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April 2019

A TGB READER'S STORY: Aunt Vickie

By Janet

Today I’ve been thinking about a lady I used to know. It makes sense that I use the word lady, because it implies a gentle manner and is a word that seems to embody who and how she was.

I think we must have met long before my first recollection of her. Nevertheless, the first time she appears in my memory is on a summer afternoon. Her white-grey hair is carefully combed, as always, and she’s wearing one of her floral cotton summer dresses. The pink and white one, I think it was.

She’s standing in the doorway of her tidy little house, holding the door open for us, smiling and chattering cheerfully. We would come to repeat this ritual many times over several summers, but that first time and how she looked on that day has stayed with me for all these years.

She always seemed genuinely happy to see my mom (Patsy) and us. “Oh, Patsy, how are you? Come on in. Look at all these nice kids. Oh, and here’s my little Jeanne!”

My mom and I and some of my siblings had made the two or three mile walk to her house - an easy trek because it was all downhill (and because I didn’t have a toddler to pick up and carry every so often like my mom did).

After taking our shoes off at the door, we respectfully made our way into her house. It was a curious place to me, neat as a pin and simply decorated with old fashioned furniture and knickknacks.

I remember a figurine that sat on a small table by her green and gold lamp. It was of a woman with a fancy hat and gloves and a very glamorous smile painted across her porcelain face.

In the dining room was a corner shelf that held several elegant flowered teacups with matching saucers. I can still picture the bright colors and delicate handles of the teacups, and how strikingly they stood out against the dark ornate wood of the shelf.

I didn’t think about it then, but today I can imagine her placing each teacup in just the right spot, and how she must have dusted them one by one, carefully returning them to their proper place on the shelf.

Her windows were filled with plants. She was a prolific and gifted gardener; one of the many sweet things about her I didn’t truly appreciate until it no longer was. I’m lucky after all these years to have vivid memories of her flower garden, and of her walking gracefully in and out of the rows of beautiful flowers like a butterfly who didn’t want to miss out on a single one.

She was at home in the middle of all those flowers, chatting happily about which ones were doing well, which would bloom next and what colors they would be, stopping here and there to select just the right blossoms for a pretty and colorful bouquet to send home with my mom.

After a visit to her flower garden she would send us to the neighborhood store for vanilla ice cream. She would open the ice cream carton from the side and slice it like a loaf of bread. It was a special treat when raspberries were in season. She’d put them on our ice cream fresh from her garden. I’d be hard pressed to remember having a better treat before or since.

As I write this, I realize I have an overflow of memories about this sweet lady - too many and too fond to write about in one sitting. So just for now, I will remember her the way she was on those sunny summer afternoons, greeting us with a smile, making sure our visit was pleasant and special the way a gracious hostess does, and sending us off with more smiles, happy chatter, some homemade raspberry jam, and of course, a bouquet of beautiful flowers.

Here’s to you, Aunt Vickie.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]




A Mini-Vacation

As I mentioned two Fridays ago, at the oncologist's suggestion I am skipping one chemotherapy treatment just to give myself a little break, a vacation if you will, from the effects of the chemo drugs.

That means four weeks between treatments instead of two and today (Tuesday), I am part way through the third week giving me about 10 more days before the next chemo session.

It feels like such a luxury to have this time. What the chemo is doing for me so far – reducing the size and number of visible cancer nodules – is more than I expected and I'm a little worried that interrupting the infusion schedule might change that. But not so worried that I'm not enjoying every minute of this time.

So this is just filler and there's no need to respond in the comments – unless you've got something you want to say. About anything.




ELDER MUSIC: Beatles Favorites

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.

* * *

I like to walk along the beachfront on days when I’m not otherwise occupied. This is easy to do as I live not far away. Whenever I’m alone on the walk, I usually have my Sony Walkman along for entertainment, and before people make cracks about living in the seventies, cassettes and whatnot, the current model plays digital files.

As I’ve been doing this for 10 years (I’ve upgraded the Walkman a couple of times) I’ve listened to a range of things – serious talks, audio books, music, podcasts and whatever has caught my fancy.

A recent discovery, although it’s been around for a couple of years, is a podcast called “Compleatly Beatles” (that’s the way they spell it) where a couple of Canadians discuss all the Beatles’ albums, one per podcast.

Each song is discussed and occasionally they say something like “That one wouldn’t make my top five Beatles songs, or top 10 or top 50”. That got me thinking along the lines of which are my top ten Beatles songs?

So, here they are in no particular order. Now, before we have the usual, “What about...?”, remember these are my selections. No doubt yours are different.

Beatles

Many people put the song, Things We Said Today down near the bottom of their lists. Even Paul, who wrote it, is believed to be embarrassed by it. Quite obviously, I disagree as it’s in the list. It’s from “A Hard Day’s Night”.

♫ Things We Said Today


Beatles

Eleanor Rigby sounds so integrated that you’d expect that it was written by a single person, but all four of them had a hand in writing it. Maybe that’s the reason.

Paul started it and brought it into the studio where they all finished it off. It’s from the album “Revolver”. Paul said that Eleanor was named after Eleanor Bron who was in the film Help! with them. Rigby is from a wine store he noticed one day and Father McKenzie came from the phone book (well, the McKenzie part).

None of The Beatles played an instrument on the recording.

♫ Eleanor Rigby


Beatles

We Can Work It Out was released as a double-A side single. That’s because Paul wrote (most of) it and he, George and Ringo thought it should be the A-side. John had written, and they had recorded, Day Tripper and he thought that should be the A. So, they compromised.

Paul wrote about his long term, but now deteriorating, relationship with Jane Asher. I think Jane should get some royalties, not just for this one, but she inspired several of Paul’s finest songs.

♫ We Can Work It Out


Beatles

For No One is another song Paul wrote about Jane. It’s a great song, but a heartbreaking one. They often make the best songs.

Paul played all of the instruments except for the French horn that George Martin thought would add to it. He was right. The song is from “Revolver”.

♫ For No One


Beatles

It’s best not to listen too closely to the words of Baby’s in Black because if you do, you can go down a couple of different rabbit holes of interpretation. Just listen on the surface is my advice, but even that’s a bit problematic as I’ve found the song to be a real earworm.

It’s from the album “Beatles for Sale”.

♫ Baby's In Black


Beatles

When Bob Dylan recorded the song Fourth Time Around for his “Blonde on Blonde” album, Al Kooper, who played on the song, suggested that John (Lennon) might sue Bob as it’s an obvious pinch of Norwegian Wood.

Bob said that he wouldn’t as he had played the song for John before Norwegian Wood was even thought of. So, it’s a matter of Bob pinching from John or vice versa. The upshot is that John didn’t sue, or even threaten to. The song appeared on “Rubber Soul”.

♫ Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)


Beatles

Many people think that The Ballad of John and Yoko is a John Lennon solo effort. It’s not, it was attributed to The Beatles and sold really well (okay, everything they did sold really well).

It wasn’t on any of their albums though, it came out as a single. It was The Beatles’ final number one single. Only John and Paul played on the record.

I was surprised that Paul played bass as it’s a rather perfunctory effort from probably the best bass player in rock and roll. He also played piano and drums.

♫ The Ballad of John and Yoko


Beatles

The song And I Love Her is another of Paul’s about Jane. This is from early in their relationship so things are going well at this stage. Because of this, Paul is under represented on the album “A Hard Day’s Night”; John wrote most of the songs for that album.

♫ And I Love Her


Beatles

After recording the album “Let It Be”, no one particularly liked the way it sounded. Several people had a go at remastering it without any success. Finally, John took it along to Phil Spector to see what he could do.

Spector added heavenly choirs, orchestral overdubs and all sorts of bells and whistles. No one was satisfied with that but it was released that way as everyone was sick and tired of the whole thing.

About 15 years ago, Paul got the original tapes and remastered the songs stripped back to the way the album was originally intended to be heard. It was released as “Let It Be (Naked)”, and I think it’s much more interesting than the original.

From that version of the album here is Let It Be, as it should be.

♫ Let It Be


Beatles

Paul wrote the song I’ve Just Seen a Face, and it really moves along at a decent clip. The Dillards recorded the song as well on their album “Wheatstraw Suite”, and it’s a rare instance of a cover being better than the original.

However, today is Beatles day. Paul also wrote the next song on the album (“Help!”), but we don’t have that one today (or yesterday either).

♫ I've Just Seen A Face


Beatles

If I were ranking the songs, the next one would have to be put at the very top of the heap. It’s amazing that the song In My Life was written by men in their twenties. It was mostly John’s song, with a little help from Paul.

It certainly gave the album “Rubber Soul” added gravitas.

♫ In My Life


Beatles

On the subject of life, the next (and last) song probably had to be present. If I left it out it’d be like omitting Like a Rolling Stone from a Bob Dylan selection.

From “Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”, here is A Day in the Life, an appropriate note on which to finish as it concluded that album in fine style.

♫ A Day In The Life

Okay, the “top ten” blew out a bit, but I imagine that’d be the same for everyone.




INTERESTING STUFF – 18 May 2019

86 YEAR OLD ACES DRIVING TEST

In Britain, the Institute of Advanced Motorists' test examines a higher level of skills than the standard practical driving exam. Mrs Bradshaw first passed in 1977 but she decided to take it again to prove she still could.

This time, she was just one mark short of a perfect score.

More at the BBC.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS - A CAT AND CHICKS

Nothing else to see except this one still shot – but it makes me smile and maybe you too.

CatandChicks

There are 49 more funny animal photos at Bored Panda.

ALEX TREBEK/PANCREATIC CANCER UPDATE

Alex Trebek said Monday that the opening of the Centre for Geography and Exploration in Ottawa was the culmination of a "fantastic" two weeks, including what he hopes was his last chemotherapy session.

Take a listen.

RESCUING ZOO ANIMALS FROM WAR ZONES

Who takes care of zoo animals when was breaks out? There are people who do that. As the Youtube page explains:

”Imagine being trapped in a cage as active combat rages around you. That’s the terrifying reality for zoo animals living in war zones. Veterinarian Amir Khalil is saving as many as he can. He runs the rapid response unit of the animal rescue organization Four Paws and risks his life rushing into trouble spots around the globe, treating and evacuating shell-shocked, starving and injured animals.”

CO2 HIGHER THAN EVER BEFORE IN HUMAN HISTORY

Reports TechCrunch, among most other news sources,

”The human race has broken another record on its race to ecological collapse. Congratulations humanity!

“For the first time in human history — not recorded history, but since humans have existed on Earth — carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 415 parts per million, reaching 415.26 parts per million...”

CO2highestever

Or, perhaps we could look at this way:

CleanAirCartoon

”The properties of CO2 also mean that it adds to the greenhouse effect in a way that other emissions do not, thanks to its ability to absorb wavelengths of thermal energy that things like water vapor can’t. That’s why increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance causing Earth’s temperature to rise, according to the NOAA.

More at TechCrunch.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT “REAL ID” IS? I DIDN'T

It's important because as of 1 October 2020, you will not be allowed to fly within the United States without a “Real ID” and most people so far do not have the proper kind of ID.

The TSA has answers for a list of commonly asked questions here.

FIRST TOUR INSIDE FIRE-DAMAGED NOTRE DAME IN PARIS

A walk through parts of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

There is more information and more photographs at ABC News.

WASHINGTON BECOMES FIRST STATE TO CREATE LONG-TERM CARE PROGRAM

TGB reader John Gear sent this story about Washington state enacting the first insurance program for long term care.

”All residents will pay 58 cents on every $100 of income into the state’s trust. After state residents have paid into the fund for ten years—three if they experience a catastrophic disabling event—they’ll be able to tap $100 a day up to a lifetime cap of $36,500 when they need help with daily activities such as eating, bathing, or dressing.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill into law last Monday. You can read more at The Nation and The Olympian.

WHY OTTERS HOLD HANDS WHILE FLOATING

Well, the obvious answer is the correct one but you probably figured that out yourself. This is just an excuse to show you some really cute otters.

* * *

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” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I 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.




Making a Misery of Old Age?

In response to Wednesday's post about MIT's AGNES suit, I was startled to find this email in my inbox:

”I think people make too much misery out of old age. My eyes are dimming and so are my ears, my steps are slow. My breath is short and my nights long. My husband of 62 years died in Jan.

“Nevertheless I see friends daily, go to weekly workshops, write a newspaper column, just went to NYC with friends and visited family in NJ. I see lots of movies and read the NYTimes and a cascade of books. At 86 I don't expect miracles, but for now I'm having a fine time.”

How lucky that you apparently do not have any major impediments to being as active as you want. That is not true for all old people nor do they bring it on themselves, as you appear to imply. According to the U.S. National Council on Aging,

”...about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68 percent have at least two. In our survey, nearly one in two seniors reported living with two or more chronic conditions...

”From making it difficult to perform daily tasks such as walking up steps or bathing, to causing significant physical, emotional, and financial strain, these diseases can take an extensive toll, particularly among seniors. What’s more, without proper care, chronic illness can reduce quality of life, and keep seniors from maintaining the level of independence they desire.”

God knows I've said it often enough here over 15 years but one more time seems necessary: we age at entirely different rates. Sometimes a 50-year-old needs full-time care and other times, a 90-year-old is functioning as well as we expect a healthy 50-year-old to do.

My surprise at reading this email wasn't done. Checking the comments on the blog, I saw that about half a dozen dismissed the AGNES suit out of hand:

”I have a strong negative reaction to these types of suits,” wrote James Cotter. “They suggest that ALL older persons experience all of these decrements at one time. They do not reflect the experience of growing older, especially for those who have maintained decent health and mobility.”

Let's stop right there with “...those who have maintained decent health and mobility.” What about the people who haven't? Does anyone here think it is the patient's fault she was diagnosed with MS at age 31? And no, AGNES does not suggest that all old people suffer exactly the same experiences.

”I think these toys have some utility,” wrote Harold, “but they will not provide insight into what it's like to wake up with these limitations permanently installed and likely to become more pronounced and an awareness that this is the best it's ever going to be.”

First, AGNES is not a toy. For well more than a decade, MIT has used the suit to help people design products and services that help elders engage with the world more easily.

As to understanding that limitations are often permanent, we can't ask people to wear the suit for a week or a month or more. But a day will do it quite well in increasing understanding of elders.

Jeanette wrote, ”...what is missing is their learning that there is an interior life - where we can explore as many different worlds as they do - where we can laugh, make love, watch Mick Jagger on a rope bridge - we can read, listen to music and through the magic of technology.”
”...for real understanding of coping with some of the simulated conditions,” wrote Emma J., “I suspect the value may be minimal. The emotional and psychological aspects of coping with chronic pain, limited mobility, vision and hearing deficiencies, dental problems, poverty without realistic hope of eventual relief can be insidious.”

Oh, I'm not so sure about that, Jeanette and Emma J. No one needs any kind of suit to imagine other worlds, to laugh, make love, etc. Young people do those things every day. And I would bet good money that after even an hour or so in the suit, participants begin to see the difficulties you mention, Emma J. We all come to realize that growing old won't always be easy.

No suit can exactly emulate a human being physically, emotionally or any other way. But for many years, AGNES has been educating people who need or want to know what daily life is like for old people. Let's not throw out that baby with the bath water – the AGNES suit is a good tool that has proved its importance and usefulness in hundreds of ways.

As it happens, just a week ago, The New Yorker published a long, online profile of the director of the MIT AgeLab, Joseph Coughlin, written by the estimable Adam Gopnik who tried out the AGNES suit. I will quote his experience with it:

Slowly pulling on the aging suit and then standing up—it looks a bit like one of the spacesuits that the Russian cosmonauts wore—you’re at first conscious merely of a little extra weight, a little loss of feeling, a small encumbrance or two at the extremities.

“Soon, though, it’s actively infuriating. The suit bends you. It slows you. You come to realize what makes it a powerful instrument of emotional empathy: every small task becomes effortful. 'Reach up to the top shelf and pick up that mug,' Coughlin orders, and doing so requires more attention than you expected.

“You reach for the mug instead of just getting it. Your emotional cast, as focused task piles on focused task, becomes one of annoyance; you acquire the same set-mouthed, unhappy, watchful look you see on certain elderly people on the subway.

“The concentration that each act disrupts the flow of life, which you suddenly become aware is the happiness of life, the ceaseless flow of simple action and responses, choices all made simultaneously and mostly without effort. Happiness is absorption, and absorption is the opposite of willful attention.

“The annoyance, after a half hour or so in the suit, tips over into anger: Damn, what’s wrong with the world? (Never: What’s wrong with me?)

“The suit makes us aware not so much of the physical difficulties of old age, which can be manageable, but of the mental state disconcertingly associated with it—the price of age being perpetual aggravation.

“The theme and action and motive of King Lear suddenly become perfectly clear. You become enraged at your youngest daughter’s reticence because you have had to struggle to unroll the map of your kingdom.”

MIT AgeLab has worked with thousands of volunteers of all ages – including old adults even past age 85 - to participate in research and interactive workshops. And the AGNES suit has helped other thousands create new technologies that help people design products, delivery services and policies that improve the lives of elders.

And here's something else that is useful – recounting the “misery of old age.”

When I began this blog 15 years ago, I was appalled by all the negative writing about old people. Whether academic research, news and magazine stories, movies, TV, novels and more, the prevailing attitude was that getting old is the worst thing that can happen to anyone.

I didn't believe that and then made the rookie mistake of ignoring too much of the downsides of ageing. Looking back at those years, I found a lot of overstatement on my part about how good life is after 60 or 70 or 80 and more.

Geez. Of COURSE, our bodies slow down. Some body parts stop working properly. Others give out. Mysterious aches and pains show up. It's what bodies do. The key in old age is to adapt but that's for another day.

What I've changed here at TGB now since I realized my early mistake in being a bit too rosy about the effects of growing old, is make room on a fairly regular basis to complain and moan and groan and bitch about the irritations of life in the old person lane.

I believe this kind of time is valuable particularly now when we in the oldest generation have lived most of our adult lives in an atmosphere where old age could barely be acknowledged let alone discussed.

But it helps - a lot sometimes - to learn that other people are struggling through the same things you are. It doesn't mean we don't also laugh, read books, go to the movies and whatever else engages us that is still possible. But letting off steam together kind of clears the air.

But no one here is “making a misery of old age.”




What It's Like to Be Old

That headline is not about me nor is it about most of you who are reading this. We're already old and we know quite well what being old is like.

Instead, I'm talking about much younger people, the ones who invent, design and/or market products and services for and to old people. You know, the ones who haven't a clue about what old age is like but who don't let that get in the way of telling old people what's good for them.

Like I once was and was Ceridwen Dovey, a 30-ish novelist and short story writer who tried to create a late-80s-year-old-man (among other elders) from her imagination. As she said later in the New Yorker about her attempt:

”I modeled my characters on the two dominant cultural constructions of old age: the doddering, depressed pensioner and the ageless-in-spirit, quirky oddball.

“After reading the first draft, an editor I respect said to me, 'But what else are they, other than old?'”

This next quotation, longer than the first, is from psychologist Tamara McClintock Greenberg writing in Psychology Today about learning what many elders live with every day.

After being outfitted with earplugs, popcorn kernels for her shoes, gloves to simulate neuropathy and eyeglasses to limit peripheral vision, she tried the “simple” activity of walking no more than a few feet down a hall.

”I thought to myself,” said Dr. Greenberg, “'I can do this.'”

“Then, given a cane, I was asked to walk down the hall. It was maybe 100 feet. I was pretending to be an elder with impaired hearing and vision, bad mobility and numbness in my hands and pain in my feet. I realized that I was not sure that I could actually complete the walk down the hall.

“Suddenly, my class exercise did not feel like a game. I started to panic. From the loss of peripheral vision, I could not see who was standing next to me, and I started to feel suspicious. As I walked, I had a lovely young woman at my side (I was lucky, she is a physical therapist in real life), who could help me if I needed it.

“I did not want help however; I wanted out of my body, which felt trapped, alone, and isolated. Weirdly, even though we were pretending, I felt mad at my companion, who had a body that worked so much better than mine.

“It was at this moment I understood something in a way that I never have before. I thought, I might kill myself if I had to live this way.”

She's not alone in that thought and some elders carry it through to its logical conclusion. Most, however, do not.

As it turns out, those changes that were made to limit Dr. Greenberg's mobility already exist in what the Age Lab at MIT calls its AGNES suit (invented at the Age Lab) that simulates the physical difficulties that come with old age. Here is a short video about what AGNES does:

There is a further explanation on the YouTube page:

”Put on this suit and you feel increased fatigue, reduced flexibility in joints and muscles, spinal compression, and difficulty with vision and balance.

“Altogether, AGNES is more than just a suit. It is a calibrated method developed and constructed by exercise physiologists, engineers, and designers. As demographics shift, we need to fully understand the needs of an aging population to design a future that is accessible and engaging for people of every age.”

The Try Guys are a group of four comedians, actors and filmmakers who, since 2014, have been making videos about – well, anything they are curious about – what it's like to be a mother, changing diapers, making cupcakes, pottery and in today's case, testing the AGNES suit.

Last month, the Age Lab posted several videos about ageing – two of them about the AGNES suit. Here is the first one with the four members of The Try Guys along with the director of the Age Lab, Joseph Coughlin. (Pay attention to him. He knows a lot about what it's like to be old.)

These are long-ish videos. If you are up for more, here is the video of The Try Guys wearing the suits for a full day. The video makes an important point about being old that is rarely mentioned – how hard it is to get through a day of what we called normal activity when we were younger, but no more. It's not easy when you're old.

MIT AgeLab and the AGNES suit have helped many companies design products and services that better and more realistically serve old people's needs.

As I've said many times and Joseph Coughlin says at least once in these videos, anything that improves life for old people does so, too, for people of every age. As just one example, curb cuts work as well for mothers with kids in strollers as they do for adults in wheel chairs and scooters.

We need a lot more of such seemingly “ordinary” innovations; the U.S. Census Bureau tells us that “by 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18.”

Feel free to add anything in the comments that would help not-yet-old people understand what being old is like.

(Even though they've been around online since 2014, I had never heard of The Try Guys before researching this story. They're funny while trying all sorts of things they've never done before and in addition to laughs they leave you, by the end of each episode, with some interesting thoughts, ideas, facts and information you probably didn't know before.)

Here is their YouTube channel.




A TGB READER STORY: Widgie

By Sylvia Li

Dad never saw himself as a storyteller. He was a nuclear physicist, overlaid on a practical hands-on prairie farm boy who knew how to stook wheat and machine his own steel screws.

He didn't much believe in fiction, except when it was literature, which he respected. He wanted truth if he could get it. New truth about the deep nature of the universe thrilled him. Failing that, he didn't mind not knowing the answer to a question.

All the same, when his two adored preschool kids demanded, "Tell us a story, Daddy!" What could he do but try?

He spun us fantastic tales of adventure, making them up on the fly, desperately grasping fragments out of the air from anything he could remember. We were the most enthusiastically receptive audience anyone could hope for. The tiniest of hints painted whole shared worlds.

Widgie? He was a little boy who lived in Carleton Place, right on the edge of town with fields and woods just past his back gate where he could go to play every day. (When I was older I was disappointed to learn that Carleton Place is a real town just outside of Ottawa. What? It isn't a magical realm like the North Pole?)

Widgie stories were the best. Oh, the exciting adventures he had! He picked hazelnuts and wild strawberries. He ran a race across the fields with an old woman on a flying bicycle. And won.

In the woods he found a little house made of salt. There was a huge old tree he loved to climb. High in its branches he met friendly bears, and an elephant with an umbrella, and bees.

One afternoon in late October, Widgie fell asleep leaning against his tree. When he woke it was night. Stumbling around in the dark, he tumbled down a deep hole between two gnarly roots. Luckily he wasn't hurt.

After he dusted himself off, he discovered he was on a staircase leading down to a cave lit by a kerosene lamp. He was surprised to see chairs and tables and cupboards. In one cupboard was a wooden box and in the box there was a fine fur cape, the kind a very rich man would wear. He tried it on, just to see.

Right away, it wrapped around and became his skin. He turned into a wolf!

All night long he ran through the forest meeting ghosts and witches and skeletons. He was not even a little bit scared. After all, he was a wolf with very sharp teeth.

He wasn't scared, but we were. How was Widgie going to get back to being a boy? Dad didn't say. Years later he confessed that he himself didn't know. Maybe that's why I remember it best!

Mum put her foot down, though. Even if it was Halloween, she said, no more scary stories at bedtime.

* * *

["Stook" is a real verb, though almost nobody does it anymore. It means stacking bound sheafs of cut grain by threes to dry in the hot sun before threshing.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]




Skin Hunger and Elders

”Touch is the most primitive of all the senses,” explains a physician writing in Psychology Today two years ago. ”It is the first sense to develop, and is already present from just eight weeks of gestation...

“Compared to children, adults are less dependent on touch, but older adults, who tend to be more alone, more vulnerable, and more self-aware, are likely to need considerably more skin contact than their younger counterparts.

“Therapy animals have become common in care homes, and, despite a lifetime of reservations, residents can be encouraged to hold hands or rub each other’s shoulders.”

Even with all the joy and solace pets can provide, I have my personal doubts about therapy animals - not to be confused with robot animals – but both seem to work for some people.

And a good thing that is because the older we get, the fewer friends we have. Last time I wrote about skin hunger here six years ago, one quotation made that poignantly clear (the source website no longer exists):

“One elderly woman put it this way, 'Sometimes I hunger to be held. But he is the one who would have held me. He is the one who would have stroked my head. Now there is no one. No comfort.'”

I know something about that feeling and I have no doubt some of you do too. You can't get as old as some of us are without our social circles shrinking.

Studies have shown, according to Newsday, that people who are significantly devoid of human contact or who resist or avoid touch, could be at a higher risk for experiencing depression and stress. They are likely to be less happy, more lonely, and in general have worse health...”

Further, according to Newsday,

”Satisfying your skin hunger requires you to have meaningful physical contact with another person. Although many people satisfy their skin hunger through sex, or in fact, confuse the need for touch with the need for sex, skin hunger isn't really a sexual need...

“Neuro-chemically, human touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which is shown to be integral to human bonding and in intimacy. Showing affection physically to those closest to us, from something as simple as a pat on the shoulder or back rub, or a hug establishes trust and communicates a commitment to them, and their well being, as well as to bonding with them.”

There are studies, too, showing that as little as 15 minutes a day of touching usually bring benefits. Further, according to The Atlantic,

Studies that involved as little as 15 daily minutes found that touch alone, even devoid of the other supportive qualities it usually signifies, seems to have myriad benefits...

And from The New Yorker:

“In her New York Times Modern Love essay, writer Michelle Fiordaliso makes the case for unexpected moments of intimacy between strangers. 'Touch solidifies something – an introduction, a salutation, a feeling, empathy,' she writes.”

Evidence has been piling up for years that from cradle to grave, the human touch is a necessity to our wellbeing. Newborns who are not held and cuddled do not thrive. And neither do old people. In one series of studies,

”...one group of elderly participants received regular, conversation-filled social visits while another received social visits that also included massage; the second group saw emotional and cognitive benefits over and above those of the first.”

We are living, in these current times, in a touch-free environment, where touching one another is seen as dangerous.

Maria Konnokova reported in her New Yorker story:

”Recently, the Toronto District School Board warned its employees that 'there is no safe touch when you work with children.' Many of our kids spend most of the day in a touch-free zone.

“We don’t mind getting a massage, but we fear embracing touch wholeheartedly, either because we think it’s dangerous, in the case of young children, or 'touchy-feely,' in the case of adults. We await what Tiffany Field, in 1998, called 'a shift in the social-political attitude toward touch.'”

Why wait? The evidence is strong that touching appears to help keep us healthy. Why not start changing this now?




ELDER MUSIC: Classical Predilections 4

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.

* * *

More stuff that has caught my ears in recent times.

GUSTAV HOLST is mainly known these days, probably only known, for The Planets.

Holst

I’ve never been a fan of that suite, but he wrote other stuff that’s more to my liking. One of those is rather amusingly called A Fugal Concerto, for flute, oboe & string orchestra, Op. 40-2, H. 152. Here is the first movement.

♫ Holst - A Fugal Concerto for flute oboe & string orchestra Op. 40-2 H. 152 (1)


ARCANGELO CORELLI was a major figure in Baroque music, much admired by Handel and Bach.

Corelli

He did more than anyone to develop the sonata and concerto forms of music we know today. As was the custom then, others were not above pinching tunes from their contemporaries, and if you listen closely to his Fugue for Four Voices (although no one’s actually singing) you’ll see where Handel got his Hallelujah Chorus.

Bach appropriated this tune as well. Check the original called Fuga a Quattro voci, played by the New Dutch Academy.

♫ Corelli - Fuga a Quattro voci


Coming right up to date, indeed to the present day, we have someone who’s younger than most of us who are reading this: LUDOVICO EINAUDI.

Ludovico Einaudi6

Ludo is an Italian composer, noted mostly for film and TV scores, but he composes “serious” works as well. He’s often lumped into the “minimalist” movement just because people like to label things, but he’s much more than that.

Here he plays his composition Bella Notte (beautiful night).

Ludovico Einaudi - Bella Notte


J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most famous, and loved, pieces of music of all time. However, old Johann wasn’t the only one who used this topic. Indeed, he wasn’t even the first.

Before him (and I can’t say if he was the first, I imagine that he wasn’t) was RICHARD DAVY. Old Rich didn’t stand still long enough to have his photo taken. He was an English composer in the 15th century and his works were compiled in the Eton Choirbook (along with others from the time).

The book is a collection of motets and magnificats devoted to the cult of Mary, a tradition that was pretty much obliterated by the Reformation. Fortunately, his music survived.

This is the eleventh and final movement, “Ah Gentle Jesu”, of his St Matthew Passion.

♫ Davy - Ah Gentle Jesu


ANTON WRANITZKY (or Antonin Vranicky) was a Czech composer and violinist.

Wranitzky

He followed his big brother Paul to Vienna, where he became a pupil of both Mozart and Haydn - talk about learning from the best. He later became friends with Beethoven – now there’s an accomplishment.

He was well regarded in his day for his compositions, particularly his violin concertos, one of which we have today. The third movement of his Violin Concerto in C Major. Op. 11.

♫ Wranitzky A - Violin Concerto in C Major. Op. 11 (3)


DOMINENICO ZIPOLI was an Italian Baroque composer.

Zipoli

Somehow or other he got to Spain where he joined the Jesuits as he wanted to go to South America to teach the indigenous peoples about music (and God and stuff, I suppose).

He did just that ending up in what’s now Argentina, where he served as musical director at one of the churches. Alas, some sort of disease struck him down; details of his life are a bit sketchy.

He wrote a bunch of really nice Suites and Partitas, presumably for the harpsichord, but today played on a piano: Suite No. 1 in B Minor, the fourth movement.

♫ Zipoli - Suite No. 1 in B Minor (4)


I always like to include a string quartet in these columns, but this one is a little different. Instead of the usual line up of instruments, two violins, a viola and a cello, everyone took a step to the right and took up two violas, a cello and a double bass.

I really like the way this sounds. The person responsible for this was GEORG WAGENSEIL.

Wagenseil

Although virtually unknown these days, Georg was quite famous in his day – both Haydn and Mozart took note of what he was doing. What he was doing this day was writing what he called the Sonata VI in G, the second movement. Really, it’s a string quartet before the term had been invented.

♫ Wagenseil - Sonata VI in G (2)


I used not to like GIOACHINO ROSSINI very much but my radio station kept playing him over the years and I gradually became a fan.

Rossini

He wrote one of the most famous arias in opera, Largo al factotum della citta, from “The Barber of Seville”. I’m sure most of you will recognize it when you hear it. Simon Keenlyside sings it.

♫ Rossini - Largo al factotum della citta


FELIX MENDELSSOHN wrote his “Songs Without Words” for a solo piano, and, of course, no singer was in evidence.

Mendelssohn

Naturally, through the years people have tinkered with these. In the case today we have a cello (played by Steven Isserlis) join the piano (played by Melvyn Tan). This is the one D Major, Op. 109.

♫ Mendelssohn - Song Without Words for Cello and Piano in D Major Op. 109


LOUIS SPOHR wrote music for the clarinet that was nearly as good as Mozart’s. Nearly, but that means it was very good indeed.

Spohr

His first concert tour (playing violin) was when he was only 15, and during that he wrote his first violin concerto. Later on he used to play with Beethoven, and complained that Beethoven’s piano was out of tune. Perhaps Ludwig didn’t know (that’s a joke, not a very good one).

Anyway, he wrote a whole bunch of stuff, the usual compositions, including the Clarinet Concerto No.4 in E minor WoO 20. This is the third movement.

♫ Spohr - Clarinet Concerto No.4 in E minor WoO 20 (3)




INTERESTING STUFF – 11 May 2019

NYT HEALTH REPORTER EXTRAORDINAIRE, ROBERT PEAR, DIES AT 69

RobertPear200
For as long as I can remember I have relied on The New York Times health reporter Robert Pear to give me the best, most accurate and thorough general reporting on health issues. As his paper noted in their obituary of Pear this week, his byline appeared on more than 6,700 Times articles.

”Elisabeth Bumiller, the current Washington bureau chief, recalled that 'the phrase “We have HEALTH by Pear' was uttered hundreds of times in front-page meetings, to the relief of a generation of executive editors,” referring to the shorthand tag with which his proposed articles were named or, in newspaper parlance, slugged.

“'In his memory we are retiring the slug HEALTH,' she said, 'because it can only be by Pear.'”

There must be thousands of people like me who have relied on Robert Pear for health news and, also like me, probably have no idea where to turn now for information as smart and informed as his.

SEAGULLS TAKE OVER LONDON TRAFFIC CAM

For a couple of days last week, some seagulls spent a good deal of their time hanging on a traffic cam in London. A lot of people took photographs and the birds even seemed to pose for the camera. Here's one of the many videos:

DRUG MAKERS MUST NOW INCLUDE PRICE IN TV DRUG COMMERCIALS

If you watch cable television, you have undoubtedly seen the ubiquitous commercials for two arthritis drugs, Humira and Xeljanz. But as frequently as you've seen those adverts, they never told you the price.

Now, probably beginning in about July, advertisers will be required to include the drug's price if it is more than $35, and on these two drugs, you are in for big-time sticker shock. As The New York Times reports:

”Two dosing pens of AbbVie’s Humira, which treats rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions, have an average retail price of $5,684, according to the website GoodRx which tracks drug prices. Another frequently advertised drug, Xeljanz, a Pfizer arthritis medication, costs about $4,840 a month.”

Of course, the pharmaceutical companies can sue over the new regulation (doesn't everyone these days?) and it might never happen. But it should. And it should apply also to print and online advertising.

You can read more at STAT.

DESKTOP CLEANUP

You can tell by the gigantic monitor that this is an old, old video. But it made me laugh out loud and maybe you will too.

WHEN KIDS WERE MAILED VIA THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE

Yes, you read that right – mailing children – and it was legal in the early years of the 20th century. This is an audio report from the Washington Post:

Here's the Washington Post print report.

DENVER VOTES TO DECRIMINALIZE MAGIC MUSHROOMS

The election is not certified yet, but it appears that the city of Denver has voted to decriminalize use of “magic mushrooms,” also known as psilocybin.

”Initiative 301 set to pass narrowly with 50.6 percent of the vote. The total stands at 89,320 votes in favor and 87,341 against, a margin of 1,979,” reports the Denver Post.

“The Denver Elections Division will continue accepting military and overseas ballots, but typically those numbers are small. Results will be certified May 16.”

The Post explains further:

”Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin 'breakthrough therapy' designation for its potential to help with treatment-resistant depression, a status that speeds up the development and review process for a medicine containing the substance.

“As written, I-301 directs police via ordinance to treat enforcement of laws against possession of psilocybin mushrooms as their lowest priority. It also bars the use of city resources or money to impose criminal penalties.”

Groups in Oregon and California are working to include a similar vote on psilocybin on the 2020 ballot. Some other states are said to be considering a vote too.

(Full disclosure: As I've reported in these pages, last December I participated in a magic mushroom guided “trip” to deal with some issues about dying associated with my pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I am now a believer. You can read that report here and here.)

THE NEW SLAM DUNKING ZOO OTTER

She's the cutest thing, Juno the rescue otter is.

For many years, Eddie the Otter was a favorite among visitors to the Oregon Zoo in Portland where he showed off his skill at slam-dunking his own basketball. It was a sad day when, at age 20, Eddie died last year.

The staff knew they needed to find another such otter and lo – Juno, a five-year-old southern sea otter turned up:

"She was rescued as a pup near Monterey Bay in California, after her mom went missing. She is a good otter, according to the person whose job it is to evaluate otters,” reports the Washington Post.

“'She’s just a sweet, awesome otter. I can’t say enough great things about her, marine life keeper Amy Hash said. 'She’s high-energy. She loves to train. She’s a happy little otter.'”

Catch up with Juno's story in this video:

NEW ARMY UNIFORM

The U.S. Army will be rolling out a new uniform next year:

”The United States Army wanted a spiffy new service uniform, one that would stand out in a tough recruiting environment and polish the Army’s image after a generation of grinding and divisive wars,” reports The New York Times.

“So it turned the clock back. Way back.

“It chose a new uniform that looks almost exactly like the old green gabardine wool field coat and khaki trousers that officers wore in World War II. Probably not by coincidence, that’s what the Army was wearing the last time the nation celebrated total victory in a major war.”

Maybe the uniform is “way back” to the reporter on the the story, but probably not to many of us who hang out at this blog. I instantly remembered my dad in an almost identical uniform during World War II.

Here he is in the early 1940s before being shipped overseas, along with the planned “new” uniforms. (Sorry I can't find a full-body shot of my father in uniform but trust me, they look the same.)

DadPlusNewUniforms

I think the new uniforms look spiffy and terrific. You can find out more at The New York Times.

GEORGE CLOONEY PSA ON DUMB FUCKERY FOR UDUMASS

Last Monday, the United Nations released a summary of its report about the mess we humans have made of planet Earth. It is terrifying.

'That’s where George Clooney comes in,” reported Slate.

“The actor, director, and two-time Sexiest Man Alive paid a visit to Jimmy Kimmel Live to endorse a crucial new initiative fighting “dumb fucking idiots saying dumb fucking shit.”

“It’s called United to Defeat Untruthful Misinformation and Support Science, aka UDUMASS. Peppered with bleep-outs, Clooney’s parody shill video cleverly calls out governmental ignorance without naming names.”

Here it is:

* * *

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” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I 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.




Living with Cancer

Saul Friedman

Let me tell you about my friend, Saul Friedman. Born in 1929, he was a life-long political journalist, reporting for some of the major news outlets in the U.S. - the Houston Chronicle, Knight-Ridder, Newsday and more.

In 1968, he shared a Pulitzer Prize for team coverage of the 1967 Detroit riot, for the Detroit Free Press.

I was privileged and proud when, in November 2009, Saul chose to relocate his bi-weekly Reflections column from Newsday to Time Goes By and added a second weekly column just for us TGB older folks, Gray Matters.

His final column, titled “Gray Matters: Small Miracles”, was published on 18 December 2010, chronicling his years living with cancer.

Saul died of a type of stomach cancer on 24 December 2010. I think you might like that last column – this link will take you to it.

Here we are now these almost 10 years later and it is I who lives with cancer. As Saul well knew, even when chemo or other therapies are going well and even when you feel fine between treatment sessions, the word, the idea, the reality of cancer is always hanging around making a low buzz at the edges of one's consciousness.

Since early January, I have been taking bi-weekly chemo treatments that last all of one day at the chemo clinic and continue with a personal body pump strapped to me for two more days.

So far, these have been remarkably successful, having reduced the size of some of the cancer nodules and maintained that through all the treatments so far. They also make me extra tired so that I nap a lot for a few days, kill my appetite so I lose weight that I can't afford to do and give me a few other, minor side effects that fade within a few days.

The result is that I have about 10 days between the bi-weekly chemo treatments that are almost normal. And don't think I don't appreciate it.

When I met with my oncologist a couple of weeks ago, he suggested that I might want a bit of a rest from the chemo and that I could skip one treatment giving me four weeks between treatments instead of only two.

At first, I rejected the suggestion out of hand. The chemo has been working so well, I thought, why take a chance of disrupting its efficacy. But then, as chemo brain was lifting and other side effects from last week's infusion were fading, I kept thinking about what a nice, little, two-week respite it would be.

And so I have until the end of this month to be chemo-free for which I am grateful.

It is already a good-sized miracle that I am still here. About 90 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die with a year.

When I recently realized that it has been almost two years since my diagnosis, I went back to re-read some of Saul's columns about life, death and cancer.

Here is a snippet from one titled, “Reflections: My Companion, Cancer” about how hardly any progress had been made toward curing cancer:

”The moon landing, accomplished in eight years, the Manhattan Project, successful in less than ten years, the eradication of malaria in the U.S., cures for tuberculosis and polio, were American accomplishments in the 20th century. I see no such effort focused on the most vicious killer, cancer.

“You might say I have a vested interest in this. That would be wrong. Unless someone comes up with a magic bullet tomorrow, I will have to live with my constant companion and take my chemo and hope. But too many people, and some of whom you know, are suffering and dying around us.

“I remember what it was like before and after Salk. I’d like my kids to experience that feeling, when the fear of a disease is lifted.”

And this from Saul's final column linked above is less about reporting and more about – well, small miracles. (The “both” he refers to in the first sentence is the brilliant author, political journalist and literary critic, Christopher Hitchens, who died in 2011 of esophageal cancer.)

”Both of us owe our cancers and/or the cures not to divine intervention, but to the miracles of illness and health. They are life affirming.

“Life, illness, happiness, good fortune and bad, even good and bad presidents (I have covered) are all part of what the 11th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam had in mind when he wrote, 'Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.' And,

”That inverted bowl they call the sky,
Where under crawling, cooped we live and die.
Lift not your hands to it for help,
For it impotently moves as you or I.”

If, as I sometimes wonder, I am making some small difference for others as I ruminate on and write about my cancer journey, Saul even had something to say to me about that - from the same column:

”The point of all this, in a season made for reflection, is to tell the story of how it feels to become and stay old for one very lucky older American, for most of us, despite and because of illness, embrace life more fully than ever.”



The Alex and Ronni Show Plus Medically Assisted Suicide

Yesterday, my former husband, Alex Bennett, and I recorded our biweekly video. We caught up on my condition with pancreatic cancer and talked a great deal about Jeopardy! host Alex Trebeck's recent diagnosis of the same disease.

We also spent some time on climate change, on both Trebeck's and my personal feelings of our great, good luck having so many people who send us much love, concern and care about our disease. We even managed to sneak in a short mention of “Jeopardy James” at the end. Have a look:

In the comments on Monday's post titled, High Rates of Suicide Among Elders, TGB reader Ellen asked,

”Are you, Ronni, considering suicide? I support whatever decision you make. Realize also that there is a suicide hotline phone number. Call them first.”

Not “considering suicide” it, Ellen. I have chosen it – medical aid in dying - when the time comes.

Although we have discussed this before on this blog, it has been awhile. I live in Oregon which more than 20 years ago passed the first “death with dignity law” - also known as “physician-assisted suicide” and “medical aid in dying” along with a few other names.

In April this year, New Jersey's governor signed a bill making that state the eighth to allow terminally ill patients to request prescriptions from their doctors for medication to end their lives. It will go into effect on 1 August.

Of course, using these laws is a bit more complicated than just saying, “Hey doc, I'm ready for those pills.”

All the states that allow medical aid in dying have similar restrictions in place. Among them:

The patient requesting the drugs must be mentally competent

He/she must have fewer than six months to live as diagnosed by a physician

The patient must initiate the request for the drugs

The request must be confirmed by two people who are not the patient's physician nor employed by the health care facility treating the patient

If the patient wishes to proceed, he/she must wait at least 15 days before making a second request

The patient must administer the drug him- or herself

Wikipedia has a good short overview of how the laws generally work.

The State of Oregon's website, About the Death With Dignity Act, has pretty much everything you would want to know about it. Here are links to the pages about the laws in the other states that allow it, where there are also links to more resources:

California
Colorado
District of Columbia
Hawaii
Vermont
Washington

I will do a more thorough post about medical aid in dying but if you are interested in knowing more now, this will get you started.




A TGB READER'S STORY: The First of May

By Mary R. Wise who blogs at Red Nose

A "First of May" is circus lingo for a new performer. It comes from the tradition of circuses beginning their seasons on May 1, so if it's your first season on the show, you're a First of May.

My First-of-May day was April 1, 1976 - April Fools' Day!

I arrived in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on a very damp, overcast day with my slightly-better-than-cardboard footlocker, my brand new circus clogs and a bad case of nerves. I'd accepted the job as a circus clown with George Matthews Great London Circus on the strength of a brief letter from the owner's son.

Things got off to a bad start when I told the cab driver to drop me off at Scott Field and he replied with, "Huh?"

One way or another, we found the lot. The big top looked fabulous - a four-pole, three-ring, orange-and-white striped tent in the middle of a beautiful, green field. We found the ringmaster's trailer and I knocked on the door.

First surprise. No one told the ringmaster that a girl clown was going to be on the show. When I told him I was to be on the show, he said, "Oh, aerial ballet?"

And I said, "No, clown."

And he said, "Oh. Well, you'll have to stay in the band bus with the other clowns."

And I said, "Okay," not because I especially wanted to share living space with a bunch of clowns, but mostly because I didn't know what else to say.

Second surprise. I wasn't prepared to find that the "room" in "room and board" consisted of a plank bunk. Why was it called the "band bus"? It used to house the band.

At least the clown's quarters were walled off from the prop crew's quarters. Lucky for me the other clowns were nice enough guys. Pogo and Zippo were already there; Ralf arrived shortly after I did.

Third surprise. No donnikers. Sorry, I mean bathrooms. None. Not even Porta-Potties. Walk to the gas station or just dump where you could as long as it wasn't too close to the big top or cookhouse. And some guys did. Nice!

Fourth surprise. Clowns were expected to help with tear down, hauling the quarter poles to the pole wagon. Clowns were also expected to sell Hershey bars during intermission - we got a dime a bar.

My first night was one of the best and simultaneously the worst night of my entire circus career. The show was wonderful but the weather was ugly. Cold rain pelted down throughout the show, turning the back yard into a sea of mud.

Tear down was excruciating for everyone, especially for naive girls who had to help haul 60-foot steel quarter poles and then lift them up to the guys on the pole wagon.

The mud was so deep that all of the seat wagons got stuck, all of the tractors got stuck, even the performers' trailers got stuck. Not even the elephants could pull them out of the quagmire.

Of course, all the extra help blew the show. Because of that, all the performers had to help fold up the big top. Let me just say that clogs are not the right footwear for folding slippery wet canvas. Indeed, I fell hard during one pull and watched the canvas close over top of me. Great - killed on my first night on the circus by getting rolled up in the big top.

But I didn't die and I didn't quit. The sun came out the next day. I learned how to take a shower at the water wagon and I bought a foam pad for my bunk and work boots for my feet.

And I had the time of my life for the next three years.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.




High Rates of Suicide Among Elders

In the past couple of months or so there has been an uptick in the number of media stories about old people taking their lives and, according to those articles, there is an alarming increase in the suicide rate among the U.S. older population.

”In a nation where suicide continues to climb, claiming more than 47,000 lives in 2017, such deaths among older adults...are often overlooked.”

A six-month investigation by Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour finds that older Americans are quietly killing themselves, frequently in nursing homes, assisted living centers and adult care homes.

”Poor documentation makes it difficult to tell exactly how often such deaths occur,” reports the KNH/PBS study. “But a KHN analysis of new data from the University of Michigan suggests that hundreds of suicides by older adults each year — nearly one per day — are related to long-term care.

“Thousands more people may be at risk in those settings, where up to a third of residents report suicidal thoughts, research shows.”

According to federal statistics, 16,500 suicides were reported among people 55 and older in 2017 – 364 of them among people living in or moving to long-term care settings – or among caregivers.

Dr. Yeates Conwell is director of the Office for Aging Research and Health Services at the University of Rochester. He says the main risk factors for senior suicide are what are called “the four D’s”: depression, debility, access to deadly means and disconnectedness.

“'Pretty much all of the factors that we associate with completed suicide risk are going to be concentrated in long-term care,'” said Conwell.

Veterans are among the highest risk for suicide in recent years:

”The VA National Suicide Data Report for 2005 to 2016, which came out in September 2018, highlights an alarming rise in suicides among veterans age 18 to 34 — 45 per 100,000 veterans.

“Younger veterans have the highest rate of suicide among veterans, but those 55 and older still represent the largest number of suicides.”

Most seniors who choose to end their lives don’t talk about it in advance, and they often die on the first attempt, he said.

(The suicides referred to in the KHN/PBS article - and others I consulted - are not about people like me who have chosen, when the time comes, medically-assisted suicide. That's a different kind of end-of-life choice with different issues.)

The KNH/PBS research relates the story of Paul Andrews whose father died by his own hand. Andrews says he was “shocked, devastated and even angry about his dad’s death. Now, he just misses him.”

”'I always feel like he was gone too soon, even though I don’t think he felt like that at all,' he said.

“Andrews has come to believe that elderly people should be able to decide when they’re ready to die.

“'I think it’s a human right,' he said. 'If you go out when you’re still functioning and still have the ability to choose, that may be the best way to do it and not leave it to other people to decide.'”

Conwell see it differently. He finds the idea of

”...rational suicide by older Americans 'really troublesome.' 'We have this ageist society, and it’s awfully easy to hand over the message that they’re all doing us a favor,' he said.”

Here is a 10-minute video of this research from PBS NewsHour including some additional information.




ELDER MUSIC: Turn Your Radio On

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.

* * *

I imagine that just about everyone reading this gained their initial musical knowledge mainly from the radio. That is certainly so for me as, when I was growing up, I lived in a small country town 400 kilometres from the big smoke (actually, in those days, it was 250 miles from the big smoke), so it was from the radio that music emerged and found a safe harbor in my ears.

When we came to the big smoke (Melbourne) I found that radio station 3KZ had probably the best DJ in the world - Stan Rofe. Stan always played the authentic versions of songs; he eschewed the bland cover versions that pretty much everyone else played back then. He was also a great champion of Australian music. Thus I learned from the best. Here are songs about the radio.

For those who remember President Ike, which is probably everyone reading this, here is MARK DINNING.

Mark Dinning

Not just Ike, but all the references mentioned would be enough for those with a certain type of memory to be able to date the song pretty precisely. It’s the way radio was back then, consisting of Top 40, News, Weather and Sport.

♫ Mark Dinning - Top 40 News Weather And Sport


WARREN ZEVON gives us a bit darker view of things, but then that’s generally what he did.

Warren Zevon

I imagine that Warren’s song wouldn’t get any airplay these days on certain stations, particularly those that are associated with Fox, only because of its title. His subversive song is called Mohammed's Radio.

♫ Warren Zevon - Mohammed's Radio


JOHN HARTFORD gets uncharacteristically gospelly with his contribution.

John Hartford

He suggests that you Turn Your Radio On. That’s a good idea if you want to listen to it, although these days it might not be such a good idea. Not like in our day. Oh dear, I’m turning into a grumpy old man.

♫ John Hartford - Turn Your Radio On


There’s another way to be turned on as JONI MITCHELL will explain.

Joni Mitchell

I wouldn’t dare suggest that illegal substances were involved in You Turn Me On I'm a Radio. I’ll let you make up your own mind.

♫ Joni Mitchell - You Turn Me On I'm a Radio


Back in 1994 DAVE ALVIN recorded an acoustic album called “King of California”.

Dave Alvin

This was the first of several albums of his that really demonstrated his songwriting, singing and musical abilities. This one and the several that followed are all worth a listen. Besides, he has one of the finest voices in the alt-country genre.

From the aforementioned album, Dave performs Border Radio.

♫ Dave Alvin - Border Radio


Getting back to when radio was king we find FREDDY CANNON.

Freddy Cannon

Back then, a lot of the time we listened to the radio on transistor radios. Freddy did the same apparently, or at least his sister did as he will recount on Transistor Sister.

♫ Freddy Cannon - Transistor Sister


It seems that JOHN DENVER was the same as most of us in one respect.

John Denver

That is, he knew the songs but many of the words were a mystery to him. I think that this is pretty universal. He tells us all about it in Late Nite Radio.

♫ John Denver - Late Nite Radio


From the eighties, a decade from which I include very few songs in my columns, we have QUEEN.

Queen

They were one of the few bright musical spots from around that time, however, even this song sounds very much of its time – drum machines, synthesizers and so on. I don’t know why they did that as they were all fine musicians. Anyway, this is Radio Ga Ga.

♫ Queen - Radio Ga Ga


DAVID ALLAN COE really knows how to take revenge on the gal what dun ‘im wrong.

David Allan Coe

Not just that but he will make some money out of the deal as well. I guess if you’re going to break up with someone, earning a bit of loose scratch from the exercise seems like a good thing. Okay, perhaps not. Anyway, David sings I'm Gonna Hurt Her on the Radio.

♫ David Allan Coe - I'm Gonna Hurt Her On The Radio


Turn up your radio, sings VAN MORRISON. Of course, you should have done that by now.

Van Morrison

From his superb album “Moondance”, one of the finest ever recorded, we have Caravan. Nothing else needs to be said.

♫ Van Morrison - Caravan




INTERESTING STUFF – 3 MAY 2019

Almost all are animals today. Come on now, who can resist? But first, two other items.

SOUTH KOREAN GRANDMOTHERS LEARNING TO READ

”Illiterate all her life, [Ms. Hwang, who is 70 years old] remembers hiding behind a tree and weeping as she saw her friends trot off to school six decades ago.

“While other village children learned to read and write, she stayed home, tending pigs, collecting firewood and looking after younger siblings. She later raised six children of her own, sending all of them to high school or college.

Ms. Hwang is part of a South Korean experiment to fill empty classrooms by holding classes for illiterate adults.

"...local residents, desperate to save the 96-year-old school, came up with an idea: How about enrolling older villagers who wanted to learn to read and write?

"Ms. Hwang and seven other women, aged 56 to 80, stepped forward, with at least four others asking to be enrolled next year.Now they travel to and from school in a regular ol' yellow school bus".
“'They are eager to learn,' said Ms. Jo, the teacher, about her first-grade students. 'They are probably the only students here asking for more homework.'”

“Unlike other classrooms, the first graders’ classroom has a sofa and a heated mattress. During breaks, the older women sat on the warm mattress and buried their feet under blankets. They also kept a basket of candies for the second graders next door who occasionally came to visit.”

With growing confidence, due to the new skills they are gaining, one of the older students is thinking of running for president of the village women's society.

Photographs and more information at The New York Times.

THE NEW OLD PEOPLE ARE GOING TO SUCK

Lachlan Patterson is a Canadian-bred comedian, writer and actor. In this clip from his standup act, he tells us what future old people mid-40s generation - will be like.

CATS WON'T ALLOW THE DOG IN THE GARDEN

As the YouTube page says:

”Our fearless outdoor cats never let the neighbor's cute little dog enter our garden. Whenever the dog tries to sneak in, she gets chased out of the garden by our brave & awesome cats.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: From this point forward all the text in this post is bolded. It's not supposed to be. I just spent four hours trying to fix it (I'm usually good at this kind of stuff) and failed. AFTER FOUR HOURS WORKING ON IT. On the day after chemo when neither brain nor fingers are working well. Phooey. I'm done so you'll have to live with it. Sorry.

Meercat's First Birthday

Not much happens but it's all cute.

BABY POLAR SURPRISES A SEAL

Or maybe it's the other way around.

BABY BROWN BEAR FINALLY MAKES IT TO THE TOP

This is one determined baby. It's easy to feel his frustration – I run into several similar problems in other contexts every day.

A BACKYARD FULL OF 200 SHEEP

I laugh every time I watch this and I'm pretty sure you will too.

* * *

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” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I 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.




Getting Doctors to Listen

Reader comments on Wednesday's blog post, Cancer, Chemo or Old Age?, turned it into a much more important story that it could otherwise be. There are at least half a dozen topics those comment suggest but let's go with ageism in healthcare today.

Ageism among health care providers is a well-known phenomenon. As reported at the website of the American Society of Aging,

”The geriatrician and writer Dr. Louise Aronson (2015) describes a disturbing example of explicit ageism in which a surgeon asks the medical student observing his case what specialty she is thinking of pursuing.

“When she answers, 'Geriatrics,' the surgeon immediately begins mimicking an older adult complaining about constipation in a high-pitched whine.”

You know, if you do things like that often enough, they become commonplace and people soon believe them. But of the many ways some physicians and other healthcare workers can and do demean elders, ignoring them is near the top.

Another Dee had this to say on Wednesday's post:

”I may not be correct, and I don't think I am paranoid, but I really think that they see my age on the chart, the white hair on my head, and not the human being seated in front of them.”

She's not wrong. I know. I've been there.

Six months or so before my pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I went to my then primary care physician about a bunch of seemingly unrelated symptoms including neon-orange urine. It practically glowed in the dark, so you'd think that alone would alert a doctor.

But noooo. He kept typing at his computer as I answered his questions and after seven minutes of this, he got up to leave saying something close to, “I'm sure it's a simple virus. You'll be fine soon.” And he left the room.

Huh? I fired him that day and began my search for a more attentive doctor.

Several TGB readers didn't use the word “ageism” in their comments but it is certainly what they are talking about. Seventy-two-year-old Judith Darin, an RN who has worked as a hospice nurse and now works at a skilled nursing facility that is, she says, the best place of its kind she has seen.

”What Dee describes about her treatment,” continues Judith, “and how medical people view her, is a reality. And I have been guilty of thinking about patients (and elderly folks in general) in the way that Dee describes.

“But that has changed. As I get to know each of my patients as individuals, and consider all they have been through, and learn to LISTEN, my perceptions have changed.

“When I am in my own doctor's office, if I don't feel like I am being heard and respected, I ask the staff to stop what they are doing, and to listen to me. I am an RN and try to care for my patients in a holistic way, but now I am also a woman in my 70s with white hair.”

Nancy Hutto left this story:

”My sister, who is 84, recently went to the emergency room with heartburn and back and chest pain, after I made the call to 911. The excellent doctors there found an artery 95 percent blocked and inserted a stent.

“This was after a visit 2 weeks earlier to her cardiologist and several months of increasingly debilitating loss of energy, shortness of breath, and risk factors such as diabetes and an autoimmune disease requiring daily prednisone.

“We have excellent health care in the Seattle area but we still need to be squeaky wheels in advocating for ourselves. It is also helpful to have an advocate who will listen and make the decision that an emergency is in progress, even at the risk of a false alarm.”

I'm not up these days for starting a medical ageism protest organization but we can stand up for ourselves. I deliberately decided to do that two years ago when I found my new doctor(s) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

Since then, I've made it a point to find out about the doctors, nurses, medical assistants, schedulers, etc. who are part of my treatment team. We exchange some personal information – whether we have kids, where we live, what we like to do when we're not working and more.

Maybe in the beginning it was a tactic to be sure I get the care I need and am not overlooked. But now it's real. We've become a certain kind of friend to one another.

We joke around and we talk about serious health issues too. Occasionally, even politics.

Some of them read TimeGoesBy so that comes up now and then. They talk about how they deal with the inevitable outcome of treating mostly old people who have a deadly disease. Without ever being sappy, they are all remarkably cheerful and likable people.

What has happened over two years is that we have come to dwell together in that middle ground between service people and friends. They have expertise I don't have – I need them for their professional skills – and I also need their kindness and understanding.

Maybe they need that too and we're both gaining from what I see now as our heartfelt attention to one another.

God knows I could be wrong but I believe that taking the time to get to know these terrific, accomplished people more personally, allows them to see me, the person, and not just my bald head.




Cancer, Chemo or Old Age?

That's the question I spend some of my time trying to figure out. A new pain in my elbow. Nausea if I eat one more bite. A nose so runny I use up one-and-a-half boxes of Kleenex in a day.

I'll go with old age as the cause of a pain in an elbow. Nausea is probably from the chemo. And who knows (nose?) what's causing my constantly running nose.

I suppose it doesn't matter. Cancer, chemo or old age doesn't change the fact of whatever is bothering me. But it might be helpful to know which does what so that perhaps a medication can be adjusted - although I'm not pretending that symptoms at this simplistic level can in any way be compared to pancreatic cancer.

When I was first diagnosed two years ago, my idea was to follow the instructions of my various physicians and nurses while making preparations for my death. The statistics tell the irrefutable story: fewer than 10 percent of pancreatic cancer patients live beyond one year after diagnosis so I've already won this lottery.

Time went by. It took nearly a year to entirely recover from the 12-hour Whipple surgery. The pain I experienced then was anything but a mystery: 22 surgical staples along with the removal and/or rearrangement of several organs.

Some chemo followed but was stopped when it was deemed ineffective. Eventually, my current chemo regimen began and so far, as I have reported here, it is working well and – amazing – with each treatment the side effects have lightened or disappeared.

Just like not knowing what is responsible for my improved chemo side effects, I have no idea how long this situation of such a good response to the chemo will last. It will end at some point; I just don't know when.

The only thing I think I know about living a reasonably untroubled daily life with such a noose hanging over me is that I must find a way to make peace with it. Which is pretty much the same thing as making peace with dying.

The psilocybin session I underwent in December, the benefits of which so far are holding strong, get me partway there. The rest is one of the passages people in my predicament have to deal with several times.

It's doubtful that any of this is unique to me. I'm just surprised that no one I can find talks about it. Does anyone reading this know what I am not too clearly trying to say?