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This Week in Elder News: 11 October 2008

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

In 1946, an Englishman named Joseph Leeming published a not-so-little book called Fabulous Fun With Puzzles which has been reissued this year by Time Inc. I loved puzzles of all kinds when I was a kid, and I recognize a lot of them in this large collection.

Word puzzles, anagrams, coin puzzles and – best of all – my favorite, brain twisters. I skipped the math and number puzzles because I’m really crappy at them, but I do wonder: isn’t soduko the same thing we called magic squares when we were kids? There are plenty of them in this book and here’s another - a matchstick puzzle (remember those?) for you.


The solution is diabolical. It will appear tomorrow at the end of the Sunday Election Issues post. (If you know the solution or figure it out, please don't give it away in the comments.)

I’ve read a number of stories (here's one) this week about the deployment of Army troops within the U.S. which would appear to violate the Posse Comitatus Act, except that in a signing statement, President Bush apparently has repealed that Act. Naomi Wolf - who believes a fascist coup d’etat took place in the U.S. on 1 October - the day the Army deployment went into effect - has published a new book, A Handbook For America which she discussed in this interview. [27:52 minutes]

Robert Reich – yes, the former secretary of labor under President Clinton – has a personal blog where, this week, he discusses Early Boomers and the Economic Mess. He warns that the oldest boomers and elders are in “particularly big trouble” due age discrimination in the workplace, falling housing prices and little time before retirement to make up for losses. This is a good blog to be reading during out continuing economic troubles. (Hat tip to Donna Woodka of Changing Places)

Social Security benefits, due to inflation, will increase next year by at least five percent – the exact number will be announced on 16 October. Still, it will hardly cover our increased costs. According to a study quoted at,

“A person receiving the average Social Security monthly benefit of $816 in 2000 would get $1,014 in 2008. But based on the study's findings, that person's benefit would need to be $1,532 a month this year to maintain her 2000 purchasing power.”

Medicare Supplemental and Part D premiums will rise too. I’m afraid we’re in for a long, hard ride making ends meet for the foreseeable future.

Senator McCain hasn’t mentioned it on the campaign trail that I know of, but a top aide has confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that McCain would fund his health care plan with a $1.3 trillion cut in Medicare and Medicaid benefits over ten years (that’s $130 billion per year).

The aide, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, didn’t tell the WSJ where the cuts would come from, but

“It’s about giving them the benefit package that has been promised to them by law at lower cost,” he said.

Why, I wonder, don’t I believe this?

As if that were not enough to give elder McCain supporters a reason to rethink their vote, here is a detailed list of Senator McCain’s statements regarding Social Security, an analysis of the consequences of his healthcare plan and his dismal record in Congress on Medicare and Social Security votes - all collected in one place with links. (Hat tip again to Donna Woodka)

At the non-profit Curry Senior Center in San Francisco, which serves breakfast to hundreds of low-income elders each day, peanut butter for toast has become a victim of the economic mess. The center can no longer afford the $5,000/year cost. How much more of this are we going to see. Read more here. (Again, hat tip to Donna Woodka)

Enough bad news. Here’s something to give you a little laugh:

“If 50 is the new 30, does that mean 70 is the new 50 and dead is the new 90? Did you get enough liposuction to fit into that hot new bathing suit - and end up with enough skin left over for a new pool cover?”

These are lines from a new comedy, The New 30, debuting at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles on 28 October. I’m 3,000 miles away and won’t be able to attend. Perhaps some Los Angeles readers can do so and report back to us. Press release is here.

Earlier this week, Citizen K published a blog story about elder musicians titled, Geezers Rule. Here’s a video, Lucky, from one - 75-year-old avant-garde pianist, Paul Bley. [6:04 minutes]

Elderspeak is Damaging to Your Health

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by the end of today for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

category_bug_ageism.gif You’ve read it here before, the story of one of the most demeaning encounters with ageism I’ve personally experienced when a 20-something job interviewer, while patting my forearm, asked: “Tell me your life goals, dearie.”

Young and midlife adults have so many ways of belittling elders with language – in everyday life, in print, on on TV and in the movies – that I’ve written more than a dozen blog posts about it. (Links to some are at the bottom of this story.)

Earlier this week, The New York Times published a story about what is sometimes called “elderspeak” based on a forthcoming study from the estimable Yale University associate professor of psychology, Becca Levy, who for years has been studying the health effects on elders of ageist language.

“’Those little insults can lead to more negative images of aging,’ Dr. Levy said. ‘And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival.’

“In a long-term study of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, Dr. Levy and her fellow researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising and not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.”

In other words, even aging couch potatoes with a two-pack-a-day habit fare better in terms of longevity than their healthier counterparts who succumb to believing the demeaning, cutesy put-downs.

According to nurse gerontologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing, “Dr. [Kristine] Williams (as documented elsewhere too) members of the healthcare community are among the worst offenders.

“…Dr. Williams and a team of researchers videotaped interactions in a nursing home between 20 residents and staff members. They found that when nurses used phrases like ‘good girl’ or ‘How are we feeling?’ patients were more aggressive and less cooperative or receptive to care. If addressed as infants, some showed their irritation by grimacing, screaming or refusing to do what staff members asked of them…

“She added that patients who reacted aggressively against elderspeak might receive less care.”

Elderspeak is so common, too many – speakers and elders – hardly notice when it occurs. One way to help combat these verbal assaults is to write about them on our blogs when we see or hear them, email objections to reporters and commentators who repeat them, and stop anyone else – sales people, healthcare workers, friends, neighbors, coworkers (and job interviewers) – when they treat us as children or dimwits.

Sixty-eight-year-old police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, quoted in The New York Times story, has a novel and forceful method of countering elderspeak:

“…she objected to people calling her ‘young lady,’ which she called ‘mocking and disingenuous.’

“…To avoid stereotyping, Ms. Kirschman said, she often sprinkles her conversation with profanities when she is among people who do not know her. ‘That makes them think, This is someone to be reckoned with,’ she said. ‘A little sharpness seems to help.’”

However we individually choose to confront elderspeak, let’s step up our counterattack on this disrespectfulness and help keep ourselves and other elders healthy.

Some Previous TGB Stories on Elderspeak
Ageism Can Kill
Euphemisms Scheuphemisms
Age Humor
Older = Smarter, And Wiser Too
The Danger of Euphemism
Cast Your Vote in the Old Age Name Game
Why Language Matters
The Words We Use For Elders
Are You Elderly?
Elders As Children

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Stone Riley urges us to believe that Blessings are the very substance of existence.]

What’s Your Favorite Modern Invention?

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

When I was a little girl, we had a ringer washing machine, no dryer and no vacuum cleaner. The one electrical appliance in the kitchen was a toaster (the refrigerator was an ice box), and if you don’t count books, the only store-bought, family entertainment were a radio, a phonograph and board games.

We’ve come a long way since then. A glance around just my desk yields a cordless VOIP phone, a cell phone, a digital camera, the laptop, external speakers, a cable modem, a shredder, an external hard drive, a printer/scanner/copier, a cordless mouse, a radio and a router.

I thought I didn’t have many kitchen gadgets, but a quick survey turns up two kinds of hand mixers, a microwave, a toaster, a juicer, a blender, an electric tea kettle, coffee grinder, a mini-Cuisinart and a refrigerator that dispenses water or ice at the touch of a button. A rice cooker is on order.

There are also an extra computer in the guest room, hair dryer, the washer and dryer in the laundry room, vacuum cleaner, electric drill, a couple of battery-run clocks, not to mention kitchen and bedroom TVs and a DVD player, all with their remote controls. Somewhere in a drawer are a transistor radio (for blackouts) and an old cassette player.

With the exception of the plug-in radio and toaster, most of these things didn’t exist (or only in primitive form) in the early 1940s. Some of Time Goes By’s oldest-old readers might remember the days before indoor plumbing when the outhouse was a mad dash in the coldest weather.

In fact, well into the late 1940s when toilets were common except, perhaps, in some rural areas, my adopted grandmother still supplied a thundermug under the bed when I stayed with her so if nature called during the night, I didn’t need to make the trip downstairs to the bathroom.

Most of us have probably come to think of all the handy appliances created during our lifetimes as essential. So annoying was boiling coffee water in a pan on the stove that I was out the door as soon as the stores opened when my electric tea kettle died one day after nearly ten years.

That tea kettle is one of my small pleasures. I couldn’t tell you why a non-electric one on the stove wouldn’t serve my needs equally well; it just doesn’t. But there is another invention that, for me, shines above all, the star in the realm of modern conveniences, the one I would never again want to live without. If necessary, I’d give up the electric tea kettle for the battery-operated toothbrush.

It was two decades or more ago that my dentist suggested an electric toothbrush that at the time was a minor miracle. Not only did my teeth feel as clean as if I'd just seen the dentist, there was also no need for a glass to store it or a hanging holder to get icky from dried-out toothpaste.

But it was also a pain in the butt with the cord that seemed always to be tangled and way too easy to accidentally pull the little stand off a shelf.

I wondered, in those days, why someone didn’t invent a battery toothbrush and then one day a few years ago, there they were in the drugstore. No fanfare, no advertising at first, just fat-handled, battery toothbrushes mixed in with the hand-operated kind. I grabbed that sucker as fast as my fingers would move and rushed home to brush my teeth. I was thrilled.

And I still am. I’d like to kiss the anonymous engineer who designed it. Of all the inventions during my 67 years, many of which make chores easier and save a lot of time, the battery toothbrush is number one.

What about you? Is there a particular invention, new in your lifetime, that makes your life better than you'd ever imagined or pleases you as much as my battery toothbrush pleases me?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ken Mitchell explains the wonder of The Grip.]

The Oldest Old Project: Darlene Costner

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Darlene Costner of Darlene's HodgePodge was, as she explains below, otherwise engaged and unable to write a story for The Oldest Old Project. But she published her view from age 83 on her blog, and I want to include it here too.]

Ronni, of TIME GOES BY, had a writing project open to all of us over 80. Unfortunately it coincided with my preparations for my trip to Colorado. I simply didn’t have the time to give it any thought or to write an essay. Now I have more time to think about the changes in my life between the ages of 60 through 83.

I was widowed exactly 24 years ago this month. My daughter was living with me then but she needed to get on with her life and moved out sometime after that. The stress I was under during those years caused such a blur that I really can’t remember when she left or for how long. She did move back home later when she was suffering with a severe back problem. For several years I had a revolving door.

I was soon living alone for the first time in my life. I had recently lost my job because my hearing level deteriorated and I was quickly under great financial stress. During that time I was unsuccessfully trying to find employment.

I kept busy improving my house. When my husband was alive I would call on him to do the most menial tasks, like changing a light bulb. (Please don’t send me any “How many morons does it take to change a light bulb? I’ve heard them all). Out of necessity I discovered skills I didn’t know I possessed. I painted and wallpapered rooms, repaired drywall holes, replaced every door knob in my house with the European style handle. mowed the lawn, trimmed the hedges, etc. I was surprised and pleasantly gratified to find that I wasn’t as helpless as I thought.

When I was able to go on Social Security at the age of 62 I thanked Franklin Roosevelt for his foresight and crossed my fingers hoping that I would stay healthy until I was eligible for Medicare; Luckily, I didn’t need to see a doctor during that period and was, again, grateful when I could add my name to the roll of the insured.

I remained healthy and wisely invested the small insurance amount from my husband‘s policy. I was fortunate that the interest rate was paying 12% and my investments grew rapidly. I had always wanted to see far away places with strange sounding names so I cashed in some of my Mutual Funds and took to the friendly skies for a trip to the British Isles, France and Italy. I used three different tour groups and planned my itinerary between tours. It fulfilled the dream of a lifetime.

I am very frugal by nature (not cheap, you understand - just thrifty) and I managed to add to my travels by visiting Spain, Morocco, and a cruise of the Greek Isles. At the age of 75, I made my final European tour.

I have friends in Switzerland and, using their home as my base, I visited Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. This turned out to be the most exciting trip of all because I was totally on my own. Since I was not with a group I could take as long as I wanted in the museums, leave early if I wished, and I was in full charge of my itinerary. I even managed to see Neuschwanstein castle in Germany and it became the highlight of that trip.

While I saw many wonderful things on that trip it also made me realize that my days of traveling by myself had come to an end. Schlepping my suitcase on and off trains, staying in less than desirable places, sometimes sharing a bath, dealing with the con artists at the stations, etc. were just too much for an old lady. There were days when I simply wished that I was home in my own bed because I didn’t feel well and was too tired to enjoy what I was seeing.

I believe that’s when I began to feel old. My last trip coincided with the sale of my house and buying a town house. Up until my mid seventies I did not feel old and was constantly amazed at the fact that the calendar said I was becoming an ancient. I continued to do all of my work, but physical limitations were beginning to appear. (A caveat: my hearing loss was the first limiting problem and it had occurred many years before so I have to qualify my last statement.)

Rapid changes in attitude accompanied declining energy in my 80’s. I no longer miss going to concerts, plays, and other events that were once desired. Somehow, very little seems worth the effort. I am quite content to stay home with a good book or a DVD. I fall asleep watching TV, or even a good movie. I go to bed when that happens no matter how good the show might be. At first I tried keeping a regular bed time routine then one day I thought, “Why bother?” Who cares if I go to bed at 9 pm and get up at 3 am. I am setting my own schedule and not apologizing for it. My doctor does not approve.

I also find that I do not suffer fools gladly now. I am ashamed to say that I am not as tolerant of people who believe things just because Oprah, Rush or some politician say it's so. I admire people who think for themselves. It should be the other way around, I know. I should be like the Beatitude for elders that says, “Blessed are they who never say, you’ve told that story twice today.” I am doubly ashamed because I know I am guilty of the very thing that irritates me.

I no longer care if my house is spotless. It used to be a matter of pride that my furniture was polished, the floors clean, the windows washed and all was in order. While I was never a Mrs. Felix Unger I did try to retain my image. No more. I think that might be a matter of self preservation because I am aware that I am unable to do the hard work necessary. I shove it onto my list of things that I won’t worry about. Now I am more like Phyllis Diller who joked, "I clean my house twice a year whether it needs it or not."

My mental closet is full of things that I will think about tomorrow. I have become a regular Scarlett O’Hara.

Like Mort said in his post on this subject, decisions are much harder now. I just don’t want to have to make any. I want my life to run smoothly without complications and a mix up on a bill can drive me to distraction. I hate having to deal with computer problems, being overcharged, etc. Truth to tell, I don’t handle stress well at all. There are also days when I think I need a keeper.

I have fears, but they are no longer about things that go bump in the night. I fear a stroke or a disability that will rob me of my independence. I do not fear death; I fear what may come first. Everyone wishes that they could just go to sleep and not wake up. Very few are so blessed and even though I hope I am one of those, I fear I may not be. My worst nightmare is that I might become a burden.

There is much to be said for being 83. I am contentedly happy and I am more aware of small pleasures. I appreciate each extra day that I have been given. I love being responsible for no one except me, and I enjoy the freedom that I now have. Old age brings many problems, but it is also a time of great joy.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, find out who earned the September 2008 Excellence in Storytellling Award from your votes.]

The Election and the Political Left

category_bug_politics.gif A couple of days ago, I began reading The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by retired Army colonel, Andrew Bacevich, a self-described conservative and currently professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

When I watched him being interviewed a few weeks ago by Bill Moyers, I was struck by the clear, intelligent originality of his thesis which rests on three interlocking crises: the crisis of profligacy, the political crisis and the military crisis.

This is one of those rare books, a slim one, in which every page is packed with information and thoughtful analysis as Bacevich explains how the American penchant for more at every level of society has led to these crises.

It is hardly fair to write about a book one hasn’t finished, but as my reading progresses, I keep returning to one passage that appears early in the first chapter, “The Crisis of Profligacy.” It is only a small part of Bacevich’s argument, hardly the heart of the book, but it has a profound immediacy for the coming election (my interpretation, not the author’s).

The passage is lengthy (for a blog), but I’m going to quote it anyway. Emphases are added and entirely mine:

“Who merits the privileges of citizenship? The answer prevailing in 1776 – white male freeholders – was never satisfactory. By the stroke of a Jeffersonian pen, the Declaration of Independence had rendered such a narrow definition untenable. Pressures to amend that restricted concept of citizenship emerged almost immediately.

“Until World War II, progress achieved on this front, though real, was fitful. During the years of the postwar economic boom, and especially during the 1960s, the floodgates opened. Barriers fell. The circle of freedom widened appreciably. The percentage of Americans marginalized as ‘second-class citizens’ dwindled.

“Many Americans remember the 1960s as the Freedom Decade – and with good cause. Although the modern civil rights movement predates that decade, it was then that the campaign for racial equality achieved its great breakthroughs, beginning in 1963 with the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Women and gays followed suit. The founding of the National Organization for Women in 1966 signaled the reinvigoration of the fight for women’s rights. In 1969, the Stonewall Uprising in New York City launched the gay rights movement.

Political credit for this achievement lies squarely with the Left. Abundance, sustained in no small measure by a post-war presumption of American ‘global leadership,’ made possible the expansion of freedom at home. Rebutting Soviet charges of racism and hypocrisy lent the promotion of freedom domestically a strategic dimension. Yet possibility only became reality thanks to progressive political activism.

“Pick the group: blacks, Jews, women, Asians, Hispanics, working stiffs, gays, the handicapped – in every case, the impetus for providing equal access to rights guaranteed by the Constitution originated among pinks, lefties, liberals, and bleeding-heart fellow travelers. When it came to ensuring that every American should get a fair shake, the contribution of modern conservatism has been essentially nil. Had Martin Luther King counted on William F. Buckley and the National Review to take up the fight against racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, Jim Crow would still be alive and well.”

Although there are still gains to be made by the groups Bacevich cites, today the larger inequality lies between the small number of haves who have become obscenely rich and the have-nots of the poor and middle classes of all persuasions - along with the continuing assault on freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.

The McCain/Palin campaign, down in the polls and having no plan to ease the very real economic anxieties gripping the country, has announced they will go negative in these final weeks leading up to November 4, attacking Senator Obama for his supposed associations while beating him over the head with the conservative epithet, "liberal, liberal, liberal."

I, for one, am proud to align myself with "pinks, lefties, liberals and bleeding-heart fellow travelers." It is a proud political tradition that is probably the only chance the U.S. has to dig itself out of the deep hole we are in.

ADDENDUM: For many months, we have heard that elders support Senator McCain by large margins. Apparently, no longer. Jan Adams of Happening Here sent along this graph from DKos/Research 2000 tracking poll released on 5 October.


[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Camille Koepnick Shaffer presents the tale of Bonnieux's Revenge.]

Elderblogging Friends in Person

Back in May, results of the TGB survey of elderbloggers, 50 percent said they had made friends through blogging and 27 percent said they had met at least one blogger in person. In the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with four bloggers.

Stan James of Wandering Stan (and a founder of Lijit) is, in his 30s, hardly an elderblogger, but he has become a good friend since we met in Seattle at the 2007 Gnomedex conference. This visit was his second long weekend with me here in Portland. In between rainstorms we drove up to Wiscasset for lobster rolls at Red’s Eats. That’s Stan on the far right.


It doesn’t feel like there are 30-odd years between us and from our first meeting, as sometimes happens, it was as though we had known one another for years. It was nice that he likes the name of this shop in Wiscasset as much as I do.


A couple of weeks ago, Citizen K and his wife, Premium T – who live in Seattle and keep eponymous blogs – stopped by on their way to New York City after visiting K’s father in northern Maine. Over brunch, we talked politics (of course) and books and places we’ve been and people we’ve met.


It’s such a shame we all live to far apart, but good to know that when next I travel to the west coast, there are people I look forward to seeing again.

Last week, I spent three days with Alexandra Grabbe and her husband Sven in Wellfleet on Cape Cod where Sandy runs a bed and breakfast – Chez Sven.


It’s a beautiful, 200-year-old house where Sandy cared for her mother during her last year and half which she recounted in her blog, By Bea’s Bedside, where I first became acquainted with Sandy online.

The place is surrounded by gardens…


And I even had just-picked raspberries for dessert one evening, a fresh treat I’ve not had since childhood.


Sandy was generous with her time. On a tour of the town and surrounding area, we stopped by the ocean…


And went by the local library, the hub of community activity in Wellfleet, says Sandy, which you can see from the bulletin board of upcoming events.


Sandy managed to snag free tickets for us to a new play, The George Place, at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (W.H.A.T.). All three of us decided the play needs work, but it was an enjoyable evening out.

Sandy and Sven were warm and comfortable hosts, providing me with not only a lovely mini-vacation just before winter descends, but a chance to get to know another elderblogger in person.


Plus, there was this peculiar, little shrine just down the dirt road from Chez Sven. I’ll blame it on old age that I can’t remember the story Sandy told me about its origin – maybe she’ll stop by and explain in the comments.


[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Carmi explains the importance of Yoga Schmoga.]

Sunday Election Issues: 5 October 2008

category_bug_politics.gif This Sunday post is a collection of links to elderblog stories about the issues that are important to understand in making our choices on who to vote for in the November election. You can read the original post announcing this feature here.

Like yesterday, I’m behind due to my mini-vacation last week and I forgot to remind readers while I was gone to send in election issue links. Here are a few items worth knowing.

The Future of Our Country
From Sylvia Kirkwood of The View From Over the Hill: When is Enough, Enough?

An Unexpurgated McCain Bio
From Elaine Frankonis of Kalilily Time: Rolling Stone Outs McCain

Palin’s Take of the Vice President's Role
From The New York Times: Dick Cheney, Role Model

Dangerous Precedent
According to a story in the Army Times, beginning 1 October, an active duty brigade was deployed on U.S. soil for, among other reasons,

help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack...”

This appears to be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Here’s the Army Times story and a follow-up from ICH.

Not All Elders Lean Toward McCain
From Elders For Obama: Overcoming Fear and Prejudice video [4:00 minutes]

Elders For Obama website and more EFO video here.

[If you haven't done so yet, please stop by The Elder Storytelling Place and vote in the September 2008 Excellence in Storytelling Award. You'll find the ballot in the right sidebar. Voting remains open until midnight on Tuesday, 7 October.]

This Week in Elder News: 4 October 2008

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

I was away this past week and took a break from my usual reading around the web, so there is no elder news this week except for two items.

Ninety-year-old Addie Polk of Akron, Ohio, shot herself this week as sheriff's deputies tried to evict her from her home. She is recovering in hospital, but the financial crisis is beginning to sound like the 1930s, moreso with the new unemployment figures yesterday reported to be at a five-year high. Read more here.

Claudia of Fried Okra Productions sent this video of 99-year-old Lillian, who has seen 17 presidential administrations in her lifetime, explaining why she is supporting Senator Barack Obama [5:39 minutes]

The Oldest Old Project: Mort Reichek

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am out of town for several days this week. In my absence, are stories from five elders and/or bloggers who have contributed to what I am calling The Oldest Old Project. They had to be at least 80 to participate and I asked how their lives had changed in the 20 or more years since they were 60. Today, Mort Reichek, who blogs at Octogenarian]

Many years ago, The New Yorker magazine published a cartoon showing a man reading a page in a newspaper headlined “Obituaries.” Beneath the main headline were sub-heads reading “Same age as mine,” “Older than me,” and “Younger than me.” The man had a studious expression on his face as he obviously compared himself to the three categories in which the deceased fitted.

During my 60s and 70s, I also carefully read The New York Times obits, making the same comparisons between myself and the deceased. I was saddened about those my age and younger - senior citizens the gerontologists regard as the "young old." I was comforted, however, to learn about those who had survived to more advanced years and had become "old old."

Now that I am about to turn 84 in November, I read the obits and feel fortunate that I have lived long enough to have qualified for "old old" status. And I recognize that my views and behavior are becoming markedly different from the "young old."

I'm not proud of it, but I’ve become less tolerant. I scorn much of the contemporary art scene - music, the theater, films - finding the works so inferior to what I enjoyed as a younger man.

I’ve become more indecisive about the most trivial matters. I often cannot make up my mind about what shirt to wear after I awaken each day. I struggle as I decide what to do first. Should I go shopping or stay home and read or take a walk? What's more important, to see a doctor about some new ache and pain or to take my car for maintenance at the service station?

These are, for me, mind-boggling decisions that have to be made. But at least I'm spared from solving the national fiscal crisis.

I’ve lost my confidence in the medical profession, although I’ve had successful surgery to replace my aortic heart valve and my right hip. But I’m reluctant to call a doctor for every ache and pain. I’m dubious about the doctors’ ability to help someone my age and fear that I’ll be ordered to have an uncomfortable examination and procedure that really won't help me.

I now seem to regard physical comfort as the most important element in my life, a fact that really distresses me. I’ve always had an active social life, eager to go to concerts, the theater, art shows and the like. Since having open-heart surgery about six years ago, however, I become more of a home-body because I frequently feel fatigued even though I've not engaged in any strenuous activity.

I have become less enthusiastic about going out and driving long distances, particularly at night, much to the distress of my wife. But I have not become a social recluse. I still enjoy socializing with neighbors and friends (as long as they don't live too far away).

As an old old man, I am most disturbed that I find myself questioning whether I really had the talent to do what I did as a journalist for 40 years. I study the hundreds of clippings of articles that I wrote decades ago and cannot believe that I actually produced the stuff. Was I faking it, I ask myself. I feel relieved that I am no longer called upon to handle the tough, professional demands that I once faced.

I observe what some journalists are now being called to do - covering the war, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan under fire - and I wonder whether I would have been able to handle such assignments.

The issue is particularly relevant to me because I covered the Pentagon as a reporter in the 1950s and early 1960s during the non-shooting cold war years, and there was no call for me to become a war correspondent. (My wartime experiences were as an 18-21 year old soldier in India during World War II.)

For 23 years, I have lived in a community restricted to residents who are at least 55; younger spouses, however, are allowed. I was 61 and still working when I moved in. (I retired nearly three years later.) For years I played tennis, traveled with my wife, and took advantage of all the leisure activities available for the residents.

I am now too weary to do much of that. I enviously look upon the younger residents as they enjoy so many of those activities in which I no longer participate. And that's where the distinction between the just "old" people and the "old old" becomes dramatically evident.

I see a social schism developing between the two groups of elderly neighbors. The community has a clubhouse in which dances are held and professional entertainers perform. The cultural tastes differ markedly between the two generations living in what has been advertised as “an active adult” community. There’s a generational gap between the active “young old” and the far less active “old old.”

I am saddened as I see a steady stream of friends and acquaintances pass away. I am gratified, however, that I am still around to enjoy the company of my wife and children and that I still have a passionate interest in what’s going on in the world around me.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Tom Speaks explains how he finally learned the name of Daniel.]

The Oldest Old Project: Naomi Royer

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am out of town for several days this week. In my absence, are stories from five elders and/or bloggers who have contributed to what I am calling The Oldest Old Project. They had to be at least 80 to participate and I asked how their lives had changed in the 20 or more years since they were 60. Today, Naomi Royer, with an assist from her daughter, Nana, who has kept a family blog for the past ten years.]

Changes between 60 and 87? Too gradual, too subtle to truly enumerate. My entire life has been a quiet, level journey - no peaks, no valleys and I am, have been, very content that it was so. That is, at any rate, how it appears to me no. My daughter frequently brings up events that are completely lost to me. Either my memory is truly lapsing, or hers is getting creative!

I taught school for a few years before I married at 22. Then I was occupied in raising four children, the family moving frequently in the U.S. because of my husband’s work and later, in foreign areas, when our youngest child was still in high school and left in the charge of his older brother.

Following my “mothering career,” I never returned to the work world, not having had any wish to do so, and it not being financially necessary.

I have (had) a minor gift in the arts, which I used mainly in painting portraits of the family. My bigger interest was always the piano in which, whatever skill I developed, developed on my own, with minimal basic instruction. It has always been tremendous therapy for me.

Now, even that interest has been muted by an increasing weariness - physical, and what? Spiritual? I was widowed four-and-a-half years ago and live comfortably alone with Sara, the cat. Not really alone because of the tremendous support I get from my daughter, my firstborn (and her husband too), who lives a scant ten minute walk from me.

Our roles have gradually reversed. She is now not only my daughter, but my mother too! I have three fine sons, but they are geographically distant. Having always been an introverted sort, I am content to live alone. Relaxed in my recliner and reading (none of it very intellectual) is now my main occupation. My recliner faces the TV, which is turned on less and less.

My biggest hope now? An easy exit from this world, and that it will come while I’m still me. I don’t want to make history by the length of my lifetime!

Daughter Nana at 64 and Naomi at 87:


[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran tells of her surprise when she learned of My New Nephew.]

The Oldest Old Project: Millie Garfield

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am out of town for several days this week. In my absence, are stories from five elders and/or bloggers who have contributed to what I am calling The Oldest Old Project. They had to be at least 80 to participate and I asked how their lives had changed in the 20 or more years since they were 60. Today, Millie Garfield, who blogs at My Mom’s Blog.]

In January 2007, I wrote a post titled, My Trip From 65 to 81. I'm 83 now and have reread what my thoughts were then and where I'm coming from today.

I'm still the same confident and independent person I was then. Being independent is even more important to me now. The few times that I've needed help, it was there for me but I realize that the more help I would get, the more dependent I would become. It's nice for someone else to drive you where you want to go, do your shopping for you and make your meals, BUT I would lose my independence. Better to work a little harder and be able to do for yourself.

Years ago when someone invited me to join them in some activity, I would be quick to accept. Now I seem to be more selective about who and how I spend my time. I'd rather stay home than be doing something that gives me no satisfaction. I thought we mellow with age and are not as critical of others but I have become more aware of how and who I spend my time with.

Recently I was with a group of ladies and the subject of age came up. One of the women asked me, "How come you put your age on your blog?”

I was surprised at the question! My answer was, “I'm comfortable and proud of my age." When I was in my late 20's and not married I would not advertise my age because at that time girls were getting married in their early 20s and I was considered "an old maid."

One lady said she wished she was 16 again, another said she's like to be 50 again. Forget that, I wouldn't want to go through all that again.

There is a lot to say about how health effects a person’s life. When I made the move from my home to a condo, I was 71. Looking back at it now, that was a good time to make the move. I could adjust to my new surroundings and start a whole new life.

For a while, I had been considering moving to a retirement community; as a matter of fact I have been on a wait list for the past year. As time goes, by my thoughts have changed. It would be too much for me to deal with now - new surroundings, new people and new adjustments.

Friendships are affected by health too. One friend is now in an assisted living facility - we talk on the phone. Another friend has many limitations - we talk on the phone. And so it goes.

I eat right, take my medications but the one thing I don't do is exercise - that has always been my downfall, BUT hopefully that will change: I just signed up for an exercise program at the local community center. I'm always interested in trying something new, so this should give me a new challenge.

The days, weeks, months and years fly by so fast.

When I first started taking medication, I had this small pill box. Then I needed a larger pill box. Before I turned around, I had to refill the pill box so often I bought another one - filled two weeks of pills at one time. Now I am going to buy a third pill box - fill three weeks of pills at one time!!

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Georgie Bright Kunkel writes about her remarkable cousin in Ninety-Seven and Counting.]