It's a favorite question from younger adults, about those who are retired from the workplace.
What do we old folks do with all that time once taken up with commuting and working? people wonder.
The cheeky answer, of course, is “Look for all those lost keys and eye glasses." But the question itself is disparaging assuming, as it does, that old people don't have the wit, curiosity and interests to fill the eight or 10 or more hours a day they once spent on the job.
When I wrote about this subject the first time, I was concerned that I had slacked off dramatically from the efficient morning and weekly routines I had maintained to keep body and soul together during my working years.
But now, nine years later, I don't care. Because I live alone, obviously no one else cares either but I find myself annoyed when I have an early appointment forcing me to rush through breakfast and the morning news.
I've come to fervently embrace the freedom of not being required to live on other people's schedules, and I particularly like long, lazy early mornings which I'll admit are mostly rote - coffee, email, news, politics, workout and breakfast - before settling down for the day's workload. But I change it up now and then - for the thrill that I can.
Mostly, however, that routine isn't much different from the half century I was someone's employee – well, if you don't count the short commute, just down the hall a few feet nowadays.
People whose work is central to their definition of themselves may have more trouble retiring than I had. I enjoyed the work I did all those years but I began this blog while I was still working and with an equal amount of enthusiasm, I just segued into Time Goes By as my full time job.
Surprise to me: I'm still doing it 15 years later.
Beyond that and aside from the joy of choosing when I do what, nothing much has changed. I study ageing and produce this blog. I have a small volunteer position that doesn't take much attention. I read a lot on a variety of subjects (so much to know, so little time).
I keep in touch with friends. I enjoy cooking. I follow news and politics closely and I keep up with the renaissance in children's books. I often think about taking a trip and then remember for the zillionth time that I long ago decided I won't do that again until someone makes airline travel less painful. Fat chance.
The internet is not much help in finding what retired people do with their time. There are not many stories that deal with the question and few have a dateline so there is no way to know when they were written (never trust information that is not dated).
A lot of others are sales pieces for retirement financial services disguised with a few facts about retirement activities that may or may not be reliable.
One claim that shows up on several sites about retirees' use of time is that old people sleep a lot more than younger ones – 10 or 11 hours a night, they say. That sounds suspicious to me and further checking shows it is – there's no telling where that data came from.
The few lists of how retired elders spend their time that include a dateine are mostly eight or 10 years old. During that time, the demands of baby boomers, who have been retiring at a rate of about 10,000 a day, have made active retirement more important than these lists show.
Here, based on unidentified 2015 data, is a list of the activities at which retirees said they spend most of their time - in order of average duration per day:
Surfing the web
Activity levels differ wildly for old people depending on health and although there is nothing wrong with that list, I don't see hobbies, passions, curiosity, sports, travel, studying, etc. - all the stuff we didn't have time for when we were working.
Years ago, I knew a man who was a world-class chef, well-read and widely traveled, knowledgeable about the world, engaged in politics and generally erudite.
He always said, in those days, that he was saving two things in particular for retirement when he would have more time to concentrate: learn pastry cooking (which is more science than art) and to understand the music of Richard Wagner.
I envied him back then for having those doable goals, and I still do. My list is way too long to be useful so my knowledge and understanding – aside from ageing - are miles wide and an inch deep.
Now it's your turn: How do you spend the extra time you have in retirement? What do you do all day?
IMPORTANT:On Sunday, my main computer crashed. Don't even ask how awful this is going to be for awhile. The low-end laptop I am working on until I am back to full capacity is slow and hard to use so answering email will be spotty if at all. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to post on the usual schedule but please understand if I don't always get it done.
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A reader emailed asking if I would write about online dating for old people. Yikes. I'm completely ignorant of this corner of the internet and given that I profess to deal with all things elder on this blog, that needs some attention.
So, I checked around to see what is available in this regard for people who are older than 50 or 60 or 70 and beyond. With one exception I'll tell you about at the end, the pickings are dismal – even the big guys you've seen advertised on television.
There are two major reasons I could see:
First, none allow access to their website without registration so you cannot see the layout, ease (or not) of use, general sensibility, sample listings, what additional information they might have, or even how the website works without joining.
I am so insulted by this and so not in need of even more spam email that I did not register with any of them.
So I have no information about how the sites operate. (And don't tell me I could sign up with a new, free email account. That should be not necessary to see inside any reputable website.)
Second, all but a handful are free only for limited access and upgrades are pricey, ranging from about $30 a month to $70 a month, with discounts for paying a year in advance.
In fact, I can't even tell you what personal information safety precautions any given dating website uses because I didn't register with any of them. Apparently, however, I am not being paranoid to think about that: there is this warning from the Wikihow page about using online dating sites safely:
”Use paid online dating services. Free online dating services provide a greater opportunity for potentially dangerous individuals. They don't ever have to provide a credit card or other information that identifies them.
There are other smart ways to keep yourself safe from predators, scams, etc. on dating sites and the Stitch website has the best guide I have found.
I'll tell you more about Stitch but first, here is some information and links to more than a dozen of those elder dating websites I know so little about:
And now to Stitch. Before I type another word, you should be aware that I know one of the founders, Marcie Rogo, and I wrote about Stitch three years ago. You'll find that here (scroll down halfway) and there is another story about Marcie here before she launched Stitch.
You're just going to have to take my word for it that even if I didn't know Marcie, I would still believe this is the best dating website for elders. Well, as she explains, it's not quite a dating site, although it can be. As I wrote of Stitch in 2015:
”Companionship is the main idea, finding like-minded people with whom to enjoy mutual interests.
“Maybe you could also find a nice person for a relationship. That is not out of the question but Stitch is first a companionship, not dating, service.”
You can choose the type of relationship you are looking for at registration: friendship or friendship+romance or romance. Here is a FAQ that gives a good overview of Stitch and this is what they say about information safety and privacy:
”No other community does more for the safety of its members than Stitch. Before communicating on Stitch, all our members must perform an identity verification check, which prevents scammers and con-artists from abusing our site or contacting our members.
“This also ensures that all our members are ages 50 and up, keeping the Stitch community peer-to-peer and safe.”
Now. What I would like to hear about from you are your experiences with online dating while old. If you haven't tried it, are your interested? What questions do you have about dating now and about dating websites?
It's no secret that people often walk more slowly as they grow old. Some use canes or walkers, and wheel chairs too that can further impede their speed, and this happens at a time in life when, in some cases, driving is no longer a choice.
The result is serious injury and, too often, death in crosswalks where walk/wait signs don't take older, slower pedestrians into account. Cyclists of all ages are also at high risk.
Recently, my friend and elderlaw/consumer attorney, John Gear of Salem, Oregon, forwarded a story about all this from The Guardian:
”...the tragic rise of cycling and pedestrian deaths in a city such as Toronto, the biggest city in one of the world’s most progressive countries, demonstrates that we are caught in the transition.
“We are adding density and pedestrians and cyclists without transforming the design of our streets, and in many cases refusing even to lower speeds limits, which tends to reduce deaths dramatically.”
The Toronto Police department maintains a “Killed or seriously injured” data page online. Numbers for the year 2017 show that 52 percent of pedestrian fatalities involving vehicles were people 55 and older (23 deaths in 44 collisions).
Counting all traffic fatalities in 2017, involving pedestrians of all ages, those 55 and older made up 23% of the total (36 deaths in 151).
The number of fatalties in 2017 in Toronto was down from 2016, when a five-year project, Vision Zero, was created to decrease traffic fatalities to zero. But recent numbers are not encouraging:
”...the rate of deaths on city streets is not declining,” The Star reported in May this year. “Including Wednesday’s fatal accident 18 pedestrians or cyclists have been killed in Toronto so far this year, according to data compiled by Toronto Police and the Star.
“That pace exceeds the number killed by May 16 in both 2013 and 2016, the two worst years in the data, which goes back to 2007.”
The demographics of cities everywhere are changing and, writes Jennifer Keesmaat in The Guardian story, that means streets, originally planned to be auto-friendly, must become more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly:
”In the old model, if driving is the key to freedom, then cyclists and pedestrians need to get out of the way. They are audacious, misplaced and – even worse – entitled. Who and what are streets for, anyway? They are places to get through, and fast. Lowering speed limits to ensure pedestrians are safe makes no sense...
“In the new model, however, streets aren’t just for getting through – they are places in their own right, designed for people, commerce, lingering and life. It’s the people, the human activity, that should come first.
“Cycling isn’t just for radicals and recreation, and lower speed limits make sense: they protect and enhance quality of city life. In Oslo, for example, where cars move slowly, an easy sharing of space takes place.”
New York City began a Vision Zero project four years ago to positive results:
”Traffic fatalities in New York, which launched its Vision Zero program in 2014, fell for three successive years through 2016,” reports The Star. “Traffic deaths in that period declined 23 per cent (this includes all traffic deaths, not just pedestrians.)
“That decrease came with a considerably larger investment than in Toronto.”
It is clear that slower speed limits, bike lanes, extending pedestrian crossing times, safety zones and, I would add, enforcing statutes against distracted driving (read smart phone use while driving) would go a long way toward reducing the number of traffic deaths.
Some years ago, my block association in Manhattan petitioned the city to extend the crosswalk time at one of the corners in our area because there were a lot of old people in the neighborhood who could not make it across the busy avenue in the time allotted.
It took us more than a year of petitions, meeting with city council representatives, phone calls, followups and more but we kept at it and eventually the city increased the crosswalk time.
You can do this too. We have an election coming up in November that beyond votes for federal senators and representatives, local offices are on ballots.
Between now and then, you could contact local officials and candidates with your suggestions for making the streets safer for old people in your community. Start a petition. Get neighbors involved. Make phone calls. Attend town halls. Make a calendar of activities to campaign for safer streets and stick to it.
And remember, one of the strongest arguments you have is that anything good for old people in a community is always good for everyone else too.
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Here is latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show.
To my delight, pleasure and great, good fortune, for the past couple of weeks I have been reading a dazzling little book published nearly 10 years ago.
It has also brought forth the largest sense of envy I've felt in a long time. The author's imagination is so vast, so intelligent, so funny, so thoughtful that I might as well close up shop at this blog right now.
But first, let me tell about this book I somehow missed in 2009. After all, it made a dozen or more best-books-of-the-year lists, has been translated into about 28 languages, was performed as a musical offering in both Sydney and London and has been praised far and wide.
Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives, is written by neuroscientist, David Eagleman, who was also the host of the PBS series, The Brain, a couple of years ago. From this one book alone, you know he is one of those few people in the world who has not been bored for a moment of his life because all he needs to do to engage himself is sit around and think.
Sum is 40 short stories – or better, thought experiments - 40 different ideas of what the afterlife might be like. (And I do mean short – they average about two-and-a-half pages each.)
They are serious and silly and frightening and exciting and whimsical and important. Some are thrilling (oh, please let this be a real afterlife). Others are terrifying. All are fascinating and will leave you with a lot to think about.
The title story that opens the book tells us that
”In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order, all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.
“You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on the toilet.”
In another afterlife, “Descent of Species,” you get to choose whatever you want to be in your next life but realize too late that in having chosen to be a horse, for example, you have lost your human faculties and can never again be a human.
Other stories posit that god is a married couple or a microbe too small to know humans exist and in one instance, there are many gods each of whom has control of one domain:
”One god has control over objects that are made of chrome. Another over flags. Another over bacteria. The god of telephones, the god of bubble gum, the god of spoons: these are the players in an incalculably large panoply of deific bureaucracy.”
In the story, “Seed”, god had unintentionally set life in motion by devising a palette of matter from which creation took off after having “simmered the Earth at the proper distance from the sun.” However,
”Recently [god] has run into an unforeseen problem: our species is growing smarter. While we were once easy to awe, dragging knuckles and gaping at fire, we have replaced confusion with equations...All this is reflected in the steady decline of attempted miracles in the past millennia.”
Yet another hereafter
”...is full of dogs, mosquitoes, kangaroos, and every other creature. After you arrive and look around for awhile, it becomes obvious that anything that once existed enjoys a continued existence...
“Contrary to the admonition that we cannot take it with us, anything we create becomes part of our afterlife. If it was created, it survives.
“Surprisingly, this rule applies to creations not only material but also mental. So along with the creations that join us in the afterlife are the gods we created. Lonely in a coffee shop you might meet Resheph, the Semitic god of plague and war...”
Along with 2000 or more other old gods no one worships anymore.
Eagleman, who calls himself a possibilian, has said that these stories are meant to explore new ideas beyond the traditional and so Sum is.
If you are inclined to read this delightful and, I think, important book, take your time with the stories, just two or three at a day over a couple of weeks. They are each one filled with wonderment, insight and possibilty, and each deserves some time to percolate within you.
In the end, you will find that these stories have much more to do with how to live now than the afterlife. Surely you recall from school that the title, Sum, means “I am” in Latin.
PS: No, I am not closing up shop on this blog – that was a bit of hyperbole to make the point of my admiration.
”It seems older people are a lot friskier than some younger people may have thought.”
If you can resist the perfectly understandable urge to smack the reporter who wrote that sentence, findings from a recent survey support the notion, believe it or not, that old people indulge in sex with one another well into their ninth decade and perhaps beyond.
First, however, here is a video from Jimmy Kimmel, the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! TV show, who did some man-in-the-street interviews with a whole bunch of elders about some similar research:
A friend objected to Kimmel's grandfather “joke” and to showing so much of the man who keeps confusing top and bottom, a quibble we'll save for a future rant.
But to be clear regarding my grousing about that sentence in the first paragraph above, when was the last time you heard the word “frisky” applied to anything but a puppy?
In the past two or three years, several research studies have concluded that old people are having a good deal of sex and young people think it's icky.
Writing at HuffPost, Ann Brenoff answers the question, What's the oldest you can be and still have sex?, this way:
”You can have sex for as long as it feels good, kitten, for as long as it feels good. A recent study of 6,201 people ages 50 to 90 published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that up to 54 percent of men and 31 percent of women report having sex at least twice a month.
“As disturbing as you might find the thought of your parents or grandparents having sex,” Brenoff continues, “the truth is they’re still human beings with human-being urges.”
It's hard to tell but I suspect Ms. Brenoff is at least trying to express acceptance of people old enough to be parents and grandparents into the we-enjoy-sex club.
It's the surprise younger people exhibit at finding out old people still do it that ticks me off. How do these writers think they got here, for god's sake. A report of one survey about old people and sex began with this statement: “Sex isn’t just a young person’s game.”
And why would anyone think otherwise?
Um, it's called ageism and for as long as I've been researching age, it has been commonplace and customary, apparently, for younger people to respond to the idea of elders having sex with wonderment at best and disgust at worst.
When I run across these assumptions and judgments, I invariably mutter the two questions to myself:
• At what age do they think people should stop having sex?
• Do they think we forget how to do it when we hit that age?
If they think about it at all, younger people seem to have a lot of misconceptions about elder sex. Several recent articles address some false assumptions associated with senior sex. In another Huffpost story, reporter Yagana Shah does a decent job of debunking these five myths:
Sex isn’t as important in relationships when you’re older (Wrong)
Sex becomes kind of 'vanilla' as you get older (Wrong)
Older people aren’t having sex (Wrong)
Erectile dysfunction is inevitable (Not wrong and there are treatments that work)
Sex is best when you’re younger (Wrong)
Not long ago, elder sex guru, Joan Price, published comments from readers of her Senior Planet sex column about what makes their sexual encounters pleasurable at their age. Here are three of the responses:
”I’ve learned that sex without penetration provides me and my partner with at least as much core-shaking pleasure as does PIV. Both are very nice, but my notion of 'real sex' has broadened to center now on sex without penetration.”
”I honestly didn’t know our sex drives would slow down. Nobody tells you that a strong libido has a shelf life. Realizing that the days of spontaneous combustion were over for both of us, I felt like I’d been ripped off by life.
“With time, laughter, tears, and a lot of talking and thinking — plus a vibrator, erotica, and soft porn — my husband and I created a place where sex is a wonderful mini-vacation where we give and receive pleasure.”
”We find planned, weekly date-night encounters far more enjoyable than spontaneous episodes, because planning a scene enhances anticipation. It’s a form of extended foreplay. We are consistently ready for sex well before the next date-night, but we deny ourselves, heightening the desire to extreme levels for days.”
It seems to me that the only real impediment to sharing good sex in old age is having a partner but we all know there are other things to do if that is not possible.
As to youngsters' mistaken ideas about old folks and sex, Ann Brenoff redeems herself with her answer to this question:
Q: “Aw, c’mon. Old-age sex is funny, isn’t it?
A: “Actually, it’s pretty serious business. It deserves to not be filtered through a lens of humor or disgust. We can start by not demeaning it. Older couples dancing intimately aren’t 'cute.' Save the 'cute' for babies and puppies.”
One of the things about getting old is that there is no user manual. Nobody tells you what's going to happen and I don't mean the diseases of age - cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's, arthritis, dementia, etc - that are more prevalent in the late years of life.
What I'm talking about instead are irritating impediments that turn up unexpectedly – or more likely, slowly sneak up on us and are established almost before we recognize them.
We've talked about them in the past: dropping things more frequently, leaky pipes, unexplained aches and pains, new hair in all the wrong places, not enough hair where it belongs, forgetting old friends' names, too many nightime bathroom runs, searching for misplaced items, among other old age annoyances.
Hardly anything throughout our earlier adult years changes as much as in our old age and most of it takes up a whole lot of time just when we are grappling with the reality that we have a whole lot less of that irreplaceable commodity than we used to have.
A few days ago, a friend who just turned 80 told me that some days, if he has no appointments or other reason to leave home, he doesn't bother to get dressed.
Whew! Isn't it a relief to find out other people also do things you are embarrassed to admit.
Two or three times a month, at the time of morning when I would normally head for the shower to get ready for the day, the thought comes over me to skip it, to just hang out at home in my pajamas.
Sometimes, since it is part of the usual morning routine I've already broken, I don't even make the bed even though I really dislike walking into the room to a messy bed. So there you are: in one swell foop, I ditch the shower, the bed making and getting dressed for a day while feeling liberated and just a little decadent.
Which is exactly what The New York Times reported on last week – people who are refusing to buy into a busy, busy, busy retirement that the culture does a good job of instilling in us. Or shaming us into.
”For many baby boomers, retirement is neither a chance nor an excuse to take it easy,” wrote reporter Joanne Kaufman. “Rather, it’s an opportunity to take a class (or six). Then there’s mastering a language or an instrument, writing a novel, climbing a mountain, maybe starting a business."
But, The Times says, that's not for everyone.
“Mr. Lerner, the former money manager, speculated that if he had a wife, she might tell him to get out of the house and 'take old-age classes,' he said, referring to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Florida Atlantic University. 'My friends who take courses told me to look in the catalog, but there wasn’t one subject that interested me.
“'I don’t know. Maybe it’s my personality, but I don’t have to justify my behavior,' Mr. Lerner said. 'I’m enjoying my retirement just as it is. And if it’s O.K. with me, I’m not going to change even if someone else says I’m wasting my time.'”
Another Florida retiree agrees:
“'I’m not interested in going back to school,' said Mr. Walzman, 74, who has four degrees and had several careers, including a business installing telephone systems. 'In my youth, I was very ambitious,' he added. 'I had to get 100 on every test. I had to do this, and I had to do that.'
“Now, he plays golf, plays poker, swims twice a day and spends some time monitoring his investments. 'To be totally honest, I’m at peace,' he said. 'I’m happy. What can I tell you?'”
As far as I can see, it's not like relaxed retirement is a movement that's taking off. The barrage of advertisements and media stories admonishing us to keep busy or we'll lose our minds and die early is ubiquitous. But like those people in The Times story, we are not required to buy into it.
Undoubtedly, the adverts and admonitions are written by younger adults who mostly seem to want old people to behave like wrinkly young people because they don't know anything yet about the changes that accompany growing old.
Who also don't know that there are days when all those old-folks' annoyances (accompanied by a disease of age or two for some) slow you down to a crawl and who don't know that there are days when you can't find the wherewithall even to get dressed.
So don't let the prevailing culture direct your retirement choices. Do it your way.
Pretty much all old people who live in places where public transporation is scarce resist the idea of giving up their car keys and dread reaching the day when it might become necessary. Who can blame us.
In recent years, families, physicians and caregivers are becoming more conscious of the need to help elders decide when it is time to stop driving, but what about firearms?
Do you own a gun or two or more? Does an elder you know or care for have access to guns? What about someone you know with dementia, even early dementia?
The size of the elder gun-owning population is larger than I had imagined. According to a Pew Social Trends survey, about 33 percent of people aged 65 and older in the U.S. owns a gun, and another 12 percent of that cohort lives with someone who does.
In addition, “A 1999 study estimated that 60% of persons with dementia (PWDs) live in a household with a firearm.” And, reports The New York Times,
”More than 8,200 older adults committed suicide in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among men, those over age 65 are the likeliest to take their lives, and three-quarters of them use a gun.”
Obviously the potential for tragedy involving elders with dementia who have access to guns is an important issue that hasn't been well addressed.
Last month, a group of physicians got together to publish an essay in Annals of Internal Medicine about this. In particular, they made a plea for the medical community and others to find a way to make life safer for people with dementia and their potential victims.
The doctors note that federal laws do not prohibit purchase or possession of firearms by people with dementia and only Hawaii and Texas mention those conditions in firearm statutes:
“Hawaii prohibits possession by any person under treatment for 'organic brain syndromes', which could include dementia or similar neurodegenerative conditions. In Texas, persons diagnosed with 'chronic dementia' are ineligible for a license to carry a handgun in public but may purchase and possess firearms.
“Many questions on firearm access in dementia remain unanswered,” wrote the doctors, “but the need to address the problem is here now.
“We believe that a concerted, cooperative effort making the best use of the data at hand can help prevent injuries and deaths while protecting the dignity and rights of older adults.”
There are plenty of anecdotes about near catastrophe involving guns and people with dementia. The authors note in the “Annals” essay that as dementia progresses, family members, health aides and other visitors can be at extreme risk. The Times article includes a story from Dr. Michael Victoroff, a family medicine specialist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (and a certified firearms instructor):
”One of his patients, a retired police officer, had long slept with his service revolver by his bed. But as he neared age 80 and his dementia deepened, 'he would wake up at night and not recognize his wife, see her as a stranger in his house,' Dr. Victoroff said.
“Once Dr. Victoroff learned that the man had pointed the loaded .38 at his wife, the situation grew urgent. They turned to the man’s former partner on the police force, someone he trusted, to persuade him to give up his weapon.”
The essay doctors compare the firearms safety issue with that of driving and suggest that families should discuss giving up guns with relatives diagnosed with dementia. The best time to do that, they say, is when the person can still make decisions for him- or herself:
”Families might consider a so-called 'firearms retirement date,' when they will give up any guns in the home to avoid the potential for these weapons to be in the house when they’re no longer able to store them or use them safely, the paper’s authors suggest.
“Or, in much the same way that people may set up an advance directive giving a loved one the ability to make medical decisions on their behalf, older adults might designate someone they trust to have the authority to take away their guns when the time for this comes.”
Lead “Annals” author, Dr. Marian E. Betz, told Reuters,
“'In later stages of dementia, behavioral issues like paranoia or aggression should raise concern, as should threats about suicide or threats towards others,' Betz said. 'Families and friends can then lock up or disable guns or move them out of the home, depending on what works for the family and according to state firearm transfer laws.'
“When guns do remain in the home, they should be locked so that the person with dementia doesn’t have unsupervised access to firearms, and they should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition, the doctors also recommend.”
To me, never a gun user or owner, implementing these (and even stronger) safety recommendations for people with dementia seem as obvious as giving up driving licenses when the time comes. But according to The New York Times article, it is not as clearcut as I believe:
”Many gun enthusiasts argue that while driving is a privilege, the Constitution protects keeping and bearing arms. And they find firearms a crucial part of their identities and sense of security.
Here we go again – the same old Second Amendment argument, even for people with dementia. There has got to be a middle ground, don't you think?
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. There is a lot of health talk in this one with a lot of laughing too. But first, some thoughts about living for hundreds, even a thousand years.
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In just 100 years, average life expectancy at birth worldwide has more than doubled, from 31 years in 1900 to 69 years in 2016. It differs wildly among nations from 50 years in Sierra Leone to 83 years in Japan.
However, the longer we live, the higher our life expectancy becomes so currently, average world-wide life expectancy at age 65 ranges from 74.7 years in Sierra Leone to 86.8 in Japan.
Throughout history, humankind has sought eternal youth - we are familiar with Ponce de Leon's search for the fountain of youth along with other who sought the storied philosopher's stone, varieties of panaceas and the elixir of life.
Today, people are looking harder than ever for a magic formula that will allow people to live to be hundreds of years old.
Some people put stock in learning about how to extend their lives from the “blue zones” scattered around the world. Blue zones, explains Reuben Westmaas at curiosity.com is, broadly,
”...a place where people live to be 100 at extraordinarily high rates, have an extraordinarily average high life expectancy, or an extraordinarily low mortality rate for middle-aged people.”
Millions of others believe a variety of supplements peddled online by hundreds of people claiming to be life extension “experts” will keep them alive for longer than without the supplements.
One of the earliest extreme longevity researchers is Aubrey de Grey, chief scientific officer at his own charity, the partially self-funded Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (Sens) Research Foundation in California. de Grey claims the first person to live to be 1,000 is already alive.
Zillionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Peter Thiel, who helps fund de Grey's research firm, is among some other wealthy individuals who are funding life extension and anti-aging research. Australian geneticist David Sinclair believes a pill that would extend human life is only 10 years away.
The two founders of Google are spending spending big bucks on extending life too:
”In 2013, Google started Calico, short for the California Life Company. Employing scientists from the fields of medicine, genetics, drug development and molecular biology, Calico's aim is to 'devise interventions that slow ageing and counteract age-related diseases.'”
Another tech billionaire, Larry Ellison, funds a research foundation that goes even further with a related, more expansive idea. The Guardian explains:
”They investigate the details of the ageing process with a view to finding ways to prevent it at its root, thereby fending off the whole slew of diseases that come along with ageing.
“Life expectancy has risen in developed countries from about 47 in 1900 to about 80 today, largely due to advances in curing childhood diseases. But those longer lives come with their share of misery. Age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s are more prevalent than ever.”
Jay Olshansky, a sociologist at The University of Chicago School of Public Heath, rejects the standard approach of curing one disease at a time. He believes the life extension goal can be reached by concentrating on “healthspan” rather than lifespan:
”By tackling ageing at the root [heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's] could be dealt with as one, reducing frailty and disability by lowering all age-related disease risks simultaneously, says Olshansky. Evidence is now building that this bolder, age-delaying approach could work.”
And then we can all happily live de Grey's thousand years. Disease free. Right?
Every time I peruse the most recent life-extension literature, I am astonished that hardly anyone mentions the enormous drain on the planet's already strained resources that would ensue if we all lived hundreds of years.
South Africa and some other places are already running out of water. Once fertile lands around the world are turning into deserts. More frequent and disastrous weather events are wreaking havoc around the world. The oceans are rising and there are more problems to come from climate change that we have yet imagined.
Most basically, where would we put everyone? How would we feed them? The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-tenth of the world population, about 815 million people were dealing with chronic undernourishment in 2016.
I doubt that number has dropped in two years and I am hard pressed to believe that efforts to feed the hungry would be any better with a longer-lived world population than it is now.
Even if you can shrug that off, there are important ethical and philosophical questions. To scratch only the surface...
Would life be as meaningful without death?
How long would people be expected to work?
Would everyone's lives be extended or only rich people's?
Would marriage mean the same thing?
With more time, would people have more children?
Would life become boring?
Paul Root Wolpe, chief bioethicist for NASA and director of the center for ethics at Emory University, told the National Post:
“Look, I want to live to 150, too. I mean, don’t misunderstand me. I want to see my great-grandchildren. I want to see the first people on Mars. I want to see all that Aubrey [de Grey] wants to see. I just don’t pretend that it’s not a narcissistic desire because I can’t think of a single good that would give society.”
I'm with Wolpe on that. What about you? Would you want to live 200, 500, 1,000 years?
* * *
Here is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show recorded on Wednesday 6 June 2018.
A few days ago, TGB reader Kate Gilpin sent me an email about what she calls her “latest ageism tale from the trenches.”
”Yesterday I had lunch with three wonderful, smart, interesting, funny women,” she writes. “I was the youngest there, at 80, and two of them were over 90. We all live independently and quite competently, thank you.
“One of us told a story of her experience considering whether or not to have some solar panels put on her roof. She talked to a consultant - I don't know if this was on the phone or if the consultant came to the house (they usually do).
“After some discussion of what was available, what required, etc., the consultant announced to my friend that in order to sign a contract with them, she would need to have a younger family member present in the room to endorse the proceedings.
“No, really. They wouldn't accept her own responsibility. She thanked them immediately for their time and terminated the consultation.
“I was shocked at this report and asked among my friends of various ages for their reactions to this incident. I got an unsurprising number of replies expressing dismay.”
Dismay? Try loathsome. Offensive. Disgusting,
Nevertheless, this story is only a mild version of what can happen just about anywhere in the United States: that someone you've never met nor heard of arrives at your home unannounced waving a Family Court “removal order” that gives him or her “guardianship” over your entire life from that moment forward.
The “guardian” then orders you to leave you home immediately, drops you (and your spouse if you have one) off at an assisted living facility and then steals all your worldly goods and money.
I first read of this horrible racket in a stunning article in The New Yorker last October reported by the estimable Rachel Aviv. As she recounts it in her piece, titled “How the Elderly Lose their Rights,” Rudy and Rennie North were ordered out of their home in Las Vegas by April Parks, owner of a company called A Private Professional Guardian:
”'Go and gather your things,' she said.
“Rennie began crying. 'This is my home,' she said.
“One of Parks' colleagues said that if the Norths didn't comply he would call the police. Rudy remembers thinking, You're going to put my wife and me in jail for this? But he felt too confused to argue...
“Rudy and Rennie had not undergone any cognitive assessments. They had never received a diagnosis of dementia.”
And that is only the beginning of the ordeal they suffered over the next two years that included being drugged at the assisted living home, depriving the North's adult daughter of information about their whereabouts or their medical condition and refusing to allow the daughter to visit her parents.
There is not a word in this long New Yorker story that is not important or worth reading and if you have access to the magazine's archives, you can read it here.
If not, fortunately for us, all elders and their families, last Sunday John Oliver devoted the largest part of his HBO program, Last Week Tonight, to the story of Rudy and Rennie North and the nightmare of unregulated, unsupervised state guardianship programs.
Here is Oliver's report with the accompaniment of an all-star team of elder celebrities: William Shatner, Rita Moreno, Fred Willard, Cloris Leachman, and Lily Tomlin:
Even with all they suffered, Roy and Rennie North are, to a degree, lucky - they eventually got out of their forced incarceration; others taken from their homes against their will died before anything could be done to help them.
The North's home, money and belongings are gone now and they live with their daughter who will support them for the rest of their lives.
”Parks spent all the Norths' money on fees – the hourly wages for her, her assistants, her lawyers, and the various contractors she hired – as well as on their monthly bills, which doubled under her guardianship.”
What happened to Roy and Rennie and so many others is a form of elder abuse. Numbers are elusive but it is estimated that 10 percent of people 65 and older are abuse victims - from strangers such as April Parks and, too often, from family members.
One way to help protect yourself or loved ones from such predatory “guardians” is to have all the appropriate health and end-of-life documents in order. These include your will, an advance directive, durable power of attorney, health care proxy, your state's POLST (Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment – called a MOLST is some states) and others.
An elderlaw attorney is a great help and there is a lot of useful information online to help you understand these documents.
When your documents are in order, keep copies in a safe place in your home (my elderlaw attorney suggested the freezer and so they sit, in a sealed plastic envelope). Be sure the people named in the documents – heirs, relatives, proxies, etc. - have copies and that your physicians have copies of what they need too.
After a lot of work from concerned people, Nevada has begun reforming its guardianship system and April Parks, along with her lawyer, office manager and husband, were indicted for perjury and theft, among other charges.
Richard Black, who is the son-in-law of another elder victim of this kind of scam in the Las Vegas area, is director of a national grassroots organization, Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship. He, reports Aviv, considers the Parks indictment “irrefutably shallow.”
”'It sends a strong message of: We're not going to go after the real leaders of this, only the easy prople, the ones who were arrogant and stupid enough to get caught,” he said.
“He works with victims in dozens of what he calls 'hot spots', writes Aviv, “places where guardianship abuse is prevalent, often because they attract retirees: Palm Beach, Sarasota, Naples, Albuquerque, San Antonio.
“[Black] said that the problems in Clark County [Nevada] are not unusual. 'The only thing that is unique is that Clark County is one of the few jurisdictions that doesn't seal its records, so we can see what is going on.'”
This kind of thing begins in small ways and grows. If it is all right for a random sales person to refuse selling a service to anyone he alone decides is incapable of making a decision about solar panels, it lays the groundwork for worse abuses of elders.
Last year, inflation was so low that Social Security recipients received only a 2 percent cost-of-living (COLA) increase for 2018. But that was a relatively giant raise compared to 2017 (.3 percent) and 2016 (nothing).
Of course, I can't speak for you, but I live almost entirely on Social Security (about 85 percent of my income) and in each of the named years above, my expenses for Medicare Part B, Part D and supplemental coverage along with auto insurance and certainly food increased at much high rates.
In no way do I mean you should think I'm destitute or anywhere near. For many obvious reasons, it is much less expensive to live in retirement than during earning years and every month I surprise myself that I have money left over to add to the emergency fund.
But not a year goes by that the increases in my fixed expenses don't go up between five and 10 percent.
That doesn't sound like much except that over even a few years, it adds up to a great deal more than the Social Security COLA covers so I worry a bit about future price hikes.
Even so, I don't feel deprived but I know a good number of elders who live on Social Security only and whose benefit is smaller than mine. In those cases, hardship can be a daily reality.
So for many of us frugality and thrift are in order and, at least for myself if not others, I'm pretty good at it.
My most successful single savings came not quite two years ago when my Verizon cell phone bill jumped to just over $105 a month. Fed up, I finally did the homework and switched to one of the small providers that gives me the same service – unlimited calls and texts and one gigabyte of data - for $22 a month. How great is that, and the service is as reliable as with Verizon.
Since then, however, expenses for necessities listed above have more than eaten up the $83 I saved in that one change.
There isn't much other wiggle room in my budget. I would be willing to cut cable TV from my life but that company is the only local broadband provider in my area and they charge more for internet-only than for internet with basic cable. (Grrrrrrrrrrrr.)
I may cancel Netflix soon. In the past year or two, the dreck increasingly exceeds the better quality offerings. But that saves only $10 a month. Amazon Prime is, even with the recent 20 percent per year increase, still worth it for me. I save hundreds of dollars on shipping costs each year and more often than not, prices are better than elsewhere online.
Over the past year I lost a lot of weight. So much so that I've had to replace part of my wardrobe. There are a couple of excellent resale shops here so I've done well to get the replacements I need while spending embarrassingly little, and several items were brand new.
I still prefer to read on paper than a screen of any size so I have kept a few hard-copy magazine subscriptions. Somehow my favorites are the most expensive but I'm going to continue them until I'm stretched too thin to not give them up.
It's easy to cut down on whim shopping especially (I'm being blunt here) having faced what I thought was certain death within a handful of months and so what could I possibly need to purchase.
Now that I have been given a reprieve from the cancer for whatever period of time, I've already got a year's practice in that kind of thrift.
That leaves the possibility for further cuts to types of necessary spending that can be down-sized, like food. On Saturday, I visited the second farmer's market day of the season and I was shocked that the price of a locally-made jam I like has increased from $5 to $7 over winter.
A bunch of six – SIX! - small, sweet turnips are up to $4.50 now while fresh halibut, never cheap, is $25 a pound. (I stuck with the cod.) It's high season for certain strawberries and I can't remember if a pint was $4 last year or less but that's the price now.
I'm not a rabid coupon cutter but I watch for sales especially on food items I like to always have in the house. That's what supermarkets are for and I suspect I'll be buying fewer items at the farmer's market this year.
I think we should all buy local when we can, to keep our dollars in the community, but the prices at that market this year take my breath away.
And, finally, restaurants. I don't eat out often enough to need to reduce that spending and there are some good, reasonably priced restaurants near me.
You've probably noticed that gas prices are up and expected to climb further over the summer. Some experts are predicting that depending on how Trump administration foreign and domestic policy changes play out, we could be in for increasing inflation (which has already climbed a couple of points this year) and higher prices in general.
So this would be a good time, I think, for us to crowdsource our best ideas to keep down personal and household expenses.
Most TGB readers are old enough to have weathered several economic downturns and a few remember growing up in the Great Depression. That ought to be good for some suggestions. Who among us are cutting back and how are you doing it? What are your best tips and secrets for surviving hard times?
”...the part I actually find hard about being single is that I never get touched, and this is always overlooked and undervalued.”
I ran across that statement in a story at Medium written by Emma Lindsay who is, gleaned from her story titled Being Single is Hard, much younger than most of us who hang out at this blog.
But she's writing about something that affects elders at least as much as people her age. In the past, I've called it “skin hunger.” People also call it “touch hunger.” The meaning is obvious – the primal need of all humans (and, probably, some animals) to be touched, one living being to another.
”...the idea that when, through death, divorce or other circumstance, we live without a partner in old age, we can feel our skin longing, even aching for the touch of another person.”
It can be a sexual longing or not. There is a poignant observation from an old woman, Estelle, who took a class about how to write sex scenes from reporter Steve Almond. He describes her first essay:
”What emerged was miraculous: a heartbreaking scene between an elderly couple in a museum,” explains Almond.
“The woman is full of suppressed longings. She fantasizes about going back to their hotel room and lying back on the bed and letting the man part her legs and her sex. She can’t express these desires out loud, though, so instead, when they get back to their room, the sexual act focuses on the man and his failure to achieve an erection.”
The woman, half a century older than the other students, was shy about reading her essay aloud, but she got through it. And then, as I said in that previous post, Almond's essay really got interesting:
“After she finished reading,” he continued, “Estelle glanced around the room sheepishly. I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:
“'I came here today because I want people to know that elderly people still have desires. Nobody wants to think about it. But we do. I live in a retirement community where it’s mostly women and the men are sort of beat up. But we still have needs. We still need to be touched.'”
Yes, that is so: “We still need to be touched.”
It starts in infancy – babies do not thrive if they are not touched and held – and the need doesn't go away with age.
Some people have been attributing a growing prevalence of skin hunger to fewer people choosing marriage, preferring to live alone. Others believe a great deal of the problem is a result of technology and
”...the disconnected lifestyle a majority of the population leads. In America, work life and student life is often demanding, allowing little time for intimate, one-on-one periods with friends, family and loved ones.
“When individuals do find time to be around loved ones, exhaustion or unhappiness frequently stall or prevent intimate interactions, both of sexual and nonsexual nature.”
I'm not certain I buy that explanation in general, but my reluctance doesn't make the the need less real.
In the past, I have found solace in massage. That hasn't been possible for the last 11 months due to recovery from surgeries but I'm about ready to get back to that once a month or so. Here is something new (to me, anyway) going on to deal with this hunger - professional cuddlers.
At the website of one such enterprise, you can book a cuddler or learn how to become one. Here is a short video from the co-founders of The Cuddlist:
Without being able to explain the reason, I am more comfortable with a masseur or masseuse but that is undoubtedly an individual choice.
I've lived alone, now, for decades and what I have missed during all these years is not the sexual touching as much as the casual touches of two people long familiar with one another – a pat on the shoulder while passing by, holding hands on a walk, the warmth of another person sitting or sleeping next to me.
But, as I am suddenly and acutely aware after the death of Ollie the cat last week, our pets go a long way to helping meet this mutual need.
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.
* * *
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.”
“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.
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."
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.
* * *
Here is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show recorded on Tuesday 22 May 2018.
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.”
”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”?
“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.
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.
* * *
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.
”...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.
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.
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.
MEDICAL USES OF MARIJUANA
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.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS OF USING CANNABIS
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.
HOW TO IMBIBE CANNABIS
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.
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:
Arkansas California Colorado
District of Columbia
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.”
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:
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.
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?