Previous month:
January 2014
Next month:
March 2014

Loneliness and Premature Death of Elders

I was shocked last week when these two headlines popped into my inbox:

Loneliness in Seniors Increases Chance of Premature Death and Loneliness Twice as Unhealthy as Obesity for Older People, Study Finds

It has been well known for a long time that social isolation is a serious health risk for elders. The late geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, noted that depression resulting in suicide of people 65 and older is often caused by loneliness.

Now, both of the headlines above are referring to a new study from the University of Chicago that has quantified the results of loneliness in old people:

”The scientists tracked more than 2,000 people aged 50 and over and found that the loneliest were nearly twice as likely to die during the six-year study than the least lonely," reports The Guardian.

“Compared with the average person in the study, those who reported being lonely had a 14% greater risk of dying. The figure means that loneliness has around twice the impact on an early death as obesity. Poverty increased the risk of an early death by 19%.”

[Psychologist John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago discussed this research recently at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Chicago. I haven't been able to locate the study so it may not be published yet.]

The Guardian story referenced another study on loneliness in Great Britain from 2012:

”The findings point to a coming crisis as the population ages and people increasingly live alone or far from their families. A study of loneliness in older Britons in 2012 found that more than a fifth felt lonely all the time, and a quarter became more lonely over five years.

“Half of those who took part in the survey said their loneliness was worse at weekends, and three-quarters suffered more at night.”

Of course, no one needs experts to tell us that the solution – with appropriate consideration for people who enjoy a lot of time alone – is to stay connected with family, if they are nearby, and with friends. And to make new friends.

There are several impediments to connecting that occur to me. Although psychologists suggest that we keep in touch with colleagues who are still working, that doesn't usually happen for both good and not-so-good reasons.

Sometimes we move to new locations leaving old friends behind. And some old friends have the poor manners to die. Last year, three friends of mine going back four decades died. If I don't kick off first, that is not going to stop happening.

Most of us yearn for personal connections with others. When we are younger, we often make new friends through our children's activities and, certainly, work. In retirement, that becomes more difficult.

One morning earlier this week, I met a new acquaintance at a local coffee shop. We talked about the grassroots group where we had met and we wandered around other topics in the way people do who are getting to know one another. The subject of making new friends in old age came up.

My acquaintance and his wife moved to this area a few years ago and have not met many people. He was somewhat apologetic telling me that joining the Village group is, in addition to working on a project he believes in, a way to meet new people.

In no way should he apologize. One of the best ways to meet others (at any time in life) is to join groups with which we have an affinity. There's nothing wrong with doing good and finding a friend or two or more in the process; you know the two of you have at least one thing in common from the getgo.

There are two coffee shops in my area where, I have noticed, retired people in particular gather fairly early every day to have breakfast and hang out together.

I'm too eager for coffee first thing to wait to shower, dress and drive somewhere so that idea doesn't work well for me. But for many others, it does. A friend of mine in Maine has made a couple of new friends at the gym he goes to several days a week.

As my acquaintance and I continued talking, he suggested that how to meet new people after retiring would be a good topic for this blog and I'm taking his suggestion.

What has been your experience in making new friends as you have grown older? Are you lonely? Have you reached out to anyone you thought you'd like to know? Or has someone reached out to you? What is your best advice?

Tell us your friendship – or loneliness - stories today.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: Small Disappointments

What is a Village? Part 2

[Part 1 of What is a Village? is here. It would be helpful to read that first.]

One of the reasons it took me so many years to come around to the Villages idea is that for a long time, it was mostly an urban phenomenon – relatively small, square or rectangular spaces of contiguous city blocks.

It seemed to me to be nigh impossible to forge a cohesive group within the farflung homes of suburbia.

That turned out to be wrong and according to that Rutgers study I mentioned yesterday (link below) there are an equal number of urban and suburban Villages (39.9 percent each). And get this: 15.9 percent serve primarily rural areas.

Wherever they are located, each Village's organization and management are guided by their Vision, Mission and Values statement that is usually crafted by the founding members.

These tend to support such principles as recognizing mutual interdependence, embracing diversity, honoring the privacy and dignity of individuals, transparent decision-making and reflect local sensibilities.

Villages are all about what we can do for one another trading on our individual interests, capabilities and willingness to care. No one else is going to do this for us.

Here are some crucial points about growing old in America now: there are currently about 42 million people 65 and older. By 2030, just 16 years from now, there will be about 72 million people in that age group and already there are not enough caregivers to go around.

Also, there are no ideas regarding what to do about that shortfall. There are no plans for enough care facilities. Few old people can afford the steep prices of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) – those in which a resident can move from independent living to assisted living to nursing care as the necessity arises.

In fact, no institution or government – not local, state or federal - has put forth any useful ideas about how to cope with the growth of the elder population.

So it is up to us - you and me - to take care of ourselves and our neighbors, and Villages are the best idea I have found – people helping people.

Besides my own self-interest of wanting to have a Village in place by the time I am in need of its services, it is a wonderful opportunity to help create an organization that will be already in place when the generations behind us come along.

By then, if we start now, our Villages will be mature, the kinks worked out and we will know that we did something extraordinary in our old age – a legacy, if you will indulge a pun, for the ages.

What I've told you about Villages today and yesterday does not begin to cover it all and I haven't even mentioned the hard work needed from many people over three years or more to get a Village ready to launch.

If you think it is worthwhile and you would like to be part of a valuable, growing movement, here is some information that will help you get involved.

There is a national organization called Village to Village Network where you can find out if there is a Village – established or starting out – in your area. The map and search page is here.

If a Village near you is fully operational, you can join and you can also become a volunteer.

If a Village near you is just getting organized, offer to help. In addition to the accomplishment, it's a great way to meet new people.

If there is no Village near you yet, you can do what I did – gather together some willing and interested neighbors – it doesn't need to be a whole of lot of them in the beginning - and start your own Village.

This is a 2012 video, a short TEDtalk from Judy Willetts that goes beyond the nuts and bolts I've talked about in these two days of posts. Her talk is titled, It Takes a Village.

Here are some links from yesterday's post and some additional ones where you can learn more about the Villages movement:

Beacon Hill Village, the first Village

The Rutgers study is full of useful, recent statistics about Villages [pdf]

• AARP has a general overview of Villages from a couple of years ago

• The Washington Post has a good story on the growth of Villages in the D.C. Area.

VillagesNW, in my area of Oregon, is a unique hub-and-spoke operation that makes it easier for “spoke” Villages to get started than going it alone. It's a new idea for which we have great expectations. We'll see how it goes.

If you are interested and if the members of the planning committee agree, I will post occasional stories here to keep you up to date on how "my" Village (soon to have a name) is moving forward, developing and what we are learning that might be useful to you in your area.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Misty of Sunset Stables

What is a Village? Part 1

For five or six years now, I have been tracking what is known as “the Villages movement” in the United States and since last summer, I have been deeply involved as a founding member of a nascent Village in the area where I live.

In this 21st century context, Villages are not to be confused with, for example, small towns or with retirement communities like the large one in Florida that is actually named The Villages.

Villages I'm talking about are individual grassroots organizations of like-minded people within a prescribed geographical area who want to combine their knowledge, resources and efforts to help themselves and one another age in their homes for as long as possible.

The movement began about 13 or 14 years ago when a group of friends who lived in the Beacon Hill area of Boston got together to talk about how they could remain in the neighborhood and homes they loved even as they grew old and in need of various kinds of support.

As the Beacon Hill Village website explains:

”We looked beyond conventional solutions. We wanted more freedom and control than we found in models that focus on single issues, such as housing, medical care, or social activities.

“We wanted to be active, taking care of ourselves and each other rather than being 'taken care of.'

“After much consideration, we developed a grassroots membership organization. We, the members, decide what we need and want.

“We have an expert staff, a great variety of service providers, enthusiastic volunteers, and strategic partners, but we govern the Village, design its offerings, and make it all happen.

“We are self-supporting, funded by membership fees and donations; we are self-governing as a secular, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.”

Beacon Hill Village signed up its first member in 2002 – it now has about 400 members - and is the most mature and successful of the growing number of Villages.

There are currently more that 120 Villages throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands with another 100 or so in various stages of development - from soon-to-launch to just getting started like “my” Village. They have such names as High Desert Village and At Home Downeast, Village by the Shore, Safe at Home and Elder Help of San Diego.

Recently, anchor Brian Williams explained on NBC Nightly News what Villages are when he reported on Staying Put, a Village in Connecticut of which his mother- and father-in-law are founding members. Take a look:

All Villages are self-governing. Members decide how they function, what services they offer and how they do it.

Some have one or more paid employees. Usually, however, services are provided mostly with a combination of member and non-member volunteers, partnerships with local organizations and with preferred providers that, having been vetted by the Villages, often discount their services to members.

The types of services offered are limited only by imagination and the ingenuity to provide them. Some of the most common are:

Grocery shopping
Technology assistance
Legal services
Recreation and Social Events
Friendly visits
Handyman services
Exercise groups
Financial services
Home health care
Home personal care
Lawn mowing and yard work

Villages strive to become one-stop-shops for what their members need to remain in their homes at an affordable cost for as long as possible as they get older.

According to a recent survey of 69 Villages led by Rutgers School of Social Work, the annual price for an individual membership ranges from $25 to $948. Household memberships cost from $50 to $1285.

Many Villages offer discounted memberships for low-income neighbors within the Village boundaries and in some cases – probably growing numbers – adult children who live far away are purchasing memberships for their parents.

You will find Part 2 here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Lemon Juice, That's Yellow Alert

The Fun Part of Weight Loss

Anyone who has been reading this blog for the past year knows that I have been on a private campaign since last March to lose weight and get healthy. If you're so inclined you can read about some of the practical details here and here.

My motivation was fear. I have been blessed with remarkably good health all my life but it is well known that serious diseases and conditions begin showing up more frequently when people hit their mid-70s. And I was approaching my 72nd birthday.

Now, almost a year-to-the-day later, I have lost 25 percent of my body weight, having dropped 40 pounds - 160 down to 120. My estimated body mass index (BMI) has gone from 29.3 (just .6 below the “obesity” level) to 21.9 which is smack in the middle of the “normal” category.

My blood pressure, never wildly high, has settled to normal. All my other readings – cholesterol, triglycerides, etc. - are also normal.

One of the biggest fun parts of losing weight for me is no longer being apprehensive about the results of those tests. For the decade that I was carrying around too much extra weight, I was the definition of “white coat hypertension.”

Having health measurements in the normal range doesn't mean I won't get a terrible disease or that I won't just drop dead one day of old age – those things happen to healthy people every day. But the likelihood that I will make it to my grave without too many health difficulties is increased.

All that is important but I had no idea how much fun stuff would result from losing 40 pounds - little things every day that give me a frisson of pleasure and a reminder of what I have accomplished in 12 months.

• I can bend over to clean the litter box and pick up the cat food bowls without pain and effort. A year ago I had been contemplating what it would take to convince Ollie to eat on the counter so I could avoid squatting down.

• The mirror is no longer my enemy. I can look at myself naked now and feel fine even with this wrinkly, old-lady body. I had turned my eyes from mirrors for the past ten years.

• I no longer dislike photographs of myself.

• I've mentioned in previous weight loss posts that walking – the feel of swinging my legs forward just feels good. It's a joy to walk now.

• Stairs and hills are no longer endurance tests. I can get to the top of three stories (the most there are around here) without becoming winded.

• I feel strong and in control of my body. A lot of that is due to the exercise routine that has become part of my life - I can easily do 50 pushups and 50 crunches among other strength-building, cardio and flexibility work. But it wouldn't have happened without the weight loss first.

• It's great not to constantly think, “do I look fat in this?” Of course, I did. Now, I don't look fat in anything.

• Most of my old clothes fall off me now and I'm slowly buying new stuff. What's fun is not being stuck in the extra-large department anymore and that there are many more attractive choices in smaller sizes.

• I can carry all the groceries from even a big shopping trip into the house in one go without having to stop to catch my breath.

• Who knew even my feet were fat. Two pairs of shoes I never wore because they pinched my toes don't hurt anymore.

• And I give myself a private little smile now every time I hook up the seat belt in my car because I don't need to pull it out all the way to attach it.

The last really fun thing is more ephemeral, not so measurable as the others. It is that I don't recall, for many years, having such a consistent sense of personal well-being as I have had day-to-day for the past five or six months – since I lost enough weight to be noticeable in both energy and bulk.

To say this feeling of wellbeing is fun is to dismiss it too lightly – pleasure is a better word. I am no longer tired out halfway through a day. I don't worry and wonder about my health as I did before.

But mostly it is a sense of comfortableness, of contentment with living. I could give you a whole long list of things I don't like about my life but I don't fight them as I once did or make a big deal of them.

In a way similar to meditating, I note that I am displeased with a situation and file the thought while I get on which what I'm doing. Not that I forget or am unconcerned – it just doesn't take up as much space in my consciousness as before.

Is it really possible that weight loss creates a sense of wellbeing as profound as that? I have no idea but I have nothing else to attribute it to and it sure makes life better. More fun too.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Progression

A Sigh of Relief on Social Security (Or Maybe Not)

CORRECTION: Before I get to the news about Social Security, I must make you aware of a correction to last week's Thursday post titled If You've Seen One Old Person....

Here is the update I have inserted at the appropriate place on that page and the edit I have made:

It has been brought to my attention that I misread the quote from Professor H. Stephen Kaye. His point is that people who use personal assistance to adapt to disability should not, as is widely believed, be thought of as more disabled than those who use devices to get along.

I could not agree more and extend my apologies to Professor Kaye although, unrelated to his point, I do still have reservations about the study that is the subject of the post.

That sounds to me like one more ageist way to define old age itself as a disability. By Kaye's reasoning, anyone wearing eye glasses or contact lenses would be categorized as disabled.

Again, my apologies to Professor Kaye.

Long ago I lost track of how many posts I've written about chained CPI, how many videos I've embedded that explain how that particular inflation calculation would reduce Social Security benefits and how many petitions I've asked you to sign against chained CPI.

Whether all our work and that of hundreds of thousands of others are the cause or not, the White House announced last Thursday that chained CPI will not be included in the 2015 budget proposal President Barack Obama will soon deliver to Congress.

As you probably recall, the question of chained CPI began a couple of years ago when the president offered the cut to Social Security cost-of-living increases in his so-called “grand bargain” budget negotiations with Republican House Speaker from Ohio, John Boehner.

The president's threat to agree to change the inflation calculation for Social Security remained a possibility until the Thursday announcement:

” senior White House officials characterize it, the president is tired of extending unrequited olive branches to the GOP,” [reports Talking Points Memo.]

"'[O]ver the course of last year,' a White House official said, 'Republicans consistently showed a lack of willingness to negotiate on a deficit reduction deal, refusing to identify even one unfair tax loophole they would be willing to close, despite the President's willingness to put tough things on the table.'"

So, no chained CPI offer this year. Good news that gives us a wonderful reason to stand up from our desks, laptops, tablets, smartphones or whatever else we're using to read this story and do a little victory jig.

We worked hard for this so celebration is in order. A happy dance and a whoopee - we did it.

Take a little time for that moment of joy before you read on because the next event in this tale is guaranteed to cause you whiplash and prove that the writers of House of Cards know whereof they speak in regard to the treachery of Washington politicians, including the president.

Okay. Have you finished your dance? Are you ready for the rest of this story? Here goes.

Almost immediately following the announcement that chained CPI had been dropped from the president's proposed budget, White House Deputy Press Secretary, Josh Earnest issued a clarification:

“...the president's proposal [for chained CPI] remains 'on the table,' but only as part of a larger package that would shrink tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations,” reported Steve Dennis in Roll Call about the clarification.

“'The offer to Speaker Boehner remains on the table for whenever the Republicans decide they want to engage in a serious discussion about a balanced plan to deal with our long-term fiscal challenges that includes closing loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations,' a White House official said in a separate background memo,” according to Roll Call.

In other words, the president still believes in chained CPI. In other words, if the Republicans will meet certain negotiation requests, the president will again offer to slash Social Security benefits.

As far as I can find, none of the usual political media reported the White House "clarification" on chained CPI. Except for Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM).

In a post at the NCPSSM website, Richtman applauded the president's move to drop chained CPI as he simultaneously noted how squishy that offer really is:

”While it appears the White House has, for now, listened to the vast majority of Americans, of all ages and political parties, the President has still left the door open for more 'let’s make a deal' bargaining with seniors’ benefits,” said Mr. Richtman.

“He’s taking one step forward by keeping the Chained CPI out of his budget. We hope he won’t end up taking one step back by offering it up again later during any budget talks.”

Sorry, my friends. We may have to fight this one all over again.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carl Hansen: The Day TV Came to Our House

ELDER MUSIC: Songs of Burt Bacharach

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

Burt Bacharach

With a title like that I imagine that you could fill in the songs without drawing a breath. But I might surprise you today.

When I investigated the topic, I found that he had written an enormous number of songs. That's no secret, of course, but it means I can pick and choose. So, I have picked and chosen songs that you might not be expecting.

I'll say from the start that there are no songs by Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Jack Jones, Aretha Franklin or Herb Alpert. I have nothing against any of those performers, it's just that they are so associated with Burt's music that I've come up tracks that aren't so famous.

That's not quite true. Many, maybe most, are famous but it was a bit of a surprise to me that they were written by him. I hope some of them surprise you too.

I'll start with some tunes from very early in his career, the first of which is performed by MARTY ROBBINS.

Marty Robbins

I really didn't know at the time that this was written by Burt but then I wouldn't have known who he was in 1957. It was also one of the first times I was aware of Marty - not quite the first, that'd be White Sport Coat.

Anyway, The Story of My Life was co-written by Hal David.

♫ Marty Robbins - The Story of My Life

I'm going to stop saying that I didn't know the song was written by Burt as most of them today fall into that category. I'll just say the name GENE MCDANIELS.

Gene McDaniels

Gene had a number of really good songs on the charts in the early sixties; this is one of them. This time Burt had the help of Bob Hilliard. Tower of Strength.

♫ Gene McDaniels - Tower of Strength

Around the same time that Marty had his hit, PERRY COMO had one as well.

Perry Como

This was the second song from Burt and Hal David to make the charts (Marty's was the first) and, coincidentally or not, they both feature whistling. I don't think that that's significant.

Of course, at this time Perry could do no wrong so it wasn't a surprise that it sold so well. Unfortunately, Magic Moments has been used in all sorts of inappropriate places. I wish they'd stop doing that.

♫ Perry Como - Magic Moments

I wasn't aware of ETTA JAMES' contribution until recently. It had sailed past me without waving.

Etta James

It came from Etta's third album and that's about all I know about it except that Bob Hilliard wrote the words. The song is Waiting for Charlie to Come Home.

♫ Etta James - Waiting for Charlie to Come Home

There are a few versions of this next one: Elvis had a crack at it as did Luther Vandross, Don Gibson and James Brown. Percy Sledge did a really good version but none of those mentioned are as good as the one by CHUCK JACKSON.

Chuck Jackson

Chuck was once a member of the Del Vikings, one of the best of the DooWop groups, but that's not obvious from his interpretation of Any Day Now. Bob Hilliard was co-writer and it was from the days when he and Burt were both slaving away in the Brill building.

♫ Chuck Jackson - Any Day Now

A song that sounds as if it came from south of the border is, not surprisingly, Mexican Divorce. The original version of the song is by THE DRIFTERS.

The Drifters

This was the rather short-lived version of The Drifters led by Ben E King. On this song, Ben had some outside help, a rather handy quartet of singers consisting of Dionne Warwick, her sister Dee Dee Warwick, her aunt Cissy Houston and friend Doris Troy.

With that array of talent how could they miss? Well, they didn't. It was at this session that Burt and Dionne first met. He was mightily impressed with her and asked if she'd like to record his next song. It was far from the last time they collaborated.

There must be something about the tune, co-written by Bob Hilliard, because there are at least two other versions that would be worthy of inclusion by Nicolette Larson and Ry Cooder. Probably others as well.

♫ The Drifters - Mexican Divorce

TOM JONES sings What's New Pussycat in his own distinctive style.

Tom Jones

This was from the film of the same name which had a great cast but calling it ordinary would flatter it. It was the first film that Woody Allen wrote (he was also in it). He rather disowns it now as the studio completely changed his script. He said that the experience taught him always to have complete control of his films.

The song was co-written by Hal David.

♫ Tom Jones - What's New Pussycat

My Little Red Book was also written for that film. The version used in it and the original recording, was by MANFRED MANN.

Manfred Mann

This is from the days when they still had that fine singer Paul Jones out in front doing the warbling. Hal David had his hand in this one too.

♫ Manfred Mann - My Little Red Book

GENE PITNEY wrote quite a few of his own songs but not this one, obviously.

Gene Pitney

It was one of his biggest hits. After his success with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, also written by Burt and Hal David (it was intended for the film but not used), they decided to write another in the same vein but without the movie plot to go with it.

They invented their own story with Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa.

♫ Gene Pitney - Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa

I think that THE SHIRELLES were the pick of the "girl groups" from the early sixties.

The Shirelles

They could sure teach The Supremes and others a lesson in soulful singing. They actually used Burt's demo recording as the backing for the song, which is Baby It's You.

It was co-written by Luther Dixon (credited as Barney Williams) and Mack David – Hal's older brother. Mack was also responsible for the song Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.

♫ The Shirelles - Baby It's You

Missing the cut is The Blob sung by The Five Blobs from the film The Blob which starred Steve McQueen in his first lead role. I bet you're sorry I didn't include that one.

INTERESTING STUFF – 22 February 2014


Tamar Orvell, who blogs at Only Connect, sent this video that is nominated for an Academy Award next month. It concerns 110-year-old Alice Herz Sommer who is the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world.

As the Youtube page tells us, Alice

”...discusses the vital importance of music, laughter and having an optimistic outlook on life...It tells her amazing story of survival and how she managed to use her time in a Nazi concentration camp to empower herself and others with music.”

This is an 11-minute clip from the 38-minute documentary.

You can read more about Alice in this Haaretz story and there are more clips from the documentary here. And you can rent or purchase the entire film here.


It's been a long time since I've featured Henri, the depressed French cat who is now a big star with his own published book and cat food commercials. Here is a video titled, The Cat is Sat. Any cat owner will recognize Henri's point of view.


Like me, you probably believe that the red stop light is always at the top of a traffic signal – red, then yellow, green at the bottom. Except not in Syracuse, New York where some Irish immigrant teens objected to red being at the top:

”These teens didn’t like the idea that British 'red' was positioned above Irish 'green,' and started throwing rocks at the traffic light, ultimately breaking it,” explains the Now I Know website.

“The city replaced the traffic light but out came the stones again, and the second light met the same fate as the first. This process repeated an untold number of times, with the red lights falling prey to stones each time.”

Eventually, the city got tired of replacing the light and

” this day, the traffic light at the intersection of Tompkins and Milton is green at the top and red at the bottom.”

Here a screen grab of it from Google Maps. Looks weird, doesn't it.



Last Monday, President's Day, late night host Jimmy Kimmel sent a video crew out onto Hollywood Boulevard to ask random people for their reaction to the news the President Franklin Roosevelt had died that morning.

Hilarity or, perhaps, sadness ensues:


Ninety-three-year-old veteran sports writer and New Yorker essayist, Roger Angell, has hit a home run in the most recent issue of that magazine with his tour of life in the tenth decade.

I say that even if he does take a whack at the word I most like and promote to use in place of senior and other misguided terms:

"We elders," he writes, "what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel?"

But I quibble. Many are calling the piece an instant classic and you will be glad you read it. It is available online even to non-subscribers.


I don't travel much anymore – it's so damned hard and tiring but if it comes up again, Huffpost published some terrifically clever packing ideas I'll use:

Use an empty eye dropper bottle for toothpaste:


Or an old eyeglasses case to hold electronics chargers and earbuds:


How about a contact lens container for small amounts of semi-liquid cosmetics:


There are a lot more more good ideas here.


Darlene Costner sent a “lifespan calculator from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (my first ever employer at age 17).

By answering 13 multiple choice questions, you can watch your age span go up and down as you move through the questions. I don't believe for a minute that I'll live to 101.

See what the calculator tells you about your lifespan here.


Actor Kevin Spacey has been all over the talk shows this past week promoting season two of House of Cards, his wildly successful Netflix series in which he stars as the devious politician, Francis Underwood.

When he stopped by David Letterman's program on Monday, he did most of the interview impersonating the voice of Bill Clinton. Funny and fabulous.


If cats did not already own the interwebs, I think goats might be a good substitute. Until goat videos came along I had no idea they were so playful, so cute and, apparently, so fearless.

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.

Not By Muscle, Speed or Dexterity

While twice this week (here and here) we have discussed the argument for not assuming that old age is all about disease and debility, we need also to consider that however much elders are maligned by people who push the age=decline point of view, we do - like it or not - slow down as we age.

This is not, in itself, a bad thing and could be – if we lived in a better world – a manifestly good thing. Two thousand years ago, Marcus Tullius Cicero had something to say about old age:

”It is not by muscle, speed or physical dexterity that great things are achieved but by reflection, force of character and judgment.

Too many people who like this quotation leave off the next sentence which I think is crucial to Cicero's point:

”In these qualities, old age is usually not...poorer, but is even richer.”

Western culture all but insists that once we retire from our jobs, careers, professions, etc. (whether by choice or force), we retire from life too as if, at that moment of giving up a paycheck, we lose all the knowledge and experience employers once paid us for.

But as Cicero explains, we have something that can be gained only by attaining old age: our judgment, earned from all the mistakes, all the failures and all the successes we have gathered throughout our lives.

This is, Cicero tells us, a rich resource but it is one that goes unused because American life, institutions and government place no value on old people.

For several years there has been a growing movement to live mindfully, to spend more time being rather than doing, doing, doing which western culture so prizes.

I think that many people, as they enter elderhood, come naturally to this kind of thoughtfulness. That as our bodies begin to slow, we gradually transfer more of our attention to reflection, to concern for things outside ourselves and how we can contribute.

So the normal slowing of our bodies in old age should not be something that is lamented but instead is welcomed as an asset to be used for the overall good. Welcomed, that is, if we lived in such a world. Which we do not.

But we old people do not need to wait to be invited back into the cultural mainstream – it's not going to happen any time soon anyway. There are so many things we can do ourselves.

A personal example. Since last fall, I have been involved with a group that is creating a Village in my area that will, in time, make it much easier for people to grow old in their homes for much longer than now and in the past.

(This is a national movement that I have threatened to tell you about at least twice before and I will, I promise, do that soon.)

At a meeting one evening this week, we were setting up our first few committees, discussing what needs to be accomplished, how to go about it, where to get the information we need and what steps are next.

The room was awash in questions asked, answered or tabled for the time being; hands raised to volunteer for the committees; information traded; a whole lot of enthusiasm from a bunch of smart people eager to put our collective hundreds of years of experience to good use. And all of us 65 and older.

It is so exciting to be working with an outstanding group of elders committed to a grassroots project that will benefit old people for generations to come - something to achieve not with muscle, speed or dexterity but by reflection, thoughtfulness, force of character and judgment.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Do You Remember Cousin Grace?

If You've Seen One Old Person...'ve seen one old person.

Because the statistics so surprised me, on Tuesday I wrote about a recent study reporting that

”Only about a third of Americans ages 65 and older are fully able to take care of themselves and go about their daily lives completely independently...”

Your responses in the comments were enlightening. Some saw it as – at last – honest reporting about how hard aging is. “Statistics don't lie,” wrote Vera.

”I live in a 55+ apartment complex and it's like living in an assisted living apartment,” wrote Tuli Reno. “The figures you quoted would work here.”

But most, from personal experience, found fault with the numbers. Carol in Colorado gave us an inspiring anecdote:

”I bought a folding exercise bike. I put about 5 miles on the bike before I found it hurt my back so I sold it to my neighbor down the hall who was 95 when she bought it. She's 97 now and has put several hundred miles on the bike.”

It is Darlene Costner, who will soon be 89, who captured what I (this one academic study notwithstanding) most believe about how people age and I'll quote her elegant response at length:

”As many of you know I am on my way to being 89 years old and I am dependent on others for transportation. Other than that, I am doing it "my way.”

“I am slower, use a walker if I am feeling weak or need to step down from a curb, use a cane when needed (not in my house) and do not keep the outside as well groomed as I used to. Does that make me typical?

“I have two neighbors that I will use for comparison. One walks her dog twice daily, keeps her outside and inside immaculate without help and has no debilitating diseases. She is one year younger than I.

“Another is pretty much housebound, has a severe back disability, relies on her daughter for transportation and has a housekeeper come in weekly to clean. Yet she still cooks for herself and is able to take care of herself in all other ways. She is 97 years old.

“I have another friend who is fighting cancer and is in her forties. Without her mother to help her, she would probably be in a nursing home.

“So which of we 4 women fit into the neat box of a statistic? My point being it that we can find all sorts of differences in all ages.”

Judith Graham, a journalist who specializes in aging, emailed Tuesday to remind me that she wrote about this study a couple of months ago in The New York Times New Old Age Blog. In that report, she further explained the categories into which the researchers divided the elders:

”The first are the 'successful adapters' who change their home environments or how they approach activities, and get along well on their own. Think of older adults who install grab bars in the bathroom, use a cane, install a seat in the shower, or rely on a hearing aid — and who otherwise seem unimpaired.”

I take issue with the researchers labeling these people “adapters” who “otherwise seem unimpaired.” I think they ARE unimpaired.

Grab bars in the bathroom (like all aids initially created for elders) are good for people of all ages – anyone can slip in the tub or on a wet floor. Many people I know, and some not so old, take a cane or walking stick with them when they leave home not because they need the support, but as a precaution against falls.

And a hearing aid? I classify that as I do eye glasses and cataract surgery when they are needed: hardly different from replacing worn-out tires on a car.

At the end of her Times story, Graham addresses just this issue:

”What about the fifth group in this study — seniors who receive some kind of personal assistance?” she writes. “Some experts classify them as dependent, while putting seniors who use assistive technology in the 'independent category.'

“But H. Stephen Kaye, a professor at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, argues that this is a false distinction.

“'I have a fundamental problem with the notion that the use of technology is different from the use of personal assistance,' he said. 'Both represent a way of getting help, and both can be a successful accommodation to disability, depending on a person’s circumstances.'”

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I misread the above quote from Professor H. Stephen Kaye. His point is that people who use personal assistance to adapt to disabilities should not, as is widely believed, be thought of as more disabled than those who use devices to get along.

I could not agree more and extend my apologies to Professor Kaye although, unrelated to his point, I still have reservations about the study that is the subject of this post.

That sounds to me like one more ageist way to define old age itself as a disability. By Kaye's reasoning, anyone wearing eye glasses or contact lenses would be categorized as disabled.

After reading your comments and Graham's story plus some time discussing this with friends on Wednesday, I've given this study some additional thought and am sorry now that I bothered to write about it because I think it is flawed.

In particular, the five-point range of ability to disability does not begin to cover the nuances of aging which is more complex than any other stage of life.

It has been known for a long time that people age at dramatically different rates from one another. Although childhood development – rolling over alone, walking, talking, etc. - can be predicted to specific weeks of life and are cause for concern if the kid doesn't match those predictions, nothing like that occurs in old age.

Instead, there is a wide spectrum; some 50-year-olds are decrepit and some 90-year-olds are healthy and active.

So I think this study was too simplistically conceived and before we accept the disability figures for people 65 and older, we need a study that better considers the realities of aging.

Meanwhile, to repeat: if you've seen one old person, you've seen one old person.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Dogs Can Bark Even From the Dead

Elder Poetry Interlude: Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year

Last week, I posted Poem on My 79th Birthday that reader Tom Delmore emailed. It was written not by Tom, but by Peter Everwine. (You can find two of Delmore's poetry books at Moonpie Press.)

Shortly after that first poem, Tom sent another poem about aging, this one by Maxine Kumin who died this year on 6 February at age 88.

In addition to being a renowned poet, she was a novelist, essayist, wrote children's books and much more. You can read about her and her work here.

This now is the poem Tom Delmore emailed, Looking Back on My Eight-First Year from Kumin's collection, “Still to Mow” published in 2008.

How did we get to be old ladies -
my grandmother's job--when we
were the long-leggèd girls?
      - Hilma Wolitzer

Instead of marrying the day after graduation,
in spite of freezing on my father's arm as
here comes the bride struck up,
saying, I'm not sure I want to do this,

I should have taken that fellowship
to the University of Grenoble to examine
the original manuscript
of Stendhal's unfinished Lucien Leuwen,

I, who had never been west of the Mississippi,
should have crossed the ocean
in third class on the Cunard White Star,
the war just over, the Second World War

when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito,
two eyes and a nose draped over
a fence line. How could I go?
Passion had locked us together.

Sixty years my lover,
he says he would have waited.
He says he would have sat
where the steamship docked

till the last of the pursers
decamped, and I rushed back
littering the runway with carbon paper...
Why didn't I go? It was fated.

Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand,
flesh against flesh for the final haul,
we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand,
lover and long-leggèd girl.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Line

Defining Age as Sickness

From the beginnings of my research into aging nearly 20 years ago, I was shocked and then disheartened to see that pretty much all writing – academic, popular, personal and professional – started from and ended with the belief that getting old is entirely about disease, debility and decline.

That is the reason I started this blog – because I refused to believe then, at about age 55, that my future was so grim and I wanted to report on what aging is really like.

That is not to say I am a fantasist or an idiot. Certainly, as we age, the physical and, sometimes, mental challenges can pile up.

It is, for example, well known that what are called the diseases of age – cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, heart disease and more – begin to kick in big time in people's mid-70s.

Even when we escape those most frightening of conditions, the lesser ones take up much more of our time than when we were young and middle-aged. Colds and influenza, for example, hit harder and last longer.

And aren't skin tags, liver spots or those seborrheic keratoses fun enhancements to old age.

Nevertheless, for all these years it has appeared to me that there is a whole lot more to old age than all that decline business that is positive and good and life-enhancing.

So I was surprised to read the result of a recent study:

”Only about a third of Americans ages 65 and older are fully able to take care of themselves and go about their daily lives completely independently...”

That's from a December report at Medical News Today (MNT). The report itself was published in the February 2014 issue of American Journal of Public Health (abstract only here) and actually, the number is 31 percent – a bit short of one-third.

Since there are about 41 million U.S. citizens age 65 and older, that's more than 27 million of us who, to greater or lesser degrees, need help with some of the basic tasks of daily life.

There were 8,077 participants in the study, a representative sampling all age 65 and older, and the researchers asked them in face-to-face interviews about seven activities of daily living:

Going outside
Getting around inside
Getting out of bed
Getting cleaned up
Using the bathroom

Here is how the two-thirds who need some amount of help in daily activities shake out:

”About a quarter succeed in accomplishing what they need to do on their own using walkers or other assistive devices

“Another 18 percent say they have trouble even when using these devices

“Six percent cope by reducing their activities - bathing or going outside less often, for example

“21 percent manage by receiving help from others.

Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and the study's lead author told MNT:

"'Nearly 80 percent of all older adults find ways to manage on their own without assistance from others,' [she] said.

"'The group using devices on their own without difficulty is especially interesting. They seem to be able to participate in activities they enjoy and report well-being as high as those who are fully able to care for themselves.'”

I would like to know more about that 80 percent of ALL older adults who “manage on their own” but since the full report is behind a paid firewall, it helps to some degree that the MNT story tells us, as would be expected, that

”...the proportion of older adults able to function independently varies greatly by activity and by age. For example, 90 percent of older adults are fully able to eat by themselves, while only 54 percent are fully able to bathe by themselves.

“About 45 percent of those ages 65 to 69 are fully able to carry out all activities independently, compared with only 4 percent of those ages 90 and older.”

It seems apparent that those who need the most help with daily activities are the oldest old and it would have been helpful to have a further age breakdown – perhaps into three groups: 65-75; 76-85; 86 and older to truly understand who it is in greater need of aid.

But without that, I suppose I must stand corrected in my belief that most of us are not as impaired as the aging literature reports. To repeat,

"Only about a third of Americans ages 65 and older are fully able to take care of themselves and go about their daily lives completely independently...”

It's a question to explore another day, but for now that does make one wonder how our right wing politicians think raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare is humanely possible.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Mexicali

Medicare Observation Status

You've read the stories for years. An elder is hospitalized for a few days – it could be for anything from a broken bone to chest pain, fainting, irregular heartbeat or dozens of other conditions – a common occurrence at hospitals throughout the U.S. every day.

As if an illness needing hospitalization isn't enough trouble, in thousands of cases (an estimated 2 million in 2013) when the patient is released to a nursing home for rehabilitation to build up strength, they find that Medicare does not cover the tens of thousands of dollars of that necessary treatment because they were never “admitted” to the hospital.

Instead, their stay was classified as “observation status” or outpatient and the way the rules read, no admission, no coverage for rehab.

Several readers have emailed me about the January 2014 report about this issue on NBC Nightly News. The correspondent, Kate Snow, does a good job of clearly explaining the issue. Take a look:

To ensure you or a loved one is “admitted” to the hospital is probably not at the top of anyone's agenda during an emergency. And you can be forgiven, I think, for believing you've been “admitted” if you are lying in a hospital room for two or three or more days while doctors and nurses do what they do best.

Challenging an observation classification, as reporter Snow suggests, is arduous and expensive. It requires that the patient have already paid the nursing home bill and the process is as labyrinthine as you would expect it to be.

The New York Times has a good explanation of how to proceed in this story about fighting observation status. It's not for the faint of heart.

A variety of lawsuits – individual and class action – have been slowly working their way through the legal process for several years without result but recently, thanks to such reports as the NBC video above and others, this reprehensible and cruel situation is gaining some traction.

Last Friday, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced a bill, S.569 titled, Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act of 2013. The text of the bill is here and the introduction reads:

”To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to count a period of receipt of outpatient observation services in a hospital toward satisfying the 3-day inpatient hospital requirement for coverage of skilled nursing facility services under Medicare.”

According to Senator Brown's website, the bill would also

”Establish a 90-day appeal period following passage for those that have a qualifying hospital stay and have been denied skilled nursing care after January 1, 2013.”

The bill has 25 co-sponsors – all, as you would imagine, Democrats except for Republican Susan Collins of Maine and the two Independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

Govtrack lists the remaining co-sponsors and has more information including their prognosis that the bill has “0% chance of being enacted.”

Perhaps their pessimism is related to the fact that last March an identical bill, H.R.1179, was introduced in the House by Representative Joe Courtney, Democrat of Connecticut. It was referred to a subcommittee on health and went nowhere.

Among the dozen or so organizations that support this bill is the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) which has created a page to make it easy for us to contact our Congressional representatives and urge them to end the overuse of observational status by supporting this bill.

The CMA page gives you two choices – a basic script to adapt for a personal telephone call to your representatives or submit your Zip Code and they'll supply the letter which, of course, you can edit and send along to your representatives with one click.

If you have any experience with observation status – personal or friend or family – be sure to include that in your phone call or letter.

Maybe Govtrack is right and this bill will die in committee. You can be certain that will happen if none of us speaks up to Congress.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Hertslet: My Five Sense on Steroids


Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

1945 was a significant year – the war ended and I was born (in that order). I was a "Dad's home from the war for Christmas" baby (the previous year, obviously) as I popped out in the middle of September.

This is the year where we really started getting some interesting music – BeBop, Rhythm & Blues and so on. My kind of music. There will be others featured as well for those who prefer the older style.

What happened in 1945?

  • Jessye Norman was born
  • United Nations founded in San Francisco
  • Franklin Roosevelt died with victory in sight
  • John Curtin (Australia's Prime Minister) died with victory in sight
  • Winston Churchill was defeated in general election
  • The Lost Weekend was released.
  • Carlton were premiers.

BeBop has begun and the two main purveyors of the style are DIZZY GILLESPIE and CHARLIE PARKER.

Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker

The tune, Salt Peanuts, was composed by Diz with a little help from drummer Kenny Clarke. That's Diz performing the "vocals" for want of a better word. Naturally, he plays the trumpet as well and Bird is on alto sax.

♫ Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker - Salt Peanuts

There's still some old style music around, in this case it's THE ANDREWS SISTERS.

The Andrews Sisters

The original music of Rum and Coca Cola was written by Lionel Belasco for a song called L'Année Passée. Later, Lord Invader (Rupert Grant to his folks) and Lionel Belasco wrote the new words and turned it into a calypso tune.

Morey Amsterdam copyrighted the song in America after he heard it on a visit to Trinidad. It became a huge hit for the Andrews. Later, the true credits were restored after a plagiarism lawsuit.

♫ The Andrews Sisters - Rum And Coca Cola

Caldonia Blues was written by LOUIS JORDAN.

Louis Jordan

However, Louis' wife at the time, Fleecie Moore, is credited with writing it. He did that so he could use a separate publishing house. Unfortunately, when the song became a big hit they had divorced and Louis was rather miffed as Fleecie was getting all the moulah.

♫ Louis Jordan - Caldonia Blues

It's Only a Paper Moon was written by Harold Arlen, E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose. It was intended for a Broadway play called "The Great Magoo.” This play bombed, but the song lives on. The version today is by ELLA FITZGERALD.

Ella Fitzgerals

Ella is assisted by the Delta Rhythm Boys who were sort of Mills Brothers, Ink Spots clones. They don't do a bad job though.

♫ Ella Fitzgerald & Delta Rhythm Boys - It's Only A Paper Moon

JOE LIGGINS performs The Honeydripper Parts 1 & 2.

Joe Liggins

Back when it was released it had Parts 1 and 2 on either sides of the record. These days you can hear them both without going to the trouble of flipping it over.

Joe had written the song a couple of years earlier and it was so successful he named his group after the song (without the Parts 1 and 2, of course).

♫ Joe Liggins - The Honeydripper Parts 1 & 2

Nancy (With the Laughing Face) was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil Silvers (yes, that Phil Silvers). It was originally called Bessie (With the Laughing Face) after a friend's wife who was having a birthday. They changed the name each time they sang it for different women's birthdays.

When they sang it for little Nancy Sinatra, Frank broke down as he thought it was written especially for her. They didn't correct him. Here is FRANK SINATRA with Nancy (With the Laughing Face).

Frank Sinatra

♫ Frank Sinatra - Nancy (With the Laughing Face)

Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?) was written especially for BILLIE HOLIDAY by Jimmy Davis, Ram Ramirez and James Sherman.

Billie Holiday

Others have performed it, of course, but no one has done it better.

♫ Billie Holiday - Lover Man

BIG MACEO MERRIWEATHER was a blues pianist and singer, although there are no vocals on the track we have today.

Big Maceo

Maceo was originally from Atlanta but moved to Detroit while quite young to play in the clubs there. Once established, he moved to Chicago so he could record and stayed there for the rest of his life which wasn't too long as he drank a bit.

Here he plays Chicago Breakdown.

♫ Big Maceo - Chicago Breakdown

You Belong to My Heart was written by Augustin Lara, a Mexican songwriter, and was originally called Solamente Una Vez. The English words were written by Ray Gilbert and we have BING CROSBY to sing it.

Bing Crosby

♫ Bing Crosby - You Belong To My Heart

To finish we have JAY MCSHANN and His Blues Men with Confessin' the Blues.

Jay McShann

Jay played both blues and BeBop jazz in the early forties. Several well known musicians played in his band, most notably Charlie Parker and Ben Webster. This track is more blues oriented and has Jimmy Witherspoon on vocals.

♫ Jay McShann & His Blues Men - Confessin' The Blues

1946 will appear in two weeks' time.

INTERESTING STUFF – 15 February 2014


It seems so cruel, doesn't it when someone dies, that you realize you thought they were already dead. That happened to me this week when Shirley Temple died at age 85 and Sid Caesar at 91.

Shirley Temple Sid Caesar Public Domain

These two, each one in their day, were stars as big as the British royal family is today or Kim Kardashian or Kanye West and, well, there are so many more stars these days than in my youth.

The New York Times did their usual good job of reminding people who Shirley Temple and Sid Caesar were once upon a time.


Darlene Costner who, you will see, is well represented in this list today, sent this beautiful, clever and, given Sochi this week, appropriate car commercial.


Darlene sent the link to this online Pew Science test. Thirteen questions which, they say, only seven percent of the population answer all correctly.

Ahem. Moi is now a member of that select group and here's the proof – a screengrab showing in tiny print at the bottom, “You answered 13 of 13 questions correctly.”

Pew Question 13 correct

Actually, I quite surprised myself - science is not my strong suit. You can test your science knowledge here.


Maybe this crow could answer all 13 questions correctly. Take a look at this video from the BBC:

You can read more here.


As Jim Hood, who emailed this video, wrote: “You really must imagine what this was like had you been there.” As the YouTube page explains:

”Every night of the All State Choir conference [in Louisville, Kentucky] at about 11pm, everyone comes out to the balconies of the 18-story Hyatt hotel to sing the National Anthem.

Take a look – and a listen:


And into a pigpen. The person who posted the video explains that he found the camera eight months after it fell from a sky diving plane. Silly, but it makes me laugh.


It's just two months until tax day but there is help.

The AARP Foundation Tax Aide program offers free tax help to people age 60 and older in more than 5,000 locations throughout the United States.

It's a simple form to find a location near you – you can do it with just a Zip Code. When I tried, 48 places within 10 miles turned up, each listing with address, phone number and days when the service is available. By appointment only so you know you'll get your turn.

Check locations near you at this webpage.


A restaurant owner in Enid, Oklahoma, refused to serve what he calls “freaks, f*ggots, disabled or those on welfare.” Take a look at the local TV news story and/or read more here.

As you undoubtedly noticed, Gary James has a very long list of people he hates. In a case of near-perfect, turn-the-tables, deserved retribution, the gay community on Facebook, Twitter and all over the web posted such reviews of Gary's restaurant as this from Yelp:

”Best gay restaurant in Oklahoma City. The chef used to work at the Hilton downtown and many of his dishes are now at home here. Sunday night is beer bust and you'll see more than enough men wearing only underwear and drinking budweiser.

“Don't be afraid to come just for drinks. the bar area is always hopping and the shirtless bartenders are hot hot hot! Some of the hottest men OK has to offer.”

That's one that can be printed on a family-friendly blog but we're all grownups here probably won't be shocked by less circumspect comments about the restaurant at Yelp.

I haven't been able to find a followup to this “advertising campaign” to see how it's turned out for the bigoted restaurant owner.


Hat tip to Darlene Costner again for this beautiful video about pollination. It is from a feature-length Disney film, Wings of Life which you can learn about here.

Meanwhile, enjoy this gorgeous video from the film.

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.

Crabby Old Lady and the Medical Establishment

Throughout her life, Crabby Old Lady's relationship with the world of medicine has been sporadic and she is only half kidding when she says that's what has kept her remarkably healthy through her life because doctors always find something wrong.

It's similar to the world looking like a nail if you are a hammer; if you are a physician, every patient needs treatment.

Since she moved to Oregon in 2010, Crabby's closest connection to the professional health community has been an annual flu shot from a pharmacist. Oh, and her yearly eye exam.

Now and then she reminded herself that she was getting on in years and ought to find a primary care physician so to have a baseline of medical records for comparison if something goes wrong in the future.

Good idea but not as easy as you would think.

Only a few medical schools in the U.S. require short courses – about six weeks – in geriatrics for non-specialists so ideally, Crabby wanted a geriatrician, someone with a lot of education and practical knowledge about old people's health.

That idea did not work out well. When, in her online research, she located a few and called their offices, Crabby was told they were not taking new patients. More than once, she was given that information after being asked what kind of insurance she has – Medicare, of course.

(Crabby is not saying there is a connection between insurance and physician availability but it does leave her wondering what kind of insurance a geriatrician's office would expect most people who need a geriatrician to have.)

After a few such discouraging telephone conversations, Crabby would set aside her search for a future day and did not often return to it.

Moving on.

In January, eight years after the initial diagnosis of cataracts, Crabby's doctor said she was ready for surgery and before she could say howdydoo, she was being evaluated in an eye surgeon's office.

But wait. No surgery without a recent physical examination. Uh-oh. No primary care physician in Crabby's life.

Armed with a recommendation from the surgeon's office, Crabby got lucky that day and within an hour was undergoing a general examination, blood and heart tests, etc. with an internist in the building next door.

So in a period of about three hours, in addition to her established eye doctor, Crabby had acquired an eye surgeon and a primary care physician – a collection that, in 21st century business jargon (it IS business these days), could be referred to as her personal healthcare management team.

Oh, but she was not nearly finished yet.

Crabby Old Lady doesn't remember much about her bout of flu in January. She lost about 10 days of her life and when she awoke clear-headed again, her right foot didn't work properly.

Before she goes any further, let Crabby explain something that won't be a surprise to anyone who has read this far: Crabby's theory of healthcare is that if it is not a broken bone or an artery gushing blood, give whatever is wrong some time and it will probably take care of itself.

Although Crabby does not recommend this conduct for others, her personal experience is that most of the time it works. It did not with her foot.

Step. Flop. Step. Flop. Step. Flop. Crabby could not lower the sole of her foot to the ground in a normal way; it just dropped to the ground (flop) on its own after her heel touched down.

A virtual walk around the web revealed that it was probably something called peroneal neuropathy and after a visit to Crabby's new primary care physician, she was in the office of a neurologist who was sticking electrified needles into her foot and leg.

Yup. Peroneal neuropathy caused, in Crabby's case, probably by crossing her legs - “don't ever do that again in your whole life,” said the neurologist. It's a common condition, he continued, and in Crabby's case treatment will return the foot to normal or near normal function but it will take months of physical therapy.

So Crabby Old Lady, who began 2014 with only an eye doctor, now has a personal healthcare management team consisting of that eye doctor, an eye surgeon (temporary), a primary, a neurologist and a physical therapist. She can't wait to see what's next.

Although there is some comfort now in having a primary care physician – someone to call when something goes wrong in the future - perhaps you can see Crabby's point: get involved with the medical establishment and they multiply like bunnies.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chlele Gummer: My Dandy Brandy

Elders Being Green

[RONNI HERE: Over a period of time, several readers have sent this story via email. At first, I thought it was interesting but perhaps too divisive of generations to be useful.

But as more people forwarded it and I re-read it, I came to see that it is not just cathartic for elders to vent about misperceptions people have of them.

It is also an excellent reminder of how much more we could be doing for the environment by using or adapting behavior that was commonplace in the past.

See what you think:

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

She was right - our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were truly recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorabe, besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks.

This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But too bad we didn't do the green thing back then.

We walked up stairs because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right. We didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV or radio in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

RONNI HERE AGAIN: Among the many terrible kinds of environmental degradation humans cause is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the size of the state of Texas. Sometimes, when I think about it, I have trouble breathing.

Wikipedia has a good overview of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mia McCabe: 50th High School Reunion

ELDER POETRY INTERLUDE: Poem on My 79th Birthday

From time to occasional time, I receive a missive from Tom Delmore who always signs himself, Poet - and that he is. I told you about him and his work in a post last May and his most recent book of poems is available at Amazon and other places on the web.

Tom finds much more interesting poems about old age than I do and last week, he sent one by Peter Everwine who, Wikipedia tells us, grew up in western Pennsylvania

”...was educated in the Midwest. In 1962, he joined Philip Levine on the faculty of Fresno State University. He retired from there in 1992.

“He was a senior Fulbright lecturer in American poetry at the University of Haifa, Israel. In 2008, he was visiting writer at Reed College...

“Everwine is the author of seven collections of poetry...”

He currently lives in Fresno and has won a slew of awards through the years.

Today's poem is from Everwine's book, "Listening Long and Late," published in 2013. You can find that book and others by Everwine at Amazon and elsewhere on the internet.

The other thing I want to mention before you read this poem is that last June, I titled a post, Do Old People Smell Funny? which you can find here if you want to find out about that.

Here, then, Poem on My 79th Birthday. It's short and sure to make you smile.

This morning, in a jelly glass on my table,
a handful of the season's first violets—
a gift from the garden of a dear friend.
Old age, I'm told, has a discernible odor.
Who would have thought mine
would be so delicate,
so piercing sweet.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Monica Devine: Absolution

Is Low-T a Real Condition?

The commercials for prescription drugs to treat what the ads call “low-T” are so frequent and ubiquitous I can almost recite the frightful side effects from memory:

”Stop using AndroGel and call your healthcare provider right away if you see any signs and symptoms of puberty in a child, or changes in body hair or increased acne in a woman...

“AndroGel can cause serious side effects, including: If you already have enlargement of your prostate gland, your signs and symptoms can get worse while using AndroGel...

“Possible increased risk of prostate cancer

“In large doses, AndroGel may lower your sperm count

“Swelling of your ankles, feet, or body, with or without heart failure. This may cause serious problems for people who have heart, kidney, or liver disease.”

Although the quotations are from the safety information at the Androgel website, Axiron and other low-T drugs post similar warnings.

Craig Niederberger, M.D., head of the department of urology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in Consumer Reports confirms personal experience with reduced sperm counts in patients who take low-T drugs:

“I see men every week who are infertile thanks to testosterone therapy,” he says.

Yikes. I've always been suspicious of the commercials, of the fact that there is anything wrong with lower testosterone as a man gets older that needs to be treated. But even if it does, who in their right mind would risk using this drug and who in their right mind would sell a drug with these side effects unless the condition itself was life-threatening?

And anyway, what does the drug do?

Good question. The commercials imply, vaguely, that their low-T drug will help with depression, low energy, weight gain, fatigue, low sex drive. Is it known, I wondered, that low-T causes those conditions?

Glenn Braunstein, an endocrinologist and vice president of clinical innovation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles told the Washington Post,

“'Those symptoms are true of everybody as they age, to a greater or lesser extent...”

Further, explained the Post reporter,

”While those symptoms can all be signs of too little testosterone, they are also caused by other conditions, many of which can be treated with changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle. Hormone experts say that using testosterone as a quick fix for aging may be misguided or, worse, unsafe.”

Writing in The New York Times two weeks ago, internist John La Puma called low-T “a trumped up disease” while noting that

”...a large study published in the journal PLoS ONE found that, within three months, taking the hormone doubled the rate of heart attacks in men 65 and older, as well as in younger men who had heart disease.”

On 31 January 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new study

”...investigating the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death in men taking FDA-approved testosterone products.

“We have been monitoring this risk and decided to reassess this safety issue based on the recent publication of two separate studies that each suggested an increased risk of cardiovascular events among groups of men prescribed testosterone therapy.”

That part about “death in men taking FDA-approved testosterone products” ought to be sobering to any men using one of these drugs.

Low-T sounds to me like another big pharma boondoggle that goes like this:

• Invent an almost plausible-sounding condition
• Create an expensive drug to treat it
• Rake in the dough

Low-T drugs cost up to $400 a month. This chart is from an informative low-T story at Consumer Reports last year:


Did you notice that those numbers in the third chart refer to BILLIONS of dollars? Consumer Reports also produced this short video that crams a lot of information into two minutes:

Last week, Crabby Old Lady told you about some dodgy claims from a well-known physician about how to reverse aging - claims that can't possibly be true because nothing known to mankind reverses aging.

That snake oil only costs money and not all that much. This one could cost a man his life. Keep in mind that the FDA hardly ever investigates a drug once they approve it so when they do, you can bet the issue is serious.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Cassie Rogers: Dessert in the Afternoon

Snow Weekend in Oregon

Let me say right here at the top that compared to weather in a whole lot of the rest of United States recently and ongoing, what happened here in northwest Oregon over the weekend is hardly worth mentioning.

Except, if you live in this part of Oregon it is a once-in-a-decade, or thereabouts, occurrence and therefore remarkable. Three mornings in a row I was shoveling the walkways as the snow just kept coming down.

Although many of you are undoubtedly sick to death of snow, it's a unique event here so I took a couple of photos.

This is my favorite, shot at dawn on Saturday:

Snow February Dawn

Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention to what the weather people were saying but I was surprised when the accumulation got this heavy out my window.

Heavy Snow

The reason this next photo seems a bit washed out is that although you can't see the tiny, individual snowflakes, they are coming down heavily creating a kind of white screen in front of my camera lens.


Mostly, streets don't get plowed here. Even moderate snow storms are so infrequent that cities and towns have little if any removal equipment. So you drive carefully and hope everyone else does too.

On Friday, it was snowing heavily as I made my slow way home from an appointment when a behemoth of a pickup truck appeared in my rear-view mirror riding my bumper. It was so close I didn't dare tap the brakes to warn off the driver.

Hate that. It scares the crap out of me and I was deeply grateful to four winters of experience driving in Maine.

By Sunday afternoon, the temperature warmed up to more than 35 or 40 Farenheit so, as I said above, this was hardly anything to compare to what the midwest and east have been enduring.

It's been a long time since I've mentioned Ollie the cat. In August, he will be 10 years old and he's slowed down a lot, gotten fat too.

We're like an old married couple nowadays, comfortable with one another's quirks.

Generally, that means Ollie lets me know what he wants – usually food, but occasionally it's playtime together or, now and then, a request I can't readily translate from the feline.

When that happens or if I don't respond quickly enough to other demands, he bites my ankle. It's an effective tool and I think the noise I make pleases his sense of superiority.

Ollie was unimpressed with the snow. He peeked out the open front door for about two seconds, looked up at me like I'm nuts and retreated to his favorite chair expressing his additional and lifelong disdain for cameras.

Ollie 2014_02_08

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Editor's Message to ESP Contributors

ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Cities - New Orleans

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

New Orleans

This is easy for me today and it's hard. Easy because there are so many good songs about the city, hard because there are so many good songs about the city and trying to figure out which to omit is the hard part.

These are the tunes I selected. I could do another column with completely different music that would be just as good (musically, that is). It's all rather arbitrary. These are the tracks that caught my fancy today.

New Orleans is synonymous with the birth of jazz but the music from that city I prefer is from a later period, artists like Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dr John, Lee Dorsey, the Neville Brothers and so on. A couple of those will be present today as well as a bit of New Orleans jazz. Other things as well.

The most obvious place to start - well, it is to me - is with a singer who is the musical heart and soul of New Orleans, FATS DOMINO.

Fats Domino

Fats has several New Orleans songs in his canon so I chose one, not quite at random. He didn't write this song, the composer was Bobby Charles, but he said he had Fats in mind when he wrote it.

The song is one of Fats' most famous tunes, Walking to New Orleans.

♫ Fats Domino - Walking to New Orleans

LOUIS ARMSTRONG was born and bred in the city and probably more than anyone else, he developed jazz from a trivial entertainment into the art form it has become.

Louis Armstrong

Louis recorded a number of tunes where he introduced the band. This is one of them, Where the Blues Were Born in New Orleans.

♫ Louis Armstrong - Where The Blues Were Born In New Orleans

You'd think that with ELVIS next up there'd be a complete change of pace, but that's not entirely so.


There's certainly some Dixieland jazz on this track. Not surprising, really, as it was from the film King Creole which was the last of the decent films that Elvis made. All the rest after this were rubbish. The song is New Orleans.

♫ Elvis Presley - New Orleans

Another song just called New Orleans is by HOAGY CARMICHAEL.

Hoagy Carmichael

This is one Hoagy wrote himself and on the record he has the help of ELLA LOGAN.

Ella Logan

Here they are with that song.

♫ Hoagy Carmichael - New Orleans

PROFESSOR LONGHAIR was known to his mum and dad as Henry Byrd, to others as Roy and to his fellow musicians as Fess.

Professor Longhair

Pretty much every pianist from that city who came after him was seriously influenced by his playing. Most of them acknowledge that debt. Fess's track is Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

♫ Professor Longhair - Mardi Gras in New Orleans

BLUE LU BARKER was born Louise Dupont in New Orleans, of course.

Blue Lu Barker

Louise was an accomplished blues and jazz singer both on her own and with husband Danny Barker. She was a regular in the New Orleans music milieu and lived to the age of 84. Here she sings New Orleans Blues.

♫ Blue Lu Barker - New Orleans Blues

JIM PEARCE is a pianist and composer.

Jim Pearce

He has written themes for many TV programs as well as performing around the traps. Jim seems to have attracted a cult following which means that he's a really good muso but few people know about him. More should.

Here is My Last Parade in New Orleans.

♫ Jim Pearce - My Last Parade in New Orleans

WILSON PICKETT was one of the premier soul singers.

Wilson Pickett

Along with many, perhaps most, singers in the genre he started in a church choir. After that he was a member of a gospel quartet and graduated to a soul group, singing pretty much the same way.

He left the group and became a solo singer and soon became as a good as soul singer as anyone (except Otis Redding and Sam Cooke). Wilson sings New Orleans.

♫ Wilson Pickett - New Orleans

JOE LIGGINS & The Honeydrippers were at their prime in the forties and early fifties.

Joe Liggins

Joe was from Oklahoma but moved to California in his teens. He lived in San Diego for a time and then went to Los Angeles, already a seasoned performer.

He formed The Honeydrippers with sax player Little Willy Jackson. The group was named after their first hit (or vice versa). Joe was one of the pioneers of the small jump blues band after the war that presaged rock & roll.

Here they are with Goin' Back to New Orleans.

♫ Joe Liggins & The Honeydrippers - Goin Back to New Orleans

Now for a complete change of pace, a pop song from 1959. I give you FREDDY CANNON.

Freddie Cannon

Frederick Picariello, for that was the name his mum and dad gave him, had nothing to do with our city initially – he was from Massachusetts. However, he seemed to specialize in songs about places from all over the country.

Here is one of them, an old song that Freddy rocked up, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.

♫ Freddy Cannon - Way Down Yonder In New Orleans