864 posts categorized "Culture"

Elder Use of Marijuana

[DISCLOSURE: I've been smoking pot recreationally since I was in high school with no ill effects I can see. I don't do so often nowadays because in my old age, it makes me cough too much. I haven't gotten around to trying the new edibles that are available here, but I will in time.]

Marijuana

One of the most common afflictions that comes with old age is pain – from arthritis to cancer to neuropathy to back and neck pain to those random aches and pains that come and go and seem to have no known cause.

For many, pain is almost a definition of growing old and these days, increasing numbers of elders are using cannabis (also known as pot, weed, reefer, maryjane, etc.) to treat their pain. As UPI reported in January,

”A new report has found that cannabis use by people over age 50 has increased significantly and outpaced growth across all other age groups.

“The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2000, 1 percent of Americans over 50 had used cannabis within the past year, but by 2012, that number had increased to 3.9 percent.”

In January of this year, The University of Iowa published a study looking into this increased use:

"'Some older persons have responded to changing social and legal environments, and are increasingly likely to take cannabis recreationally,' Brian Kaskie, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in a press release [according to the same UPI story].

"'Other older persons are experiencing age-related health care needs and some take cannabis for symptom management, as recommended by a medical doctor.'

“...The study participants were more likely to have started using cannabis before the age of 30 and many before age 18.”

Twenty-eight states now allow limited use of marijuana for medical purposes and a half a dozen others, including my state, Oregon, allow unrestricted use of marijuana by adults. It is sold in licensed dispensaries not dissimilar to liquor stores in many states.

And now marijuana is being used in some nursing homes even in states that have not approved its use. From The New York Times:

”At the Hebrew Home in the Bronx, the medical marijuana program was years in the making. Daniel Reingold, the president and chief executive of RiverSpring Health, which operates the home, said he saw its powers firsthand when his own father, Jacob, was dying from cancer in 1999.

“To ease his father’s pain, Mr. Reingold boiled marijuana into a murky brown tea. His father loved it, and was soon laughing and eating again.

“'The only relief he got in those last two weeks was the tea,' Mr. Reingold said.

“When Mr. Reingold requested approval from the nursing home’s board members, there were no objections or concerns, he said. Instead, they joked that they would have to increase the food budget.”

The Times also reports that because federal law prohibits use of marijuana, the Hebrew Home complies with that law and although they recommend and monitor its use, “residents are responsible for buying, storing and administering it themselves.”

The University of Iowa study is titled "The Increasing Use of Cannabis Among Older Americans: A Public Health Crisis or Viable Policy Alternative?" As Science Daily reports:

"The article also focuses on the misuse and abuse of cannabis. It then explores two other prominent public health issues - the misuse of prescription medications and the under-treatment of pain at the end of life - and considers how cannabis substitution may be a viable policy alternative to combating these problems.”

Given the reports of runaway opioid addiction in the United States, this sounds like a good idea to me. The New York Times again discussing a resident at the Hebrew Home:

"Marcia Dunetz, 80, a retired art teacher who has Parkinson’s, said she worried at first about what people would think. 'It’s got a stigma,' she said. 'People don’t really believe you’re not really getting high if you take it.'

“But she decided to try it anyway. Now, she no longer wakes up with headaches and feels less dizzy and nauseated. Her legs also do not freeze up as often.

“For [another resident], Ms. Brunn, the marijuana pills have worked so well that she has cut back on her other pain medication, morphine.”

And so what if, in addition to symptom management, users do get high? Why would anyone care.

All this movement toward cannabis legalization in more than half the U.S. states could be rolled back under the new administration and Congress in Washington.

Although President Donald Trump said during the campaign that he did not object to medical marijuana, so far he has reversed himself on almost every campaign promise.

Plus, both the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the new secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, have long records of opposing legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.

Without stretching one's imagination too far and with the growing use of cannabis by elders to control age-related conditions and diseases, any attempt by the federal government to remove or limit its use could be seen as withholding medication from sick and dying elders.


A Thank You. Presidents' Day. And More

Does anyone else have trouble tracking federal holidays after retiring? Sure, I have no problem with Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and the other big ones. But today, Presidents' Day, regularly escapes me.

One consequence is that I told at least one winner of Norm Jenson's book, Mostly Anecdotal: Stories, that I would put it in the mail today. Well, not so fast. No open post office today. So I will send them off tomorrow.

More on the holiday in a moment but first:

Thank-youC

A BIG THANK YOU, TGB READERS
Yesterday ended the week-long, annual donation drive for Time Goes By and it was a resounding success. Like last year, I am dismayed at your generosity and there are so many of you that it's impossible to thank you individually.

So I must do it collectively here.

It was terrific to read the personal notes some of you included with your donations and I enjoyed seeing so many names from so many different places – worldwide – that are new to me. Apparently a whole lot of you read TGB and never comment.

Nothing wrong with that – I do it all over the internet - but it is still a load of fun to see all the new-to-me names.

So thank you all - those who donated and every one of you who didn't too. The community we have created here is unique among blogs and you, the readers did that by paying attention, sharing your information, your knowledge and your opinions that make the comments so rich and thoughtful and fun to read every day.

SOME SAD NEWS
A TGB reader emailed a few days ago to tell me that Diane Schmidley of Schmidleysscribbling blog suffered a stroke, as her daughter explained on Diane's blog.

“This is Diane’s daughter. Mom has had a stroke and is in ICU at the hospital. If anyone reads this, please get the word out and keep her in your prayers. Thank you.”

On Saturday, her daughter posted again that Diane had been moved to the Acute Stroke Unit and further updated:

”She is at George Washington University Hospital in the District of Columbia if anyone is wanting to send flowers, and I can take cards to her. My postal address is: Connie Nystrom, P.O. Box 368, Rixeyville, VA 22737.”

Diane's name has often turned up here in the comments for many years. Of course, she is on our minds with prayers for a fast recovery.

PRESIDENTS' DAY – SOME THOUGHTS
The two-year mark since Donald Trump announced he was running for president of the United States is fast approaching. For a long time it was a joke to most Americans – me too.

No more and to way understate it, we now live in a world that is more uncertain that at any time, I think, during our long lives.

As a result of this new political circumstance, something in me has changed. Never much of a patriot, I took our system, our liberty and freedoms for granted. Not anymore.

Khizr-khan-us-constitution680

Maybe it started for me with Khizr Kahn holding up his little copy of the American Constitution at the Democratic Convention in July. It's not that I haven't read it many times – I own several copies and I sometimes carry a small, portable one with me to read in odd moments.

But during the campaign, my feelings about it expanded into a much greater devotion to the freedoms it grants us that I had before. I have a strong sense, now that it is under attack, that I am responsible for it, that I must be part of doing what is necessary to protect the provisions that created this unique government that is - as we learned to say in school - of, by and for the people. The people.

I wonder if any of that has happened to you.

Among our 45 presidents, a few were great, some might be better forgotten and the majority did pretty well with the times they governed through. So for Presidents' Day, I looked around the internet for some pictures of how they lived in their time.

I found a page of photographs of some president's private homes now preserved as museums. I particularly like the interior shots. Here are a few – take a look at this one, the library in President Harry Truman's home in Independence, Missouri:

TrumanLibraryIndependence

This is the dining room and tea parlor in Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson's home:

Jeffersonsdiningroom

The music room in President George Washington's Mt. Vernon home.

MusicroomatWashtingtn'smtvernon

Let's have one more – President Franklin D. Roosevelt's office at Springwood in Hyde Park, New York.

FDR DESK

There are about 25 more presidential home photos at Business Insider. (You need to cancel your adblocker, if you have one, to see them.)


Some Old People's Household Habits

There was a mildly sheepish quality to my voice. I could hear it as, during a long phone visit with a good friend, I tentatively asked (while also wondering to myself if I could quickly withdraw the question if it were poorly received), “Do you ever go all day without getting dressed?”

Not counting sickness of the type that keeps you in bed hoping to die, I had never in my working life of nearly 50 years done that. That is, not until half a dozen years into my retirement and since then, I certainly had not confessed it to anyone.

To my great relief, we had a long laugh together about blowing off the morning shower now and then and not leaving home all day, noting too that as official old people – I'm 75 and he is 78 - there are days when, for no good reason we are too weary of mind, body or both to do anything but stay home. So why get dressed.

There were some guilty feelings the first times I did this and some imagined difficulty in getting to the mailbox “undressed” until I realized that no one would notice, in winter anyway, because I sleep in sweats. In my area, that's daywear for many.

Then my friend and I considered the bed. Or, rather, changing the sheets which I have always considered to be the most difficult and annoying housekeeping chore.

THE BATTLE OF THE FITTED SHEET
In that career half century of mine, I changed the bed every Saturday morning and dropped it off at the laundry along with all the other dirty stuff. Let them try to fold the damned fitted sheet.

FittedSheetsWitch

But that's not the only fitted sheet aggravation. Getting it onto the bed is an exhausting struggle but using a flat sheet is worse when it comes undone during the week. So to this day I live with the battle of the fitted sheet.

For 20 years or so, somewhere there in the middle of my adulthood, I switched to a duvet and comforter but as the years went by, as I got older, trying to get what amounts to an Andre-the-Giant-size pillow case onto the comforter doubled or tripled the bed-changing annoyance. I gave it up.

At that point, I also gave up the top sheet because whether at home, in a hotel, staying with friends, wherever I was, overnight I got so tangled in it that getting out of bed became an Olympic event.

With that change, I took up thin quilts figuring that I could add and subtract them as the weather and bedroom temperature required. That is, until I realized I would need to wash the bottom one, next to my skin, every week creating the need – when I retired and gave up paying others to do my wash – for two loads of laundry instead of one.

Good god, it never ends. Get rid of one hassle in life and two more pop up.

Have I made it clear how much I despise all bed chores? I would have been a terrific rich person; I'll bet Melania Trump does change her own bed.

Ah, but wait. There was a solution.

For decades, I had slept naked but in my incipient old age had switched to those sweats mentioned above. Now that my body, with all its sweatiness, discarded skin cells and other detritus, was almost wholly covered at night, What harm could there be, I said to myself, in laundering that bottom quilt and that bottom sheet every two weeks instead of weekly, cutting in half the time I would need to do combat with the fitted sheet.

Since my first confession to my friend had gone so well, I tried the bottom sheet and quilt wash schedule and not only did he laugh, what a great story I got from him.

He too hates wrestling with fitted sheets and his current living arrangement came with a king-size bed. It, as you undoubtedly know, is the size of a football field - six people could sleep together without touching one another. So for one week he sleeps on one side of the bed and the next week on the other side. Then he washes the sheets.

Like me, he has cut his fights with the fitted sheet by 50 percent..

GETTING OUT OF THE HOUSE. OR NOT
We agreed too it gets harder with our advancing years to leave home or, more precisely, to want leave our homes. So often it just seems easier and more comfortable to stay home (with or without getting dressed).

I watch such changes as they come along and although I know perfectly well, as I've mentioned before, that if it is happening to me, it's happening to thousands, maybe millions of others, it was still a great, good surprise when a confession was met with agreement and laughs.

Another old friend in the same age range with whom I regularly have long phone calls told me recently that he too leaves home less and less frequently and was trying out a new home fitness routine to see if it keeps him as healthy as the gym he attends three times a week.

This friend reminded me that pretty much anything you want in life can be delivered - certainly in Manhattan where he lives if not everywhere else. “If this routine works out,” he told me, “I may never leave home again.”

I had another laugh over this stuff that day but not quite as hearty - maybe it is becoming too real...

Does any of this ring a bell with you?

* * *

RESISTANCE NOTES:
Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote in the Senate to confirm billionaire and public school ignoramus, Betsy DeVos, as secretary of Education. You know, the woman who has zero knowledge of public schools and believes guns should be allowed in schools because - grizzly bears. She and the vote are shameful.

Do not ever forget who cast this deciding vote. And do not, come the next Senate election, forget which senators voted to confirm her. It's easy to remember: Every Democrat opposed DeVos as did two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Every other Republican senator voted to confirm.

Now might be a good time, if you have a Republican senator or two, to call their offices and speak your mind. The main switchboard number is 202.225.3121.


Death With Dignity and the Supreme Court Nominee

It's not often I can combine an age-related post with a political one as directly as I can today so I'm taking advantage of it while the opportunity is here.

When I moved to Oregon nearly seven years ago, the state's Death With Dignity Act played no part in my choice although I knew it existed.

Having had plenty of time now to look into it and think about it, I am relieved to have this law. Understand that not just any person can request the drugs and die willy-nilly. There are restrictions:

”A physician must determine that the patient has less than six months and a second opinion is required,” reported my late friend, Pulitzer Prize-winner Saul Friedman in these pages in 2010. “The patient must make repeated requests, waiting at least 15 days between requests.

“If these procedures are followed, an Oregon physician can prescribe the life-ending drugs, which may be taken with or without a doctor present.”

Personally, I think the rules are too restrictive but they are better than not and changing public perception is a slow process.

Oregon was the first state to enact a death with dignity law and since the act was passed 1997, and through 2015, 991 patients have used it to end their lives. Here's the chart:

DWDAoregon

It gives me comfort to know that if my end days are filled with pain, for example, and my days are short, there is recourse for me. It's my life; no one else should have the right to prevent me from making this choice.

Last week, President Donald Trump nominated federal appeals court judge, Neil Gorsuch, to fill the Supreme Court chair left empty when Justice Antonin Scalia died a year ago.

That, I believe, is an illegitimate nomination that should not stand given that Congressional Republicans barely acknowledged President Barack Obama's choice, Merrick Garland, let alone held hearings on him. But let's let that go for today and take a look at who Judge Gorsuch is.

As the Washington Post reported last week, in the year the judge was appointed to the federal bench, 2006:

”...he published a book titled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. The front cover looks almost like a Tom Clancy novel, with purple all-caps block text set against a black background. But the book itself is a deep, highly cerebral overview of the ethical and legal debate surrounding the practices.”

Gorsuchdeaathwithdignitybookcover

I have not read the book so I am relying on the WaPo reporter, Derek Hawkins, who writes that Gorsuch opposes assisted suicide, euthanasia and death with dignity laws because “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Really? Even if the life-taking is done by the person whose life it is? I don't think that is at all as obvious as he makes it sound. The Washington Post again:

”Some of Gorsuch’s sharpest criticisms were directed at one of his fellow jurists, Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

“Posner has written in favor of permitting physician-assisted suicide, arguing that the government should not interfere with a person’s decision to take his or her own life, especially in cases where the patient is terminally ill.

“Gorsuch rejected that view, writing it would 'tend toward, if not require, the legalization not only of assisted suicide and euthanasia, but of any act of consensual homicide.'”

Huh? How does that follow? It gets even less rational as his argument continues:

”Posner’s position, he writes, would allow 'sadomasochist killings' and 'mass suicide pacts,' as well as duels, illicit drug use, organ sales and the 'sale of one’s own life.'

“Gorsuch concludes his book by envisioning a legal system that allows for terminally ill patients to refuse treatments that would extend their lives, while stopping short of permitting intentional killing.”

Judge Gorsuch is a young man - 49 now, 39 when his book was published. Aside from physicians trained in science and health and such people as hospice workers, I do not believe that younger adults have any idea what old age is really like. You cannot know until you get there.

Unless he has suffered through a prolonged period of debility and ongoing, untreatable pain, Judge Gorsuch cannot possibly imagine why an old person would find themselves arriving at a place where they know it is time for them to go and even yearn for it.

There are other good reasons to oppose Judge Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court but from my perch here as what a reporter at the Baltimore Sun once called “a bloviator on all things ageing,” this one issue is enough.

Particularly so because if he is confirmed and in addition, Congress follows through on President Trump's recent vow to the overturn the 1954 law restricting political speech by tax-exempt churches, we are heading deep toward Christian control of government.

The New York Times quoted Trump about that vow last week:

“'Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us,' Mr. Trump told religious leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast. 'That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.'”

These may never come to pass. But to potentially lose death with dignity laws while gaining unfettered political speech for religious organizations combined with the new survey showing that one-third of Americans believe a citizen must be a Christian to be a real American – well, you tell me what that means.


Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night?

As you might imagine, in 20 years of researching what it's like to grow old and writing about it for nearly 13 years, I think about death and dying now and then.

At the most pratical level, we who are still above ground have a lot more to arrange in regard to our dying than the people of our parents' generation and earlier.

In additon to wills, we have living wills, durable powers of attorney, DNRs or POLSTs or MOLSTs, advance directives, health proxies, instructions, perhaps, for cremation or burial or some combination of all this paper.

I had one friend who even left instructions for her memorial lunch including guest list, food to be served, music to be played (she made the tape herself) and which photographs of her to be displayed.

The legal documents are important particularly, in my case, the ones related to what level of care I want toward the end. It is unnerving, however, to know that even with properly executed documents, it is questionable whether relatives and health professionals will honor them (more about that another day).

As I told my new primary care physician recently, our job together is to get me to my demise as close to as healthy as I am now – which is generally good - and without a drawn-out medical drama at the end.

26_dylan_thomas175What brought this to mind over the weekend was Maria Popova's weekly Brain Pickings newsletter with a short (for her) section on Dylan Thomas's most famous poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

An editor Popova quotes says it is read at two out of three funerals. It's hard to believe that number (at least by the funerals I've attended) but the point he makes is not wrong: that since its English publication in 1952, the poem has taken on the force of immutable directive; the only acceptable way for anyone claiming membership in the human race to approach death.

The first stanza says it all:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Metaphorically, as all the critics and pundits tell us, the poem extolls the tenacity of the human spirit and the obligation to live at all cost, but I don't buy it. At the close of my day, when the light is dying, I will not burn or rave or rage. I want to go gentle.

That was the point of my post a couple of weeks ago about how my great Aunt Edith prepared for her death and how I would like to emulate her:

”Over time it felt to me as if, perhaps, interest in her own world and in the world at large was diminishing because they were becoming fuzzier, less clear - metaphorically, not physically - and she paid less and less attention.

“Her time to leave was coming nearer and she did that in 1984, at age 89 after what was to my eyes, decade long period of preparation, an unwinding if you will, and a letting go of her attachment to the world.”

None of what I am saying takes anything away from power of Thomas's beloved poem. I would just like it not to be the only culturally acceptable way of death it has become.

In her post, Maria Popova included a video of Dylan Thomas reading his poem. I checked around YouTube and there are a lot of different recordings. I prefer this one by Richard Burton whom, I used to say, I would listen to reading the phone book. (You can read along with the text below the video.)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

* * *

RESISTANCE NOTES:
Several times I have pointed you toward the Indivisible Guide – written by a volunteer group of former Congressional Staffers - as the best, smartest, most definitive guide about how to resist President Trump and the Republican Congress.

The guide is free to download and they now have a printable version that won't use up so much printer ink as the original.

Already, thousands of local groups have been founded. You can find one near you here or start your own.

The group is now publishing an Action Calendar – what actions to take when. Bookmark it and check back regularly. It is a good way to keep national resistance actions throughout the country on topic together on the same day.

And, a couple of days ago, the group published its first video:


Done With Self-Improvement

EDITORIAL NOTE: Please take note of a new regular section at the bottom of today's post.

* * *

During most of my adult life, the United States has been big on self-improvement. Thousands of books bear witness to this – such titles as the granddaddy of them all, How to Win Friends and Influence People from the 1930s. You will undoubtedly recognize some of the biggest sellers since then including

Think and Grow Rich
Psycho-Cybernetics
The Power of Positive Thinking
Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
You Can Heal Your Life
The Road Less Traveled
Dress For Success
Your Erroneous Zones
I'm OK, You're OK
The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People
Codependence No More
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom

And so on ad infinitum. These self-help classics and thousands of lesser volumes promise that if you just change yourself in one particular way, you will be rich and famous and happy.

Or something like that.

I was never a strong fan of self-help books but there is a lot of pressure in American culture to be working on bettering yourself. Constantly.

It's hard to resist and over the years I did succumb to several personal development books even as I was disappointed at how thin and shallow the advice is.

Whatever change they promised, the result for me - not surprisingly - was some measure of guilt and self-loathing at not being good enough to master the instructions. Not exactly the what I was going for when I picked up the book.

Now that I have reached an age where I ought to be able to skate toward the end, they haven't eased off, these self-help gurus.

There is hardly an elder website worthy of the name that isn't stuffed with articles about how to achieve “positive ageing,” “creative ageing,” “successful ageing,” “better ageing” “purposeful ageing,” and one of my favorites, “how to look younger as you get older.” And much more.

But here's the thing: At 75, I don't need any help to “exercise my mind” or take up “lifelong learning.” I've been doing those things steadily, day by day since before I can remember and I doubt there are many people who can avoid it. By now, I'm not going to “overcome any fears” that I haven't already. And I don't have enough time left to worry about “identifying my blind spots.”

It exhausts me just to even think about doing such things at my age. I'm not saying the self-help industry is a sham but I've learned that there is no secret ingredient, no idea, no revelation that will make you or me a better person.

That comes from inside, from quiet times with ourselves, from living by the values we believe in.

It may have taken me way too long to get to this but no book, no guru, no facile elder webpage about how to age well is going to change me anymore than they did when I was young. I'm done with self-improvement and getting on with living however many years of life remain to me, warts and all.

Old People at Play

* * *

RESISTANCE NOTES:
(So much is happening so quickly in the new administration that even large news organizations are having trouble keeping pace, let alone a little, one-woman website like this. So now and then when the day's topic relates to ageing but I want to pass on some short, resistance-related information, I will post it here at the bottom of the main story. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.)

Here is the first go:

On Wednesday, in his daily email newsletter from Axios, Mike Allen reported on America's latest reading habit:

"'1984 sales soar after Trump claims, alternative facts' per AP: 'First published in 1949, Orwell's classic dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of newspeak topped the best-seller list of Amazon.com [last] evening...

"Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel about the election of an authoritarian president, It Can't Happen Here, was at No. 46. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was at No. 71. Sales also were up for Hannah Arendt's seminal nonfiction analysis, The Origins of Totalitarianism."

This is terrific, good news. I re-read all four of these books during the election campaign along with Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. They are important instruction manuals for the times we are living in now.


How Do You Want to Live the Rest of Your Life?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Here is an old-fashioned word for you: nonplussed (to be surprised and confused so much that you are unsure how to react). That's how I feel.

There is such a gigantic amount to be said following the nominee hearings, the Russia-related political events of last week and Trump's attack on John Lewis on Martin Luther King weekend that I don't know what to say first. Or second. Or third.

I am politically speechless for the time-being so even though I think there ought to be a discussion about our collective political nightmare, we'll do something else today.

* * *

When I first started this blog 14 or so years ago, hardly anything was published in the popular press about ageing. When old people were mentioned at all, it was sure to be ageist, negative or both - often something about how awful life after 40 is.

That changed with a vengeance beginning in 2006, when the entire media took notice at once that the oldest baby boomers were turning 60 that year. Suddenly, ageing was lucrative, if not “cool.”

Every magazine did a cover story that year about the don't-trust-anyone-over-30 generation's crossover into old age.

A torrent of books followed, along with a slew of articles in print, on brand new old-age websites, and right behind all of that a sudden upsurge in the number of people self-identified as “senior life coaches” - apparently for those of us who need instruction on how to grow old.

All that and more are still around - a now well-established corner of the lucrative personal advice market - so much so that I receive half a dozen press releases in an average week about new books, sometimes a television show, magazine or online articles whose writers I am told I should interview.

The thing is, however, they all have the same advice. After you translate the psychological or academic jargon of many and plow through the filler, each expert boils it down “empowerment” - bumper sticker wisdom ready-made for embroidering on a pillow, or the internet equivalent thereof, that we've known for most of our lives:

Be positive
Be true to yourself
Be who you truly are
Age gracefully
Successful ageing

That last one is a common promise of age gurus that leaves me wondering what the opposite looks like. Some time ago, one “expert” I was being asked to interview believed that decluttering the house was all anyone needed to “empower” their old age.

Nothing wrong with cleaning up but let's not overstate its transformational “power” of throwing out old knick-knacks.

You don't have to go far to find old age advice but these banal prescriptions, a lot of them from the flourishing life coach industry, sound flimsy, inadequate and ineffective. And anyway, why can't we just let life happen?

After we got past the fireman and princess stages, hardly any kids I knew in school had an inkling of what they wanted to be when we grew up and only a handful of the few who were passionate about becoming a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief actually did it.

Although teachers regularly asked us to write essays about our career goals, I never could come up with an answer.

After high school with adulthood looming, I didn't need a teacher to goad me into thinking about what to do with my life although by then, in keeping with the predicable stage of development I was passing through, it seemed more an existential question than the need to choose an occupation.

Pondering what might bring me personal satisfaction didn't get me any closer to to finding a worthwhile or interesting way to pay the rent than high school essay assignments so I made a deliberate decision to not make a decision.

I clearly recall thinking it through when I was 20 or 21: I would just keep on keeping on, putting one foot in front of the other and see where it would lead me - starting out with my single marketable skill, typing.

And you know what? It worked. It worked out amazingly well for me: several related careers producing radio, then television, then being part of the team creatiing one of the first news websites in the mid-1990s which gave me an internet career for the decade until I retired.

Without exception, it was compelling, satisfying work thaty expanded my knowledge of the world every day while giving me the chops to do this blog which has extended the same pleasures and rewards into my later years.

How lucky is that for someone without a plan?

No small part of the ongoing research for this blog has been paying enough attention to the senior life coaches and other old-age gurus (as distinct from medical and health information) to keep up with what they prescribe.

So far, there has been nothing useful to pass on to you that the ancient Greeks hadn't already told us (see above list).

Although it is not their purpose, what these “experts” have convinced me is that I should live the rest of my life as I did during the preceding half century – just keep moving and see where it takes me. After all, it worked well then; why not now?

What about you? Do you have a plan for how to live the rest of your life? Did you ever have a plan or, like me, did you just let it happen?

Makeyoursoulhappy1


News About Old People - 11 January 2017

Here are a few items I want to tell you about that do not quite fit Saturday's Interesting Stuff and are also not big enough or meaty enough for a post of their own. Even so, I think you might be interested in some of them and unlike the Saturday post, these all relate to growing old.

If you like this, I'll do it every now and then. Let me know.

* * *

I'M NOT AGING “WELL” - I'M OLD

As you know, I insist on using the world “old” - there is nothing wrong with it or with being old. It's a perfectly good description of people from about age 60 on.

EricaManfredNot long ago, Senior Planet contributor, Erica Manfred, wrote about how deeply denial of age has wormed its way into our culture:

”People used to think of growing old as part of the natural progression of life from birth to death. Not anymore,” writes Erica. “Now we go directly from middle age to you’re-just-as-old-as-you-feel.
 “Old age” has been dropped from our vocabulary.

“'You’re not old!' people say when I describe myself that way. I’m 74 with an assortment of age-related ailments and a generous complement of sags and wrinkles. If I’m not old, who is?”

Erica wants elders to stop judging one another by how “youthful” we act or look and hurray for her:

“I’m taking a page from Martin Luther King:” she says. “I have a dream that one day elders will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tautness of their muscles but by the content of their character.”

You can read more of her essay here.

STUDENT LOANS IMPOVERISHING ELDERS

A new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reveals that elders (age 60/62 and older) are drowning in student loan debt:

Although most student loan borrowers are young adults between the ages of 18 and 39, consumers age 60 and older are the fastest growing age-segment of the student loan Market.

“This trend is not only the result of borrowers carrying student debt later into life, but also the growing number of parents and grandparents financing their children’s and grandchildren’s college education.”

The details are horrifying, as Huffington Post explains:

”A full 68 percent of older borrowers living in poverty with Social Security garnishment are only seeing their benefit cuts devoted to interest and fees.

“The federal government is profiting from this mess. Every time a debt collector scrapes a Social Security check, the U.S. Treasury Department collects $15.

“'Our government is shoving tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities into poverty through garnishment every year ― and charging them $15 every month for the privilege, “ says Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. 'This is predatory and counterproductive.'”

Read the full CFPB report [pdf] here. The Huffpost story is here.

86-YEAR-OLD INTERNATIONAL JEWEL THIEF NABBED

On 13 December 2016, reports The New York Times, 86-year-old Doris Payne

”...was arrested on Tuesday by the police in Dunwoody, an affluent suburb north of Atlanta, after she slipped a Lagos diamond necklace worth nearly $2,000 in her pocket and was stopped by a security guard, according to the Dunwoody police.”

It wasn't the first time. Payne has been stealing jewelry in the capitols of the entire world for 70 years – and getting away with a lot of it. There's even a documentary and a movie about her. Here's the trailer:

Apparently, she's really good at it. You gotta love her, criminal or not. You can watch documentary at YouTube for $3.99.

BEAUTIFUL RURAL RETIREMENT HOME IN JAPAN

In the mountains of Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan, sits an amazing retirement home for two old women.

It was designed by architect Issei Suma who is known for his intriguing buildings. This this structure shaped like five tents that due to the harmonious flow and the design that perfectly combines minimalism with an ecological style.

The building also features a spiral-shaped indoor pool that can be accessed by wheelchair and a common kitchen for both ladies, their caregiver and a cook. The 100 square meter complex is called Jikka. Take a look.

Thank lilalia who blogs at Yum Yum Cafe for this story.

TYPES OF DEMENTIA

If you read only the news media, you would think that Alzheimer's Disease is a synonym for dementia, and that just is not so.

Not long ago, Medical News Today (MNT) published a list with descriptions of types of dementia which typically involve problems with thinking, reasoning, and problem solving:

Alzheimer's
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Dementia with Lewy bodies
Frontotemporal dementia
Parkinson's disease
Huntington's disease
Mixed dementia
Normal pressure hydrocephalus
Vascular dementia
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

I'll bet that's a longer list than you thought - it's certainly true for me. There is more useful information at MNT.

ELDERS READING MANY MORE BOOKS THAN IN THE PAST

As the Gallup organization announced recently:

”Despite Americans' ability to access more information, social networks, games and media than ever before, as well as the lingering rumors of the book's demise, Americans still say they are reading books.”

According to the Gallup report, the most meaningful reading behavior since 2002 is evident among elders, Americans who are 65 and older.

”Collectively, they are reading more books than the same age group did in 2002. The percentage reading one or more books increased from 68% to 85%, including a four-percentage-point increase in those reading 11 or more, from 33% to 37%.

Here's the chart to go with that information:

BookReadbyAgeGallup

Most readers of all age groups are reading “real” books. Take a look at this chart:

BooksFormatsGallup

You can read more details at the Gallup website.


Some New-ish Quotations About Growing Old

Well, new to me. Some of them are old.

Since last Friday I've been under the weather with some strain of virus involving the usual symptoms. I've been mending since then but without the mental energy yet to put in the time necessary to write anything much more complicated than this.

So here are a few quotations about growing old which is my habit to collect as I find ones that interest me. Whether we agree with them or not, good ones leave us a lot to ponder and it's been a long while since I've published any. So I will share these few with you today. It seems proper to begin with the Bard. See what you think.



“With mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come.”
       - William Shakespeare


“What could be more beautiful than a dear old lady growing wise with age? Every age can be enchanting, provided you live within it.”
       - Brigitte Bardot
“To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.”
       - Henri Frederic Amiel
“The older I get the more I distrust the doctrine that age brings wisdom.”
       - H.L. Mencken
“Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75.”
       - Benjamin Franklin
“I've reached the age where my brain has gone from 'You probably shouldn't say that' to 'What the hell, let's see what happens.'”
       - Unknown

From Peter Tibbles who writes the Sunday TGB Elder Music column and says this from a recent movie (February 2016):

“The difference between young and old is that it takes courage to be old.”
      - Unknown

And one last quotation that is not exactly about age but is important to the political time in which we find ourselves now. It is something most of us at this website are old enough to know but that too many who mold public opinion were ignorant of during the past inglorious 18 months.:

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”
       - Maya Angelou


Making New Friends in Old Age – Meditation No. 2

Friendship

Before I go any further with this post, let me say this:

I am pretty sure that if the TGB readers who comment here regularly enough so that we come to know one another as much as is possible through our words and phrases and opinions and jokes and ideas – and if we all lived in the same town, each of us could find at least one good friend among our number.

Alas. We are spread around the world.

Back in July, I posted a story - a meditation I called it - on making new friends in old age; you can read it here. Since then, several readers have emailed asking me to follow up.

The biggest takeaway from the comments in July was that with only a couple of exceptions, everyone who had something to say could use a friend.

Most of us had tried the list of suggestions that is repeated on thousands of advice websites. They appear to be fairly successful – if you are looking for an acquaintance. But not so much for a deeper friendship.

Several readers made an important point: that the kinds of experiences that help forge closer relationships don't show up with as much frequency in old age – things like college, first jobs, promotions, marriages, kid and yes, divorce, starting over, etc.

Navigating life events – the good and the bad – with another binds us together and strengthens connections that endure. They give us those "remember when..." moments we enjoy for years to come.

But there are fewer such opportunities when the children are gone, we are no longer in the workforce and we don't get out and about as much as when we were younger.

As to that list of suggestions for making new friends, one reader, Melanie Jongsma, offered this insight:

”I am [only] 49, and I recently lost my best friend. I'm not limited by mobility or health problems, and I've been intentional about working hard to make new friends.

“I do manage to keep myself busy, but activity is not the same as friendship. At some point I may have to simply concede that I will probably never have a 'best friend' again. Maybe that's ok.”

There are two takeaways for me from Melanie's note. First:

“Activity is not the same as friendship” is true. But re-reading everything from July – my post and all your comments – it struck me that it is useful, in making the effort to find a friend, to do it through a shared activity that keeps you engaged together but leaves a lot of room for conversation.

As reader Rosemary Woodel wrote:

”I go hiking with people I am just beginning to know so we have deeper conversations on the trail.”

Smart choice. It is important, I think, to find interests that create the space to talk one-on-one. Less physically ambitious events would work too. A movie, for example, if you are sure to include a meal or tea afterwards to talk over what you've watched together and let the conversation wander where it will from there.

The second point for me in Melanie's comment is this:

”I may have to simply concede that I will probably never have a 'best friend' again. Maybe that's ok.”

As much as I find old age to be the most interesting time of life, even I must admit that among all the gratifications and pleasures, there is loss, and the death of relatives and friends is among the hardest.

But those tragedies come with the gift of life and there is nothing to do but grieve, each in our way, and then to keep moving forward. Lots of things change in old age and it is possible that for some of us the idea of a “best friend” is better suited to youth.

Perhaps old age, commonly a period of personal reflection which requires some amount of time alone, doesn't have as much room for the continuous sharing of best friends. Maybe we are asking too much of ourselves and of a potential friend – and courting disappointment - if we believe it must be the kind of impassioned attachment that happened years ago.

If looked at that way, couldn't it mean that “lighter” friendships can be as satisfying in their way? A friend for movies? Another for hiking? One for sushi? Combine and mix them up now and then? Or not?

I have one friend I've been meeting for lunch once every week or two for more than a year. We never spend longer than an hour at it, sometimes others are included, mostly not and we have never done anything else together. It seems to be comfortable for each of us the way it is and I would miss her if those lunches stopped.

Our lives are different in many ways in old age. I wonder, then, if it is as much a mistake to expect new friendships to be as intense now as in our younger years as it is to expect to jump as high or run as fast we once could.

But then, what do I know? Not much about this except one thing for sure: a friendship of any degree must be nurtured. Frequently. And that is best done in person. But if it can't be, other kinds of being together help a whole lot.

What do you think? Other thoughts?


Holiday Gift Ideas for Elders - 2016

I know, I know, this seems awfully early - it's not even Thanksgiving yet. For but years and years, I published this post during the first week of December but last year I got several requests to do it earlier. People said they want more time to think about, track down, order or make gifts. So here goes.

This year Hannukah begins on Christmas Eve, the evening of 24 December. I guess that means President Obama will need to interrupt his family Christmas to light the Washington, D.C. menorah. It happens that way sometimes with ancient calendars.

Because I've been gathering ideas through many seasons, the best ones don't change much over time and I'm repeating some you've read in the past including many you, dear readers, have suggested. But there are some new ones here too.

KEEP IN MIND
Even though I think these end-of-year holidays cry out for fun gifts over the practical, I am always concerned for elders with small, fixed incomes so items that seem too mundane to be classified as gifts can be more welcome that you might think. They free up money for food, clothing and medical needs.

One good idea is a basket – a big one – stuffed with a year's supply each of hand soap, bathroom tissue, Kleenex, sink and tub cleaner, batteries in several sizes, paper towels, trash bags, kitchen sponges, half a dozen new dish towels, etc.

If there is a cat or two, include a year's supply of kitty litter or for dogs, a similar amount of pickup bags. Anyone on a tight budget come to resent how much these necessities cost.

GIFTS OF LOVE AND TIME
Mobility is an issue for some of us old folks. Some may have given up driving or can't walk as easily as they once did. So consider vouchers with Uber or the local taxi company.

Prepare a certificate for a certain number of trips with you doing the driving during the year to the supermarket and other shops your loved one likes. Throw in lunch or dinner when you do it and then help with toting everything into the house and storing it all.

Tickets to the local movie theater or maybe the local theater group with of course, the transportation vouchers to match. Better, include tickets for yourself and go together.

How about a promise of three or four dinners cooked at your loved one's home during the year. For people with mobility difficulties, having company on certain evenings is a wonderful event to look forward to especially when someone else is cooking and cleaning up.

A supply of home-cooked meals, individually wrapped and ready for the freezer.

If you are handy around the house, check to see what fixes are needed and commit to getting them done. Often there are little things that cost a fortune to hire a handyman, electrician, plumber, etc. so if you have the expertise it is a good thing for your elder.

Showing up regularly to do the laundry throughout the year can be a big help and it creates an opportunity for a regular visit and chat.

Getting and decorating a tree can be impossible for some elders. If you know that someone on your list would love to have a tree of his or her own, buy one and spend an evening helping to decorate it – or maybe put up some outdoor lights if that would be welcome.

Of course, you must help take it all down after the holidays.

Does someone you love need the lawn cut regularly? That's a good gift for spring and summer along with other gardening help in the season and washing windows after winter is done.

If someone who loves gardening has downsized and no longer has a yard, consider some indoor gardening – flowers for color or, perhaps, an herb kit for the kitchen. Another reader suggestion is bird seed and replacement bird feeders.

You get the idea. There are a lot of things in this category.

TECHNOLOGY GIFTS
I a mixed on e-readers. It is popular with some elders and many libraries now have the technology to let members borrow e-books. On the other hand, many old people like “real” books made of paper.

If you do give an e-reader, certainly throw in a couple of books with it that you know will be enjoyed and do point out the hundreds of free books on most download sites. I think this is a sensational idea for readers who have downsized and don't have the room anymore for bookshelves.

For people who already have the e-reader hardware, a gift certificate to Amazon or other book download sites is a good thing.

For paper reading, you might consider a high-end magnifying glass. I realize it's low tech, but it is an enormous help with small print that, unlike on computers, cannot be enlarged. I have one next to the bed where I read a lot and another on my desk which frequently gets carried to the kitchen for the small print on food packages.

And batteries, lots and lots of batteries for all the things we have nowadays that need them.

SAFETY AND HOME
One year, a reader mentioned night lights. Take a look around next time you visit and see if they may be needed. There are simple ones and playful, fantastical ones that are fun.

If an elder lives alone, consider a personal medical emergency service. Anyone, no matter how active and vital, can find themselves in need of emergency help with no telephone in reach.

A purchase of such an alert gizmo with the service contract paid for each year can be a good peace-of-mind gift. A large number of companies provide this service so you should check them out thoroughly and get recommendations before subscribing.

Also, installing grab bars in the bathroom is a good safety idea that is likely to be appreciated.

A couple of readers have mentioned a collection of greeting cards for a variety of occasions and don't forget the postage stamps to go with them. Help with writing notes and addressing cards is good for arthritic friends.

If you can afford it, you could hire a cleaning service for once a month or if that's too expensive, maybe one big cleaning event for spring.

DON'T FORGET
If you are giving practical gifts or home-made certificates for trips to stores or the movies or taxi vouchers, be sure to include a token physical gift, something to unwrap. It doesn't need to be costly: a favorite candy, a pretty scarf, a bottle of wine, a box of special cookies.

This list, lengthy as it is, is only a starting point. Now it's time for your suggestions.:

What gifts have you been most pleased to receive?

Which ones you have given were successful choices?

And what have you given or received that was a mistake?


Ageism, RIP Zacherle and Happy Halloween


AGEIST LANGUAGE
A few weeks ago, freelance writer Debbie Reslock interviewed me about ageist language, particularly people's penchant for calling old folks “honey,” “sweetie,” "dearie," etc.

Reslock's story was published last week at Next Avenue:

”It is clear we need to speak up,” she wrote. “After her experience with the misinformed doctor, Halpin told the nurse supervisor about what had happened and let her know she’d never go to that hospital again. 'Please talk to me before you assume I have dementia and can’t take care of myself,' she adds.

“'Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t call me honey or sweetie,’ says Ronni Bennett, author of the popular blog Time Goes By. Her response is to pleasantly but firmly reply, 'My name is Ms. Bennett. You may call me that.'

“After a few seconds of silence, she says, they usually apologize. 'I like to think they realize how demeaning it is and change their behavior with other elders,' notes Bennett.”

You can read much more at at Next Avenue.

ZACHERLE DEAD AT 98
Does anyone here remember Zach? He had a long career beginning as a campy host of late-night horror movie TV shows in the 1950s and played the part brilliantly for the rest of life on radio, in some movies, in music, books, stage shows and more.

Here's some of what The New York Times wrote last week of John Zacherle, sometimes known as Roland in his earliest professional career in Philadelphia:

”...he added grisly theatrics and absurdist humor to the entertainment on offer, which more often than not was less than Oscar quality. He became a popular cult figure, making star appearances at horror conventions across the Northeast.

”Dressed in a long black frock coat decorated with a large medal from the government of Transylvania, Roland introduced, and interrupted, the evening’s film with comic bits involving characters who existed only as props in his crypt-cum-laboratory.

“There was My Dear, his wife, recumbent in a coffin with a stake in her heart, and his son, Gasport, a series of moans within a potato bag suspended from the ceiling. A large blob of gelatin tied up in cheesecloth was Thelma, a high-strung amoeba who cheated at checkers and responded to the command 'Heel!'”

The reason I'm telling you this is that in 1970 and 1971, when I was producing my then-husband's radio talk show on WPLJ-FM in New York City, Zach and I shared an office. He was smart, funny, kind and caring and it was always a hoot when he showed up at the office in full Dracula makeup and regalia.

Zach in Makeup

According to The Times, in a 2015 interview with The Philadelphia Daily News, Zach told the interviewer:

“I can’t imagine how it all happened. I look back on it and say, ‘My God, I’m 96 years old, what the hell have I been doing all these years?’”

Sounds exactly like the Zach I knew so many years ago. Here is a photo taken four years ago – at age 94, he doesn't look much different from what I recall in our shared office.

Zach2012

In honor of Halloween and especially of Zach, here is a video (with a few archival photographs) of what is probably his most well-known silly song - Dinner with Drac which was a big hit in 1958.

With all this, I think it is, possibly, destiny that he died so near Halloween on 27 October.

There is more about Zacherle at The Times, at Newsday, at Huffington Post and at an extensive fan website. In addition, there is a surprising number of videos at Youtube.

For the holiday tonight, here is what is still my favorite Halloween photo which I've published before.

HalloweenWitch

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!


Deathpods and the Deathlab

For many years, decades if I'm honest, I've said I want to cremated when I die and have a friend distribute my ashes among two or three certain places in Manhattan. This is no longer a good idea.

In recent years, environmental concerns have militated against traditional cremation and as we have discussed here in the past, there is a growing number of new ideas for green burials that respect both the deceased and, particularly in avoiding embalming, the environment.

Nowadays, in many U.S. communities, you can be buried in a simple shroud, in a mushroom suit or in a pod from which a tree will grow - in which case you can even choose the type of tree. There are other choices too.

In addition to environmental concerns pushing new notions of burial, we are just plain running out of space to put dead people, not to mention how prohibitively expensive cemetery plots have become.

This week, Atlas Obscura published a fascinating story about some proposed innovations in burial.

”Imagine the Manhattan Bridge twinkling from underneath with hundreds of small pods filled with decaying biomass – the final resting place of many former New Yorkers, shining like stars in an otherwise dark sky.

“There, you might lay flowers near a pod containing the remains of a loved one, until decomposition finishes its course and all that remains is a container to keep as a remembrance.”

It's being called Constellation Park and the light results from “microbial digestion” of corpses in which microorganisms consume bodies without the need for oxygen, reducing them to light. Here is an illustration of how it might look:

ConstellationPark

This idea in the brainchild of the DeathLab, a trans-disciplinary research and design space at Columbia University. Here is a closer view of what the researchers have imagined for Constellation Park.

Comstellation

This project is nowhere near creation let alone conclusion. It hasn't even been presented to the city council. Even so, it is already

”...facing fierce opposition from the funeral industry,” reports A.M. Brune in Atlas Obscura.

“But like a lot of things in New York it might, eventually, come down to a numbers game: if built, Constellation Park, could accommodate around 10 percent of deaths in the city each year—a number that seems small until you start to think about the alternatives, which can be environmentally disastrous.”

And there is at least one precedent now. A similar idea is underway at the historic Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, where lights will be powered by decaying biomass. Take a look at a rendering:

Arnos Vale Cemetery

I would be more than pleased to give up my long-held dream of having my ashes scattered in Manhattan in exchange for powering a light on the Manhattan Bridge for awhile. As Karla Rothstein, who is an architecture professor at Columbia and director of the university's Deathlab, told Atlas Obscura:

“Socio-cultural needs and desires are not static. Honoring our dead is a basic human endeavor, and there are many valid practices, including new models, that can support this need.”

You can read the full story at Atlas Obscura. There is a lot more information there than I've passed on here.


The Good Old Days

The theme on one side of this endless presidential campaign is a reminiscence for the good old days. Okay, the Trumpists refer to it as the days when America was great, but it's the same thing.

The anti-Trumpists like to say that America is still great but I'm not here to argue partisan politics today. I'm interested in how remarkable it is that whether our causes lean left or right, our individual cultural identities of the moment are so often determined by choices we made 30, 40, 50 or more years ago.

To stick with the campaign for just a paragraph or so, I first became interested in politics when I was quite young. The Eisenhower/Stevenson campaign of 1952 was my first presidential contest. I was 11.

On election night, my parents let me stay up to listen to the returns come in on the radio. (If television had made it to Oregon yet that year, my parents had not bought one yet.)

I settled into my mother's big, comfy Queen Anne chair with the side wings that made me feel like I was in my own private space. I scrunched myself up in a blanket with pad and pencil at the ready to keep track of the votes as the numbers were announced (until I fell asleep).

Pre-election day polling was a nascent science in those days and I have no memory of hearing about any horse race in the 1952 campaign. Of course, I was a kid and probably didn't pay close-enough attention to the news to notice but there certainly was not the amount or detail of polling we get today.

That means there was little in the lead-up to election day to indicate who might be winning and I have often thought, as an adult, how much more interesting and informative the presidential elections would be if polling were not allowed - particularly because they make it too easy for the news media.

Think about it: I'm guessing that about 90 percent of all election-related news stories are numbers and percentages. Without them, we all - candidates, media and voters - would be “stuck” with conversation about actual policy positions. Imagine that.

Or am I just being nostalgic for the good old days? Is it possible, do you think, that as social, cultural and technological changes come along for societies not to adopt them? Even when the fact of actual advancement is questionable? Probably not.

What I suspect, however, is that even when old people go along with the changes, we sometimes miss the old ways of doing things, the ways of our youth.

Let me take this general idea into another area of culture.

On Saturday, I posted Peter Tibbles' tale of a short conversation he had with a young woman at the fish market who told him her name is Bianca. Here it is again:

PETER: Oh, like Bianca Jagger.

YOUNG WOMAN: (blank stare)

PETER: Mick Jagger's ex-wife.

YOUNG WOMAN: (blank stare)

PETER: Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones.

YOUNG WOMAN: (blank stare)

...pause...

YOUNG WOMAN: That'll be $10.90.

It's a funny and doleful reminder that we're old and the pop world has passed us by. After all, the Rolling Stones have been around for half a century and there is no reason Bianca should know who one of them was married to for a short while more than 40 years ago however familiar the story is to many of us.

But when I thought about it further, I realized the same conversation could be had in reverse if Peter Tibbles were the same name as the lead singer in Bianca's favorite band. Most of us older than 60 or 65 wouldn't know who she was talking about.

And so it seems to go for each generation. One of the most important things we do in our youth to ensure that we can live independently as adults is to separate and distinguish ourselves from our parents and grandparents.

One big way we do that is to adopt new, up-to-date, cultural artifacts – music, fashion, movies, slang terms, types of entertainment, social and political points of view – many of them deliberately chosen to shock older people.

In time, of course, parental shock wears off but what Bianca and her contemporaries don't know – and we did not know when we were doing the same things at her age – is that they are forming tastes, opinions, preferences and sensibilities they will carry with them unto the grave.

Thus, the good old days - whether we define them by poll-free election campaigns, rock bands of our youth or back when America was great – change from one generation to the next to the next.

What is interesting about that as we work our way through the decades of life is how often – not always but often - we see those choices we made at age 18, 20 or 25 as preferable or somehow superior to what the “kids” coming up behind us choose.

And so it is with each generation. Everyone gets a few years to control the zeitgeist and then the privilege moves on.


Cooking at Home as We Get Older

Last week, TGB reader, Elizabeth Archerd contacted me with a topic suggestion for Time Goes By:

”...can we talk about how to manage home cooking as we age?

“...My eating habits are great, according to every medical person I know, but whole natural foods do take a certain amount of cooking time. I've been looking for ways to simplify the process to save my damaged hands from pain, which I feel after every holiday meal and increasingly from daily kitchen work.

“I'm curious about how elders are managing food, not just those with my own preferences. What can we preserve, what will we have to expect to give up?”

“Duh,” said I, slapping my forehead while reading Elizabeth's email. More than a dozen years at this blog and it had never crossed my mind that cooking could become difficult as we get older either from waning stamina and strength or something more specific like arthritis.

This fact escaped me even though a few months ago, I bought a mechanical apple peeler to use when I make my monthly batch of apple sauce to freeze because my hand had recently begun cramping from holding the paring knife in one position for too long.

My first thoughts were practical in a general sense: most old people probably shouldn't be climbing onto chairs or ladders so it would be important to move all food, tableware and cooking equipment to shelves that are reachable without a kitchen ladder.

Sometimes food preparation, particularly for special occasions that Elizabeth mentions, can takes longer than feet or legs are willing to hold up. Here is an “angled perching stool” I found at Elder Store that takes the weight off your feet and also supports your back.

It turns out there are dozens and dozens of kitchen aids and gadgets for people who are old, disabled or recovering from surgery or accidents. A few of my favorites:

This one-handed vegetable brush, also available at Elder Store, makes perfect sense. Why didn't I think of that.

Here is what they call a rocking T knife - also known as a mezzaluna to most cooks - that makes it easy to cut fruit, vegetables, herbs or anything else with one hand. It is available at Active Forever and other online stores.

I really like this pan holder that you can find at many shops for elders. It makes stirring with one hand easy and accommodates different sized pots and pans. You can find this at several stores including RehabMart.

I love this. I don't have arthritic hands (yet) but tearing off plastic wrap from the roll is always a war between me and the box. At $9, this is expensive but maybe it's worth it. It's available at Elder Store.

There are a gazillion kinds of gadgets to help open cans and bottles but one caught my attention because it works with pill bottles too. You can find it at the Elder Store where it is called the easy open pill extractor.

Many of these items and others seem to me to be more expensive that they ought to be and I recommend checking for similar ones around the web at such places as Amazon, Google Shopping, Walmart, etc. in addition to the specialty stores I've linked above.

For those of you not in the United States, I came across Arthritis Solutions (don't take all these name too literally) in Australia and Living Made Easy in the United Kingdom. I'm sure there are more.

A couple of other ideas:

Most supermarkets carry already-chopped garlic and onions, fruits and vegetables, varieties of ready-to-use salad greens, etc. Personally, I am leery of packaged fresh produce; although it's been many years ago now, I recall an outbreak of E. coli caused from packaged spinach.

The meat and fish departments of supermarkets where I live are increasingly providing dishes that are dressed, flavored and ready to cook – stuffed peppers, for example, marinated steak, Asian chicken breasts, stuffed salmon, shish- and fish-kebobs, and so on.

To cut down on the amount of cooking, you can also supplement with meal services. My next door neighbor, during the years he cared for his invalid wife, used the local Meals on Wheels program not because he couldn't afford to cook but because it took too much time and effort away from caring for his wife.

Nowadays, there are growing numbers of gourmet home cooking food delivery services with all the fresh or frozen ingredients and instructions for making delicious meals without a lot of effort.

I have no idea if these services are useful or affordable; I haven't tried them. They appear to be expensive but that may not be so when compared to what you spend on food shopping now and whatever value you place on less time in the kitchen.

If, like me, you enjoy cooking but you have to cut back for physical or other reasons, you could combine sometimes cooking with delivery services or meeting friends for lunch or dinner. All of this, of course, depends on what is affordable.

And don't forget cooking ahead. When you have the energy, set aside a morning or afternoon to cook and freeze ready-to-eat meals. I do this most frequently with soup in the winter. I really like seeing the rows of two-cup containers of home-made pea soup, tomato soup, squash soup and others lined up in the freezer. All I do is keep one in the refrigerator defrosting for when I'm too lazy or busy to cook.

Which brings me to you, dear readers. This is the perfect story for crowd-sourcing.

What kitchen gadgets and supplies do you find most helpful nowadays?

What changes in preparation and techniques are you making as you grow older?

What have you given up doing in the kitchen and what have you maintained?

Have there been accidents or other incidents that compelled you to change how you work in the kitchen?

And so on. Give us you best advice on this subject – and thank you Elizabeth Archerd for a terrific idea.


Old Age and the Fear of Dying

It is my long-term practice to have two or three books related to old age going at once along with stacks of printouts of related materials.

For the past few months, I've let that go in favor of other, lighter kinds of reading and during my two-week hiatus from this blog, I read almost nothing beyond the daily headlines.

The basic requirements for productive thought are quiet and solitude. I gave myself a lot of that during the past two weeks and once I got over feeling antsy without a book in my hand, old topics I've neglected began bubbling up. Today's post deals with one of them.

”How can we know how to live if we don't understand death?”

Confucius said that. Knowledge of our own demise is the central predicament of humankind and there are not many of us who do not fear it. So much so that we spend a great amount of time distracting ourselves from this ultimate reality of life.

What can it mean to no longer be? I have no idea. Two common facile answers involve, depending on one's beliefs, a great reward in heaven or as some would have it, returning to what it was like before we were born. Mark Twain had something to say about that second answer:

”I do not fear death,” he wrote. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

It's fun to read that but not really much help.

One of the problems of western culture is that although it is changing to a small degree in recent years, discussion of dying is not encouraged and certainly not acceptable in polite company.

Imagine saying over coffee with group of friends after dinner, “I was thinking about dying today...” I promise you the word “morbid” will be mentioned, no one will look you in the eye and one of the party will suddenly find tomorrow's weather fascinating.

Ageism has a lot to do with the taboo against talking about death and old people are not too much less likely than the young to spend a lot of money on trying shave a few years off their their act age. Many of the young won't hire people with gray hair no matter how qualified they are but a lot of healthy elders are equally reprehensible by being careful not to associate with less healthy people of their generation.

We try to appear younger than we are because we don't want to face the fact that we will die and we are conditioned from childhood to look for every possible way out.

We believe that if we eat enough kale, do enough pushups, buy enough Botox injections and face lifts, we will fool the grim reaper into believing he made a mistake when he comes by and sees how young we look but he can't be fooled that easily. (Have you read Appointment in Samarra lately?)

Death – of plants, animals and humankind – is nature's way of clearing out the old to make room for the new. It is foolish to fight it. Confucius reminds us of that as does, similarly, St. Augustine:

”It is only in the face of death that man's self is born.”

From at least the dawn of language, philosophers have been telling us how to live with this fearful certainty – most frequently as Augustine and Confucius advise – but I think we can each come to our own understanding.

To live well within whatever restrictions old age saddles us with comes to mind. To luxuriate in the private rituals and small pleasures of our individual lives helps.

To do good things for others. Not great things; few of us are favored with the power to change the world in big ways. But we can improve other people's lives in small and unexpected ways.

What all the philosophers tell us about facing death is to live meaningfully and that, perhaps, is another way to meet the despair of our impending demise and overcome it.

* * *

The Death Deal by Ron Padgett which you will find at The Writers Almanac.

Ever since that moment
when it first occurred
to me that I would die
(like everyone on earth!)
I struggled against
this eventuality, but
never thought of
how I'd die, exactly,
until around thirty
I made a mental list:
hit by car, shot
in head by random ricochet,
crushed beneath boulder,
victim of gas explosion,
head banged hard
in fall from ladder,
vaporized in plane crash,
dwindling away with cancer,
and so on. I tried to think
of which I'd take
if given the choice,
and came up time
and again with He died
in his sleep.
Now that I'm officially old,
though deep inside not
old officially or otherwise,
I'm oddly almost cheered
by the thought
that I might find out
in the not too distant future.
Now for lunch.


Senior Discounts

Do you use senior discounts? The only one I am aware of using is movie theaters but I hardly ever go anymore. I wait for the films I want to see to show up on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu or even in discount DVD bins because theaters nowadays jack up the audio so high it actually hurts my ears.

But I'm not here to rant about that - at least, not today.

Discounts are hard to track. The first problem is age. It appears that most begin at 55 but 60, 62 and 65 are not uncommon and amazingly, even 50 turns up more often than you might think. It's not easy to sort out which stores think which age is old enough for a discount.

Another issue is day-of-the-week or day-of-the-month discounts. These are usually at supermarkets, usually 10 percent but they require one to remember if it is every Tuesday (or is it Wednesday?), the third Thursday and so on. I gave up a long time ago and besides, New Yorkers if not others know that it's not really a discount unless it's at least 25 percent off.

A Google search for “senior discounts” results in nearly five million returns. There are a lot of lists of links to senior discounts and they cover almost anything you would ever need in life. A short topic sampling:

Airlines
Car rentals
Cruises
Medical and Pharmacy
Apparel
Food and beverages
Restaurants
Health and nutrition
Golf
Movies

There are many more but you get the idea. You can search by names of stores and restaurants too, AARP has its own list and you will rarely fail to find a discount when you search for something specific like, for example, “flowers senior discount” or "electrician senior discount."

In recent years, a cottage industry of objections to senior discounts has developed from people who believe it is unfair.

Ann Brenoff, writing at Huffington Post earlier this year, agrees but has a couple of thoughtful suggestions:

”Seniors aren’t the poorest among us anymore. The national poverty rate, according to the 2014 Census, is 14.8 percent. For seniors 65 and older, it’s just 8.7 percent, while for children under 18 it was 21.1 percent. Maybe it’s children we should be offering discounts to?

“Seniors, like my (now-deceased) aunts, would tell you how discounts are a way of honoring or showing respect to our elders. I fail to see how 75 cents show a whole heck of a lot of honor and respect.

“Maybe the way to honor them is to fund Medicare to the level where it would pay for some of the things most seniors actually need: eyeglasses, hearing assistance, and dental work?

“And if we really respected their age and the wisdom that presumably comes with it, why aren’t we hiring more of them instead of making them feel unwelcome in the workplace and telling them how they aren’t a good 'cultural fit?'”

Hear, hear, Ms. Brenoff. A lot of us have been saying these things for years – we just had not made what I see now is the logical connection to senior discounts.

Since none of those changes – discounts, Medicare and employment – are going to happen any time soon, here is a poem about it sent last week by TGB reader Tom Delmore that is funny, poignant and sweet.

It is from the poets.org website and is written by Ali Leibegott – titled Senior Discount:

I want to grow old with you.
Old, old.

So old we pad through the supermarket
using the shopping cart as a cane that steadies us.

I’ll wait at register two in my green sweater
with threadbare elbows, smiling
because you’ve forgotten the bag of day-old pastries.

The cashier will tell me a joke about barbers as I wait.
He repeats the first line three times
but the only word I understand is barber.

Over the years we’ve caught inklings
of our shrinking frames and hunched spines.

You’re a little confused
looking for me at the wrong register with a bag
of almost-stale croissants clenched in your hand.

The first time I held your hand it felt enormous in my own.
Sasquatch, I teased you, a million years ago.

Over here, I yell, but not in a mad way.

We’re laughing.
You have a bright yellow pin on your coat that says, Shalom!

Senior Discount, you say.
But the cashier already knows us.
We’re everyone’s favorite customers.


When Elder Couples are Forced Apart

A couple of weeks ago, when we discussed sex and old age, TGB reader Kate in Maine left this heart-breaking story in the comments [slightly edited for space]:

”My late widowed Mother had a beautiful assisted living apartment over looking the ocean in Maine. I began to see, when I visited her, she and a lovely man holding hands while ocean surf watching. The internal me thought 'say what?'

“...The gentleman eventually asked my Mother to marry - my second 'say what'???? They were both in their early 80's. My folks never interfered in my private life and I wasn't going to in this situation either.

“I saw what the relationship brought to her life and I was happy to see that. Fast forward a little, the gentleman asked my official permission to marry. Two weeks after that coversation, I showed up to visit and he was gone. His family didn't approve and moved him out in the dark of night.

“They both had all their wits intact, knew what they needed and wanted and it became a role reversal where the 'adult children' took away his voice and choice.”

Kate in Maine's story had been haunting me when another forced separation gained some attention on the internet.

It started with a photo of Wolfram and Anita Gottschalk of Surrey, British Columbia, taken by their granddaughter. Here is what the Global News reported about the couple:

Separations like that of the Gottschalks happen, and certainly not only in Canada, when one of them needs more care than the other or the caregiver spouse can no longer do it all alone.

I know a man whose wife needs round-the-clock care in a memory unit but they were lucky enough to find and be able to afford to live in the same continuing care community so he can visit every day.

She no longer recognizes him but after more than half century of marriage he doesn't love her any less and their living arrangement allows him to be with her any time, every day. And who is to say that somewhere inside, somehow, she still knows him and knows that he is there.

But that kind of care is not easy to find. It might be a question of money or of availability of space or out-of-date rules in elder care communities or the awful children of Kate's mother's friend.

Kate answered Darlene Costner's question about whether money or inheritance was an issue with her mother's friend being snatched away:

”Yes, Darlene, it was all about the $$. He was quite well to do and my Mother was fine financially so no inheritances were going to be changed. My mother and he were going to stay in the same assisted care but move to a larger apt. I already had that in the works.

“They both had long marriages 60+ years and I was delighted to see the happy glint in my Mother's eyes. He was someone special just for her and vice a versa. I totally fault his adult children (who rarely visited) for taking their Father's voice from him.

“Whatever years each had remaining to share was stolen by greedy, selfish, insensitive adult children. That spark left my Mother's eyes and for that I will always be sad. She lived well into her 90's and I think about what those years together could have been.

“The staff at the assisted care were very sympathetic, but due to privacy laws they wouldn't give us his address or phone number. He was taken out of state...

“None of his adult children ever attempted to connect with me or my Mother to discuss the issue (marriage). I never knew the last names of his children (married daughters) to try to connect with. When he was gone he was gone.”

How unutterably sad. It doesn't take any imagination at all to know how you would feel if you were torn away from the person you love and you have no say in the matter, apparently just because you are old. What kind of monsters - bureaucratic or especially family - would do that? And when do they get their payback?


Consider the Cane by Ann Burack-Weiss

I will be back from my mini-vacation tomorrow with Interesting Stuff but today I have an excellent treat for you.

Ann Burack-Weiss turned up in my life last April when she penned a comment at The New York Times chastising a reporter for assuming that wearing an old-age suit gives younger adults a good sense of what it is like to be old.

It does not, explained Ms. Burack-Weiss, and when I finished reading, I had to agree. So since I had in the past cheered the age suit, I posted this mea culpa that included Burack-Weiss's entire letter to the editor.

Even before that, her recent book, The Lioness in Winter, Writing an Old Woman's Life, had been sitting in my to-read pile for a month or two so I pushed it to the top of the stack.

WeissLionessCoverIt is an extraordinarily good read – a smart, personal reflection on a collection of writings about growing old from three dozen or so of the best women authors of the 20th and into the 21st century.

Like me, you have probably read the works of many of these women – Maya Angelou, Colette, Doris Lessing, May Sarton, Diana Athill, Simone de Beauvoir, Joan Didion among them. But perhaps, also like me, you have not paid the kind of close attention Ms. Burack-Weiss has.

Now I have started over with some of these writers because Burack-Weiss, a more thoughtful reader than I have been, shows me how much I missed in my first go-round.

It is not a simple or quick read, The Lioness in Winter. Nearly every page is packed with ideas and revelations that demand quiet time to sit and think and consider the vast array of ideas about this period of late life Ms. Burack-Weiss has pulled together for us.

If you are interested, it is at Amazon and other online book sellers.

Which brings me to today.

Since our April encounter via The Times, Ann and I have become email friends. A couple of weeks ago she sent me a short story she has written and after I pushed her allow it, she agreed to let me post it here for you.

It is titled, Consider the Cane. By Ann Burack-Weiss. Please welcome her to our pages and enjoy.

Eldercrossing400b

The cane is the universal symbol of age and frailty. Road signs alert motorists to the possibility of encountering deer or children by blackened cutouts of their shapes leaping high in the air. Since 1981, "elderly crossing” signs in the U.K. show a bent woman leaning on a bent man leaning on a cane.

(Spirited objections - even contests to suggest cheerier alternatives - have surfaced from time to time.) The signs remain. In fact, they have been spotted at various sites in the U.S. and other countries as well.)

* * *

Long before there were walkers or wheelchairs, even before the wheel itself, there must have been the cane. It might not appear on the Lascaux cave walls. (The one human figure, reportedly “a bird-headed man with an erect phallus,” is not carrying one). But there were trees – and it’s hard to imagine that one of the first hominids to stand upright didn’t pick up a limb, lean his weight against it as he walked and heave a satisfied sigh.

Thousands of years passed. Wood to enamel to plastic. A curved handle and a rubber tip! Holes to adjust to the walker’s height! A carrying strap! A folding device! All the colors of the rainbow!

My cane arrived with great hype: “It stands by itself!” Which is true. Unless the floor is uneven. Or there is a carpet. Or a stray waft of air. It is no longer a concern of mine. I do not now need a cane.

* * *

I used to need a cane. After the pelvic fractures. Before and after the Total Hip Replacement. The cane transformed me. I was one who could brandish! Taxis summoned with a lunge. Cars - inching up on me as I crossed the street with the light - halted with a flourish. I discovered the power in dependence. And its hidden cost.

It was easier to slump into a stooped posture than to extend the effort to walk tall. Gratefully accepting first dibs on the front seat of the bus or offered a chair while others stood in long ticket lines, I was aware of a diminishment – in the eyes of others, in my own sense of self. So I was glad to be rid of the cane. To fade into the throngs of New Yorkers who crowd its streets, a small chip in the “glorious mosaic” fitting neatly into its niche.

* * *

I manage just fine without a cane. Unless there is ice on the ground. Or snow. Or slippery leaves. Or it is windy. Or it is raining and the temperature is expected to dip below freezing. Or it is very dark.

I check the weather report. It will be “breezy.” When does “breeze” turn into wind? When is wind strong enough to knock down a skinny 80-year-old lady? I consider the cane.


A TGB EXTRA: Good News About Social Security...

...and you helped make it happen.

Remember two weeks ago when I told you about a new requirement at the Social Security website? Here it is as explained in an email from that federal agency [emphasis is mine]:

When you sign in at ssa.gov/myaccount with your username and password, we will ask you to add your text-enabled cell phone number."

Because only 27 percent of people 65 and older own cell phones, this was idiotic; it locked millions of people out of their own information. I gave you a couple of email addresses where you could send your objections, including the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Now look at what has happened.

Yesterday, a press release arrived from that Committee. Let me quote some of it to you – again, the emphasis is mine:

”Following efforts from U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, seniors will once again be able to access their Social Security accounts online without needing to have a cell phone.

“Senators Collins and McCaskill sent a letter to the Social Security Administration (SSA) last week urging immediate action to roll back a new policy that required text message authentication for seniors to access their “my Social Security” account online.

“While noting the need for enhanced security, Senators Collins and McCaskill were concerned that using text message authentication as the only means of guaranteeing an individual’s access to their account put an undue burden on seniors, many of whom do not own a cell phone.

“Following the letter from Collins and McCaskill, as well as feedback from customers around the country, the SSA announced it is rolling back the policy that would have limited access for some users."

Just two weeks from implementation of a bureaucratic folly to resolution. When was the last time, I wonder, the federal government worked this quickly.

You can read the letter Senators McCaskill and Collins sent to the the acting director of Social Security here [pdf]. And here is the pertinent blog post at the Social Security website.

If you are one of the people who wrote letters, take a bow. Sometimes, now and then, occasionally and once in awhile speaking up works.

It matters not that this was an easy one for the Committee. Far less goes undone in Washington for years at a time. Hurray for us.