916 posts categorized "Culture"

What the Oldest Old Know

EDITORIAL NOTE: At the bottom of this post is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show - a now-and-then conversation between me, the proprietor of Time Goes By, and my former husband, Alex Bennett. Today's topic is cats. But first, I want to tell you about one of the best books of the year.

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John Leland, an exceptional reporter, joined The New York Times in 2000 and has been covering retirement and religion for the paper since 2004.

In 2015, The Times published Leland's year-long series, “85 and Up” about six of the oldest old living in New York City, all age 85 or older. I was hooked with his introduction which reads in part:

”Early this year, I began visiting these six elders, asking simple questions about their lives. What gets them going in the mornings? What are their aspirations, their concessions to age? Do they want to live to 100? Without the daily drumbeat of work or family responsibilities, where do they find meaning and purpose?

“What they shared, each in a different way, was a story of abrupt change — the loss of a spouse or a home, a sudden turn in health, the arrival of new love, the pain that signals only more pain to come...

“They buried brothers, sisters, parents, children, peers. They lived through the Depression, World War II, Nazi labor camps and the AIDS epidemic, but now they often find themselves with no one to listen to their memories.

“Few ever expected to be so old. None had a formula for how to do it.

“Their lives are a New York soap opera, unscripted.”

Earlier this year Leland, who is nearly three decades younger than the youngest of his six subjects, told fellow New York Times reporter, Jane Brody:

“These people totally changed my life. They’ve given up distractions that make us do stupid things and instead focus on what’s important to them.

“To a person, they don’t worry about things that might happen. They worry when it happens, and even then they don’t worry. They just deal with it.

“At whatever age we are, we can choose to adapt to whatever happens. We have influence over whether we let things knock us out.”

These six elders are a good cross-section of humanity at any age: an African-American man who is a veteran of World War II, a gay man whose partner of 60 years had died six years previously, a Chinese woman who maintains her social connections playing mahjong, a woman who found a new boyfriend in the retirement home where she lives and a well-known film director.

After repeated visits with each of his subjects over a year's time, Leland put together an extraordinarily informative and poignant story about – ahem, “what it's really like to get old” (see this blog's subtitle in the banner).

As he told host Terri Gross recently on her NPR radio program, Fresh Air, before this series, he was afraid of old age and sometimes still is:

”...when I started doing this series, I'd set out to - what one of the people I talked to calls - rewriting the Book of Job and doing a story on how this is terrible about aging.

“And you fall down, and you break your hip, and then it's all over. And you lose your eyesight, and then your friends all die, and then it's over. And your heart stops working. And you don't have sex anymore. And you don't work. And you don't have anything that gives you purpose. So now, it's all over.

“And that's what I thought old age was. But then you spend time with people, and a lot of that stuff is a part of their lives in old age but in no case was it how they defined themselves. So I wasn't getting it - what the truth about their lives was as they saw it.”

You can listen to Terry Gross's entire interview with John Leland, or you can read the transcript of their conversation here.

LelandBookCover125 In January this year, a book based on Leland's conversations with the six elders was published. Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, received near-unanimous rave reviews.

In this short video from PBS NewsHour in March, Leland explains that learning how to think about death from his elder subjects changed how he lives:

During the past 20-odd years I've read hundreds of books on just about every aspect of growing old. There is a lot of dreck among the good ones but none has captured what it's really like to be old with such campassion, empathy, humor, genuine interest and, eventually, understanding as Leland does.

That happened because above all else, he is an excellent reporter who took the time to listen carefully and, as he says, “let them guide me through the world as they saw it."

The book is available at all the usual retailers online and off. If you have access to The New York Times, the original series begins here.

Leland's followup to the original series was published last December in The Times.

Given all the age-related reading I do, you'd think I pretty well have the subject covered and to a degree, I do. But John Leland opened my eyes, my thoughts and my imagination to a good deal more than I have considered before. Books like Leland's don't come around every day.

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Here is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show recorded on Tuesday 22 May 2018.

If you would like to see Alex's entire two-hour show with other guests after me, you can do that at Facebook or Gabnet on Facebook or on YouTube.

Are You Ageing "Normally"?

Depending on how you define the phrase, probably not.

As we have always reported at Time Goes By, people age at remarkably different rates and any gerontologist or geriatrician worth his/her salt, will tell you that people, as they grow older, become more individual from one another than when they were younger.

Because those two, four-day hospital visits in April interrupted my blog life, there are several topics that got lost in the shuffle that I want us to catch up on. One is a story from the highly respected Kaiser Health News (KHN) titled, Is There Such a Thing as Normal Aging?

They don't really answer their question. Instead, the KHN reporter consulted with Dr. Thomas Gill, a geriatric professor at Yale University, and three other geriatric experts to identify

”...examples of what are often — but not always – considered to be signposts of normal aging for folks who practice good health habits and get recommended preventive care.

In doing so, they break down ageing into decades containing these typical changes. My short version – the subheads in the story:

• The 50s: Stamina Declines
• The 60s: Susceptibility Increases
• The 70s: Chronic Conditions Fester
• The 80s: Fear Of Falling Grows
• The 90s & Up: Relying On Others

Those are the generalities of “normal ageing.” (There are fuller explanations at the links to Kaiser above.) Except for noting that the oldest old feel happier than young people, KHN defines normal ageing from only one point of view: negative health issues. I wondered how others approach the idea of normal ageing and checked out the usual suspects:

The Mayo Clinic website provides a long list of what physical things can go wrong in late years and supplies suggestions on how to prevent them.

WebMD has a similar list that's not quite as thorough as the Mayo Clinic.

Area Agency on Aging (in St. Petersburg, Florida) has a long but succinct list of physical changes and the reasons for them.

The Merck Manual Consumer Version online has the most usable, useful and informative version of health issues that can be expected in old age. And I like their pullquotes of these little nuggets of information:

“Disorders, not aging, usually account for most loss of function.”

“To make up for the muscle mass lost during each day of strict bed rest, older people may need to exercise for up to 2 weeks.”

“Most 60-year-olds need 3 times more light to read than 20-year-olds.”

However, all four web pages, each from a reputable health organization, deal only with those negative health developments of growing old, reinforcing the widespread but erroneous belief that to be old is to be sick.

It's a tricky thing to balance curiosity about what “normal” physical changes might turn up in old age without feeling you are being defined as sickly. While surfing around the web on these topics, I came across a blogger named Brian Alger who has some different thoughts on “normal aging”:

Aging doesn’t just place a limit our our lifespan, it also constantly alters the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social context of being alive. In this sense, aging is a medium, a total surround, of our experiences in life.”

That resonates with me for putting into words some feelings I've been having about growing old but haven't been able to articulate even to myself. Further, writes Alger,

”We can confidently expect that every aspect of our life will be touched by the direct felt experience of aging. Normal aging makes time increasingly precious. As a form of communication, aging inspires a conversation with time, impermanence, and the great flow of life that we are immersed in.”

From another page at Alger's blog:

”Aging is our most intimate connection [to] the natural world; it is a source of unity and essential belonging with all life everywhere at once. The very essence of elderhood originates entirely in nature.”

Regular TGB readers would be disappointed, I'm sure, if I didn't bring up how the language of old age reinforces negative beliefs about it in both elders and younger people.

In response to sickliness being the most common definition of growing old, in 2014, Science Daily reported on a study from the University of Alberta. One of the researchers says such terms as “normal” or “healthy” aging themselves fall short how elders actually live:

”"The implication is that if you have a chronic illness as an older adult, you've somehow failed in this goal of aging without chronic disease, which is perhaps not that realistic a goal."

"When aging is just defined as 'healthy' and 'devoid of disease,' it doesn't leave a place for what to do with all of these older adults who are still aging with chronic illnesses..."

I have long contended that issues relating to aging should always include input from someone who is old, as this quotation from a subject of the Alberta study makes clear:

"'I don't know what would be considered normal aging,' said [80-year-old Diana] McIntyre, past president of the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton. 'What's normal for a 45-year-old? What's normal for an 80-year-old? Those are really irrelevant terms as far as I'm concerned.

“'My own philosophy is I would like to do as much as I can, for as long as I can, as well as I can.'”

That last sentence from McIntyre works for me. How about you? Do you think you're ageing “normally”?

About Those Funny Little Noises I've Been Making

“Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm.” It surprised me when I heard that little noise. Emanating from?

Me! It was me making that little noise. This is weird.

In recent weeks, I've caught myself several times making strange little noises – mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm or unh, unh, unh, unh or hooh, hooh, hooh, hooh or something similar.

There seems to be no reason for them. I might be at the computer or watching TV, reading a book or just doing nothing. Then I catch myself going, “unh, unh, unh, unh” and I have no idea if I do it only when I'm alone or when I'm in the grocery store or anywhere else.

It doesn't seem to be connected to any thought or disturbance or related to any kind of feeling or emotion. It just is. And I don't know if I catch it every time or if it goes on without my notice.

Is this an old person thing? I wondered. I've never noticed it in other old people (or people of any other age) and I'm pretty sure it's something new with me. So, of course, I took to the internet.

There isn't much but I found this in a two-year-old discussion at metafilter:

”My grandpa, who was ~65-85 while I knew him, was always making noises,” writes Polycarp. “Little humming breaths, the uhs, tons of mmms...He was playing wiffle ball and mowing the lawn into his early 80s, so it didn't seem to have any health ramifications, and I'm sure he wasn't that way when he was younger...”

Some people say unconscious sounds from old people are related to hearing loss and/or cognitive decline. On the same metafilter page, beagle writes,

”This is also a typical attribute of people with dementia. For that population it often expands to include repeated words or phrases. The author of the linked study suggests that the behavior is associated with anxiety or agitation and that the vocalizations are 'self-soothing.'”

That study link goes to an abstract of a report on dementia only. Almost all the small amount of discussion I could find references old people who are not cognitively impaired.

Here is another, named Mismatchedsock, from the metafilter page:

"I work in a hospital with an almost exclusively retired population. I'm in and out of different rooms all day long for 10-15 minute stretches and I'd say 20 percent of my patients do this. Some of them also have hearing loss but it doesn't always coincide. I used to think it was because they were nervous. But if I asked, most of them said they didn't realize they were doing it."

In general, it is adult children who have commented on this phenomenon, one they universally find annoying, as AMTIRED2 and ugeh37 report at agingcare.com:

”Mom is constant with the same verbal sounds - nothing in the house to trigger it, Oh ho ho- from the moment the little souls [sic] feet hit the floor in the morning to bed time - it is like chalk screeching across a black board in my head.”
”My mother...makes noise constantly. Sometimes it's kind of musical, but when I say musical think of the random, chaotic, insane, melody you might here in a horror movie about a psycho.

“Much of the time it's just random humming. Very loud random humming. She does it constantly, from the time she get's up, until she lays down at night. If she's moving, she's making noise.

“I've tried ignoring it, and sometimes I can manage it, but its like Chinese water torture.”

At another website, commenters discussed the grunts and groans of ageing bodies such as while taking off boots or shoes, getting up from a chair, climbing stairs, etc. but this isn't what I mean.

As far as I can tell, my weird little sounds are unrelated to any physical effort. They just appear and as I noted above, I have no idea if I always hear them or if they happen sometimes without my awareness.

Fortunately, this is no big deal, nothing to get exercised about. Just strange.

Do any of you know what I'm talking about?

Notorious RBG (and Blog Schedule Change)

PERSONAL NOTE: Last week's hospital stay was a surprise that left me with no good way to post stories. This next hospital visit is planned.

As I explained on Monday, an internal blood leak resulting from my Whipple surgery last year needs repair and that is now scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday.

It may or may not be necessary for me to remain in the hospital overnight but no one knows that until the procedure tomorrow. With the various preparations, I've not had time to write a Friday post or the Saturday Interesting Stuff.

But do stay tuned for Sunday's Elder Music column from Peter Tibbles - this week will be songs about forgetting.

I'll see you back here again on Monday.


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There are hardly any admirable people working in high profile positions in the Washington, D.C. federal government these days so today, I want to speak a little of one who is: Notorious RGB, the estimable Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who turned age 85 in March.

A TGB reader, Kathleen Noble, mentioned in a comment on Monday's post that she has seen the new documentary about Justice Ginsburg titled RBG which will be released in theaters on 4 May 2018.

Here is the trailer:

I may not be first in line when the film opens, but I won't be far behind. I have been a fan of Justice Ginsburg for years and years and years. She is my hero. A guiding light. I still want to grow up to be just like her.

She was also part of my inspiration when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year as she survived that disease (in addition to colon cancer) a long while before I did.

The new film, according to Access Hollywood,

”...focuses on Ginsburg’s role in defining gender-discrimination law and systematically releasing women from second-class status, she argued six pivotal gender-bias cases in the 1970s before an all-male Supreme Court blind to sexism.”

Here is some more information about RBG from the production company press release:

”The film is told through the voices of Ginsburg’s family and friends, former clients and colleagues, her close friend and NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, and historic figures whose paths she has crossed, including the son of her close friend and Supreme Court colleague, the late Antonin Scalia.

“Throughout, interviews with Justice Ginsburg herself add poignant layers to the images and never-before-seen personal home movies that reveal a mostly unknown life of personal challenges, incredible discipline, and a touching, decades-long romance with her husband, the late Martin Ginsburg...

“While vérité scenes and archival news footage illustrate Ginsburg’s career and personal highlights, expert editing weaves Ginsburg’s speeches, writings, and Supreme Court arguments to round out her historic impact on American life.

“What emerges is the definitive documentary portrait of Ginsburg: a complex jurist, scholar, opera lover, wife, mother, daughter, and fierce citizen.”

Okay, okay, I know that's flak from the production company but with a life like Justice Ginsburg's and the extraordinary person she has proved again and again to be, I don't think they are far wrong.

I am certainly not the only Justice Ginsburg fan. In recent years, she has become an icon, especially among young women. Take a look at this short piece about her when the book, Notorious RBG, was published in 2015, that includes a short clip of Kate McKinnon's impression of RBG on Saturday Night Live:

If you have time to spare (more than an hour) here is a February 2018 interview with Justice Ginsburg at Columbia University Alumni Association conducted by CNN's Poppy Harlow:

While I was flailing around trying to sum up Ginsburg for this post, I ran across a YouTube video of five law professors who had been asked to describe her.

Each of the five once served as RBG's law clerk and know her in ways that are impossible for me. I just admire her from a distance but what these five former colleagues tell us rings absolutely true.

Elders and Cannabis – Part 2

EDITORIAL NOTE: Although today's is a lengthy post, I hope at least some of the information will be useful to you. If it isn't, you could scroll to the bottom for the latest edition of The Alex and Ronni Show. In fact, you could watch it even if you do read the entire post.

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Elders and Cannabis – Part 1 can be found here.)

To pick up from where we left off on Monday discussing legal issues of cannabis, here is a map from Governing showing which states permit medical and/or recreational marijuana – or not. Visit governing.com for other variations from state to state.


Cannabis has been used as a medical treatment for thousands of years. Nowadays we know that the two main chemicals in marijuana used for medical purposes are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC gets you high, CBD does not, no matter how much you imbibe, and both are useful in treating medical conditions. At legal dispensaries, in addition to buds of marijuana themselves, you can buy edibles that contain entirely CBD, entirely THC or a combination of both in various proportions.

For my sleep problem, my first try was an edible containing CBD. For me, I might as well have had a glass a water – it did nothing for my sleep. I switched to a THC tincture and it puts me to sleep within about 45 minutes – not enough time to get high or, more likely, to notice that I'm high.

The number of conditions that cannabis helps is long and includes cancer. There are two U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA)-approved pills containing cannabis, Marisol and Cesamet, that are often prescribed to help control nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy.

I don't know if it is still so, but back in the 1990s, my step brother was prescribed Marinol to control some of the effects of AIDS.

The top two reasons elders use cannabis is for arthritis pain and difficulty sleeping. Dr. Igor Grant is a distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and the recipient of one of the rare federal grants allowing him to research the potential benefits of pot. From CBS News:

"'First of all, there is increasing evidence that cannabis is helpful in the management of certain kinds of pain,' Grant said. And it's the kind of discomfort experienced by seniors, like sharp pains felt by nerve damage, caused by things like chemotherapy or diabetes...

“Kerry Stiles, 78, wears a pacemaker. And he discovered pot at the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek, across the bay from San Francisco. 'I drop it under my tongue, about five or six drops, and that helps me sleep,' Stiles said.”

Moving on from pain and sleep, a January 2018 study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Cannabis Clinical Research Institute at Soroka University Medical Center reported in Science News found that

”...cannabis therapy is safe and efficacious for elderly patients who are seeking to address cancer symptoms, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and other medical issues.”

There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective:
For the treatment for chronic pain in adults
Antiemetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral cannabinoids)

There is moderate evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for:
Improving short-term sleep outcomes in individuals with sleep disturbance associated with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis

There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for:
Increasing appetite and decreasing weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS
Improving clinician-measured multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms
Improving symptoms of Tourette syndrome (THC capsules)
Improving anxiety symptoms, as assessed by a public speaking test, in individuals with social anxiety disorders
Improving symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

There is limited evidence of a statistical association between cannabinoids and:
Better outcomes (i.e., mortality, disability) after a traumatic brain injury or intracranial hemorrhage

There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are ineffective for:
Improving symptoms associated with dementia
Improving intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma
Reducing depressive symptoms in individuals with chronic pain or multiple sclerosis

Hardly any of this information is definitive – at least in the U.S. - because, as NORML reported in 2010:

”Lawmakers and health regulators demand clinical studies on the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis, but the federal agency in charge of such research bars these investigations from ever taking place...

“Under federal law, the National Institute of Drug Abuse – NIDA - (along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) must approve all clinical and preclinical research involving marijuana.

“NIDA strictly controls which investigators are allowed access to the federal government’s lone research supply of pot – which is authorized via a NIDA contract and cultivated and stored at the University of Mississippi.”

Nothing has changed with the federal government's position toward cannabis research since this report.

If you can stand one more list, here is a one about possible side effects of from the same study [pdf] done by the U.S. National Academies of Science and published in January 2017:

Substantial evidence:
Statistical association between cannabis smoking and worse respiratory symptoms in respiratory disease with long-term cannabis smoking
Increased risk of motor vehicle crashes
Development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among the most frequent users
Statistical association between increases in cannabis use frequency and progression to developing problem cannabis use

Moderate evidence:
No statistical association between smoking cannabis and incidence of lung cancer
Impairment in cognitive domains of learning, memory and attention (acute cannabis use)
Small increased risk for development of depressive disorders

Increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide attempts with a higher incidence among heavier users
Increased incidence of social anxiety disorder with regular cannabis use
Being male and smoking cigarettes are risk factors for the progression of cannabis use to developing problem cannabis use
Major depressive disorder is a risk factor for the development of problem cannabis use

Limited or no evidence:
Increased risk of acute myocardial infarction
Statistical association between cannabis smoking and developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Statistical association between cannabis use and death due to cannabis overdose

Due to the lack of research, I don't buy a lot of this list – especially those in the moderate, limited and no evidence categories which is why, with so much anecdotal evidence of the therapeutic value of cannabis, the federal government needs to catch up with the 30 states and approve the research.

Whether the FDA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions or anyone else in the federal government likes it or not, it is only a matter of time now until cannabis is accepted as both a medical treatment and for recreational use, as alcohol is accepted.

In fact, Bloomberg News recently reported that the alcohol industry is concerned as is the soft drink industry. Here is their short video report:

It is true that as we get older, we get sicker: cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart conditions, etc. are called “diseases of age” for a reason. If cannabis can help control symptoms, it should be legally available to everyone.

Of course, it's important to consult a physician first. In my case, it was a doctor who first suggested cannabis for my sleep difficulty.

Now, whenever I see my doctors – cancer and primary care – I am handed a printout of my current drugs from their records so I can confirm them. We recently added cannabis to the list so that when prescriptions are being added, subtracted or changed, interactions can be taken into consideration.

For years of illegal marijuana, almost everyone smoked it or, occasionally, made brownies and other edibles with it. I still have a 1996 paperbook titled Brownie Mary's Marijuana Cookbook that includes recipes for pot macaroni and cheese, shrimp casserole and spagetti sauce.

These days, cannabis is much MUCH stronger than in the past. If you are smoking it, what once took a joint or two to get high, requires only a couple of tokes. These days, in addition to hand-rolled joints, there are various kinds of pipes and vaporizers.

In states where cannabis is legal, you can also buy tinctures to take by mouth, creams to rub into your skin, candies along with ingestible oils that come in capsules. Visit this page at Leafly for more information about how to use cannabis.

Most of the links through this story have additional good information about cannabis in general and as related to elders.

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Here's the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show.

Elders and Cannabis – Part 1

PERSONAL NOTE: Thank you for your Happy Birthday comments and emails on Saturday. I spent some quality time with a friend visiting from out of town and otherwise had a quiet day. It was number 77 - a nice one, don't you think?

Although I shied away from acknowledging the thought during my surgical recovery and chemotherapy last year, I don't think I really believed I would be here for this birthday. It's a wonderful surprise and I also frequently think about the support and encouragement you have given me during this ordeal. It has undoubtedly been a big contribution to my now cancer-free status.

Again, thank you so much for your birthday greetings Saturday.

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Did I say cannabis in that headline? That seems to be the latest “approved” name for what the rest of us call pot, weed, maryjane, ganja, dope, hemp, reefer, doobie and tea among probably hundreds of others including, of course, marijuana.

So you know where I'm coming from on this post, I started smoking weed when I was in high school, about age 15 or 16. I still believe it helped get me through the early months of emotional difficulty after my husband and I broke up 15 years later. Most evenings, after work, I'd light up a joint and it kept my mind off my troubles.

But most of my life I've smoked weed because being high is fun. It enhances music, promotes creativity (if you remember to write down your ideas – heh) and is good for all sorts of other activities including sex. Plus, there's no hangover and within three hours or so of imbibing, it wears off.

About ten years ago, I stopped smoking weed altogether because it made me cough so hard. Ageing lungs, I guess. Although I never made the possible connection until this moment, a decade or so ago is also when I started having trouble sleeping. Most nights I woke after three or four hours never able to get to sleep again.

During chemotherapy toward the end of last year I became concerned that it couldn't be good for my cancer treatment that I slept only about half as much as experts tell us we should. I mentioned this to my doctors but they mostly ignored me.

When a new doctor was filling in for one of the regulars, I mentioned it to him. He said, “Oh, just go to one the dispensaries and buy some cannabis. You'll sleep fine.”

And so I have done ever since. It is remarkable how much more alert and sharp I am nowadays with seven or eight hours of sleep a night.

One of the helpers (aka “bud-tenders”) at the dispensary I use told me that the majority of their customers are old people and I've been wondering since then what is known about elders' use of weed. Hence, today's and Wednesday's posts.

Cannabis has been illegal under federal law in the U.S. since 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act went into effect over the objections from the American Medical Association related to medical usage.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration lists cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, the most serious category "with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

Schedule II drugs, which are considered less dangerous in this tightly controlled hierarchy, include cocaine, meth and oxycodone,” reports Mic.

Really? They list meth and oxycodone as less dangerous than marijuana? Doesn't anyone at that agency have a lick of common sense? Or they could just read the research.

More than half the states in the U.S. now disagree with the federal government. As of late last year, 29 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Here is the list with bolded names for states that also allow recreational use:

District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Dakota
Rhode Island
West Virginia

Oregon did not legalize weed for recreational use until about two years after I moved here. Before then, late night television commercials for medical marijuana cards were a joke.

Ostensibly meant to advertise medical practices that issued the cards, the ads made clear that even without a health reason, you wouldn't have any trouble getting a card from that physician.

According to a recent story at Alternet, even states that have legalized cannabis retain restrictions that can get a user in serious trouble.

Employers in some of those states can refuse to hire you if marijuana turns up in a pre-hiring drug test.

You will be prevented from legally purchasing fire arms in every state if you are a pot smoker. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) asks potential gun buyers if they use or are addicted to controlled substances and warns on the form:

"The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

Even in legal pot states, parents can lose custody of their children for marijuana use and it gets worse, according to Alternet:

”Medical marijuana support groups report hundreds of cases of parents losing custody of their kids, some merely for having registered as medical marijuana patients.

“But there are small signs of positive change on the horizon: California's Prop 64, for instance, includes a provision saying courts can no longer rescind or restrict a parent's custodial rights solely because they have a medical marijuana recommendation.”

If you are poor and live in federally subsidized housing, you can be kicked out of your home for possessing marijuana.

”Under a 1999 HUD Memorandum Regarding Medical Marijuana in Public Housing still in effect, any activity relating to controlled substances, including even medical marijuana, can get you evicted.

“And it doesn't have to be just you. If you live in federally subsidized housing and your grandson gets caught smoking a joint in the parking lot, you can find yourself tossed out on the street.”

When he isn't being publicly berated by President Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions regularly makes noises about beefing up enforcement of federal marijuana law in those 29 states where pot is legal.

Apparently, he is can't see that none of those states is going to give up millions of dollars in tax revenue from legal weed and it won't be long now until the federal government is forced to go along with the states on cannabis. The Feds will happy then, too, to see their portion of pot taxes.

Coming on Wednesday in Part 2: medical uses of marijuana, side effects and information about use by elders. Here is a sneak peak from a STAT report:

"Two papers published [2 April 2018] in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzing more than five years of Medicare Part D and Medicaid prescription data found that after states legalized weed, the number of opioid prescriptions and the daily dose of opioids went way down...

“Previous research has pointed to a similar correlation. A 2014 paper found that states with medical marijuana laws had nearly 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdoses.”

Elders and Alcohol

Most of us at this blog are old enough to remember when everyone smoked cigarettes. Betty Davis, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart, William Powell, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy – all the cool kids back in those days smoked and they also drank. A lot. At least they did so in their movies.

A lot of us, as we came of age, followed the lead of our favorite screen actors - the social media of the day where we could find out what was chic, fashionable and, as far as it was a concept then, cutting edge.

Even so, it was a surprise to me recently when I watched Revolutionary Road, a movie set in 1950s suburbia starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, how much drinking was going on.

It reminded me of my parents as I was growing up in that decade. So much was alcohol a part of their lives that by age 10 or eleven I was expert, thanks to my dad's tutelage, at making a proper cocktail. Martini, manhattan, old fashioned, whiskey sour, gibson, gimlet, gin and tonic – I knew how to mix all the popular alcoholic concoctions of the era.

When I was older, I realized my mother was an alcoholic. She worked full time all her adult life, never drank during the day but made up for it evenings and weekends. She often said she wasn't an alcoholic because unlike real ones, she remembered to eat.

Yeah. Right, mom.

For a long time I thought my father was alcoholic too but over time I came to believe that he drank to keep up with mom. My point is that I was primed for alcohol to be as big a part of my life as it was for my parents and a couple of other relatives who may have regularly abused it.

Apparently, however, I didn't inherit the gene - if that's what it is - or the habit. Certainly I drink, always have, but appropriately if you don't count a few young-and-stupid benders. And it has always been about being social for me; it never occurs to me to drink when I'm alone.

Nowadays, it's even less and that's just as well. In old age, we cannot drink as much or as frequently as we could when we were younger. A couple of years ago, U.S. News and World Report made a list of how alcohol affects older bodies. A sampling, paraphrased:

Tolerance for alcohol declines over time so your blood alchohol content can be higher even if you drink the same amount as before.

Even moderate drinking can affect liver function leading to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

Chronic conditions are complicated by alcohol. According to the American Diabetes Association, alcohol can cause dangerously low blood sugar up to 24 hours after drinking.

Alcohol can interfere with prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Alcohol dehydrates the body and can disrupt sleep.

In addition, drinking can impair judgment, coordination and reaction time increasing the risk of falls, household accidents and car crashes. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health:

”In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls, which can result in hip or arm fractures and other injuries...Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.”

All that is not to say there isn't an upside to drinking. A few years ago, CNN reported on a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology which

”...found that healthy seniors who consume light to moderate amounts of alcohol reduce their odds of developing physical disabilities or dying in the next five years by 23 percent, compared with either heavy drinkers or those who abstain.

Medical News Today (MNT) explained that when studies “report harm associated with consuming alcohol, they nearly always refer to binge drinking, alcohol abuse, or alcoholism.” Earlier this year, MNT listed benefits of moderate drinking on elders culled from a variety of studies:

”A study published in the journal Strokefound that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption may lower the risk of stroke in women. The study included self-reported data about the drinking habits of 83,578 female participants of the Nurses' Health Study.

“In a study of 2,683 men and 2,822 women aged between 55 and 80 years, Spanish researchers found that regular, moderate wine drinking might reduce the risk of developing depression, while heavy drinking increases the risk. The participants mostly followed a Mediterranean diet and drank wine in a social context, with family and friends.

“An Italian review of studies published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that moderate wine and beer consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular events, but spirits did not.

“Investigators at University College in London reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health that moderate drinkers who followed a healthful lifestyle were more likely to see a protective effect on the heart, compared with moderate drinkers who smoked or had a poor diet.

With or without all these studies, I don't have any plans to cut alcohol out of my life. It seems to me that barring negative interactions with disease, conditions and/or medications, moderate drinking is just fine for us old folks if we are so inclined.

Experts have differing definitions of moderate drinking but this one, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines it for people 65 and older as “no more than three drinks in a given day and seven drinks in a week.”

The next question, of course, is how is a standard drink measured. Here's a chart from the NIH:


Next week: elders and cannabis.

April is National Poetry Month

That's what one of the few magazines I still insist upon reading in print, The New York Review of Books, reports.

A short trip around the internet tells us that it is organized by the Academy of American Poets. The current U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, tell us

“Poetry surprises and deepens our sense of the ordinary. Poetry tells us that the world is full of wonder, revelation, consolation, and meaning.”

Indeed, and that makes it a good reason, I think, to celebrate ageing in poetry as there is hardly a poet who has ever lived who did not, both in youth and old age, tackle the phenomenon of growing old.

Is, perhaps, Shakespeare's sonnet, The Ages of Man speech from “As You Like It” (also known as All the World's a Stage), the most well known poem on the subject? The last three lines are killers.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Some others take a more humorous approach than Shakespeare. A man named Denny Davis collects poems, quotations, scrapbook items and all manner of interesting things on his website. I could have written this poem, My Rememberer, myself as I'm pretty sure many of you might have:

My forgetter's getting better
But my rememberer is broke
To you that may seem funny
But, to me, that is no joke.

For when I'm 'here' I'm wondering
If I really should be 'there'
And, when I try to think it through,
I haven't got a prayer!

Often times I walk into a room,
Say "what am I here for?"
I wrack my brain, but all in vain
A zero, is my score.

At times I put something away
Where it is safe, but, Gee!
The person it is safest from
Is, generally, me!

When shopping I may see someone,
Say "Hi" and have a chat,
Then, when the person walks away
I ask myself, "who was that?"

Yes, my forgetter's getting better
While my rememberer is broke,
And it's driving me plumb crazy
And that isn't any joke.

P.S. Send this to everyone you know because I don't remember who sent it to me! (noted Denny)

From 1927, I've selected W.B. Yeats' well-known classic, Sailing to Byzantium, written when he was in his early sixties. It is about asking the sages of Byzantium to teach him acceptance of old age.

A few years later, Yeats wrote about this poem in a radio script:

'I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts about that subject I have put into a poem called Sailing to Byzantium.

Here is Sailing to Byzantium with that opening sentence that has been made noteworthy in our era for the book and the film of the same name.

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

It's been a long while since I've written of poems about old age and in honor of the beginning of National Poetry Month, I think we should all get in on the act this time.

Do you have a favorite? Is there one that has given you new insight into your later years? Or maybe you have written one yourself.

If so, post it in the comments below. If there is something you'd like to tell us about it first, certainly do that. All I ask is that you leave a line space between stanzas for ease of reading - if that is how the poet meant it to be.

Other than that, length doesn't matter; there is infinite space on the internet and of course, it does not have to be from an American poet.

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In celebration of the U.S. National Poetry Month, The New York Review of Books is holding a sale – 30 percent off on selected poetry books. You'll find them here.

How U.S. Life Has Changed in the Past 50 Years

While reading a mini-book review, I ran across the phrase, “...foray into the dark side of the city over half a century ago” that got me thinking about the changes I have lived through in my nearly 77 years.

Some random images I recall from my childhood:

My mother using a wringer washing machine and hanging the wet laundry on lines outdoors or, when it was rainy, in the garage.

Milk delivered to our front door several mornings a week. In winter sometimes, the milk froze before we brought it in and a sort of milk cone stuck up above the opening of the glass bottle.

Occasionally, a quarantine announcement was attached to the front door of a home in my neighborhood. There were not yet vaccines for some contagious childhood diseases.

When margarine was first introduced, it was packaged in a flexible plastic bag. The margarine was white and there was an orange button that you broke with your finger and then mashed the whole bag around until the margarine became a uniform yellow color.

That's just a tiny number of examples of how we commonly lived differently in the late 1940s.

Then, remember getting the polio vaccine on a sugar cube in the 1950s? The majority of Americans, adults and children, received the vaccine all on the same day with a followup date or two a couple of weeks later.

When I was very young, right after World War II ended, my mother was the only woman in the neighborhood who worked outside the home. She was not well accepted for this. By the time I graduated from high school in 1958, large and growing numbers of women were entering the workforce (including me).

Until the 1970s, married women could not have credit cards in their own names and in general, we still used cash for most purchases. Today, I am the dinosaur who still pays cash for groceries and other day-to-day purchases and I'm still surprised when I see someone put at little as $3, or even $1 sometimes, on a credit or debit card.

Computers and the internet – I'm not sure we can any longer separate one from the other and the definition of computer has gone from big square boxes sitting under our desks to a hand-held “phone” that can do 10, 20, probably 50 or 100 times more than those first home computers.

It is my contention that we all know a lot more (however trivial those things may be sometimes) nowadays than when we were young because of the internet. Before then, we had to go to the library to find out any small fact or figure. What was the population of the U.S., or the world, when George Washington was president?

Maybe, back then, we never found out because it was often a lot of time and effort to get to the library. Nowadays, a few seconds with Dr. Google at home (or even on the go with our smartphones) and we have the answer.

Strides forward in medicine have been amazing in my lifetime. The two advances that I believe are modern medical miracles are cataract surgery and dental implants. Both are close to 100 percent successful and effective – how great is that.

We all know that obesity has become a large health problem in the U.S. and world. According to the State of Obesity Report,

"From 1990 to 2016, the average percentage of obese adults increased from 11.1% (for the 44 states and DC for which 1990 data are available) to 29.8%. As of 2016, nearly 38% of the US population was obese, with 8% falling into the extreme obesity category.

In regard to life expectancy, there is good news and and (maybe) not so good news. Average life expectancy in 1965 was approximately age 70 to 74 for women, 67 for men. By 2015, it had increased to 79 to 82 for women and 76 for men.

There has been a steady climb in life expectancy in the U.S. since the early 20th century. In the past year or two, however, it has leveled off. It is still growing, but more slowly than in the past. Make of that what you will.

Here's a little video I found about five ways the world has changed in the past 100 years (produced in 2013):

As you certainly have figured out, the little list in this post barely scratches the surface of changes we have witnessed. It has been my experience, too, that I become accustomed to new inventions and ways of doing things so quickly, I sometimes forget how dramatic many of the changes have been.

I'm not as interested in the big-picture developments today as the ones that affect our personal lives, at home and work, day in and day out. What can you add to the list of changes we have witnessed in our lifetimes?

Stephen Hawking 1942 – 2018

Even though I generally can't understand anything about physics, gravity, black holes and all the other challenging subjects physicist Stephen Hawking studied, I've always read everything I came across about him and somehow, even though he had lived with Lou Gehrig's Disease all his adult life, it never occurred to me that he could die.

So I was shocked earlier this week to see the headline that he had died in his home in Cambridge, England, at age 76. Hawking was our generation's Einstein, the loveable genius who had miraculously survived beyond age 24 that doctors had given him, and who made physics sexy.

Leonard Mlodinow, writing in The New York Times following Hawking's death put the same idea more clearly than I did:

”In popular culture Stephen was another kind of miracle: a floating brain, a disembodied intellect that fit snugly into the stereotype of the genius scientist.”

He was/still is one of my top favorite celebrities.

I read his first book, A Brief History of Time when it was published in 1988, and a few years later, The Universe in a Nutshell, believing – at least while I was reading them – that I actually understood. Yeah. Right.

The Guardian published a few of the many accolades from people who knew, loved or admired Hawking:

“'Stephen was far from being the archetypal unworldy or nerdish scientist. His personality remained amazingly unwarped by his frustrations,' said Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, who praised Hawking’s half century of work as an 'inspiring crescendo of achievement.' He added: 'Few, if any, of Einstein’s successors have done more to deepen our insights into gravity, space and time.'”
”Hawking’s children said: 'We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. “'He once said: “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” We will miss him for ever.'”
”The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield lamented on Twitter that 'Genius is so fine and rare', while Theresa May noted Hawking’s 'courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration.' The US rock band Foo Fighters was more succinct, calling Hawking a 'fucking legend.'”

In 2014, John Oliver interviewed Hawking for his HBO program, Last Week Tonight. The encounter was priceless then, moreso now:

Actor Eddie Redmayne played Hawking in the film, The Theory of Everything. If you haven't seen it, you should track it down. Redmayne won the best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Hawking.

Here are just a very few of the many accolades and tributes and memories of Hawking from around the web:

Interview about the existence of heaven

Hawking on climate change

Why Hawking was not afraid of death

A brief bio from the University of Cambridge, where he worked

A short overview of his career

And here is a video of 10 memorable quotations from Professor Hawking. The Youtube page is correct: “Some are funny, others are thought-provoking, but all are incredibly wise.”

The world lost one of the greatest men of our generation this week. I feel blessed to have “known” him, even at a great distance.

Small Pleasures

As many TGB readers noted on the posts I wrote about my cancer, small pleasures are closely related to the idea of living in the moment.

We usually develop an appreciation of such commonplaces throughout our lives but are so busy in our midyears that we hardly recognize their importance.

Nevertheless, they accumulate over time. Here are a few that never fail to please me.

Hot showers. Twice in my life, men I was dating thought it was a sexy idea to shower together. Hmmmph. They both suffered from the same malady: to me, what they called hot felt like jumping into a flowing river in January.

But alone, ahhhh - the hot, hot water pouring over my head and shoulders and down my body from above, perhaps just a tad too hot so that it becomes almost a meditation. It is sublime and best of all, I get to do it every day.

A great perk of being retired is snuggling in bed on a cold, winter morning. Even though in retirement there is nowhere I need to be, I still feel a little giddy, like I'm getting away with something, and the bed (why is this?) is never more comfortable than just before rising.

Cat watching. As much time as they spend sleeping (some say 17 hours a day), cats are busy little creatures when they are awake.

There is a lot of “laundry” to do keeping their fur groomed and if you pay attention you will see that they pause now and then to stare into space – as though the licking maybe makes them high.

Cats are especially fascinating when they don't know you're watching but even then, it's hard to catch them doing anything that isn't as graceful as a ballerina. Which is, of course, what make it so funny when they miscalculate a jump.

It's even funnier when they know you've caught them being ungainly and they try to pretend they planned it that way.

Full moon. For reasons I don't know, it seem more beautiful in winter than summer; I never tire of seeing a full moon etched against the dark sky on a cold, clear night – like someone hung it up there just for me.

What a pleasure it is to have a book you can't put down and strain to keep your eyes open while reading in bed at night, eager to find out what's next. Even better is looking forward to getting back to such a book later after you did fall asleep while reading.

Ice cream. Need I say more?

New-fallen snow early in the morning. I will quote myself on this one as I wrote it 12 years ago:

”Is there anything better than waking in winter to the special hush a new snowfall brings to the big city? It is different from silence. Listen carefully and you will find that the sound of the quiet can be heard, especially at dawn.

“It is irresistible then to bundle up in layers, pull on a fur hat and go out into the street just as the sky is turning from black to sapphire blue - and be the first on my block to make footprints, and even an angel, in the snow.”

That worked in New York City and I miss it now. We don't get enough snow in northwest Oregon to be able to hear the silence, and certainly not to make a snow angel.

The first crocuses. What you can take pleasure in in Oregon, however, are the first crocuses that surprise me every year when they peek their purple or white heads up when you think it's still too early for them to bloom. They always makes me smile.

Here is a little video dissertation I found on the importance of small pleasures.

When small pleasures really pay off, I think, is in our late years when natural decline or illness can prevent our grander pleasures, especially physical ones.

What are your favorite small pleasures?

Elders and Technology

PERSONAL NOTE: In December, freelancereporter Debbie Reslock interviewed me about my pancreatic cancer experience for the Next Avenue website. Her story was published this week and you can read it here.

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Do you use Facebook? How about Twitter? Or Snapchat, Instagram, Reddit? Have you got a smartphone? A tablet? A home assistant like Alexa maybe?

For many years, polls showed that elders' use of technology trailed way behind that of youth and younger adults. That's changed now. We're catching up.

According to the recent Technology Use and Attitudes among Mid-Life and Older Americans report from AARP, more than 90 percent of Americans age 50 and older own a desktop or laptop, 70 percent own a smartphone and more than 40 percent own a tablet.

Here's a chart showing device usage by the 50-and-older cohort. (Larger version here [pdf] – scroll down to page 7)


As the report explains:

”Traditional activities dominate computer use for adults over 50, but a sizeable minority are using their device to manage medical care or learn online.

“Among those who own such devices, top activities include surfing the internet, making purchases, getting news, and banking.

“Adults 70+ do fewer activities on their computers than those under 70, with a couple exceptions such as gaming (over half play games on their computer) and email.”

According to another factoid, apparently I am not keeping up by abstaining from texting:

”Nine in ten (91%) of those with devices say they use technology to stay in touch with friends and family.

“Among those under 70, text messaging has overtaken email as the tool most used to stay connected, though most use three channels (email, texts, and social media).”

In addition, 72 percent of the 50-plus crowd use some form(s) of social media - 75 percent of those age 50-69; 65 percent of people 70 and older.

Most frequent online activities start with email (68%), browing the internet (63%), getting weather (63%) and checking social media (58%). It looks like not many of us are dating which comes in dead last on the activities list at one percent.

Me? Well, I'm not dating online (or anywhere else) but if you don't count texting, most of my life is online. I read a large number of news, information and opinion sites, fool around on YouTube and other video websites, email, weather, banking, bill paying, Skype, track all my medical information (including making appointments, asking questions, etc.), shopping, research for this blog and for personal curiosity, not to mention writing and coding the blog, track down podcasts and music – and I'm certain I've left out more.

One other thing: unlike the 58 percent of 50-plus Americans who spend time with social media, I use Facebook and Twitter ONLY as automatic distribution channels for TimeGoesBy - which accounts for my lack of response to readers who leave comments and questions on Facebook.

My goal is to spend less time online, not more, but that's not going well.

It is gratifying to see the growth of internet use by old people. So much of our lives is moving online that a growing amount of important and/or useful information is not even available anywhere else. Note the growing number of times you see in print such directives as “For more information, visit our website at ...” whether we like it that way or not.

It is the oldest old who either do not use the internet at all or use much less of it than younger people but that will change as they (we?) die off.

So, your job to day is to tell us how you use the internet, what you like, what you don't like, what you wish you could change and your thoughts in general on how the internet has become such a large part of daily life.

Here are links to the Technology Use and Attitudes among Mid-Life and Older Americans report from AARP:

Full report (lots of charts)

Pet Adoption and Old People

A few days ago, TGB reader Trudy Kappel emailed about elders and pets:

I am the same age as you and my beloved and aged cat died a few weeks ago,” wrote Trudy.

“Right now it is much too soon for me to adopt another one but I wonder if it is really too late. My most recent cats lived between 18 and 20 years. I think it is unlikely that I will live that long and worry about what would happen to kitty when I'm not able to care for her.

“My friends remind me of the benefits of pet ownership (not clear who owns who) and that 'The only reason Grandpa got out of bed was to care for Fluffy.' I'm not there yet but it could happen.”

I “think” I wrote about adopting senior pets in the past but if I'm right (I didn't check) it was long enough ago that it's worth a second go.


During the months I spent recovering from my surgery for pancreatic cancer and the followup chemotherapy, I thought a lot of about Ollie the cat (he is 13 years old) and what would happen to him if I died. He's not the friendliest fellow you ever met and a scaredy-cat too about anything new so that might be a stumbling block for adoption by a friend or stranger.

At other times I have wondered about adopting another cat if Ollie dies before I do. I've always had a cat and it wouldn't feel like home without one. But during that surgery recovery, I learned a bit about what the difficulties might be having a pet as we grow older.

For two months following the surgery, I was not allowed to bend over or twist my body. That made feeding Ollie and keeping his litter box clean a difficult endeavor. Fortunately, I have a wonderful neighbor who helped out every day.

But there are a lot of less deadly afflictions that could make it difficult or prevent an old person from the daily care of a cat or walking a dog and cleaning up behind him/her.

In addition, one of the hard parts of being old is that even if you are physically capable now, anything could happen tomorrow (and does from time to time) to change that. There is no way to know.

On the other hand, there are many positives to having a pet: companionship, stress relief, entertainment, unconditional love, and the sense of wellbeing that comes from being responsible for another living being.

So in addition to one's age, there is one's health to consider in adopting a new pet along with arrangements for a new home should we die.

Like a lot of other things in life, age and health are a crap shoot – mostly we don't know beforehand how healthy we are going to remain and how long we will live. If it's important enough to us, sometimes we just have to close our eyes and take the leap. I don't have a better solution.

One solution to the third question, however, is adopting an old pet. In doing so, you are probably saving a life because most people want kittens or puppies so abandoned elder pets are often euthanized.

In addition, older pets are calmer than kittens and puppies (they probably won't climb the curtains or tear up the sofa), and their personalities are set so you know what you're getting.

Old pets may also be less expensive to adopt – they have had the vaccinations that don't need repeating and reputable adoption services will know about any medical problems.

Speaking of that, there appear to be organizations that provide financial aid to pet owners in need of such assistance. The Humane Society has a list on their website.

There are other national (U.S.) websites to help with local pet adoption. Here are two:

Pets For the Elderly is a non-profit organization that promotes adoption of older pets and can help pay veterinarian costs if they are part of the adoption fee. There is a list of participating shelters alphabetically by state here.

Petfinder is another elder pet locator. Follow that link and then click “Find a Pet” at the top of the page. On the next page, when you enter your location and choose from other criteria (dog, cat, breed, gender, etc.), you will get a list of cats or dogs or other kinds of pets that are available for adoption.

Here are a couple of short videos about adopting an older dog or cat:

Do you have any experience with adopting an older pet?

Crabby Old Lady and Kids' Names for Grandparents

We are nearly at the end of the 2018 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By. Just two more days to go. You can read the donation drive details on Monday's post.

Whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's post.

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The news this week has been loathsome (White House security-clearance scam), and also unbearably sad (Parkland, Florida, school massacre). Without disregarding either of those events, Crabby Old Lady thought that this might be a good week to give ourselves a break with something a lot less consequential.

For as long as Crabby has been writing this blog, about every year or two there has been a flurry of news stories about names grandparents want the grandchildren to call them.

They apparently take a different direction from days of yore when we were children. None of this grandpa or grandma stuff for today's elders. Not even the old-country traditions of bubbe, opa or nana.

Jane Brody, writing in The New York Times last month, tells us that a new book, Georgia Witkin’s The Modern Grandparent’s Handbook, lists 251 grandparental names,

”...divided by gender into three categories: Traditional, Trendy and Playful. I wouldn’t volunteer to be known as Sweetums, G-dawg, Faux Pa or Grandude, however playfully, but apparently some folks have,” writes Brody.

You can bet your booty that a grandchild of Crabby's (if she had any) would call her “Sweetums” only once.

Like most of the past stories Crabby Old Lady has seen on grandparent names, Brody blames the boomer generation for the untraditional new names, who will do pretty much everything possible to pretend they are not getting old, including this name silliness.

'...here’s my deeper suspicion:” she writes. “However mightily my peers may pine for grandchildren and adore them when they arrive, some don’t want to acknowledge being old enough to be dubbed Grandpop or Granny.

“Such names conjure up gray hair and orthopedic shoes, along with a status our society may honor in the abstract but few boomers actually welcome. We too often won’t use hearing aids, even if we need them. We may not claim the senior discount at the movie theater.

“We don’t want these wondrous new creatures calling us names that signify old age, either.”

This is where Brody – or, more specifically, the boomers she knows – goes off the rails: what is wrong with gray hair, Crabby wants to know? Or with orthopedic shoes? Or movie discounts?

Worst of all, if you don't wear needed hearing aids, you are too stupid for Crabby Old Lady to bother with you.

If Crabby were a grandmother, she'd go with Grandma or Granny. Both of them state a fact – always a good thing – and slide off the tongue nicely. What about you? Accusations of boomer ageism notwithstanding, let's see if there is a consensus about grandparent names around this blog.

What do the grandchildren call you? Do you like it? Who chose it? And what's the most inventive or interesting or odd name you've heard for Grandma or Grandpa?

How Old is Old?

Almost universally, surveys reveal that people believe old age begins at some time beyond the age they are at the moment. This is particularly so of age deniers but many of the rest of us congratulate ourselves, if only privately, on our youthfulness.

Other surveys ask how old people feel compared to their current age. A common answer is, “I feel 10 years younger than I am.” You can substitute 15 or 20 years which turn up regularly in those polls.

Here's my perennial response that: This makes no sense. It is an unanswerable question because whatever you feel at your current age is how that age feels – at least, for you.

And a lot of how old people feel depends on their health.

Some gerontologists and geriatricians divide old age into three (or four) general age groups. The Wikipedia page on old age (which is a good overview) reports several such definitions including these two:

Young old – 60-69 years
Middle old – 70-79 years
Old old – 80 plus

Young old – 65-74 years
Middle old – 75-84
Old old – 85 plus

There are more such divisions, but you get the idea. Personally, those few years of difference among the categories don't amount to a hill of beans but although ageing is not an exact science, the categories are useful in medicine for identifying life changes that are generally expected if you live long enough.

Still, we age at dramatically different rates. Some people at 60 are in severe decline; others at 90 are robust. But that doesn't make either of them young.

The age at which people are considered old is important socially, commercially, politically and governmentally. Retirement age is set depending on a culture's perception of old age which determines access to social security benefits, health care and allows legislators to set public priorities and spending for elders.

(It has occurred to me that if the age deniers I've met controlled the definition of old age, none of us would have Social Security benefits or Medicare – and that's only halfway a joke.)

Then there are the young young's definition of old. In my reading around the web over many years, I have seen uncounted blog entries by 29-year-olds terrified of their impending 30th birthday when, they say, they will be over the hill, unattractive and unsexy.

That tells you a lot about what young people think of their parents and grandparents. I recall that when I started dating at about age 16, I was appalled – and embarrassed - that my mother, recently divorced from my father, was starting to date too, at age 40. To my teenage self, she was way past the age when a person could fall in love.

My experience with a cancer diagnosis over the past seven or eight months has reinforced how much one's health has to do with accepting old age. My age is 76, 77 in April, and as noted above, that is the age I feel. I've always felt to be whatever age I am at the moment.

But I am more aware now of decline. These days, I plan my activities carefully because I tire more easily than before the surgery last June. One event a day is about all I'm willing to undertake and “event” can mean even a longish telephone conversation with a friend.

A visit to the doctor is usually enough for one day or dinner out with a friend or a shopping trip with more than one stop, etc. Recently, I invited neighbors for dessert with some cheeses and ice wine because I couldn't face cooking a whole dinner. (Yet. Maybe soon.)

A young person with a serious health problem can, in most cases, expect to bounce back to full capacity. Most old people won't. And if you are lucky enough to escape a terrible and/or debilitating diagnosis, gradual decline is your future. That is the difference between old and young.

Lots of people like to say that age is only a number. Oh yeah? I don't mean to be harsh, but you will die and most of us die because we are old. That is the nature of life.

Our job in old age (whatever number you put on it) is to make peace with that inevitable which doesn't mean there are not a lot good things about growing old.

When did you (or will you) accept that you are old?

Unsettling Changes and a Book Giveaway

Two items today – one that is probably close to universal among people past a certain age, and a second that undoubtedly has a more limited audience. Doesn't matter – it's all good. Let's start with

Many of you know Calvin Trillin, the long-time New Yorker columnist, humorist, novelist, journalist, food writer, etc. extraordinaire.

About a week ago, The New York Times published Trillin's essay that began with our now-changing usage of our thumbs – both physically and in speech:

”I was on the subway, watching a teenager text on his smartphone," writes Trillin, "when I realized that the idiom 'all thumbs' might be doomed...

“As his thumbs danced over the tiny screen, I realized that 'all thumbs' cannot much longer mean clumsy with one’s hands. And I realized how much I’m going to miss it. It has always seemed to me a way of noting a deficit without being vicious about it...

“But how can that man be labeled all thumbs if the teenager sitting across from me can use his thumbs on his smartphone fast enough to take dictation from a cattle auctioneer?”

This line of thought led Trillin to wonder how many others in his subway car were, like him, wearing a wristwatch

”...as opposed to reading the time digitally on a small device. It was a warm autumn day, and a number of people were in short-sleeves. From what I could see, almost none of them wore a wristwatch.

“That got me to thinking about 'counterclockwise.' When all of the analog watches and clocks are gone, will there be generations of people who don’t know what it means when the instructions say, 'Turn the bolt counterclockwise'?”

Trillin made a related observation about newspapers – the hard-copy kind:

”The train was crowded, but I had a seat. I was the only person in the car who was reading a newspaper rather than staring at a small electronic device — a singularity that should have provided another hint about where I fit in demographically these days.

“At the 86th Street stop, a gray-haired gentleman entered the car and, locking his arm around one of the vertical poles, unfolded The New York Times. I noticed that he was wearing a wristwatch. Catching his eye as he held out the paper to turn a page, I nodded. He nodded. I nodded again and offered him my seat.”

As much as old folks are exhorted to keep up with current trends, there can be a comfort sometimes in recognition of our common experiences of a lifetime whether or not they are fading.

(Because I know many of you do not have a subscription to The Times, I offer these excerpts – unfair as they are compared to the entire essay - because it is such a touching, little tribute to old age (Trillin is 82) and to the memories and habits of a lifetime, some of which may disappear until no one knows what they mean anymore.)

If you live in the U.S. and watch MSNBC now and then, you probably know Malcolm Nance, the widely-respected former cryptology analyst and counterterrorism expert who frequently lends his knowledge of terrorism, torture and insurgency to the cable news channel.

My friend Jim Stone recently met Mr. Nance. I'll let Jim explain:

”I went across the mighty Hudson, and shook Malcolm Nance's hand at a farm which he and various backers are starting to benefit returning veterans of latter-day Republican adventures in foreign lands...

He did not give a talk on any political subjects, but mainly spoke about the project...I bought two copies of his latest tome, ISIS, which I had him sign...He's pretty good, as you probably know, having a steady job on the talk circuit, and he has something to say.”

And then Jim offered to let me give away his two signed copies to TGB readers. And so we will.

DefeatingIsisThe book – full title, Defeating ISIS: Who They Are, How They Fight, What The Believe - could have been a dry, difficult read.

Instead, it is well organized and Nance has seen that it is enhanced will photographs, other illustrations, lists, historical context, descriptions of ISIS centers of influence throughout the world, and much more mostly broken up into short, clear sections.

In his review of the book in 2016, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations retired Colonel Millard E. Moon praised Nance's structure of the book as a reference source and further wrote,

"Nance has done a really good job of providing detailed information about the growth and activities of ISIS components...there is a wealth of factual information on ISIS".

It's a good read if you have an interest in current history, counterintelligence and terrorism in our modern world.

We'll do the giveaway of the two copies as we always do:

Just tell me in the comments below that, “Yes, I want to win one of the books.” Or, you could say, “Me, me, me.” or anything else that indicates your interest.

Winners (you can live in any country) are selected by a random number generator and I will have your email addresses from the comment form. I will then email the winners to get your snailmail addresses to send off the books.

The contest will remain open through 12 midnight Pacific Time on Wednesday 10 January 2018, and the winners will be announced on Friday morning's regular post, 12 January 2018.

Welcome to the New Year 2018

Ella Wheeler Wilcox was a popular and well-known poet of the late 19th and early 20th century. I know a lot about her because my mother often quoted her poetry from memory.

Wilcox is the person who wrote this that you will surely recognize – from her poem, “Solitude”.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it's mirth,
But has trouble enough of it's own.

No kidding. As much as she was acclaimed in her day, Wilcox, her biographer tells us, should be considered a bad major poet.

Tell that to my mother. And me too, I suppose, having learned many of Wilcox's poems before I could read.

This is titled “1910” which, I think, pretty well sums up most years:

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

Yes, all those things. Happy New Year, everyone.


Happy Thanksgiving 2017, Everyone

Given the condition of the national government (not to mention some state governments), we in the United States could be forgiven for wondering what there is to be thankful for this year.

May I suggest we go micro, local, personal.

The biggest for me is old and new friends including all of you at this blog who have been so open, generous, understanding, giving and loving. Not that you haven't always been so but without your constant and powerful support since my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer earlier this year, I know I would not be nearly as positive as I am.

You are all wonderful people.

Secondly, I am thankful to the gods or to whomever arranges such things in the universe that I was among the 10 percent of people with this diagnosis who are eligible for the Whipple procedure.

In addition, the chemotherapy has so far been relatively easy with none of the gruesome side effects that can happen. How did I get so lucky?

And then there are the innumerable staff at the Oregon Health & Science University clinics and hospital where, without exception, every one is smart, thoughtful, experienced, caring and as far as I can tell, never has a bad day.

Moving on then to the celebration of this year's holiday...

In 2013, I vowed that due to my delight at rediscovering Arlo Guthrie's epic Thanksgiving fable, Alice's Restaurant, after the decade or two it lay somewhere in memory limbo, I would make the song the annual holiday anthem of TimeGoesBy.

As I noted that year, I was equally delighted to discover that with a couple of minor lapses, I still knew the entire monologue by heart. I can't say why but it gives me a great deal of pleasure to sing along for the entire 18 minutes, which I took the time to do (with gusto again this year) while readying this post.

Maybe you would enjoy doing that too. All together now...

It's a fine ol' song, don't you think.

At this point, I need to slip in a practical note: Last weekend, a huge, big box of baklava arrived at my door from Libanais Sweets. It has been a favorite treat – baklava – for many years.

Alas, there was no card enclosed nor could the nice woman at Libanais help me with a name when I telephoned so I have no idea who to thank. Please do let me know – the baklava, in several types, is wonderful.

Just because I can, I'm taking tomorrow off from the blog but will be back here on Saturday with the a new edition of Interesting Stuff.

For my baklava benefactor and everyone who honors me year 'round by reading, commenting and/or generally hanging out here,


Elders and Dog Sharing

Day in and day out, there is so much bad news, I decided that in keeping with the holiday tomorrow, we should have a week of light news and commentary. God knows such things as sexual misconduct, tax reform, net neutrality and whatever else comes up will need our full attention next week.

Meanwhile, in a recent story in 1843 Magazine, Edward McBride discusses dog sharing in London. Mostly, he is talking about working people whose dogs get lonely during the day:

”For those whose schedules make it hard to pay their dog enough attention, outfits like BorrowMyDoggy are a godsend.

“They match owners, who need someone to stop Fido getting so bored he chews the skirting boards and pees on the sofa, with people who volunteer to walk or dogsit lonely pooches because they want the fun of having a dog to play with occasionally without the hassle and expense of owning one full-time.”

Personally, I think such people have no business having a pet but let's go with premise for the sake of this story.

It's more than just dog walking, it's an actual visit and the idea has spread to Canada (Part-time Pooch) and Australia (Dogshare). It's that name “Dogshare” that got me thinking about pets (well, dogs in particular) and old people.

I'm perfectly happy with my cat Ollie, I'm home most of the time so he doesn't need a drop-by friend and it is in the nature of most cats that they are slow to warm up to new people so I'm applying my idea to dogs.

Ollie is 13 now. My previous cat lived to be nearly 20, but what if Ollie doesn't and what if I would like a new pet when he is gone? It is widely understood that pets and people are good for one another and that dogs are amenable to more than one person at a time:

"Most of the world’s dogs [says Alexandra Horowitz, who teaches canine psychology at Columbia University in New York], are strays living in the developing world.

"Their natural habitat, as it were, is the proximity of humans, but they do not have a specific owner. Instead, they attach themselves temporarily to whoever is nice to them.

"There is good evidence that dogs form genuine attachments to humans, and can become depressed when these bonds of affection are sundered. But they need not be exclusive. As Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist who helped to train the queen’s corgis, puts it, “'You can overplay the idea of loyalty to the last gasp.'”

Most people want kittens or puppies but there are services that pair up elder people with elder pets. A good idea. But do I really want to face outliving another pet, if it comes to that?

So taking a page from Part-time Pooch and Dogshare, what about a real shared ownership between an elder and a younger person? The dog could live at each person's house for a week at a time, then switch.

It should start when the dog is a puppy, of course, so that having two homes feels normal to him or her. Each person can enjoy the pet in a week on/week off relationship, share expenses, work out vacation time with one another and when the older person dies, there is no worry that the dog won't have a home.

Give it some thought and let us know what you think.

Making Hearing Aids as Cool as Eyeglasses

A neighbor leaned in close, putting her ear near mine. “Can you hear it?” she asked, referring to her new hearing aid? Yes. Yes, I could hear her hearing aid announcing that it had been inserted correctly.

They haven't gotten any cheaper (the average price for a pair of hearing aids hovers around $4,000) and users often find them less than satisfactory. Further, many who could benefit don't use hearing aids because there is a cultural stigma attached to them.

Recently, Barnard College professor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, in an opinion piece in The New York Times, wrote about the cultural acceptance gap between eyeglasses and hearing aids:

”Why, I wonder, is it that devices to keep you from being blind are celebrated as fashion, but devices to keep you from being deaf are embarrassing and uncool? Why is it that the biggest compliment someone can give you about your hearing aids is 'I can hardly see them'?”

I've often wondered that myself. Hearing aids may not work as well as eyeglasses do, but that or the need to feel “cool” shouldn't be a reason for so many people to choose silence. Ms. Boylan continues:

”Among those in their 50s, 4.5 million people have some hearing loss. How many wear devices that would enable them to better hear the world? Less than 5 percent.

“Wearing hearing aids can change your life in an instant — not to mention that of the people you love, whose actual voices you may have been unable to hear. But we don’t get help.

“Because coverage by insurance carriers is inconsistent. Because we don’t know where or how to get our hearing tested. Because we’re afraid of what others might think. Because hearing loss is uncool.”

And they are wildly expensive but Boylan takes that on too while explaining some of the advances that are making hearing aids more successful for users.

Earlier this year, CNN reported on 78-year-old New Yorker, Peter Sprague, another who wants to make hearing aids cool. He's gone so far as to create a prototype of his idea, to start a company and to seek venture capital funding. Here he is in a short video explaining it all:

The hearing aids are called HearGlass which is, according to Sprague's company website, a

”...disruptive wearable device that incorporates full audio spectrum HiFi [hearing aids] into eyeglasses, allowing for a directional hearing experience superior to traditional [hearing aids]. Bluetooth/WiFi capabilities allow for hands-free music streaming, telephony, voice-activated commands and on-the-fly setting changes.”

You can find out more at the website. HearGlass is not yet available, Sprague is still in the fundraising phase and I have no idea if they work well. I'm not here to sell them.

I just like the idea that there are some people trying to remove the stigma from hearing aids so maybe more people will use them.