Because my son and his family are due here this weekend so we can spend some in-person time together, I've been looking for a quick way out of having to think too hard for a post today while I get ready for their arrival. This may be a nice solution.
Is there anyone alive who can resist Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life?
Like two other favorites of mine - Casablanca and The Third Man - I pretty much know the entire script by heart but, like many little kids, I still enjoy having a familiar old story retold to me.
Back in the 1930s through part of the 1950s, there was a popular radio program titled Lux Radio Theater. The show recreated Broadway shows and, later, popular movies for radio audiences using the original actors. I listened to a lot of these when I was growing up.
One of the great values of radio (and, these days, podcasts) over television is that you can do all kinds of other things while listening and last year, I discovered that some of these old radio programs are available for free on Youtube.
This has come in handy in recent weeks as, due to the lung cancer, my energy level has diminished a great deal and I need to do everything much more slowly than before, leaving less time for video or TV.
So I've substituted podcasts and some old radio shows to listen to while I get other mindless chores done.
This “Lux Radio Theater” production of It's a Wonderful Life was first presented on 10 March 1947 starring the original actors from the movie, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed who, of course, your grandchildren have probably never heard of. Oh well.
You're stuck with Lux soap commercials but they're kind of interesting in their own right as advertising artifacts from a distant past. There is no video – just the black screen and the audio. I hope you find time to enjoy it.
In a world that has devolved into 24/7 bad news, it is a treat to run across two stories in one day that are all about making the world a better place and, in these two cases, show how elders are indispensable to the ideas.
Although too many people and institutions deny that ageism exists (or when they concede that it does, insist that it is without consequence), there are others who get it and who are finding ways to help old and young find common ground.
This is important because we live in an age-segregated society where weight is generally given to the interests of youth over those of elders, so finding mutual points of engagement can only lead to more understanding and then more respect among generations, improving outcomes for all ages and, perhaps, the culture at large.
What both of these innovations tell us is that it's all about spending time together and listening.
ANTI-AGEIST PROGRAM IN MEDICAL SCHOOLS
Having studied ageing for the past 25 years, I thought I knew a lot and I suppose that's true in some areas. But this statement from Dr. Ronald Adelman, co-chief of geriatrics at Weill Cornell, who developed an annual program to correct medical students' ageist beliefs about elders, was an aha! moment for me:
“'Unfortunately, most education takes place within the hospital,' he told Paula Span of [The New York Times].
“'If you’re only seeing the hospitalized elderly, you’re seeing the debilitated, the physically deteriorating, the demented. It’s easy to pick up ageist stereotypes.'”
Obvious, isn't it. But in all my reading about medical care and treatment – or lack thereof for old people – it had not occurred to me or, apparently, to anyone who was writing those articles, reports and studies I read.
”These misperceptions can influence people’s care. In another classroom down the hall, 88-year-old Marcia Levine, a retired family therapist, was telling students about a gastroenterologist who once dismissed her complaints of fatigue by saying, 'At your age, you can’t expect to have much energy.'
“Then, in her 70s, she switched doctors and learned she had a low-grade infection.”
I've heard this story again and again from friends and acquaintances and I found myself in a similar situation some years ago. I fired the doctor too.
Marcia Levine was among the elders who were speaking with second-year medical students about their lives.
The Times tells us that at least 20 medical schools around the U.S. have some form of required study about (excuse me for quoting myself) what it's really like to get old that involves old people themselves.
”Some schools, like the Medical University of South Carolina and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, match students with older patients they follow throughout their four-year educations, making home visits, accompanying their 'senior mentors' to doctors’ appointments, and visiting them if they’re hospitalized.”
According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, in the 10 programs of this type they reviewed, “the universal goal of positively influencing student attitudes toward older adults was resoundingly achieved.”
There are 141 accredited medical schools in the United States. They should all be using programs like these. You can read more at The New York Times.
MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY SEPARATES THESE ROOMMATES The Boston Globe reports on a new program matching college students in need of cheap digs with old people who could use a little extra cash:
”...according to one 2017 survey, some 90,000 spare bedrooms [in the Boston area] are going unused in the homes of aging empty-nesters.
“That got a pair of MIT urban-planning graduate students thinking: Those rooms might be valuable to young people, especially students. And they might also provide a way for older people, who increasingly are living alone, to stay in their homes as they age.”
This isn't the first of such programs. Another I've read about allows music students from a nearby school free or low-cost rent in their own rooms at a retirement community in exchange for regular concerts for the elder residents.
Given today's high rental prices and the terribly debt students incur, this seems to me to be, as they say, a win-win.
Although both were wary at first, 77-year-old Sarah Heintz and 25-year-old Dean Kaplan hit it off:
”They bonded over a shared love of politics — both volunteered for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign — and an affinity for cooking.
“Under the terms of their lease agreement, rent is $800 a month (about half the cost of apartments Kaplan had been looking at before the arrangement with Heintz), knocked down to $700 if he devotes eight hours each month to helping Heintz with a range of chores.
“But even without that incentive, they said, they’ve discovered they like doing favors for one another. He helps in the garden and gives her a hand logging into her e-mail account; she offers him rides to Market Basket and recently taught him the proper way to gut a fish.”
Besides helping each other with the practicalities of life, living as full time as roommates can't help but foster understanding between youth and age for which there are few enough places to do that:
”Each weekend, Heintz and Kaplan plan some kind of event — dinner with neighbors, afternoons in the garden — and he has taken to picking her brain on a variety of topics, from botany to the year she spent at a French cooking school in the ’70s.
“'It’s the type of repository of knowledge that you can’t Google,' Kaplan said.”
On Monday, I published a short post about why I had no time to write a story for that day. Now there has been a different kind of disruption that prevents me from getting something useful – or, at least, entertaining – done for today. More on that in a day or two or three or so.
Meanwhile, here is a fascinating video I found of moving pictures of Paris in 1900. the YouTube page tells us:
”A collection of high quality remastered prints from the dawn of film taken in Belle Époque-era Paris, France from 1896-1900. Slowed down footage to a natural rate and added in sound for ambiance. These films were taken by the Lumière company.”
I don't care much for the added audio, but that doesn't make the film any less interesting. Here is a list of what you will see at what time in the video:
0:08 - Notre-Dame Cathedral (1896)
0:58 - Alma Bridge (1900)
1:37 - Avenue des Champs-Élysées (1899)
2:33 - Place de la Concorde (1897)
3:24 - Passing of a fire brigade (1897)
3:58 - Tuileries Garden (1896)
4:48 - Moving walkway at the Paris Exposition (1900)
5:24 - The Eiffel Tower from the Rives de la Seine à Paris (1897)
And here is the video:
A few weeks ago I featured another video from this company, of New York City in 1911. You'll find it here.
Following my cancer surgery last year, it was six or eight weeks before I felt capable of driving to the market, medical checkups and other appointments. I live in the suburbs so there isn't much choice in getting anywhere beyond walking distance except by driving.
I was lucky. Terrific neighbors and friends stepped in to take up that slack while I needed it but not everyone has that choice.
According to the 2016 Older Americans Key Indicators of Well-Being report [pdf], 25 percent of men age 65 and older live alone and 36 percent of women in that age group do. Some have friends and family nearby to help out when needed but tens of millions of us do not.
That's what Andrew Parker realized not long ago that led to his founding Papa, a service that matches elders in need of some assistance with college students who want to help.
Parker had been regularly helping his grandfather – whom he calls Papa – but as his day job workload increased he couldn't always get away to run errands. He hired a woman via Facebook who began assisting Papa in Parker's stead. But as he told TechCrunch:
”The experience made Parker realize there was a gap in the market for seniors who, like his grandfather, were mostly independent and don’t require a caregiver, but still needed occasional help from a trustworthy person.”
That's when he quit his job to create Papa, providing “what he describes as 'pre-care' from college students he named Papa Pals.”
Here's Andrew Parker talking about Papa:
Parker further explained how it works in an interview with Pymnts.com:
“'The first time someone contacts us, they often have a specific idea about what they need, and we catalog that and send it on to the student who will be working with them. Sometimes they want a ride to the doctor, sometimes they are looking for someone to teach them how to use Netflix.
“'We had a member who was on the campaign trail with Ronald Reagan 30 years ago, and her family hired a Papa Pal to help her transcribe her very interesting life story into a digital format for her family.'
“What they often found, however, is that the relationships evolve between the users and the Papa Pals, so that the tasks they end up doing together often range widely from where they started.
The students are carefully screened before being accepted as Papa Pals. Among the requirements, according to the Papa website:
• 3.0 GPA or higher
• Major/Minor in Nursing, Psychology, Pre-med, Health Sciences or other health-related field preferred
• Full or part-time student enrolled in a four-year university
• Must have a valid .edu email address, a vehicle and a valid drivers license
• Must be able to pass a full background check
Clients can pay for services a la carte at about $20 an hour, or use the subscription service. The student Papa Pals earn about $15 per hour.
Beginning in 2019, new rules will make it possible for Medicare Advantage to pay for some of Papa's services, particularly medical appointment transportation.
For now, Papa operates only on Florida but they have plans to expand, first to 10 more states and then beyond.
I think this is an extremely important innovation. Whether we elders like to admit it or not, the time will come when we can't do as much as we once did and may even need to give up our driving privileges.
As I mentioned above, I had a taste of what is to come after my surgery. It was a long time before I could shove the vacuum cleaner around and even pulling the laundry out of washer and into the dryer was difficult.
For people who don't need full-time care but can use some help in other ways, this is a great solution.
Yes, these look like items that would usually turn up in Saturday's weekly Interesting Stuff post. But I think they both deserve more attention than perhaps being lost among eight or 10 other items. See what you think.
ITEM 1: NON-VOTERS ANONYMOUS
Certainly I have banged on here – and will again - about how important it is for Americans to vote for their local and Congressional candidates in the midterm election on 6 November.
But never in my dreams could I have envisioned other voting advocates dismissing the need of some citizens to vote, and definitely not for the reason in this video.
It comes from an organization called the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that sounds righteous enough in their About statement on its website:
“NRDC was founded in 1970 by a group of law students and attorneys at the forefront of the environmental movement. Today's leadership team and board of trustees makes sure the organization continues to work to ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.”
“...ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water and healthy communities” but not, apparently, the right to vote after a certain age.
The video is obviously meant to have a little fun while promoting voting by imagining a Non-Voters Anonymous meeting based on the many flavors of such self-help groups. Take a look and be especially attentive at 2:40 in from the top:
Did you get that?
SPEAKER 1: You can vote in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s.
SPEAKER 2: Not 80s. Stay home.
SPEAKER 1: 80s too old. What's the point.
If that exchange was meant to be funny, it missed the mark by 100 percent. Shame on the National Resources Defense Council and everyone involved with the production of this video.
ITEM 2: OLD AGE IS A CEREMONY OF LOSSES
It is a credit to the simpatico between readers of this blog and me that most of the time when readers send links to stories, videos, books, movies, etc. they find interesting, I have just that day or so discovered them myself. (That doesn't mean you should stop sending them; there are plenty I wouldn't know about without you.)
I had just spent 13-plus minutes watching this documentary about Donald Hall when an email arrived from Jack Handley recommending it. He included this message in his note:
No woo woo
No sky gods
No perversion of emotions
And so it is.
American poet laureate, Donald Hall, who has been featured here on several occasions through the years, died in June at age 89. His most recent and now, alas, final book was published in July: A Carnival of Losses: Notes on Nearing 90.
The video, titled Quiet Hours by the producer/director Paul Szynol, premiered at The Atlantic website on Monday – a lovely meditation on old age in which Szynol gives us plenty of silent moments to contemplate what has been said and shown.
(One suggestion: Hall's voice is sometimes muffled and it helps to turn on the closed captioning which is, however, far from perfect but it will help you understand without having to stop and back up the video.)
For all my years producing television, it is words that have always mattered to me first. Two moments among others from the documentary that stand out for me – Hall speaking:
“My companion was her absence.” (Regarding Jane Kenyon, the love of his life who died 22 years ago:)
"Often, at night, solitude loses its soft power, and loneliness takes over. I am grateful for when solitude returns.”
When Crabby Old Lady was growing up, the most ubiquitous radio and, later, television commercials for health remedies were about tummy upsets (Pepto Bismol), headaches (Bayer aspirin) and sore muscles (Ben-Gay) – nothing serious enough, most of the time, for a doctor and the products were relatively benign.
These days, drug commercials have gone big-time. They are all about cancer, diabetes, COPD, stroke, heart disease, dementia, and the rest that strike fear into those who are diagnosed and are, you will note, almost entirely to old people.
Although Crabby resents the constant presentation of elders as diseased and sick, she understands that to advertisers, we are where the money is - a large, still growing cohort that does, after all, use more of these drugs and treatments than younger people.
But nowadays it's not just hangnails and cancer. There is a burgeoning industry of “smart technology” specifically for old people. At least one writer calls it “gerontechnology” and by that he means:
”...devices or solutions, including telehealth, telecare, information and communication, and robotic options.”
Crabby Old Lady calls it elder tech and it is both much more intrusive than is mentioned in the reporting about it, the brochures and the advertising.
Writing at Atlas of Science, Stephen M. Golant tells us the goal of elder tech is to help elders lead healthier, more independent and active lives. He then lists specific solutions which Crabby is quoting in full because you should know what is available, in development and/or being planned for us:
'This technology relies on sensors found in the bracelets, necklaces, clothing, watches, or smartphones of older adults, inserted in the walls, floors, lighting, appliances, or furniture of their dwellings, or even implanted in their bodies.
“Robots with human-like appearances may also incorporate these sensors. They can continually monitor and evaluate the physical health conditions of older persons, their cognitive (e.g., memory and reasoning) and sensory (e.g., hearing and vision) performance, physical agility, activities in their dwellings, and social connections.
“They also monitor the comfort, safety, and security of their homes by measuring their air pollutants, dampness, water leaks, mold, bacterial infections, poor lighting or visibility, accident risks, and extreme temperature conditions.
“These sensors communicate their monitored information to older persons and designated family members and professionals who can respond to their unmet needs or problems.”
That's a whole lotta elder tech going on.
Given the amount of time Crabby has spent with physicians and other health care professionals over the past 15 months, she is most looking forward to telehealth and telecare. It exists in a few quarters but is, apparently, slow to be adopted.
If it were available to Crabby, she could have avoided about half the dozens of in-person visits she made with health care individuals in the past year. And it would be a boon to people who cannot or do not drive any longer.
Some of this technology, such as home sensors, bracelets, smartphones, etc. (the ones aimed at old people) have been on the market for at least a decade, becoming more sophisticated with each new release. Some others are at various stages of development, all often marketed to the adult children of elders, and not to elders themselves.
And that's the part about this equipment that makes Crabby Old Lady dubious, deeply so, with the use of these phrases:
“they can continually monitor”
“implanted in their bodies”
"communicate their monitored information”
It's just plain creepy that someone would know and make note if Crabby slept in past her usual waking time. Or that she stayed up all night. Or if it reported her to some anonymous monitor for “accident risks”.
Not to mention that if someone has not yet incorporated Alexa-type listening devices into these monitors, they soon will so that nothing an elder says or does in his/her home is private ever again.
Some elders may like all this peeping Tom elder tech and certainly many can attest to the importance of their medical alert buttons if they have fallen or have needed another kind of help. The difference is that no one is listening 24/7 through those alert devices and they are activated by the persons wearing them.
Golant's purpose with his article is to explain his study into whether elders will even use these smart devices. He has come up with four factors that would influence their decisions:
• How serious they are about their health conditions • How resilient and receptive they are to new ideas • How persuasive the information is about the product • How good and/or bad past personal experience with technology has been
It sounds to Crabby that according to Golant she, at age 77, would make a decision pretty much on the same bases as she did at age 27. He suggests that elders focus on three attributes in choosing to purchase these products and services:
Ease of use
To Golant's credit, he mentions “assaults on privacy” as an example of collateral damage.
Overall, Crabby Old Lady is unsettled by these devices and solutions even as she can see some of their merit. A big problem for Crabby is that we know now after several decades of computers and related technology, that nothing is private anymore.
Not to mention the omnipresence of surveillance wherever we go. These new products just add indoor home cameras and microphones to the public ones that track us on every block.
Really now - Crabby Old Lady would like to walk around naked in her own home when she feels like it with the certainty she is not being watched.
What about you?
Just for fun here at the end, this is a trailer for my favorite robot movie, Robot and Frank starring Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon. As one of the YouTube commenters wrote:
”A brilliant piece of science fiction and drama without a single alien or spaceship."
Two months after it was fixed, my computer crashed again on Wednesday and this time I'm just going to replace it. That will take a little while.
The backup laptop I'm working on hasn't gotten any better since last time. It is slow, cranky and painful to use so until I am up and running with a new one, posting will be sketchy.
Peter's music column is already set for Sunday, so that will be here and a new reader story will post next Tuesday.
I can't promise an Interesting Stuff tomorrow or a Monday post. But maybe. Meanwhile, I can tolerate being on this machine only in short bursts without pulling my hair out so I'm just letting you know.
For today, I had intended to write a piece on elder guardianship but I can't get to my notes in the broken computer so let's do it this way:
It was last October that I first meant to report on this important subject based on a frightening story published that month in The New Yorker. Due to some personal health issues, I didn't get back to it until now.
In June this year, John Oliver, host of the HBO program Last Week Tonight, made elder guardianship the main story of his show one Sunday based largely on the same New Yorker material I had.
So I'll just run the Oliver video without the additional information I had tracked down and intended to include until it got lost inside the broken computer.
Oliver's piece is as excellent (in John's inimitable way) as the New Yorker story. It's important for all elders to know this can happen and to be sure all your late-life, end-of-life papers are in order.
Here is Oliver. If you have access to The New Yorker online, their story is here and includes a lot more detail and useful information than Oliver could fit into his video - although you get to see and hear the people discussed in the magazine piece.
There. I'm done – this is all I can stand to do on this laptop right now.
”We walk around with a blinkered, partial denial of death. Yes, we will die, but not now, not here. This dissonance is strong and strange – to absolutely know this will happen, and against all evidence to the contrary, to absolutely not know.”
The woman who wrote those words, Sallie Tisdale, is well-known as an award-winning author of nine books. She is also an essayist, a nurse, a teacher and a Buddhist practitioner with a decade of working in palliative care.
Her most recent book, Advice for Future Corpses and Those Who Love Them is subtitled, “A Practical Perspection on Death and Dying.” I prefer to call it a user manual for dying, and it's about damned time we had one.
You would think that a subject so big, so taboo in certain circles, so frightening and fraught would need a doorstop-sized book. But not in Tisdale's hands.
These 240 pages cover a remarkable amount of territory from a discussion of what a good death may or may not be, what to expect in the last months, weeks, days and hours of life, advice on caregiving during end of life and a lot of smart, information for every step along the way.
When asked, most of us say we want to die quietly at home in our sleep. Few of us do and Tisdale gives us another perspective to consider:
The fantasy of a quiet leave-taking in complete control is, for the most part, just that: A fantasy. Our ideals about the so-called good death are constricting. Death is not something at which we succeed or fail, something to achieve. Life and death are not possessions...
“We die in breathtaking solitude. The value of a death doesn't depend on what anyone else thinks about it. My death belongs only to me; its value is known only by me.”
Tisdale, who has accompanied many people during their dying, advises us on how to think about our own deaths:
”I want to meet death with curiosity and willingness. What do you want to do? Do you want to meet death with devotion, love, a sense of adventure, or do you want to rage against the failing light? Cultivate those qualities now. Master them...
“When I find myself in a new situation, when I'm scared, I try to feel curiosity even in the middle of fear...If I experience curiosity in the midst of fear often enough, it will be there when I need it most.”
And then, she pulls no punches about what to be prepared for at the end:
”As peaceful as the dying body can seem, would we be surprised to discover this is a time of great chaos? We are undone. Consciousness is no longer grounded in the body; perception and sensation are unraveling.
“The entire braid of the self is coming unwound in a rush. One's point of view must change dramatically. Being comfortable with surprise allows us to meet the unexpected, both in events and with ourselves.
“This curiosity will serve us well when there is nothing else to be done.”
There is a terrific chapter for visitors and caregivers on communication – what not to say to a dying loved one, but also what to say and how to say it. If he or she is hungry, for example:
”Do they want to eat something? If so, be clear. Vanilla or chocolate ice cream? is easier to answer than Is there anything you want to eat?
As to that dying at home stuff that rarely happens, Tisdale explains that good hospitals these days can sometimes be better than home and she knows this because, she says, “I've been the nurse in rooms like this – and I always knock before I enter.”
”While you're getting ready to kick the bucket and head for room temperature, we'll tell jokes if you like. When you're about to check into the Motel Deep 6, the coffeepot will be fresh and the muffins full of butter.
“All of this is possible, but a lot of it happens because you insist. Because you and I and all the rest of us insist that there be enough chairs for everyone, that the curtains will close tightly when you want to sleep, and the room will smell fresh and sweet.
“And you will be comfortable, because in the good hospital your pain medication comes on time and the nurse who brings it knows how to read dying, knows what's to be expected and what can be fixed and what can't.
“In the good hospital, strong hands will clean you up when you can't make to the toilet any longer and no one will make a face or say things that are better not said as you shuffle off the mortal coil.
“What a wonderful turn of phrase that is. When you're ready for your dirt nap and you've bought your one-way ticket, the nurses will take their time. They won't rush.
“They will come in quietly and wash you carefully and brush your hair and clean up and slip away again.”
Tisdale also takes readers through the necessary particulars of death and dying from the biology of it, end-of-life document samples, assisted death which is legal in six states, several European countries, Canada and Australia.
She also covers organ and tissue donation and the growing number of new kinds of burial. She does all this with honesty, humor, compassion and understanding.
It's a tough subject but she even touches on something I came to know – if only for the flash of a moment or two - during my treatment last year for pancreatic cancer:
”At some point, most of us shift from realizing that sooner or later some future self will die to realizing that this very self, me, precious and irreplaceable me, will die.
“It's a terrible thing to grasp and though this insight may last a mere second, it changes your life...”
Yet this passage gives me hope that with diligent working toward growth, I can attain acceptance of a conscious death when the time comes:
”To accept death is to accept that this body belongs to the world. This body is subject to all the forces in the world. This body can be broken. This body will run down. 'Golden lads and girls all must, / As chimney sweepers, come to dust.' (except, maybe me.)”
This is an important book and there is nothing else quite like it to compare but has not gotten nearly enough coverage.
The New York Times review is here. There is an interview with Sallie Tisdale including a fairly lengthy excerpt from the book at Tricycle magazine.
It's a favorite question from younger adults, about those who are retired from the workplace.
What do we old folks do with all that time once taken up with commuting and working? people wonder.
The cheeky answer, of course, is “Look for all those lost keys and eye glasses." But the question itself is disparaging assuming, as it does, that old people don't have the wit, curiosity and interests to fill the eight or 10 or more hours a day they once spent on the job.
When I wrote about this subject the first time, I was concerned that I had slacked off dramatically from the efficient morning and weekly routines I had maintained to keep body and soul together during my working years.
But now, nine years later, I don't care. Because I live alone, obviously no one else cares either but I find myself annoyed when I have an early appointment forcing me to rush through breakfast and the morning news.
I've come to fervently embrace the freedom of not being required to live on other people's schedules, and I particularly like long, lazy early mornings which I'll admit are mostly rote - coffee, email, news, politics, workout and breakfast - before settling down for the day's workload. But I change it up now and then - for the thrill that I can.
Mostly, however, that routine isn't much different from the half century I was someone's employee – well, if you don't count the short commute, just down the hall a few feet nowadays.
People whose work is central to their definition of themselves may have more trouble retiring than I had. I enjoyed the work I did all those years but I began this blog while I was still working and with an equal amount of enthusiasm, I just segued into Time Goes By as my full time job.
Surprise to me: I'm still doing it 15 years later.
Beyond that and aside from the joy of choosing when I do what, nothing much has changed. I study ageing and produce this blog. I have a small volunteer position that doesn't take much attention. I read a lot on a variety of subjects (so much to know, so little time).
I keep in touch with friends. I enjoy cooking. I follow news and politics closely and I keep up with the renaissance in children's books. I often think about taking a trip and then remember for the zillionth time that I long ago decided I won't do that again until someone makes airline travel less painful. Fat chance.
The internet is not much help in finding what retired people do with their time. There are not many stories that deal with the question and few have a dateline so there is no way to know when they were written (never trust information that is not dated).
A lot of others are sales pieces for retirement financial services disguised with a few facts about retirement activities that may or may not be reliable.
One claim that shows up on several sites about retirees' use of time is that old people sleep a lot more than younger ones – 10 or 11 hours a night, they say. That sounds suspicious to me and further checking shows it is – there's no telling where that data came from.
The few lists of how retired elders spend their time that include a dateine are mostly eight or 10 years old. During that time, the demands of baby boomers, who have been retiring at a rate of about 10,000 a day, have made active retirement more important than these lists show.
Here, based on unidentified 2015 data, is a list of the activities at which retirees said they spend most of their time - in order of average duration per day:
Surfing the web
Activity levels differ wildly for old people depending on health and although there is nothing wrong with that list, I don't see hobbies, passions, curiosity, sports, travel, studying, etc. - all the stuff we didn't have time for when we were working.
Years ago, I knew a man who was a world-class chef, well-read and widely traveled, knowledgeable about the world, engaged in politics and generally erudite.
He always said, in those days, that he was saving two things in particular for retirement when he would have more time to concentrate: learn pastry cooking (which is more science than art) and to understand the music of Richard Wagner.
I envied him back then for having those doable goals, and I still do. My list is way too long to be useful so my knowledge and understanding – aside from ageing - are miles wide and an inch deep.
Now it's your turn: How do you spend the extra time you have in retirement? What do you do all day?
IMPORTANT:On Sunday, my main computer crashed. Don't even ask how awful this is going to be for awhile. The low-end laptop I am working on until I am back to full capacity is slow and hard to use so answering email will be spotty if at all. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to post on the usual schedule but please understand if I don't always get it done.
* * *
A reader emailed asking if I would write about online dating for old people. Yikes. I'm completely ignorant of this corner of the internet and given that I profess to deal with all things elder on this blog, that needs some attention.
So, I checked around to see what is available in this regard for people who are older than 50 or 60 or 70 and beyond. With one exception I'll tell you about at the end, the pickings are dismal – even the big guys you've seen advertised on television.
There are two major reasons I could see:
First, none allow access to their website without registration so you cannot see the layout, ease (or not) of use, general sensibility, sample listings, what additional information they might have, or even how the website works without joining.
I am so insulted by this and so not in need of even more spam email that I did not register with any of them.
So I have no information about how the sites operate. (And don't tell me I could sign up with a new, free email account. That should be not necessary to see inside any reputable website.)
Second, all but a handful are free only for limited access and upgrades are pricey, ranging from about $30 a month to $70 a month, with discounts for paying a year in advance.
In fact, I can't even tell you what personal information safety precautions any given dating website uses because I didn't register with any of them. Apparently, however, I am not being paranoid to think about that: there is this warning from the Wikihow page about using online dating sites safely:
”Use paid online dating services. Free online dating services provide a greater opportunity for potentially dangerous individuals. They don't ever have to provide a credit card or other information that identifies them.
There are other smart ways to keep yourself safe from predators, scams, etc. on dating sites and the Stitch website has the best guide I have found.
I'll tell you more about Stitch but first, here is some information and links to more than a dozen of those elder dating websites I know so little about:
And now to Stitch. Before I type another word, you should be aware that I know one of the founders, Marcie Rogo, and I wrote about Stitch three years ago. You'll find that here (scroll down halfway) and there is another story about Marcie here before she launched Stitch.
You're just going to have to take my word for it that even if I didn't know Marcie, I would still believe this is the best dating website for elders. Well, as she explains, it's not quite a dating site, although it can be. As I wrote of Stitch in 2015:
”Companionship is the main idea, finding like-minded people with whom to enjoy mutual interests.
“Maybe you could also find a nice person for a relationship. That is not out of the question but Stitch is first a companionship, not dating, service.”
You can choose the type of relationship you are looking for at registration: friendship or friendship+romance or romance. Here is a FAQ that gives a good overview of Stitch and this is what they say about information safety and privacy:
”No other community does more for the safety of its members than Stitch. Before communicating on Stitch, all our members must perform an identity verification check, which prevents scammers and con-artists from abusing our site or contacting our members.
“This also ensures that all our members are ages 50 and up, keeping the Stitch community peer-to-peer and safe.”
Now. What I would like to hear about from you are your experiences with online dating while old. If you haven't tried it, are your interested? What questions do you have about dating now and about dating websites?
It's no secret that people often walk more slowly as they grow old. Some use canes or walkers, and wheel chairs too that can further impede their speed, and this happens at a time in life when, in some cases, driving is no longer a choice.
The result is serious injury and, too often, death in crosswalks where walk/wait signs don't take older, slower pedestrians into account. Cyclists of all ages are also at high risk.
Recently, my friend and elderlaw/consumer attorney, John Gear of Salem, Oregon, forwarded a story about all this from The Guardian:
”...the tragic rise of cycling and pedestrian deaths in a city such as Toronto, the biggest city in one of the world’s most progressive countries, demonstrates that we are caught in the transition.
“We are adding density and pedestrians and cyclists without transforming the design of our streets, and in many cases refusing even to lower speeds limits, which tends to reduce deaths dramatically.”
The Toronto Police department maintains a “Killed or seriously injured” data page online. Numbers for the year 2017 show that 52 percent of pedestrian fatalities involving vehicles were people 55 and older (23 deaths in 44 collisions).
Counting all traffic fatalities in 2017, involving pedestrians of all ages, those 55 and older made up 23% of the total (36 deaths in 151).
The number of fatalties in 2017 in Toronto was down from 2016, when a five-year project, Vision Zero, was created to decrease traffic fatalities to zero. But recent numbers are not encouraging:
”...the rate of deaths on city streets is not declining,” The Star reported in May this year. “Including Wednesday’s fatal accident 18 pedestrians or cyclists have been killed in Toronto so far this year, according to data compiled by Toronto Police and the Star.
“That pace exceeds the number killed by May 16 in both 2013 and 2016, the two worst years in the data, which goes back to 2007.”
The demographics of cities everywhere are changing and, writes Jennifer Keesmaat in The Guardian story, that means streets, originally planned to be auto-friendly, must become more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly:
”In the old model, if driving is the key to freedom, then cyclists and pedestrians need to get out of the way. They are audacious, misplaced and – even worse – entitled. Who and what are streets for, anyway? They are places to get through, and fast. Lowering speed limits to ensure pedestrians are safe makes no sense...
“In the new model, however, streets aren’t just for getting through – they are places in their own right, designed for people, commerce, lingering and life. It’s the people, the human activity, that should come first.
“Cycling isn’t just for radicals and recreation, and lower speed limits make sense: they protect and enhance quality of city life. In Oslo, for example, where cars move slowly, an easy sharing of space takes place.”
New York City began a Vision Zero project four years ago to positive results:
”Traffic fatalities in New York, which launched its Vision Zero program in 2014, fell for three successive years through 2016,” reports The Star. “Traffic deaths in that period declined 23 per cent (this includes all traffic deaths, not just pedestrians.)
“That decrease came with a considerably larger investment than in Toronto.”
It is clear that slower speed limits, bike lanes, extending pedestrian crossing times, safety zones and, I would add, enforcing statutes against distracted driving (read smart phone use while driving) would go a long way toward reducing the number of traffic deaths.
Some years ago, my block association in Manhattan petitioned the city to extend the crosswalk time at one of the corners in our area because there were a lot of old people in the neighborhood who could not make it across the busy avenue in the time allotted.
It took us more than a year of petitions, meeting with city council representatives, phone calls, followups and more but we kept at it and eventually the city increased the crosswalk time.
You can do this too. We have an election coming up in November that beyond votes for federal senators and representatives, local offices are on ballots.
Between now and then, you could contact local officials and candidates with your suggestions for making the streets safer for old people in your community. Start a petition. Get neighbors involved. Make phone calls. Attend town halls. Make a calendar of activities to campaign for safer streets and stick to it.
And remember, one of the strongest arguments you have is that anything good for old people in a community is always good for everyone else too.
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Here is latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show.
To my delight, pleasure and great, good fortune, for the past couple of weeks I have been reading a dazzling little book published nearly 10 years ago.
It has also brought forth the largest sense of envy I've felt in a long time. The author's imagination is so vast, so intelligent, so funny, so thoughtful that I might as well close up shop at this blog right now.
But first, let me tell about this book I somehow missed in 2009. After all, it made a dozen or more best-books-of-the-year lists, has been translated into about 28 languages, was performed as a musical offering in both Sydney and London and has been praised far and wide.
Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives, is written by neuroscientist, David Eagleman, who was also the host of the PBS series, The Brain, a couple of years ago. From this one book alone, you know he is one of those few people in the world who has not been bored for a moment of his life because all he needs to do to engage himself is sit around and think.
Sum is 40 short stories – or better, thought experiments - 40 different ideas of what the afterlife might be like. (And I do mean short – they average about two-and-a-half pages each.)
They are serious and silly and frightening and exciting and whimsical and important. Some are thrilling (oh, please let this be a real afterlife). Others are terrifying. All are fascinating and will leave you with a lot to think about.
The title story that opens the book tells us that
”In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order, all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.
“You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on the toilet.”
In another afterlife, “Descent of Species,” you get to choose whatever you want to be in your next life but realize too late that in having chosen to be a horse, for example, you have lost your human faculties and can never again be a human.
Other stories posit that god is a married couple or a microbe too small to know humans exist and in one instance, there are many gods each of whom has control of one domain:
”One god has control over objects that are made of chrome. Another over flags. Another over bacteria. The god of telephones, the god of bubble gum, the god of spoons: these are the players in an incalculably large panoply of deific bureaucracy.”
In the story, “Seed”, god had unintentionally set life in motion by devising a palette of matter from which creation took off after having “simmered the Earth at the proper distance from the sun.” However,
”Recently [god] has run into an unforeseen problem: our species is growing smarter. While we were once easy to awe, dragging knuckles and gaping at fire, we have replaced confusion with equations...All this is reflected in the steady decline of attempted miracles in the past millennia.”
Yet another hereafter
”...is full of dogs, mosquitoes, kangaroos, and every other creature. After you arrive and look around for awhile, it becomes obvious that anything that once existed enjoys a continued existence...
“Contrary to the admonition that we cannot take it with us, anything we create becomes part of our afterlife. If it was created, it survives.
“Surprisingly, this rule applies to creations not only material but also mental. So along with the creations that join us in the afterlife are the gods we created. Lonely in a coffee shop you might meet Resheph, the Semitic god of plague and war...”
Along with 2000 or more other old gods no one worships anymore.
Eagleman, who calls himself a possibilian, has said that these stories are meant to explore new ideas beyond the traditional and so Sum is.
If you are inclined to read this delightful and, I think, important book, take your time with the stories, just two or three at a day over a couple of weeks. They are each one filled with wonderment, insight and possibilty, and each deserves some time to percolate within you.
In the end, you will find that these stories have much more to do with how to live now than the afterlife. Surely you recall from school that the title, Sum, means “I am” in Latin.
PS: No, I am not closing up shop on this blog – that was a bit of hyperbole to make the point of my admiration.
”It seems older people are a lot friskier than some younger people may have thought.”
If you can resist the perfectly understandable urge to smack the reporter who wrote that sentence, findings from a recent survey support the notion, believe it or not, that old people indulge in sex with one another well into their ninth decade and perhaps beyond.
First, however, here is a video from Jimmy Kimmel, the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! TV show, who did some man-in-the-street interviews with a whole bunch of elders about some similar research:
A friend objected to Kimmel's grandfather “joke” and to showing so much of the man who keeps confusing top and bottom, a quibble we'll save for a future rant.
But to be clear regarding my grousing about that sentence in the first paragraph above, when was the last time you heard the word “frisky” applied to anything but a puppy?
In the past two or three years, several research studies have concluded that old people are having a good deal of sex and young people think it's icky.
Writing at HuffPost, Ann Brenoff answers the question, What's the oldest you can be and still have sex?, this way:
”You can have sex for as long as it feels good, kitten, for as long as it feels good. A recent study of 6,201 people ages 50 to 90 published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that up to 54 percent of men and 31 percent of women report having sex at least twice a month.
“As disturbing as you might find the thought of your parents or grandparents having sex,” Brenoff continues, “the truth is they’re still human beings with human-being urges.”
It's hard to tell but I suspect Ms. Brenoff is at least trying to express acceptance of people old enough to be parents and grandparents into the we-enjoy-sex club.
It's the surprise younger people exhibit at finding out old people still do it that ticks me off. How do these writers think they got here, for god's sake. A report of one survey about old people and sex began with this statement: “Sex isn’t just a young person’s game.”
And why would anyone think otherwise?
Um, it's called ageism and for as long as I've been researching age, it has been commonplace and customary, apparently, for younger people to respond to the idea of elders having sex with wonderment at best and disgust at worst.
When I run across these assumptions and judgments, I invariably mutter the two questions to myself:
• At what age do they think people should stop having sex?
• Do they think we forget how to do it when we hit that age?
If they think about it at all, younger people seem to have a lot of misconceptions about elder sex. Several recent articles address some false assumptions associated with senior sex. In another Huffpost story, reporter Yagana Shah does a decent job of debunking these five myths:
Sex isn’t as important in relationships when you’re older (Wrong)
Sex becomes kind of 'vanilla' as you get older (Wrong)
Older people aren’t having sex (Wrong)
Erectile dysfunction is inevitable (Not wrong and there are treatments that work)
Sex is best when you’re younger (Wrong)
Not long ago, elder sex guru, Joan Price, published comments from readers of her Senior Planet sex column about what makes their sexual encounters pleasurable at their age. Here are three of the responses:
”I’ve learned that sex without penetration provides me and my partner with at least as much core-shaking pleasure as does PIV. Both are very nice, but my notion of 'real sex' has broadened to center now on sex without penetration.”
”I honestly didn’t know our sex drives would slow down. Nobody tells you that a strong libido has a shelf life. Realizing that the days of spontaneous combustion were over for both of us, I felt like I’d been ripped off by life.
“With time, laughter, tears, and a lot of talking and thinking — plus a vibrator, erotica, and soft porn — my husband and I created a place where sex is a wonderful mini-vacation where we give and receive pleasure.”
”We find planned, weekly date-night encounters far more enjoyable than spontaneous episodes, because planning a scene enhances anticipation. It’s a form of extended foreplay. We are consistently ready for sex well before the next date-night, but we deny ourselves, heightening the desire to extreme levels for days.”
It seems to me that the only real impediment to sharing good sex in old age is having a partner but we all know there are other things to do if that is not possible.
As to youngsters' mistaken ideas about old folks and sex, Ann Brenoff redeems herself with her answer to this question:
Q: “Aw, c’mon. Old-age sex is funny, isn’t it?
A: “Actually, it’s pretty serious business. It deserves to not be filtered through a lens of humor or disgust. We can start by not demeaning it. Older couples dancing intimately aren’t 'cute.' Save the 'cute' for babies and puppies.”
One of the things about getting old is that there is no user manual. Nobody tells you what's going to happen and I don't mean the diseases of age - cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's, arthritis, dementia, etc - that are more prevalent in the late years of life.
What I'm talking about instead are irritating impediments that turn up unexpectedly – or more likely, slowly sneak up on us and are established almost before we recognize them.
We've talked about them in the past: dropping things more frequently, leaky pipes, unexplained aches and pains, new hair in all the wrong places, not enough hair where it belongs, forgetting old friends' names, too many nightime bathroom runs, searching for misplaced items, among other old age annoyances.
Hardly anything throughout our earlier adult years changes as much as in our old age and most of it takes up a whole lot of time just when we are grappling with the reality that we have a whole lot less of that irreplaceable commodity than we used to have.
A few days ago, a friend who just turned 80 told me that some days, if he has no appointments or other reason to leave home, he doesn't bother to get dressed.
Whew! Isn't it a relief to find out other people also do things you are embarrassed to admit.
Two or three times a month, at the time of morning when I would normally head for the shower to get ready for the day, the thought comes over me to skip it, to just hang out at home in my pajamas.
Sometimes, since it is part of the usual morning routine I've already broken, I don't even make the bed even though I really dislike walking into the room to a messy bed. So there you are: in one swell foop, I ditch the shower, the bed making and getting dressed for a day while feeling liberated and just a little decadent.
Which is exactly what The New York Times reported on last week – people who are refusing to buy into a busy, busy, busy retirement that the culture does a good job of instilling in us. Or shaming us into.
”For many baby boomers, retirement is neither a chance nor an excuse to take it easy,” wrote reporter Joanne Kaufman. “Rather, it’s an opportunity to take a class (or six). Then there’s mastering a language or an instrument, writing a novel, climbing a mountain, maybe starting a business."
But, The Times says, that's not for everyone.
“Mr. Lerner, the former money manager, speculated that if he had a wife, she might tell him to get out of the house and 'take old-age classes,' he said, referring to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Florida Atlantic University. 'My friends who take courses told me to look in the catalog, but there wasn’t one subject that interested me.
“'I don’t know. Maybe it’s my personality, but I don’t have to justify my behavior,' Mr. Lerner said. 'I’m enjoying my retirement just as it is. And if it’s O.K. with me, I’m not going to change even if someone else says I’m wasting my time.'”
Another Florida retiree agrees:
“'I’m not interested in going back to school,' said Mr. Walzman, 74, who has four degrees and had several careers, including a business installing telephone systems. 'In my youth, I was very ambitious,' he added. 'I had to get 100 on every test. I had to do this, and I had to do that.'
“Now, he plays golf, plays poker, swims twice a day and spends some time monitoring his investments. 'To be totally honest, I’m at peace,' he said. 'I’m happy. What can I tell you?'”
As far as I can see, it's not like relaxed retirement is a movement that's taking off. The barrage of advertisements and media stories admonishing us to keep busy or we'll lose our minds and die early is ubiquitous. But like those people in The Times story, we are not required to buy into it.
Undoubtedly, the adverts and admonitions are written by younger adults who mostly seem to want old people to behave like wrinkly young people because they don't know anything yet about the changes that accompany growing old.
Who also don't know that there are days when all those old-folks' annoyances (accompanied by a disease of age or two for some) slow you down to a crawl and who don't know that there are days when you can't find the wherewithall even to get dressed.
So don't let the prevailing culture direct your retirement choices. Do it your way.
Pretty much all old people who live in places where public transporation is scarce resist the idea of giving up their car keys and dread reaching the day when it might become necessary. Who can blame us.
In recent years, families, physicians and caregivers are becoming more conscious of the need to help elders decide when it is time to stop driving, but what about firearms?
Do you own a gun or two or more? Does an elder you know or care for have access to guns? What about someone you know with dementia, even early dementia?
The size of the elder gun-owning population is larger than I had imagined. According to a Pew Social Trends survey, about 33 percent of people aged 65 and older in the U.S. owns a gun, and another 12 percent of that cohort lives with someone who does.
In addition, “A 1999 study estimated that 60% of persons with dementia (PWDs) live in a household with a firearm.” And, reports The New York Times,
”More than 8,200 older adults committed suicide in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among men, those over age 65 are the likeliest to take their lives, and three-quarters of them use a gun.”
Obviously the potential for tragedy involving elders with dementia who have access to guns is an important issue that hasn't been well addressed.
Last month, a group of physicians got together to publish an essay in Annals of Internal Medicine about this. In particular, they made a plea for the medical community and others to find a way to make life safer for people with dementia and their potential victims.
The doctors note that federal laws do not prohibit purchase or possession of firearms by people with dementia and only Hawaii and Texas mention those conditions in firearm statutes:
“Hawaii prohibits possession by any person under treatment for 'organic brain syndromes', which could include dementia or similar neurodegenerative conditions. In Texas, persons diagnosed with 'chronic dementia' are ineligible for a license to carry a handgun in public but may purchase and possess firearms.
“Many questions on firearm access in dementia remain unanswered,” wrote the doctors, “but the need to address the problem is here now.
“We believe that a concerted, cooperative effort making the best use of the data at hand can help prevent injuries and deaths while protecting the dignity and rights of older adults.”
There are plenty of anecdotes about near catastrophe involving guns and people with dementia. The authors note in the “Annals” essay that as dementia progresses, family members, health aides and other visitors can be at extreme risk. The Times article includes a story from Dr. Michael Victoroff, a family medicine specialist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (and a certified firearms instructor):
”One of his patients, a retired police officer, had long slept with his service revolver by his bed. But as he neared age 80 and his dementia deepened, 'he would wake up at night and not recognize his wife, see her as a stranger in his house,' Dr. Victoroff said.
“Once Dr. Victoroff learned that the man had pointed the loaded .38 at his wife, the situation grew urgent. They turned to the man’s former partner on the police force, someone he trusted, to persuade him to give up his weapon.”
The essay doctors compare the firearms safety issue with that of driving and suggest that families should discuss giving up guns with relatives diagnosed with dementia. The best time to do that, they say, is when the person can still make decisions for him- or herself:
”Families might consider a so-called 'firearms retirement date,' when they will give up any guns in the home to avoid the potential for these weapons to be in the house when they’re no longer able to store them or use them safely, the paper’s authors suggest.
“Or, in much the same way that people may set up an advance directive giving a loved one the ability to make medical decisions on their behalf, older adults might designate someone they trust to have the authority to take away their guns when the time for this comes.”
Lead “Annals” author, Dr. Marian E. Betz, told Reuters,
“'In later stages of dementia, behavioral issues like paranoia or aggression should raise concern, as should threats about suicide or threats towards others,' Betz said. 'Families and friends can then lock up or disable guns or move them out of the home, depending on what works for the family and according to state firearm transfer laws.'
“When guns do remain in the home, they should be locked so that the person with dementia doesn’t have unsupervised access to firearms, and they should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition, the doctors also recommend.”
To me, never a gun user or owner, implementing these (and even stronger) safety recommendations for people with dementia seem as obvious as giving up driving licenses when the time comes. But according to The New York Times article, it is not as clearcut as I believe:
”Many gun enthusiasts argue that while driving is a privilege, the Constitution protects keeping and bearing arms. And they find firearms a crucial part of their identities and sense of security.
Here we go again – the same old Second Amendment argument, even for people with dementia. There has got to be a middle ground, don't you think?
EDITORIAL NOTE:At the bottom of this post is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show - a now-and-then conversation between me, the proprietor of Time Goes By, and my former husband, Alex Bennett. There is a lot of health talk in this one with a lot of laughing too. But first, some thoughts about living for hundreds, even a thousand years.
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In just 100 years, average life expectancy at birth worldwide has more than doubled, from 31 years in 1900 to 69 years in 2016. It differs wildly among nations from 50 years in Sierra Leone to 83 years in Japan.
However, the longer we live, the higher our life expectancy becomes so currently, average world-wide life expectancy at age 65 ranges from 74.7 years in Sierra Leone to 86.8 in Japan.
Throughout history, humankind has sought eternal youth - we are familiar with Ponce de Leon's search for the fountain of youth along with other who sought the storied philosopher's stone, varieties of panaceas and the elixir of life.
Today, people are looking harder than ever for a magic formula that will allow people to live to be hundreds of years old.
Some people put stock in learning about how to extend their lives from the “blue zones” scattered around the world. Blue zones, explains Reuben Westmaas at curiosity.com is, broadly,
”...a place where people live to be 100 at extraordinarily high rates, have an extraordinarily average high life expectancy, or an extraordinarily low mortality rate for middle-aged people.”
Millions of others believe a variety of supplements peddled online by hundreds of people claiming to be life extension “experts” will keep them alive for longer than without the supplements.
One of the earliest extreme longevity researchers is Aubrey de Grey, chief scientific officer at his own charity, the partially self-funded Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (Sens) Research Foundation in California. de Grey claims the first person to live to be 1,000 is already alive.
Zillionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Peter Thiel, who helps fund de Grey's research firm, is among some other wealthy individuals who are funding life extension and anti-aging research. Australian geneticist David Sinclair believes a pill that would extend human life is only 10 years away.
The two founders of Google are spending spending big bucks on extending life too:
”In 2013, Google started Calico, short for the California Life Company. Employing scientists from the fields of medicine, genetics, drug development and molecular biology, Calico's aim is to 'devise interventions that slow ageing and counteract age-related diseases.'”
Another tech billionaire, Larry Ellison, funds a research foundation that goes even further with a related, more expansive idea. The Guardian explains:
”They investigate the details of the ageing process with a view to finding ways to prevent it at its root, thereby fending off the whole slew of diseases that come along with ageing.
“Life expectancy has risen in developed countries from about 47 in 1900 to about 80 today, largely due to advances in curing childhood diseases. But those longer lives come with their share of misery. Age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s are more prevalent than ever.”
Jay Olshansky, a sociologist at The University of Chicago School of Public Heath, rejects the standard approach of curing one disease at a time. He believes the life extension goal can be reached by concentrating on “healthspan” rather than lifespan:
”By tackling ageing at the root [heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's] could be dealt with as one, reducing frailty and disability by lowering all age-related disease risks simultaneously, says Olshansky. Evidence is now building that this bolder, age-delaying approach could work.”
And then we can all happily live de Grey's thousand years. Disease free. Right?
Every time I peruse the most recent life-extension literature, I am astonished that hardly anyone mentions the enormous drain on the planet's already strained resources that would ensue if we all lived hundreds of years.
South Africa and some other places are already running out of water. Once fertile lands around the world are turning into deserts. More frequent and disastrous weather events are wreaking havoc around the world. The oceans are rising and there are more problems to come from climate change that we have yet imagined.
Most basically, where would we put everyone? How would we feed them? The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-tenth of the world population, about 815 million people were dealing with chronic undernourishment in 2016.
I doubt that number has dropped in two years and I am hard pressed to believe that efforts to feed the hungry would be any better with a longer-lived world population than it is now.
Even if you can shrug that off, there are important ethical and philosophical questions. To scratch only the surface...
Would life be as meaningful without death?
How long would people be expected to work?
Would everyone's lives be extended or only rich people's?
Would marriage mean the same thing?
With more time, would people have more children?
Would life become boring?
Paul Root Wolpe, chief bioethicist for NASA and director of the center for ethics at Emory University, told the National Post:
“Look, I want to live to 150, too. I mean, don’t misunderstand me. I want to see my great-grandchildren. I want to see the first people on Mars. I want to see all that Aubrey [de Grey] wants to see. I just don’t pretend that it’s not a narcissistic desire because I can’t think of a single good that would give society.”
I'm with Wolpe on that. What about you? Would you want to live 200, 500, 1,000 years?
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Here is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show recorded on Wednesday 6 June 2018.
A few days ago, TGB reader Kate Gilpin sent me an email about what she calls her “latest ageism tale from the trenches.”
”Yesterday I had lunch with three wonderful, smart, interesting, funny women,” she writes. “I was the youngest there, at 80, and two of them were over 90. We all live independently and quite competently, thank you.
“One of us told a story of her experience considering whether or not to have some solar panels put on her roof. She talked to a consultant - I don't know if this was on the phone or if the consultant came to the house (they usually do).
“After some discussion of what was available, what required, etc., the consultant announced to my friend that in order to sign a contract with them, she would need to have a younger family member present in the room to endorse the proceedings.
“No, really. They wouldn't accept her own responsibility. She thanked them immediately for their time and terminated the consultation.
“I was shocked at this report and asked among my friends of various ages for their reactions to this incident. I got an unsurprising number of replies expressing dismay.”
Dismay? Try loathsome. Offensive. Disgusting,
Nevertheless, this story is only a mild version of what can happen just about anywhere in the United States: that someone you've never met nor heard of arrives at your home unannounced waving a Family Court “removal order” that gives him or her “guardianship” over your entire life from that moment forward.
The “guardian” then orders you to leave you home immediately, drops you (and your spouse if you have one) off at an assisted living facility and then steals all your worldly goods and money.
I first read of this horrible racket in a stunning article in The New Yorker last October reported by the estimable Rachel Aviv. As she recounts it in her piece, titled “How the Elderly Lose their Rights,” Rudy and Rennie North were ordered out of their home in Las Vegas by April Parks, owner of a company called A Private Professional Guardian:
”'Go and gather your things,' she said.
“Rennie began crying. 'This is my home,' she said.
“One of Parks' colleagues said that if the Norths didn't comply he would call the police. Rudy remembers thinking, You're going to put my wife and me in jail for this? But he felt too confused to argue...
“Rudy and Rennie had not undergone any cognitive assessments. They had never received a diagnosis of dementia.”
And that is only the beginning of the ordeal they suffered over the next two years that included being drugged at the assisted living home, depriving the North's adult daughter of information about their whereabouts or their medical condition and refusing to allow the daughter to visit her parents.
There is not a word in this long New Yorker story that is not important or worth reading and if you have access to the magazine's archives, you can read it here.
If not, fortunately for us, all elders and their families, last Sunday John Oliver devoted the largest part of his HBO program, Last Week Tonight, to the story of Rudy and Rennie North and the nightmare of unregulated, unsupervised state guardianship programs.
Here is Oliver's report with the accompaniment of an all-star team of elder celebrities: William Shatner, Rita Moreno, Fred Willard, Cloris Leachman, and Lily Tomlin:
Even with all they suffered, Roy and Rennie North are, to a degree, lucky - they eventually got out of their forced incarceration; others taken from their homes against their will died before anything could be done to help them.
The North's home, money and belongings are gone now and they live with their daughter who will support them for the rest of their lives.
”Parks spent all the Norths' money on fees – the hourly wages for her, her assistants, her lawyers, and the various contractors she hired – as well as on their monthly bills, which doubled under her guardianship.”
What happened to Roy and Rennie and so many others is a form of elder abuse. Numbers are elusive but it is estimated that 10 percent of people 65 and older are abuse victims - from strangers such as April Parks and, too often, from family members.
One way to help protect yourself or loved ones from such predatory “guardians” is to have all the appropriate health and end-of-life documents in order. These include your will, an advance directive, durable power of attorney, health care proxy, your state's POLST (Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment – called a MOLST is some states) and others.
An elderlaw attorney is a great help and there is a lot of useful information online to help you understand these documents.
When your documents are in order, keep copies in a safe place in your home (my elderlaw attorney suggested the freezer and so they sit, in a sealed plastic envelope). Be sure the people named in the documents – heirs, relatives, proxies, etc. - have copies and that your physicians have copies of what they need too.
After a lot of work from concerned people, Nevada has begun reforming its guardianship system and April Parks, along with her lawyer, office manager and husband, were indicted for perjury and theft, among other charges.
Richard Black, who is the son-in-law of another elder victim of this kind of scam in the Las Vegas area, is director of a national grassroots organization, Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship. He, reports Aviv, considers the Parks indictment “irrefutably shallow.”
”'It sends a strong message of: We're not going to go after the real leaders of this, only the easy prople, the ones who were arrogant and stupid enough to get caught,” he said.
“He works with victims in dozens of what he calls 'hot spots', writes Aviv, “places where guardianship abuse is prevalent, often because they attract retirees: Palm Beach, Sarasota, Naples, Albuquerque, San Antonio.
“[Black] said that the problems in Clark County [Nevada] are not unusual. 'The only thing that is unique is that Clark County is one of the few jurisdictions that doesn't seal its records, so we can see what is going on.'”
This kind of thing begins in small ways and grows. If it is all right for a random sales person to refuse selling a service to anyone he alone decides is incapable of making a decision about solar panels, it lays the groundwork for worse abuses of elders.
Last year, inflation was so low that Social Security recipients received only a 2 percent cost-of-living (COLA) increase for 2018. But that was a relatively giant raise compared to 2017 (.3 percent) and 2016 (nothing).
Of course, I can't speak for you, but I live almost entirely on Social Security (about 85 percent of my income) and in each of the named years above, my expenses for Medicare Part B, Part D and supplemental coverage along with auto insurance and certainly food increased at much high rates.
In no way do I mean you should think I'm destitute or anywhere near. For many obvious reasons, it is much less expensive to live in retirement than during earning years and every month I surprise myself that I have money left over to add to the emergency fund.
But not a year goes by that the increases in my fixed expenses don't go up between five and 10 percent.
That doesn't sound like much except that over even a few years, it adds up to a great deal more than the Social Security COLA covers so I worry a bit about future price hikes.
Even so, I don't feel deprived but I know a good number of elders who live on Social Security only and whose benefit is smaller than mine. In those cases, hardship can be a daily reality.
So for many of us frugality and thrift are in order and, at least for myself if not others, I'm pretty good at it.
My most successful single savings came not quite two years ago when my Verizon cell phone bill jumped to just over $105 a month. Fed up, I finally did the homework and switched to one of the small providers that gives me the same service – unlimited calls and texts and one gigabyte of data - for $22 a month. How great is that, and the service is as reliable as with Verizon.
Since then, however, expenses for necessities listed above have more than eaten up the $83 I saved in that one change.
There isn't much other wiggle room in my budget. I would be willing to cut cable TV from my life but that company is the only local broadband provider in my area and they charge more for internet-only than for internet with basic cable. (Grrrrrrrrrrrr.)
I may cancel Netflix soon. In the past year or two, the dreck increasingly exceeds the better quality offerings. But that saves only $10 a month. Amazon Prime is, even with the recent 20 percent per year increase, still worth it for me. I save hundreds of dollars on shipping costs each year and more often than not, prices are better than elsewhere online.
Over the past year I lost a lot of weight. So much so that I've had to replace part of my wardrobe. There are a couple of excellent resale shops here so I've done well to get the replacements I need while spending embarrassingly little, and several items were brand new.
I still prefer to read on paper than a screen of any size so I have kept a few hard-copy magazine subscriptions. Somehow my favorites are the most expensive but I'm going to continue them until I'm stretched too thin to not give them up.
It's easy to cut down on whim shopping especially (I'm being blunt here) having faced what I thought was certain death within a handful of months and so what could I possibly need to purchase.
Now that I have been given a reprieve from the cancer for whatever period of time, I've already got a year's practice in that kind of thrift.
That leaves the possibility for further cuts to types of necessary spending that can be down-sized, like food. On Saturday, I visited the second farmer's market day of the season and I was shocked that the price of a locally-made jam I like has increased from $5 to $7 over winter.
A bunch of six – SIX! - small, sweet turnips are up to $4.50 now while fresh halibut, never cheap, is $25 a pound. (I stuck with the cod.) It's high season for certain strawberries and I can't remember if a pint was $4 last year or less but that's the price now.
I'm not a rabid coupon cutter but I watch for sales especially on food items I like to always have in the house. That's what supermarkets are for and I suspect I'll be buying fewer items at the farmer's market this year.
I think we should all buy local when we can, to keep our dollars in the community, but the prices at that market this year take my breath away.
And, finally, restaurants. I don't eat out often enough to need to reduce that spending and there are some good, reasonably priced restaurants near me.
You've probably noticed that gas prices are up and expected to climb further over the summer. Some experts are predicting that depending on how Trump administration foreign and domestic policy changes play out, we could be in for increasing inflation (which has already climbed a couple of points this year) and higher prices in general.
So this would be a good time, I think, for us to crowdsource our best ideas to keep down personal and household expenses.
Most TGB readers are old enough to have weathered several economic downturns and a few remember growing up in the Great Depression. That ought to be good for some suggestions. Who among us are cutting back and how are you doing it? What are your best tips and secrets for surviving hard times?
”...the part I actually find hard about being single is that I never get touched, and this is always overlooked and undervalued.”
I ran across that statement in a story at Medium written by Emma Lindsay who is, gleaned from her story titled Being Single is Hard, much younger than most of us who hang out at this blog.
But she's writing about something that affects elders at least as much as people her age. In the past, I've called it “skin hunger.” People also call it “touch hunger.” The meaning is obvious – the primal need of all humans (and, probably, some animals) to be touched, one living being to another.
”...the idea that when, through death, divorce or other circumstance, we live without a partner in old age, we can feel our skin longing, even aching for the touch of another person.”
It can be a sexual longing or not. There is a poignant observation from an old woman, Estelle, who took a class about how to write sex scenes from reporter Steve Almond. He describes her first essay:
”What emerged was miraculous: a heartbreaking scene between an elderly couple in a museum,” explains Almond.
“The woman is full of suppressed longings. She fantasizes about going back to their hotel room and lying back on the bed and letting the man part her legs and her sex. She can’t express these desires out loud, though, so instead, when they get back to their room, the sexual act focuses on the man and his failure to achieve an erection.”
The woman, half a century older than the other students, was shy about reading her essay aloud, but she got through it. And then, as I said in that previous post, Almond's essay really got interesting:
“After she finished reading,” he continued, “Estelle glanced around the room sheepishly. I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:
“'I came here today because I want people to know that elderly people still have desires. Nobody wants to think about it. But we do. I live in a retirement community where it’s mostly women and the men are sort of beat up. But we still have needs. We still need to be touched.'”
Yes, that is so: “We still need to be touched.”
It starts in infancy – babies do not thrive if they are not touched and held – and the need doesn't go away with age.
Some people have been attributing a growing prevalence of skin hunger to fewer people choosing marriage, preferring to live alone. Others believe a great deal of the problem is a result of technology and
”...the disconnected lifestyle a majority of the population leads. In America, work life and student life is often demanding, allowing little time for intimate, one-on-one periods with friends, family and loved ones.
“When individuals do find time to be around loved ones, exhaustion or unhappiness frequently stall or prevent intimate interactions, both of sexual and nonsexual nature.”
I'm not certain I buy that explanation in general, but my reluctance doesn't make the the need less real.
In the past, I have found solace in massage. That hasn't been possible for the last 11 months due to recovery from surgeries but I'm about ready to get back to that once a month or so. Here is something new (to me, anyway) going on to deal with this hunger - professional cuddlers.
At the website of one such enterprise, you can book a cuddler or learn how to become one. Here is a short video from the co-founders of The Cuddlist:
Without being able to explain the reason, I am more comfortable with a masseur or masseuse but that is undoubtedly an individual choice.
I've lived alone, now, for decades and what I have missed during all these years is not the sexual touching as much as the casual touches of two people long familiar with one another – a pat on the shoulder while passing by, holding hands on a walk, the warmth of another person sitting or sleeping next to me.
But, as I am suddenly and acutely aware after the death of Ollie the cat last week, our pets go a long way to helping meet this mutual need.
EDITORIAL NOTE:At the bottom of this post is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show - a now-and-then conversation between me, the proprietor of Time Goes By, and my former husband, Alex Bennett. Today's topic is cats. But first, I want to tell you about one of the best books of the year.
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John Leland, an exceptional reporter, joined The New York Times in 2000 and has been covering retirement and religion for the paper since 2004.
In 2015, The Times published Leland's year-long series, “85 and Up” about six of the oldest old living in New York City, all age 85 or older. I was hooked with his introduction which reads in part:
”Early this year, I began visiting these six elders, asking simple questions about their lives. What gets them going in the mornings? What are their aspirations, their concessions to age? Do they want to live to 100? Without the daily drumbeat of work or family responsibilities, where do they find meaning and purpose?
“What they shared, each in a different way, was a story of abrupt change — the loss of a spouse or a home, a sudden turn in health, the arrival of new love, the pain that signals only more pain to come...
“They buried brothers, sisters, parents, children, peers. They lived through the Depression, World War II, Nazi labor camps and the AIDS epidemic, but now they often find themselves with no one to listen to their memories.
“Few ever expected to be so old. None had a formula for how to do it.
“Their lives are a New York soap opera, unscripted.”
“These people totally changed my life. They’ve given up distractions that make us do stupid things and instead focus on what’s important to them.
“To a person, they don’t worry about things that might happen. They worry when it happens, and even then they don’t worry. They just deal with it.
“At whatever age we are, we can choose to adapt to whatever happens. We have influence over whether we let things knock us out.”
These six elders are a good cross-section of humanity at any age: an African-American man who is a veteran of World War II, a gay man whose partner of 60 years had died six years previously, a Chinese woman who maintains her social connections playing mahjong, a woman who found a new boyfriend in the retirement home where she lives and a well-known film director.
After repeated visits with each of his subjects over a year's time, Leland put together an extraordinarily informative and poignant story about – ahem, “what it's really like to get old” (see this blog's subtitle in the banner).
As he told host Terri Gross recently on her NPR radio program, Fresh Air, before this series, he was afraid of old age and sometimes still is:
”...when I started doing this series, I'd set out to - what one of the people I talked to calls - rewriting the Book of Job and doing a story on how this is terrible about aging.
“And you fall down, and you break your hip, and then it's all over. And you lose your eyesight, and then your friends all die, and then it's over. And your heart stops working. And you don't have sex anymore. And you don't work. And you don't have anything that gives you purpose. So now, it's all over.
“And that's what I thought old age was. But then you spend time with people, and a lot of that stuff is a part of their lives in old age but in no case was it how they defined themselves. So I wasn't getting it - what the truth about their lives was as they saw it.”
You can listen to Terry Gross's entire interview with John Leland, or you can read the transcript of their conversation here.
In January this year, a book based on Leland's conversations with the six elders was published. Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, received near-unanimous rave reviews.
In this short video from PBS NewsHour in March, Leland explains that learning how to think about death from his elder subjects changed how he lives:
During the past 20-odd years I've read hundreds of books on just about every aspect of growing old. There is a lot of dreck among the good ones but none has captured what it's really like to be old with such campassion, empathy, humor, genuine interest and, eventually, understanding as Leland does.
That happened because above all else, he is an excellent reporter who took the time to listen carefully and, as he says, “let them guide me through the world as they saw it."
Given all the age-related reading I do, you'd think I pretty well have the subject covered and to a degree, I do. But John Leland opened my eyes, my thoughts and my imagination to a good deal more than I have considered before. Books like Leland's don't come around every day.
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Here is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show recorded on Tuesday 22 May 2018.