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Andrew Weil's Healthy Aging

category_bug_journal2.gif In his new book, Healthy Aging, Dr. Andrew Weil devotes several pages to getting a good night’s sleep. Here’s a hint: keep this book by your bedside and you’ll never need the valerian root or melatonin he recommends. Just read a couple of pages and you’ll be out cold.

Not only is there nothing new in this book about physical health, the subtitle, “A lifelong guide to your physical and spiritual well-being," is a misnomer. He devotes exactly 12 of 293 pages to spiritual well-being - also nothing you don’t already know.

Certainly Dr. Weil means well with this latest book, but it’s still the same-old, same-old:

  • Eat your fruit and vegies
  • Exercise your body and your mind
  • Find a method of natural stress reduction that works for you
  • Get enough rest and sleep

These are important at any age, but we've known it all for a long, long time.

It surprises me that Healthy Aging, which sells for $28.00, is ranked at No. 175 this morning on Amazon when anyone can get the same information in dozens of previous books and at the CDC and National Institute on Aging websites or any of hundreds of others.

Out of the entire book, there are a few items which are, again, not new, but worth repeating:

“…there are no effective antiaging medicines.”
“…(web)sites…are, in fact, selling not HGH (human growth hormone) but a variety of pills, powder, oral sprays, and homeopathic remedies supposed to promote the release of HGH from the pituitary. All of them are bogus.”

And as to skin rejuvenating cosmetics, Weil says:

“…many invoke scientific research to explain how they rejuvenate the skin. Actually, that is no different from the false claims and lack of evidence for the antiaging technologies I wrote about earlier, except that in the case of cosmetics, the claims are even sillier, the lack of evidence more complete, and the price gouging more egregious.”

My favorite moment in the book comes during Weil’s discussion of these fake wrinkle creams. One company defends its price tag of $375 per two-ounce jar by pointing out that the main ingredient costs $30,000 for one gram, enough for "only" 200,000 jars. That, as Dr. Weil notes, works out to 15 cents worth of the ingredient per jar.

Good, clean fun at the snakeoil salesman’s expense, but not worth the price of the book.

Internet Ties That Bind

Late last fall, there was a lively and thoughtful discussion here over several posts about The Nature of Blog Friends, All My Blog Friends Live Close By and The Blog Pub. In re-reading the posts and the many comments, the consensus comes down clearly on the side of - um - mixed feelings.

On one hand, pretty much everyone feels a strong attachment to their blog friends; the love, support, care and interest shown one another. On the other hand, there was substantial concern for what is lost in long-distance, text-based friendships that are unlikely to ever become in-person relationships.

Now comes a new study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project titled The Strength of Internet Ties [PDF] in which the overall conclusion is:

“The internet and email aid users in maintaining their social networks and provide pathways to help when people face big decisions.”

The study does not address blogs at all, instead concentrating on email, forums and other kinds of internet communities, but the findings can certainly be applied to us. In the following quote, substitute the word “blog” for “email” and it remains true:

“Email enables people to maintain more relationships easily because of its convenience as a communication tool and the control it gives in managing communication. Email’s asynchronous nature - the ability for people to carry on conversations at different times and at their leisure - makes it possible for a quick note to an associate, whether it is about important news or seeking advice on an important decision.”

I don’t think any of this is a surprise to bloggers who use a combination of blogs posts, comments on one another’s blogs and email to keep in touch. Also, the study concentrates on existing relationships among family, friends and colleagues while blog friendships are mostly new, having been made through blogging.

Not a half dozen of my pre-TGB friends keep blogs, and the number of bloggers I’ve come to care deeply about have become so online in the two years since TGB launched and have vastly increased my social network.

What is most important about the Pew study is confirmation that maintaining online contact does not, as many experts warned, isolate people. Instead, it enhances connections among people who are widely dispersed geographically.

“…research is showing that the internet is not destroying relationships or causing people to be anti-social. To the contrary, the internet is enabling people to maintain existing ties, often to strengthen them, and at times, to forge new ties. The time that most people spend online reduces the time they spend on the relatively unsocial activities of watching TV and sleeping.”

But we bloggers know that, don’t we? Ties forged across internet ether grow as strong and comfortable as in-person relationships. This is of great importance, I believe, to elders whose social networks decrease as they retire, families move far away, old friends die and mobility may become a problem. Online, your closest friend may be halfway around the world, but otherwise only a keystroke away.

I suspect we think about internet relationships a lot and researchers study them only because it is still new; we have no long-term experience with emotional closeness without physical proximity.

The phenomenon of online friendship has happened in the tiniest slice of time in human history. We need, still, to create a social definition for them among the ones we are familiar with - family, friend, colleague, spouse, bowling partner, etc. But I think it will not be long before online relationships are so unremarkable that there will be no need for more studies - especially among bloggers.

Yesterday, The Gallup Poll released a new survey about blog readership. Among the findings:

"In terms of blog activity, there is a slight gender gap (24% of men and 17% of women read them), and of course a generation gap, with 28% of those 18 to 29 using them and only 17% of those over 50."

Considering how low computer literacy still is among people 60 and older, I think 17 percent of the 50-plus population reading blogs shouldn't be characterized as "only", but a triumph - a testament to the value of blogs to elders.

File Me Under the Letter F

On a recent post about Sex and the Seasoned Woman, Anna of Self Winding left this comment:

“I'm struggling with a current advertisement on UK TV that promotes a denture fixative. It features a lined elderly couple doing a lot of very deep, wet, open-mouth kissing. Very close up. The voice-over asks - "Which one is wearing the dentures?"

“I can hack it, just; but I honestly suppress a shudder and find it to be in dubious taste. Yet I feel guilty for feeling that. I would guess that any young person watching would only have one reaction...'ugh, too much info'.

“Having over-sexualised the young for their own ends, it seems advertisers are now moving into the lucrative geriatric area.”

“I can hack it, just.” Isn’t that the truth. But I may not be the best judge of what’s publicly acceptable. Since my teens, I’ve squirmed when people onscreen - whatever their age - are doing things I do only in private.

It’s not naked bodies that bother me; the human form is astonishingly beautiful in all its variations. But I prefer the things we do with those bodies in intimate situations to be left behind closed doors.

I’m hopelessly old-fashioned about this. Even if I were young again and had the cute little body I once had, I’d never be able to pull off wearing a thong swimsuit, although I have been known, a long time ago, to wear a translucent (not transparent) blouse without a bra, if only in darkened clubs. And doesn’t that sound tame by today’s standards?

On rare occasions, on warm, summer nights, I’ve returned home to find kids going at it on the stoop to my townhouse and, when I’ve managed to miss the action itself, have swept up the evidence in the morning. At least I know they’re having safe sex although their choice of location is questionable and it leaves me wondering what the limits are these days.

I share Anna’s distaste for that denture fixative commercial, and I’d be uncomfortable watching it even if the actors were young. Showing old folks in the throes of the kind of passion that in the past has been confined, on screen, to the young adds a whole new dimension I haven’t figured out yet.

Is it a good idea to show that desire and its fulfillment don’t die at age 50? Yes, I think so. But do we need to be so graphic about it - at any age?

File me under F for fogey.

Silver Threads - 2/5/2006

Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, started a revolution that became so successful, young women today accept their position of equality in the culture as though it had never been otherwise. Thirty years later, Ms. Friedan published an equally groundbreaking book,The Fountain of Age which hasn’t started a revolution yet, but there are hopes of such here at TGB. Betty Friedan died yesterday on her 85th birthday.

No link here, just an odd experience. I’d been thinking of writing a piece about where all the elder male bloggers might be. I had no proof, but I sensed that most people on the ElderBloggers List are women. Surprise! It’s not so lopsided after all. When I added them up, there are 43 women and 47 men. I don’t know what that means except that I’ll have to think up something else to write.

Following an absence of nearly six months, Tom Shugart has returned to his Insiteview blog. It was a terrible health scare that kept him away for so long, but he’s well now and I’m glad he’s back. I’d barely discovered him last summer before he disappeared. Do stop by, welcome him “home” and get to know his always insightful Insiteviews.

With an average of only three to four hours of electricity a day, Iraqi bloggers post when and if they can. Honorary ElderBlogger Riverbend at Baghdad Burning has this to say, in part, about the results of the election there: “After nearly three years of a failing occupation, I personally believe that many Iraqis voted for religious groups because it was counted as a vote against America and the occupation itself…” Follow the link to read more.

A recent addition to the ElderBloggers list is Limerick Savant who comments on cultural and political issues entirely in limericks. I am jealous because I can’t do that and you shouldn’t miss him. (I think Cowtown Pattie at Texas Trifles has been way ahead of me on this terrific blog and it’s my loss I never clicked on it from her list.)

In case you missed it, the last telegram was delivered by Western Union this past week ending an era that began on 24 May 1844 - the email of its day. I was surprised to see, in a TV news feature, the number of people - old people - who said they’d never in their lives received a telegram. When I was young, we used them a lot just for fun especially for congratulations: birthdays, new jobs, births, etc. What about you?

Medicare Woes

category_bug_journal2.gif I once spent six years trying to convince The City of New York that there is not a boiler nor an elevator in my building and therefore we condominium owners did not owe taxes on those “improvements” for which the City dunned us twice a year as penalties for non-payment piled up.

My letters with careful explanation and documentation went unacknowledged and unanswered, and telephone calls resulted in the verbal equivalent of blank looks. Eventually, I spent half a day trawling through the public tax rolls to locate the city’s error, paid exorbitant fees for photocopies and the woman at the desk at the Department of Finance grudgingly accepted my proof.

No one expects government agencies to work with any efficiency nor to correct errors in a timely manner, so it has been a pleasant surprise that, so far, my application for Medicare coverage been a remarkably easy, even friendly process, although I have not yet tackled the Part D prescription coverage.

The confusions and hardships that have resulted in these first weeks of the new prescription drug program have been widely reported in the press and here. President Bill Novelli announced this week that AARP will ask Congress to change several provisions of Part D including that nasty little paragraph that prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. This a start toward a fix.

While I was sleeping last night, janinsanfran, who blogs at Happening-Here?, left a comment on last Sunday’s Silver Threads post about an effort by Consumers Union to persuade Congress to vote on a bill - HR752, currently hung up in committee - simplifying Medicare. As they state on their website:

“Are you and your family baffled by the confusing new Medicare prescription drug program? Your troubles aren’t over yet! This fall hundreds of drug plans can change their premiums, copays, and even the pharmacies they include, leaving seniors and people with disabilities with a new round of difficult choices.”

I don’t know yet if I believe that legislation, or AARP’s proposed bill or something entirely different or all of the above is the right way to go to fix Part D. But I was struck by the rightness of Consumer Union’s headline on their story:

Seniors Need Medicare Without Headaches!

Medical care does not need to be as hard as the government makes it. For years, I've complained that the IRS, in its horrendous confusion of hundreds of forms and calculations and record-keeping required of us, has unnecessarily turned U.S. citizens into a nation of bookkeepers. And now that I’m old enough to have even more dealings with the federal government, it gets worse.

And here’s another issue elders face that I’ll be looking into soon. kenju at Just Ask Judy reported this week that her physician has “fired” her because, she believes, she is now eligible for Medicare.

The healthcare system in the U.S. is a holy mess even for non-elders, and it is mostly pressure from corporate America - insurance companies, big pharmas, giant hospital chains, etc. - and government's capitulation to them over the needs of citizens that causes it. The Medicare sign-up system and the Social Security website, which is a model of efficiency and ease of use, prove that the government can get it right when they try.

All of this the more reason to press our representatives to enact universal healthcare like every other industrialized nation has.

Growing Old - A Meditation

category_bug_journal2.gif It is no secret we live in a youth-besotted culture. We are made to believe that the appearance of age is so repulsive that even 30-year-olds worry they are past their physical prime.

Recently, I’ve been noticing (with only a handful of exceptions) how extraordinarily young and beautiful are the women reporters and anchors on the cable news channels - how unmarked by time and unlined their skin is. A cynic could easily wonder how it came to be that only young women of the highest Hollywood beauty standards are smart enough to parse and report the news.

Apparently, no ordinary-looking or older women are accomplished TV reporters. And, apparently, it takes news men - who are mostly older than the women - much longer to learn their jobs.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein is alleging that 71-year-old actor Judi Dench, in New York to promote her film, Mrs. Henderson Presents, for which she was nominated for an Oscar this week, was denied appearances on NBC's Today show and on ABC's Good Morning America and The View because she's too old.

“'They said that she didn’t fit their demographics,' the outspoken movie mogul tells [New York] magazine. 'I told that to my mother, who was pretty…offended,' he is quoted as saying. 'I mean, what do they think, 25-year-old people can’t watch 70-year-old people? The insanity of youth. It also assumes none of us like our families.'”
- The Journal Gazette, 2 February 2006

Morrie Schwartz, the subject of Tuesdays With Morrie, famously told Ted Koppel in a television interview that his then-deteriorating body was “only the carton I came in.” True enough, but it implies that we must make a gigantic effort to see the person inside what is universally believed to be the repulsive package.

From the moment of youthful realization that appearance matters - a lot, I was a creature of my culture. For more than 45 years, I painted on my daily disguise in an attempt to fool the world into believing I met the prevailing standard of beauty. I starved a body that naturally wants to be a little chubby. And I never questioned my behavior. Without quite articulating the idea to myself, I believed that if I were a little more thin and a little more beautiful, all good would flow to me.

I don’t remember how that changed, but a few years ago I tired of the daily preening. I allowed my hair to grow into its natural gray color and I mostly stopped wearing makeup. Even before that, I’d given up counting every forkful that went into my mouth and some additional pounds attached themselves permanently to my body.

At first, it felt like a mantle of age descended on me over night - that one day I'd been acceptably youthful and the next I was old. I wondered, when I caught a reflection of myself in a store window, who that old lady was, just as I wondered, the first time my hands showed up in a photograph, when those age spots and wrinkles had taken over. There was some shame attached to this transformation, as though I was less deserving than I had been before.

In a culture dominated by youth junkies, it takes a long time to accept one's membership in the oldest generation. It’s hard learning that you have become invisible to many people. Hard to be rejected by recruiters and hiring managers who think you don’t know from their polite condescension that they believe you’re too old and ugly and therefore too stupid to contribute to the bottom line of their business. Hard to accept that no matter how much you rail against ageism on your little blog, it won’t change much in your lifetime.

But if you set aside those realities for a moment and be quiet with yourself, a remarkable surprise becomes evident. Large chunks of my time and mind once devoted to concern for appearance had become, while I wasn’t looking, free to grow and explore in directions I never imagined during the decades that I conformed to the cultural imperative to appear young forever.

I have always lived more in my mind than in my body and now, having liberated myself from the need to disguise my body to meet the expectations of others, there is a soaring joy in intellectual pursuits. The pleasures of the mind have never been so fulfilling as they are now; perhaps they have been laying dormant waiting for me to grow up and notice them.

Ten years or so ago, there was an excellent television series titled Connections in which British host James Burke showed how, for example, an ordinary lead pencil is related to the moon landing. He made several seemingly disparate connections in every program and I was as jealous of Burke’s mind as I was awed by his explanations.

Nowadays, I make such connections which, if not as learned as Burke’s, are more thrilling for having made them myself. My judgment has grown two-, maybe threefold. I am more frequently certain of what is right and what is wrong which leads to better personal decisions - and I surely needed that.

Today, I am more patient and understanding with individuals, while much less so with those who wield power - government, corporate or cultural - who would limit and control our lives. And as though a veil has been lifted from my mind, I can see through pretense and lies in a twinkling. I have never before been so engaged, so eager to learn and, at last, so unconcerned with physical appearance - mine or others.

The young are welcome to their youth, which has its own pleasures. I wouldn't trade my newfound comfort to return to those years because now, even in a culture that wants me to disappear from view, to not remind them that they too will be (and look) old one day, being old feels like I've won a prize. The gains so outweigh the losses and are so personally empowering and exciting that I almost wish it could have happened sooner - except each of us comes to understanding and acceptance in our own time.

The Unhealthy State of the Union

category_bug_politics.gif One of the many disappointments about President Bush’s State of the Union address is that more than half of it was devoted to the familiar drumbeat for the president's unswerving drive for military solutions to Iraq, terrorism, Iran and other foreign policy matters, and not more attention to a domestic agenda which has been neglected since day one of this administration.

The speech was filled with platitudes and meaningless phrases from a hundred previous speeches: “Freedom,” according to the president, “is (still) on the march,” and nothing he said revealed any rational understanding of harsh realities abroad and at home.

“Raising up a democracy,” he said, “requires the rule of law, protection of minorities and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote.”

It is regrettable and America’s loss that the president was referring to other countries and doesn’t seem to grasp - as he blithely reasserted his authority to spy on you and me - that these are also requirements of an established democracy.

When Mr. Bush finally got around to domestic items, it was all scare tactics and an announcement of reductions in or elimination of 140 programs while repeating his call to make the tax cuts permanent.

He devoted only four sentences to healthcare which, as had been leaked, was in support of the privatization of healthcare through health savings accounts (HSAs), although it was oddly tepid:

“We will strengthen health savings accounts by making sure individuals and small business employees can buy insurance with the same advantages that people working for big businesses get now. We will do more to make this coverage portable, so workers can switch jobs without having to worry about losing their health insurance.

“And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice, leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single ob-gyn, I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.”

HSAs are already available to those he mentioned and are already portable, so there is nothing new in the first part except to publicly add executive imprimatur.

In regard to the second part, I have no idea how many physicians are leaving their practices because of lawsuits, but 98,000 deaths annually from medical errors, as reported by The Commonwealth Fund, is evidence that limiting physician or hospital liability cannot be an across-the-board prohibition. A way must be found to bar frivolous lawsuits while holding the medical community accountable for their mistakes. Those are real people with real families who die unnecessarily each year.

Throughout the length of this presidency, Mr. Bush has frequently asserted his leadership. “That’s what leaders do, they lead,” he often says and I cringe at the farcical need to assure us (or himself?) of his position as leader - something that is not necessary when real leadership is present.

He used that word a couple of time in his State of the Union address which was in stark contrast to the utter lack of any leadership at all in the speech. There was not a single new idea Tuesday evening. Not a hint of acknowledgement of the disquietude and anxiety afoot in the land - a feeling among so many that something is terribly wrong - and that our leaders either don’t know it or don’t care.

What we got was a repetition of the same old tired phrases the little, lost boy king has repeated in every speech since his first campaign along with a litany of fudged and fuzzy facts any smart sixth-grader could refute. Even his self-important cowboy swagger was missing.

It feels to me not that the emperor has no clothes, but that there is no emperor inside the clothes. And that is a wholly unhealthy state for the union to be in for the next three years.

How The Red Hatters Disappoint

It appears to Crabby Old Lady that blogging about The Red Hat Society is the gift that keeps on giving. Hardly a day goes by that Crabby’s traffic stats don’t show some visits from people Googling the name of that club. And although she hasn’t mentioned the Red Hatters since April 2005 (and May 2004 before that), members continue to leave comments about how Crabby’s got it all wrong. Most recently on the 2004 story: [Crabby is not responsible for the spelling and grammar errors.]

“Being one of the ‘Queens’ of a Red Hat Society Chapter, unless you have BEEN to a chapter function it is no wonder you do not understand the object of the You said, you would be embarrased to be a member of one of these chapters because of the names, or everyone wearing the same thing..DUH!! That's what it's ALL about. NOT being embarrased, Not caring that everyone is wear the same thing .. and having fun…”

That’s the goal of the Red Hatters - millions of women from all over the world having F.U.N. - in capital of letters. As their website says: “Women at play. Who’s having the most fun?”

In reading the missives from Red Hatters over these past months, Crabby has come to understand that her distaste for the Society is, at its core, discouragement that so many older women are organized for such a shallow objective. In an era that is so bitterly divided politically, where lies, corruption, torture, secret surveillance of American citizens, illegal war, crushing federal debt, a crisis in healthcare and so much more threaten our future, these girls just wanna have fun?

The phrase “dancing on the graves of our children” comes to Crabby’s mind. Think what so many old women pulled together under one umbrella could accomplish in political pressure if the answer to the question “What do you do?” were not, as it says on their website, “Nothing.”

Crabby would like to assure you that she is not against having fun (although when a distinction between that and pleasure is made, she prefers the latter). But it is disheartening to find that so many care so little about real-world issues as the $80 price on a Red Hat Society Madame Alexander doll indicates.

The latest communication from Red Hat member “queendoxie” above goes on to say,

“Women because of society have always been presured into PERFECT behavior, PERFECT hair, PERFECT looks AND worring about what they're wearing for fear someone has the same color or style on as they do. Jenny Joseph's poem IS ABOUT shunning ALL that and NOT caring…”

Crabby thinks that perfection argument is specious - utterly 1950s - but the stunning misinterpretation of Jenny Joseph’s poem by The Red Hat Society is so entrenched now, there is no correcting it.

For two years, it has been Time Goes By’s argument that elders, by virtue of our decades of shared experience, knowledge and acquired wisdom can work to overcome the ageism of our culture and help steer our communities and our country toward a better future for our children and grandchildren.

It is crushingly painful to Crabby Old Lady that millions of elder women want to use their old age (as yet another Red Hatter commented yesterday) to "cruise, play cards, horse races, casinos, etc." Maybe Crabby should just give it up and go buy a red hat today - along with one of those eighty-buck Madame Alexander dolls for her mantle.