedies. (Although I do get into that from time to time.) In medical school we used to joke that certain professors seemed to have favorite molecules that they studied exhaustively. That's never really been my thing.

What do I mean by big ideas? Well, how about this: I believe that older people are the healthiest people on the planet.

Huh?

Aren't old people sick most of the time? What about all of the billions of dollars we spend on Medicare? What about the statistics that show older people using the most health care resources per capita of any age group?

Those objections are valid, but they miss the deeper reality. In order to become an older person one must first have a healthy childhood, then it is on to decades of healthy adulthood. When the second half of life arrives, a person can already boast of a long span of very good health. The people who are really unhealthy, sadly, do not make it to old age.

Furthermore, statistics show that almost half of all Medicare expenditures are made in the last six months of life. Before the last six months, older people do pretty darn well.

It is true that the second half of life includes experiences related to loss, but it is also true that elderhood is not limited to these things. As we age, we encounter an unexpected and highly significant rise in the power of adaptation. The emergence of adaptability is perhaps the most important and least acknowledged of the virtues of aging.

The young grow accustomed to running faster and jumping higher with each passing year and the middle decades are marked by a struggle against the workings of gravity and time. Fortunately, elderhood provides us with new and supremely useful perspectives on flexibility and the reality of change over time.

An older person wakes up to a new body with new requirements and limitations not once, but many times. This reality batters our relationship to the status quo. Mental, physical and spiritual changes require elders to develop and deploy a string of enterprising strategies and subtle adaptations.

While it is true that muscles weaken in late life, it is also true that older people are less likely to report symptoms of depression than younger people. Hair may turn white, get thin and fall out but, when surveyed, older people often report an enhanced sense of wellbeing. We grow shorter rather than taller, our toenails turn yellow and our arches fall and still, many older people report that their health is good or even very good.

These seeming paradoxes are actually the fruits of adaptation which grow in tandem with and are nourished by the decline in physiological function.

A young man, transported magically into the body of his 80-year-old self would struggle to complete even the most basic tasks. Sitting, standing, dressing and walking would be difficult for him because the thoughtless ease of youth had left him ill-prepared for life in elderhood.

We need old age because it allows the body to instruct the mind in patience and forbearance while the mind tutors the body in creativity and flexibility.

Our culture discounts the fruits of aging. For example, we value (without even realizing that we are doing so) the long springy stride and narrow tandem gait of youth. The young trumpet their virtuosity, wearing preposterous shoes and paying no mind to the terrain underfoot. Actors and politicians have long understood how we unconsciously judge others by their stride. They lengthen and narrow their stride when they are in public and, in doing so, give the appearance of youth.

Trackers can easily determine a person's age by examining their footprints. Compared with the fluid stride of youth, the marks made by an older person can seem tentative and ungainly. This appearance is deceiving. The reality is that when elders walk, they execute a highly evolved, richly detailed strategy that maintains upright ambulation even into the last decades of life.

Old people alter their gait in specific ways that account for very real changes in strength, endurance, coordination, sensation and reaction time. The "shuffling gait" keeps the feet close to the ground and maximizes input from position sensors. The stance is widened to improve balance. The number of steps taken per minute is decreased to accommodate changes in endurance and to allow for increased reaction time.

Keeping a human body upright and moving is a spectacular feat of coordination and reaction under any circumstances. Doing so in the ninth decade of life magnifies rather than diminishes the beauty of this achievement.

When the world's best golfers come together to play a tournament, the course is lengthened and the rough deepened so that their skill might be tested fully. Olympic divers challenge themselves with the most difficult dives, not the easiest. The Tour-de-France includes the most taxing climbs on its route, including some that are rated as "beyond category" in difficulty.

When you see an old woman walking, you are witnessing a similarly exciting, high-level performance. This is a tightly choreographed ballet, the product of decades of refinement. Watch and marvel. Miracles are all around you, once you know where to look.

[NOTE: You are welcome to suggest topics for future columns of The TGB Geriatrician by leaving a note in the Comments section below or sending an email via the Contact link in the upper left corner of this page.]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, an announcement.]


Still Old and Tired

category_bug_journal2.gif Yesterday’s post was meant to be a place holder, not a health report, but I appreciate the good wishes from you all. Thank you, thank you and thank you. I’m feeling better, but not at full capacity yet, so I’m taking another day off.

Have you noticed as you’ve gotten older that whatever event or exertion took a night’s sleep to recover from 10, 15 or 20 years ago, now takes several days? And as much as you are ready to get on with living, there is nothing to do to speed it up – it takes as long as it takes.

So this post today is another place holder while I take some more time to catch up, but it comes with an important announcement:

Tomorrow, Wednesday, will be the debut of The TGB Geriatrician, a new, bi-monthly column written by Dr. Bill Thomas. You know him from his Chautauqua lecture posted to This Week in Elder News recently, mentions of his book, What Are Old People For?, over the years at this blog, and in a TGB interview last year.

Given my current need for patience while my body reminds me this week that I’m not the kid I used to be, Dr. Thomas’s first column tomorrow is intriguingly appropriate, as it will be to you too. Titled Pinnacle of Adaptation, it explains why old people are the healthiest age group on the planet.

I am excited and proud to have Dr. Bill Thomas join us at Time Goes By as The TGB Geriatrician, along with Jan Adams who covers Gay and Gray issues each month.

Please stop by tomorrow to read Dr. Thomas’s inaugural column and welcome him to the TGB family.

[There is no story at The Elder Storytelling Place today. That too will resume tomorrow, although you might want to stop by there if you haven’t caught up with the excellent collection of Mother’s Day stories from the past week.]