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Confessions of a Late-Age Coward


”When I was three years old during World War II, Mom sent me to nursery school. She walked me the four blocks down the hill from our house where she handed me over to the bus driver. He let me off at the school where the teacher waited.

“In the afternoon, the process was repeated in reverse except that instead of meeting the bus at the bottom of our hill, Mom watched for me from the living room window...

“There was no reason for her not to meet the bus in the afternoon, she said, except that 'there are no certainties in life.' Dad, who was fighting in The Philippines and New Guinea, might not survive the War.

“And because anything could happen to her too, at any time, she said, it was important to teach me as much independence as possible as young as possible.”

That's from a series I wrote for this blog in 2004 about caring for my mother during the months of her final illness. Although do not know if it is true that such lessons she devised throughout my childhood gave me a strong dose of courage in addition to the independence she sought for me, I have always believed it to be so.

Oh, I would never jump from an airplane or climb K2 or drive a racing car – I'm not physically brave. But I have taken pride in facing the hard parts of life straight on with as little flinching as I could muster and as to the pain involved – well, as we said a lot in the sixties, no one ever promised a rose garden.

I have never believed that getting from cradle to grave would or could be a cakewalk. Something is always going wrong - some of it catastrophically - and even when I've been fearful of possible outcomes, I have always faced the misfortunes straight on, never shirked hard decisions.

This grit or pluck (or foolish independence) has gotten me through innumerable difficulties – untimely deaths of loved ones, other kinds of emotional blows, long-term unemployment, a couple of illnesses of no known cause or cure, broken hearts, etc. and that - as anyone who has made it to old age knows – is just for starters.

I may privately fuss and wail for a time but in the end, I refused the veterinarian's offer to put down the terminally sick cat away from my view. Of course, I held him and cooed to him through tears as he quietly went limp in my arms. I could not have made a different choice.

The most excruciating pain involves watching the pain of others but even in those circumstances, I have stood up to whatever my involvement needs to be. It is what I have always done, as much a part of my being as food and water.

Until the past few years.

Nothing has changed on a personal level but now I run, silently screaming, from third-party suffering. Things like this UNICEF public service announcement that for months has repeated many times a day on many TV channels. It cannot be escaped. (I watched only the first few seconds to prep the video for posting. I cannot bear any longer than that.)

I now turn off the television set or change the channel the moment that appears. Also, this one that is sometimes broadcast in tandem with the UNICEF video:

I don't even need it to be photographs. When I read such headlines as these - Horses Fall Victim to Hard Times and Dry Times on the Range and Pig Farmers Face Pressure on Size of Sties – I am paralyzed as images of dead horses and pigs crammed into pens with no room to move flash into my mind.

As quickly as possible, I turn the page or click to another news story.

And it's not just people and animals. Anything about environmental degradation, global warming and climate change sends me straight for the pillow – to put over my head. I didn't read any further than these headlines. I cannot make myself do it:

Ocean Acidification Emerges as New Climate Threat

Great Barrier Reef Loses More Than Half its Coral Cover

Arctic Sea Ice Levels Hit Record Low, Scientists Say We're 'Running Out Of Time'

I've linked those unnerving headlines for those of you who are braver than I am. I always turn away from webpages with photos of polar bears on tiny ice floes. I cannot stand any of this. If I paid attention, I would never stop weeping.

As I said above, I wasn't always like this. Confronted with calamity - personal, private or global - I have always been strong, eager to understand and self-confident in my ability to do my best to help when I can and pass the word on to others who might have more resources than I.

Now, I've become a coward. If I cannot look at the photos, will not read the news stories, won't listen to the appeals for starving children and abused animals, how can I possibly be part of any solution.

I keep wondering what happened. Is my cowardice an artefact of old age; the passage of time seems to be the only relevant change.

Does our courage wane with our physical strength? Do we necessarily become wimps when we get old? I don't know.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: Worried to Death

Blog Housekeeping – Email Moving Day

blogging bug image Well, yes, for the third damned day in a row, I'm doing a post about the back-end mechanics of blogging. Don't blame me; it's all Google's fault.

In 2007, they bought FeedBurner, a feed management service which had been around since 2004. With Google's squid-like reach on the internet, it quickly became the most popular service of its kind. Like almost everyone with a blog, I succumbed.

Subscriptions to my blog hummed along for several years until a month ago, when I read rumors that Google is shutting down Feedburner. Well, not quite. As my favorite tech guru, Webteacher Virginia DeBolt, explained:

”Feedburner’s API will be deprecated. That API is what allows you to interact with Feedburner stats and other info.”

Given past experience with companies Google has bought and then shut down, I don't have much hope that Feedburner will remain viable over time, particularly since Google has – wait for it: a new Google solution for feeds.

Of course, they do.

Google has handled this quasi-shutdown in a really shitty fashion: without an announcement directly to its customers nor in any online venue where non-techie types (LIKE MOST OF FEEDBURNER'S USERS!!) would find it.

It was mere accident that I saw a small reference to the change a few weeks ago buried in some newsletter I rarely read.

Until further notice, subscribers to TGB and The Elder Storytelling Place who use the RSS feed will see no change and need do nothing.

Email subscriptions, however, will be migrated today.

Today is moving day for Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place subscribers.

Sometime after this post is emailed to subscribers – which usually happens at about 8AM Pacific time – I will migrate all subscription email addresses from Feedburner to the new service, FeedBlitz.

If everything goes correctly, you will receive tomorrow's – that is, Thursday's – mailing without any glitches. But, well, you know Murphy's Law as well as I do. I have every reason to believe the move will be fine, but until I know that for certain...

As a reminder and for those who missed it, I'm going to repeat what I told you yesterday about the migration:

  1. Please add to your address book or email whitelist today so that the new blog delivery won't end up in your junk/spam folder
  2. Watch for a message from FeedBlitz advising you that the change has taken place
  3. If Time Goes By stops arriving at your inbox, let me know via email (use the "contact" link in the upper left corner of any page) and I'll figure it out.

There are about 85 TGB subscribers and a dozen or so ESP subscribers who are already subscribed via FeedBlitz. Nothing will change for you.

Sometime not too far in the future, I will migrate RSS feed subscribers but that is more difficult so I want to give myself some time to work up the nerve, energy and determination. My old teeth can take only so much clenching.

I am so sorry to burden you all with this but if things go screwy, I want to you know what has happened and that I am here to help. Plus, it would break my heart to lose any of you, dear readers.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ross Middleton: Knowing the Cosmos

Medicare Mini-Survey

IMPORTANT - EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: This is for EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS only, not rss. Following on Monday's note about subscription changes to TGB, on Wednesday (after morning blog delivery) I will migrate email addresses from Feedburner to FeedBlitz. If everything goes right, from Thursday on you should receive each day's post as you always have.

Here are three things you need to know:

  1. Add to your address book or email whitelist today so that the new blog delivery won't end up in your junk/spam folder
  2. Watch for a message from FeedBlitz advising you that the change has taken place
  3. If, in the next few days, you stop receiving Time Goes By, let me know via email ("contact" link in the upper left corner of any page) and I'll figure it out.

There are about 85 of you who are already subscribed via FeedBlitz. Nothing will change for you. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

category_bug_journal2.gif Next Monday, 15 October, begins the annual Medicare enrollment period during which those who are eligible may make changes to their health and prescription drug coverage for the year 2013. The enrollment period continues until Friday, 7 December.

Nine weeks would seem like a long time to get a tedious and sometimes confusing job done. But last year, so many people put off the task until the last week that the federal government had to extend the deadline by three days.

So, next Monday's post here will be stuffed with facts and information you can use to help make the decisions before the deadline whether you are enrolling for the first time or already a beneficiary perhaps looking to change plans.

Personally, I don't believe it's nice to subject elders (or anyone) to the huge number of choices each year that cannot easily be compared. Single payer/universal coverage would, of course, fix that problem.

But, given what passes for Congress these days, I doubt that will happen in our lifetime so we're stuck with this odious annual ritual. I'll try to make it as easy as possible for you and point you to places where you can get additional help.

Meanwhile, today, I'd like to do a little survey. It's not scientific. It will have no meaning in terms of numbers and percentages. It doesn't even lend itself to being counted.

But it will help me for next week's story and might interest you. Just two questions for you to answer in the comments below.

ATTENTION SUBSCRIBERS: You cannot answer by clicking “Reply.” Instead:

  1. Click the title of this story
  2. It will open in your browser
  3. Scroll down to the bottom of the story
  4. Click the word, “Comments”
  5. A new page will load with other people's comments and a form below them for yours
  6. Write your comment, fill in your name and URL (if you have one) and your email address (it is not published or sold)
  7. Click “Post” and your comment will appear at the bottom of the list
Here are the questions:

1. What single thing do you most want to know about the Medicare sign-up? Understand that I cannot answer questions about specific personal complexities. I'm seeking to find out what generally would help you get through this process as easily as possible.

2. What do you think of Medicare? Given that single payer is not an option at this time in American history, do you like Medicare? Does it work for you? What don't you like? What would make it better for you?

The first question will help form next week's post. The second is just curiosity on my part.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Friendship

Do You Use Feedburner for Your Blog's Subscriptions?

blogging bug image Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place do and according to Google, which owns Feedburner, it will soon shut down. Well, not quite shut down; here's how our old tech guru friend, Web Teacher Virginia DeBolt, explains it:

”On October 20, Feedburner will end its run. Or, to put it in Google terms, Feedburner's API will be deprecated. That API is what allows you to interact with Feedburner stats and other info.”

If you use Feedburner for your blog's subscription service, do visit Virginia's post about this as she has good explanations for alternatives to Feedburner – paid and free.

Long before I began using Feedburner, I used Feedblitz for subscriptions to this blog and to The Elder Storytelling Place. In fact, some subscribers still receive these two blogs via Feedblitz.

With a great deal of consideration and hand-wringing after first hearing about Feedburner's demise a few weeks ago, I have decided to stay with Feedblitz. “Stay” is a misnomer because making it my subscription service involves migrating all the rss and email subscriptions from Google's Feedburner to Feedblitz and that's not simple.

Feedblitz, seizing the opportunity, has made a big deal about how easy the transition is even providing a 30-odd page pdf manual (30 pages!). But it's not as clear as I would have written it leaving me with many puzzling steps including how to follow the instructions if one already has an account and is not starting anew.

But that's not your problem. Since I sent Feedblitz my email queries over the weekend, I assume they'll get to answering me today and perhaps I can move forward with the migration then.

Meanwhile, I have made a few small changes you may or may not notice on TGB and at The Elder Storytelling Place.

  • The email subscription box in the upper right corner now goes to Feedblitz. This should not affect anyone except new subscribers.

  • For readers already subscribed via Feedblitz, you will now receive email with full posts rather than just the headline and a tease.

  • The “sender” line in your email inbox should now have my name, Ronni Bennett.

  • I've changed the distribution time to more closely conform with the time the story is posted online – 5:30AM Pacific time.

In the coming days, if there is anything you need to know to continue receiving your subscriptions via email and rss, I'll let you know here.

Good god, this is tedious. As a reward for those of you who have made it this far, here's an interesting new study from Hiroshima University as reported in London's The Independent:

”Seeing pictures of cute animals may boost workers' performance in jobs that require concentration, a team at Hiroshima University has shown.

“The study, which involved 130 college students, showed that looking at pictures of baby animals could improve your concentration by a tenth.

“Researchers also found that people who looked at pictures of baby animals performed better than those who looked at adult animals.”

Now we all have a legitimate reason to spent time watching those cute baby animal videos. Here's one to get you started – yes, that's Bing Crosby singing.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Loved to Death


PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

There are many songs about letters, too many to consider in any meaningful way. Country music, especially, is replete with them. I made it easy on myself and only consider those songs with letter (or letters) in the title (well, not entirely – Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, mentioned one I’d forgotten about).

To be even more restrictive I considered only those I have transferred to my computer as it's much easier to search than pulling out every CD and seeing if there's a letter song on it. Thus, I'm restricting myself to less than a third of my collection.

It didn't matter as I found far more than I could ever use. So, here are some of them.

EDDIE HINTON was the best white male soul singer ever. Better than Delbert McClinton, better than Delaney Bramlett and Joe Cocker. Better than all the rest.

Eddie Hinton

Apart from the few albums he recorded, Eddie was a session musician mainly at Stax where he also wrote some songs with Otis Redding and others. He was a fine guitarist: that was his main gig, but he played the piano well too.

As I mentioned, he was a great soul singer as well. But he was also, unfortunately, a bit too fond of the booze and drugs. This is Letters from Mississippi.

♫ Eddie Hinton - Letters from Mississippi

JO-EL SONNIER does a marvelous cover of Richard Thompson’s Tear Stained Letter.

Jo-El Sonnier

Richard’s version is great too, but rather long, so I decided to go with Jo-El. Jo-El is a Cajun, country, R&B, rock & roll and almost anything else, performer.

He started out doing Cajun gigs and later switched to country when Merle Haggard sort him out to be his opening act. He caught the eye and ear of others and he was soon playing with the likes of Albert Lee and Garth Hudson. My goodness me, it doesn’t get better than that. Here he is with Richard’s song.

♫ Jo-El Sonnier - Tear Stained Letter

An unlikely pairing was ROBERT PLANT and ALISON KRAUSS, but it seemed to work.

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant

Looking at that picture, there’s hope for me yet. Although, it probably helps to be an ageing rock star rather than an ageing me.

Robert was, of course, the lead singer for Led Zeppelin, a band that started the craze for extreme volume and lead singers singing in an excessively high register. Only dogs could hear some of them and they sensibly ran for their lives, although getting out of range of the music really required a marathon.

Alison is a great bluegrass singer and player. As I said, it shouldn’t have worked but it did. I guess musicianship won out in the end. Their song is Please Read the Letter.

♫ Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Please Read the Letter

THE BOX TOPS were a group from Memphis who are usually tossed into the blue-eyed soul category.

The Box Tops

As with most rock and pop groups, they had many different names and members, the most long-lived before they became The Box Tops is The Devilles, but that’s neither here nor there.

They were blessed with a sensational lead vocalist in Alex Chiltern and had the good fortune to have Dan Penn produce the record, The Letter. This went multiple-gold and has become a staple of soul singers and garage bands ever since.

♫ The Box Tops - The Letter

PAT BOONE was a really good singer. I suppose he still is. It’s unfortunate that he started his career doing really inferior covers of Little Richard and Fats Domino songs.

Pat Boone

When he performed his own music, he was worth a listen. This is one I know well because my sister bought the single way back when we were kids. As we had few records then, the ones we had went into high rotation.

You all know this one, Love Letters in the Sand. I know it too well.

♫ Pat Boone - Love Letters in the Sand

One of my guilty secrets is that I really like the STATLER BROTHERS.

The Statler Brothers

They perform harmony as well as anyone around which in itself makes them worth listening to. They started their career backing Johnny Cash and they can be heard on many of his records.

Later, when they went out as a separate act, they paid tribute to Johnny in at least one of their songs. This isn’t it. This is A Letter from Shirley Miller.

♫ The Statler Brothers - A Letter From Shirley Miller

SUSAN TEDESCHI trained as a musician at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She then went out and played around the clubs to learn how to play the blues for real.

Susan Tedeschi

Later she toured with, and opened for, the Allman Brothers. It was there she met Derek Trucks who was playing guitar for that band. Derek is the nephew of Butch Trucks, one of the original drummers for the Allmans (they had two).

Susan and Derek got along famously and they started touring together with their respective bands. After a while, they decided to amalgamate these and form a single group, the Tedeschi Trucks Band (a pretty fine outfit indeed).

That’s not all they amalgamated, as they married and have a couple of kids. Susan’s song is from back when she was still a solo (well with a band) performer. There are some elements of Bonnie Raitt in her singing and playing, but that’s not something I’d object to. Here’s Susan with Gonna Write Him a Letter.

♫ Susan Tedeschi - Gonna Write Him a Letter

This is the song the A.M. said should be present. It’s easily the worst song by two of the finest musicians of the last however many years. They are STEVE GOODMAN and EMMYLOU HARRIS.

I’m not casting aspersions on the A.M. for her selection; I’d have included it initially had I thought of it at the time.

Steve Goodman and Emmylou Harris

How they could come up this with song is a mystery to me. Okay, Steve wrote it but I’m surprised Emmy agreed to sing on it. I imagine that Steve was just having a lend of us (Oz colloquialism, don’t worry about it) and Emmy went along with the joke. It doesn’t matter, it fits well with the rest of the songs today, well some of them.

Alas, Steve is no longer with us so he can’t argue with my judgment of this song. I’m looking forward to a comment from Emmy, though. This is Fourteen Days.

♫ Steve Goodman and Emmylou Harris - Fourteen Days

I first saw BOZ SCAGGS in a small club in Berkeley or San Francisco in 1970. I’ve forgotten which side of the bay it was. This was around the time of his first album, not too long after he’d left the Steve Miller Band.

Boz Scaggs

That first album of his is on the short list of all-time best first albums - it’s excellent. It’s a mixture of blue-eyed soul, country and blues. It also has Duane Allman and Eddie Hinton playing on it too.

I know that later albums sold a whole lot more and made him into a star but that first one beats them all. From it we have Another Day (Another Letter).

♫ Boz Scaggs - Another Day (Another Letter)

I’m continuing in my mission to turn you all on to IRIS DeMENT.

Iris Dement

This may take some time; it took me more than six months and I had her CDs to play any time I wanted. If I only play a track every few months for you all, it may take years, but I’m persistent, although I must admit that I still haven’t succeeded with the A.M. Yet.

You could all go out and buy her CDs; there are only three of them (well, four, but you can ignore “Lifeline”). This is far from her best song but it’s her only letter song, Letter to Mom.

♫ Iris DeMent - Letter to Mom

The obvious song would have been I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, but none of the versions I have grabbed me so it’s not in today. I’ve already included Take a Letter, Maria in another column otherwise it would have been included.


This invocation at a 2009 convention from Mary Maxwell has been around for awhile but it's still funny as Darlene Costner reminded me this week.

There is more from Mary Maxwell here.

In Madison, Wisconsin. Wow.


Real estate is too dear in Manhattan for there to be suburban size supermarkets. But there is one on the upper west side and Fairway has become beloved there although this might give people pause at olive counter:

The annual MacArthur Awards – sometimes known as the genius awards – were announced this week. One of the winners is geriatrician Eric Coleman, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He developed a program that

”...trains nurses and social workers to help patients and their caregivers manage issues like medication use and organizing appointments,” explained The New York Times.

“The impetus behind starting the program was the constant stream of stories about patients discharged from hospitals only to be readmitted in short order.

“Hundreds of hospitals and community agencies across the country and abroad have adopted the intervention, which has been shown to reduce the likelihood of readmission by 20 to 50 percent.”

Coleman's program is a crucial advancement in the medical safety of elders and in helping reduce the costs of Medicare. You can find out more about Coleman and the MacArthur Foundation Awards here.

A lot of Canadians read Time Goes By and - shame on me - I hardly ever pay attention to their country sitting there right above the U.S.

For example, Monday is Canada's Thanksgiving Day and I would not have thought to mention that if doctafil, who lives in Montreal and blogs at Jive Chalkin', had not sent this video which is packed with information I never knew about Canada.

Thank you, Canada, and Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Last month, a new friend here in Oregon, Ken Pyburn, sent me a copy of a column in a recent issue of Utne Reader written by the magazine's founder, Eric Utne. Why, you might ask? Because Utne says the nicest things about moi:

”One of the best sources of on-going coverage of all things age-related, including this invented generational war, is the daily blog Time Goes By, by Ronnie Bennett.”

Okay, he spelled my name wrong, but what the hell – it's a treat to be mentioned in such a prestigious magazine. Utne is referring to this blog post in which I took on The New York Times's David Leonhart. You can read Utne's entire column here.

The vice presidential debate comes up next week so why not take a little poke at Paul Ryan – all in fun. If you miss some of the words, lyrics are here. (Not quite safe for work and small children.)

I've been re-reading Survival at Auschwitz, Primo Levi's wrenching memoir of his time there so I was riveted when I ran across a story last week about Israeli children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who have branded themselves with the same numbers with which their relatives were tattooed by the Nazis.

Tattoo ”When Eli Sagir, who is now 21, showed her grandfather, Yosef Diamant, the new tattoo on her left forearm four years ago, he bent his head to kiss it.” (Photo credit: Uriel Sinai for The New York Times)

”All my generation knows nothing about the Holocaust,” said Ms. Sagir. "You talk with people and they think it’s like the Exodus from Egypt, ancient history. I decided to do it to remind my generation: I want to tell them my grandfather’s story and the Holocaust story.”

The entire Times article is here. There is also a slide show including short audio discussions with those who have adopted the tattoos.

Or, in Spanish, Arrugas, the name of a full-length animated movie about the friendship of two old men, one of them in the early states of Alzheimer's disease, who live in a retirement home.

The film is based on a series of comic books in Spain and was introduced at a European film festival in 2011. I have scoured the internet for it – to buy or rent - and can find nothing. Here is a news report with some clips that was done about the movie when it was screened at the festival.

My old friend Jim Stone who lives in the wilds of Wyoming sent along this video taken on the U-Bahn in Germany. He noted in his email that the men try to hang on longer without laughing than the women do.

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

Elders and the Presidential Debate

category_bug_politics.gif Yes, President Barack Obama was off his game in Wednesday evening's debate appearing, at various times, tired, bored and listless. And whoever advised Obama not to pound Mitt Romney with his 47 percent speech every time the Republican nominee said “middle class” should be fired.

I was aghast that there was not a single mention of the Republican war on women, abortion and contraception.

Nor was there a question on voter suppression or DOMA. All of these easily fit into two of the six debate topics Lehrer selected – the role of government and governing.

But that doesn't mean there was a lack of substance in the debate. In one case, Romney repeated that he would repeal Obamacare while keeping some of the good parts and then lied when he said his plan would protect those with pre-existing conditions from losing coverage.

After the debate one of Romney's advisers was forced to admit that people with pre-existing medical conditions would likely be unable to purchase insurance. But how many people who watched the debate ever heard that?

There are many other instances of Romney's prevarication (see 27 Myths in 38 Minutes) but we don't need to go into the long list here. Reverend Al Sharpton captured the truth right after the debate on MSNBC:

“Mitt Romney gave a good testimony,” said the Rev, “but will be indicted for perjury because he’s lying.”

Of high concern to this blog are Social Security and Medicare. On the latter, Romney was, as he always is, misleading, deceptive and – well, false.

He repeatedly said Obama had slashed $716 billion from Medicare which is not true and he tried to convince viewers that his proposed voucher system would not leave elders unable to afford coverage.

The president's rebuttal was tepid and I do not think anyone not already familiar with the candidates' positions gained any clarity.

Keep this in mind: if Mitt Romney is elected president, he will do everything in his power to end Medicare.

Do. Not. Forget. That.

One quite simple statement of Romney's in relation to Medicare leapt out at me:

“My experience is the private sector typically is able to provide a better product at a lower cost.”

I have never believed that Romney is as smart as everyone insists. He regularly says dumb things in his stump speeches and on this he is completely – willfully? - wrong.

There is no doubt that the private sector provides better potato chips and blue jeans at lower cost than the government could, but healthcare is not nor can it be treated as a typical consumer product. Why doesn't Romney know this?

Whatever the Heritage Foundation says, there are mountains of data showing that government administration costs of Medicare/Medicaid are magnitudes lower than private costs. Paul Krugman has a good explanation of this.

Social Security came up early in the debate and as has happened regularly in the campaign, the president was a disappointment on the subject:

”Social Security is structurally sound,” he said. “It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it is - the basic structure is sound.

“...when it comes to Social Security, as I said, you don’t need a major structural change in order to make sure that Social Security is there for the future.”

The president is right about the second half of that statement, but the first leaves a lot of questions about how he would accomplish the tweaks. The Reagan/O'Neill compromise of 1983 increased the age of full eligibility from 65 to 67 by 2027, increased the payroll deduction and make some other small changes.

What the president did not say on Wednesday evening and has not said elsewhere is what kind of tweaks he is thinking of. Are they the disaster for elders contained in Simpson-Bowles or something else?

On one small point, Obama revealed that he may be quite teachable. Look at this answer in response to moderator Jim Lehrer's reference to Social Security as an entitlement:

”And that’s the perspective I bring when I think about what’s called entitlements,” said the president. “You know, the name itself implies some sense of dependency on the part of these folks. These are folks who’ve worked hard, like my grandmother. And there are millions of people out there who are counting on this...”

Okay, as during the rest of evening, Obama wasn't all that articulate about it, but you can tell what he meant. What is encouraging is that after four years of throwing around the term “entitlement,” someone has pointed out how demeaning that is to elders who have paid into the program all their working lives and he obviously agrees.

I'm counting on that teachability – if he is re-elected – in listening to others about choosing the best, most fair Social Security tweaks.

For his part, Romney can't wait to get his – um, mitts – on the money in both programs. Listen:

”Well, Jim, our seniors depend on these programs. And I know any time we talk about entitlements, people become concerned that something’s going to happen that’s going to change their life for the worst, and the answer is, neither the president nor I are proposing any changes for any current retirees or near retirees, either to Social Security or Medicare. So if you’re 60 or around 60 or older, you don’t need to listen any further.

“But for younger people, we need to talk about what changes are going to be occurring...I’ve got proposals to make sure Medicare and Social Security are there for them without any question.”

How distasteful is this statement? Let me count the ways:

Romney uses the condescending “our seniors” every time these issues come up as though we are his little pets he'll look out for and he knows best. Infuriating.

And there he goes again about current retirees won't face any changes to Social Security and Medicare as if we don't care about the nation's children, grandchildren and generations beyond. Do you think he's projecting – that he lives by his 47 percent credo, “I've got mine and screw you,” so he believes everyone does?

Romney has said he supports "voluntary" private Social Security accounts. To anyone who believes that's an intelligent idea, all I have to say is: 2008.

There is no story at The Elder Storytelling Place today.

Loneliness and Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif It has been conventional wisdom for a long time that loneliness in elders leads to decline in health and, possibly, early death. In June, a widely-reported, six-year study of 1600 people age 60 and older from the University of California at San Francisco seems to confirm that. According to SFGate

”...people who reported being lonely were more likely to suffer a decline in health or die over a six-year period than those who were content with their social lives.”

I can't read the full study because it requires a subscription to the Archives of Internal Medicine, so I am relying on the media who appear to have done a reasonable job with the gist of the study.

According to Judith Graham, reporting in The New York Times, the researchers, attempting to quantify the feeling of loneliness, found that

”About 13 percent of older adults said they were often lonely, while 30 percent said loneliness was sometimes an issue,” writes Ms. Graham (Judith is an online acquaintance of mine.)

“What did change over the six-year period was the health status of elderly men and women who felt isolated and unhappy. By 2008, 24.8 percent of seniors in this group reported declines in their ability to perform the so-called activities of daily living — to bathe, dress, eat, toilet and get up from a chair or a bed on their own.

“Among those free of loneliness, only 12.5 percent reported such declines.

“Lonely older adults also were 45 percent more likely to die than seniors who felt meaningfully connected with others, even after results were adjusted for factors like depression, socioeconomic status and existing health conditions.”

Reading this, I was reminded of the famous Terman study which seems to contradict this latest research.

The Terman longevity project is the most extensive study of long life ever conducted. Beginning in 1920, it followed 1500 Californians through more than 80 years with the goal to assess what behavior, personality traits, experience, relationships and more contribute to long, healthy life.

Results were published last year in a fascinating book, The Longevity Project that debunked some long-held beliefs as myths. Among them: married people live longer, happy thoughts reduce stress and extend life, and worrying is bad for your health. All wrong according to the Terman study.

Regarding loneliness, the Terman researchers reported that in terms of longevity,

“Overall, sociability was a wash. It didn't help or harm one's expected life span. The finding is an excellent reminder that supposed health benefits are often not what they first appear to be.”

And although “social ties emerged as critically important, they can cut two ways”:

”...loneliness and the absence of friends can be stressful and unhealthy unless you are seeking solitude, calm and self-reflection.”

I have no doubt that the health of some lonely, isolated elders suffers and some may die earlier than they might have otherwise. Over the years, we have often discussed how this happens.

We lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace when we retire. Adult children may move far away as do old friends and neighbors sometimes. They, and spouses, also die.

And as we get older, we don't get out and about as easily or often as we once did and that isn't always related to reduced mobility. An old friend in his seventies has mentioned several times - half in jest but there is truth here too - that when he gets an invitation, he asks himself if he really wants to get dressed.

I know the feeling; I sometimes have the same thought. And in my dotage, I'm not good at spur-of-the-moment invitations. I need time to plan so I can husband my energy and a last-minute engagement, if I accept, can disturb that balance for a couple of days.

But many elders, even without these limitations, say they don't know how to make new friends. For sure, however, you won't meet any if you stay home. In most towns, there are interest groups that meet regularly, volunteer opportunities, library book discussions, political organizations and more. If you look, there are plenty of opportunities to find like-minded people.

I've written many times that I consider blogging – as a blogger or commenter - an almost perfect pastime for elders. It's an excellent mental exercise that helps keep brain cells active and our minds nimble but what's relevant today is that it also keeps us socially engaged.

Close friendships are not uncommon among people who meet on blogs. I'm guessing that half the people I consider close I've met online during the years I've produced this blog. I've been pleased to meet a good many in person too either because we live near one another or one of us travels to the other's town.

This week, I met a TGB readers here in Portland, Oregon. Our first contact had been an email argument over something I'd written. At a long lunch on Tuesday, we left that behind and found many things in common.

So I am wondering what your experience is with loneliness, how you have or are dealing with it, and what advice you have for people who are feeling lonely (which we all know is different animal from being alone by choice.).

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: The Last Rose

Tonight's Presidential Debate and Social Security

category_bug_politics.gif The first of three presidential debates is scheduled for this evening hosted by Jim Lehrer. It will last 90 minutes, and these are the scheduled topics:

Economy – 45 minutes
Health Care – 15 minutes
Role of Government – 15 minutes
Governing - 15 minutes

If Mr. Lehrer does his job well, that second segment will include questions about Medicare and Medicaid along with Obamacare and Romneycare although 15 minutes does not seem nearly enough time to cover the topic particularly given the vast gulf between Democratic and Republican parties.

What is not mentioned in the schedule is Social Security, an omission for which AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond took the debate organizers' to task:

“[Age 50-plus voters] overwhelmingly think the candidates have not done a good job of explaining their plans on Social Security and Medicare, and say that learning the candidates’ plans to strengthen these programs will help their presidential voting decision.”

(As a reminder, Social Security can pay full benefits until 2033, after which, if it is not fixed, it will be able to pay only 75 percent of benefits. It is important to make changes as soon as possible to avoid drastic problems as the year 2033 approaches.)

Before I move on, take a look at this short segment on Thom Hartmann's show featuring the estimable Nancy Altman who is co-chair of Strengthen Social Security and the author of the definitive work, The Battle For Social Security.

Vice President Joe Biden has said the Obama administration will definitely not touch Social Security, but the president's most recent statement about the program, at the AARP annual conference on 21 September, was more waffly:

"You know, I do think that looking at changing the cap is an important aspect of putting Social Security on a more stable footing," said Obama.

"And what I've said is, is that I'm willing to work with Republicans and examine all their ideas, but what I'm not going to do, as a matter of principle, is to slash benefits or privatize Social Security and suddenly turn it over to Wall Street because we saw what could happen back in 2008 and 2009 when the stock market crashed, and we are still recovering from that."

So he is on record against privatizations. But as we have discussed here in the past, Obama again used that language about not slashing benefits which to me – and many others – leaves the door wide open for what could be defined as modest cuts.

The president's senior campaign strategist, David Axelrod, in an appearance on Morning Joe about a week ago, said that now is not the time to talk about specific proposals for Social Security, but

“The approach has to be a balanced one. We’ve had discussions in the past, and the question is, can you raise the cap? Right now, Social Security cuts off at a lower point, can you raise the cap so upper incomes are paying a little more into the program? And do you adjust the growth of the program? That’s a discussion worth having.”

A twist in the Social Security muddle could come after the election. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is concerned that after the election, in a “grand bargain” with the Republicans to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff, Obama will consent to “entitlement” reform:

"That's exactly what's going to happen," said Sanders. "Unless someone of us stops it - and a number of us are working very hard on this - that's exactly what will happen.

“Everything being equal, unless we stop it, what will happen is there will be a quote-unquote grand bargain after the election in which the White House, some Democrats will sit down with Republicans, they will move to a chained CPI."

A move to chained CPI as the method of calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases would reduce benefits for all beneficiaries, current and future. Senator Sanders and 28 other senators have signed a letter [pdf] opposing Social Security cuts in any deficit reduction package.

So that is the Democratic position on Social Security going into the debate.

On 23 September, Mitt Romney told 60 Minutes:

“What I’d do with Social Security is say this: that again, people with higher incomes won’t get the same high growth rate in their benefits as people with lower incomes. People who rely on Social Security should see the same kind of growth rate they’ve had in the past. But higher income folks would receive a little less.”

Well, Social Security is already means tested and Romney had a different story in his 2010 book, No Apology:

”Individual retirement accounts offer an option that would allow today's wage earners to direct a portion of their Social Security tax to a private account rather than go entirely to pay the benefits of current retirees, as is the case today...

“Owners of these individual accounts would invest in a combination of stocks and bonds and - presuming these investments paid a higher rate of return than the new treasuries - the return on these investments would boost the payments to seniors.

“I also like the fact the individual retirement accounts would encourage more Americans to invest in the private sector that powers our economy.”

It's all in the details, isn't it: “presuming...a higher rate.” Or, of course, it could all go down the drain as so many people's modest investments did in 2008.

So Romney is doing with Social Security what he has done on every conceivable issue: confounding us with his cognitive dissonance.

With any luck, Jim Lehrer will ask about Social Security the Role of Government or Governing segment of the debate tonight. If he does, you've got some background now to help evaluate what the candidates say (although their answers will not change my vote, already decided upon).

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: Nightmare on Elm Street (The Real Story)


Orrin Onken Orrin Onken writes the twice-monthly TGB Elderlaw Attorney column in which he discusses legal issues of concern and interest to elders. He is an elderlaw attorney licensed to practice in the state of Oregon. He also keeps his own blog, Oregon Elder Law, and you can read more about his background here. All his Time Goes By columns are collected in this list.

In my last column I talked about gifts between family members during the time that an elder is depending on family for support and long term care.

Today I want to talk about gifts and how they affect the wills, trusts and the administration of estates.

Your estate is the money and property you have on the date of your death. The money goes first to pay your bills and then to the people named in your will or trust.

If you are old and sick and rich you may find long-estranged children returning to the fold and new friends willing to share your last days with you. Sometimes they are there out of love. Sometimes they want your money.

The most common method of defeating the distribution plan contained in a will or a trust is to convince an elder to give away all of her money before she dies. As I wrote in my last post, a gift is complete when the property is handed over and thereafter, the recipient can do whatever she wants with the property given.

Most wills give a parent's estate to the children in equal shares. Sometimes there is a child interested in getting more than an equal share. The best way for that child to turn that obnoxious will or trust into scrap paper is to get dad to sign over all his property while he is still alive.

If he has nothing left at his death, the will means nothing.

The traffic in my office suggests that the last years of a wealthy elder's life are a never-ending parade of relatives jamming papers in front of the elder for signature. Most of these papers transfer money or property from the elder to the person who came up with the paper.

They have all sorts of reasons the elder should sign and why it needs to be done right now:

“I need to be on your account so I can pay your medical expenses.”

”If you don't put me on the house, you will go to probate and the government will get all your money.”

“If you don't give me this money now you will have to pay taxes on it.”

The creativity of these folks is quite astounding, but none of the schemes benefit anybody but the person who receives the property.

No matter how sick you are, there is no good reason for giving away your money because a relative or your hairdresser thinks it's a good idea. If these people really cared about you, they would be offering to pay the cost of a visit to a competent estate planning lawyer.

Deathbed gifts often lead to litigation in which the people named in the will or trust attempt to recover what was given away. These cases employ a lot of probate lawyers. The cases are nasty and expensive and no matter who wins, the lawyers get a big chunk of the estate.

Let's assume you die without giving away everything you own. Gifts are still going to play a role what happens.

Whether you like it or not, your children are going to treat the administration of your estate — the distribution of your money and belongings — as some sort of final reckoning of everything you did for them and everything they did for you.

Death is time to balance the books and settle accounts for everything that happened while you were alive.

A lot of families who end up in my office have one member who needed more help through life than did the others. Sometimes the help was necessary because of an obvious physical or mental illness. The healthy siblings in these cases are usually understanding.

Other times the disability is addiction, irresponsibility or congenital laziness and the children who did not get the extra help are not inclined to be as forgiving. They see the recipient of lifetime gifts as having a balance on the books that, upon death, needs to be taken into account when it comes to passing out the inheritance.

The recipient of the parental largess, who is often still broke and in need, doesn't see it that way.

Similarly, the child who has selflessly given up time and career opportunities to provide care for a parent sees the administration of the estate as a time to be financially recognized for the sacrifice he made while the other children pursued their personal aims. Generous and giving people often want their self-sacrifice to be rewarded and there is no better way to do that than when dividing father's estate.

Wills and trusts, however, seldom take these lifetime gifts into account. The estate is divided equally among the children. The child who has lived off his parents for decades gets no deduction for the gifts he received and the one who toiled to provide care gets no credit for his sacrifice.

Thwarted in their desire for a final account that acknowledges the gifts given by the elder and the gifts given by the children, the children focus their frustration on what seems to outsiders as something arbitrary.

Sometimes it is a bank account. Sometimes it is a lamp. Whatever it is, it is a symbol for their complaints against each other and their resentments against the dead elder.

As I wrote in my first post on gifts, mutual gifting is the way we take care of the those family members who need help. Sometimes it is the older members helping out the younger. Sometimes it is the younger members helping the elders.

But don't be fooled. Gifts have long and lasting effects. No matter what your age, give with care and receive with caution. A gift is without expectation of repayment. It is not, however, without consequences.

There is an adage that the question is not whether to give, but when and how. Put as much thought into your gifts as you do your estate plan. Your will or trust, your beneficiary designations, and the gifts you give should form a coherent whole.

Each piece should complement the others and advance the goal of leaving everyone in the family better off. You cannot eliminate the possibility of your funeral being the scene of rancor and litigation, but by thinking carefully about the gifts you give and receive you can significantly reduce the chances.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Recycling

A Young Woman's Wisdom

Many of you know that nearly from the beginning, Time Goes By has shared a connection with awesome geriatrician Bill Thomas, author of my favorite book on aging, What Are Old People For?, and his new novel about elders, Tribes of Eden.

Equally awesome is Bill's editor, Kavan Peterson, who runs their website Changing Aging and works closely with Bill on many other projects.

Three years ago, Bill joined the ranks of elders when he turned 50 but Kavan is a young guy, in his 30s, a new father (for the second time) and what's important to know is that he is as much an elder advocate as Bill.

Okay, that's just so know him a little bit because today's post is lifted (with Kavan's permission) directly from the Changing Aging website, a story written and posted by Kavan about an extraordinary young woman who is as wise as any elder I've ever known. Here is Kavan's story about Balpreet Kaur.

Balpreet Kaur

This viral story blew my mind — a young Sikh woman with facial hair who was mocked on the social news-bookmarking site Reddit, saw the post and personally responded to the mockery in the most compassionate, enlightened way possible.

Not only did she educate the douchebag (to use his own handle) who posted her photo on what it means to be a bold, self-assured and proud Sikh woman who embraces the sacredness of the body (Sikhs are bound not to cut their hair or alter their body), she provided an insight worthy of elderhood:

“When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away.

“However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.

"So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are.”

To be aware of and embrace such an intrinsic truth as a young adult is inspiring. Read Balpreet Kaur’s full response here.

The story gets even better — Balpreet’s warm and dignified comment actually shamed the original poster into apologizing:

“I know that this post ISN’T a funny post but I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture.

“Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post...

“So reddit I’m sorry for being an asshole and for giving you negative publicity. Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am Sikhs, I’m sorry for insulting your culture and way of life. Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.”

Ronni here again. I don't know about you, but me – when someone has been rude or insulting or just the usual nastiness that can erupt, particularly on the internets – my first reaction is to hit back. Hard. Not physically, but I'm pretty good at verbally.

Balpreet Kaur handled it differently and in doing so, changed someone's beliefs and behavior. She made a big difference not only in that person's life, but in the lives of others he might have attacked in the future and in the lives of everyone who read their exchange. Last I looked there were more than 1500 responses to Ms. Kaur's post. (Please use the links above to read both their postings in full.)

From time to time here at TGB, we speak about the wisdom of elders with the hope we will grow into it. Sometimes I preen a bit to myself about having gained some wisdom here and there in my 71 years. Ha! I've got a long way to go to catch up with Balpreet Kaur. Age probably has less to do with wisdom than we like to think.

Thank you, Kavan, for finding and posting this.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Silverbacks, Stupidity and Actuarial Quizzes