SELF-SERVING EDITORIAL NOTE: A year ago, Jana Panarites, host of The Agewyz Podcast, interviewed me about my cancer and a bunch of other things. She has posted again and if you missed it the first time, you can listen to it here.
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If you go by the number of fraud alerts aimed at elders that drop into my inbox (unless you are an overwrought conspiracy theorist, there is no reason to believe they are wrong), you couldn't be blamed for thinking old people are idiots.
As you can see, the largest age cohort, 60-69, takes up the largest number of fraud reports in 2018 – 20 percent of the total. Apparently, however, we get better at identifying fraud as we get older: The 70-79 age group accounts for 13 percent of fraud reporting; 80 and older, only six percent.
On 7 March this year, the U.S. Department of Justice reported in a press release:
”Attorney General William P. Barr and multiple law enforcement partners today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing last year’s nationwide sweep.
“The cases during this sweep involved more than 260 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly. The Department took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts.”
As to my rude assumption above that elder fraud victims are idiots, many are dementia patients and sometimes victims have been threatened by the scammers:
”Among the would-be victims highlighted were William Webster, the former director of the FBI and CIA, and his wife, Lynda,” reports the Associated Press.
“The couple described how they were targeted by a man from Jamaica who threatened them. The Websters involved the FBI, which arrested the man after he arrived in the U.S.”
It's the scale of this crime that leaped off the pages for me: 260 defendants with 2 million victims. I know this kind of fraud aimed at elders has been going on for decades but at this particular political juncture in U.S. history, it seems almost as normal as the president's tweet storms have become.
And neither should exist. Or, at least should beget more outrage than I can see happening.
Further, the harm beyond stolen money itself is that unlike younger victims, old people do not have the time to recoup their losses often leaving them without enough money to afford both food AND medications.
AT LAST: FINAL DAY OF DONATIONS This is it – the last day of the 2019 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By for the next five years. You can read the details on Wednesday's post.
Whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's post.
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Two years ago
I was “the one”
who ran to hold the bus
for a slow-walking older friend...
and now I don't.
Two years ago I could spend all Saturday
on a flea market, department store shop,
no need for a break or a sit down
because I was tired...
and now I can't.
Two years ago
I didn't have periods of fatigue, didn't
need moments to pause in the day,
didn't contemplate the idea of a nap...
But now I do.
That poem comes to us from Jane Seskin, working psychotherapist and writer and having now read her latest collection, I feel like I've found a soulmate in regard to elder issues.
Seskin is saying many of the same things about growing old that I've written about here for 15 years – she just does it more eloquently than I do. Here's another from her book, Older Wiser Shorter:
Talk To Me
Hey, is there someone who's
supposed to warn you of the
health stuff as you age?
Doctor? Friends? The internet?
No one sounded the bell for me on
belching, dehydration, constipation
or flatulence. No talk of elongated
earlobes, receding gums, facial hair
or that I would get winded and need
to pause in the middle of the sidewalk
to catch my breath. Were body
malfunctions too private to share?
Did I not make the time to ask the
questions? Did you not want to
tell me about my physical future?
I want to know what's normal and
what's not. Maybe...maybe we
could just be a little more honest
and vulnerable with each other.
Perhaps we could connect on a
deeper level through sharing our
stories, even the scary ones, of
our health fantasies and fears and
what makes each of us feel better.
There aren't very many people – actually, there is hardly anyone at all – talking about these real, day-to-day surprises that afflict our old age. Which is what makes me excited to have found a soulmate on “what it's really like to get old.”
In fact, I'm pretty sure the medical community knows more about cancer and diabetes than about Jane's list of belching, flatulence, facial hair and rest. And no one ever talked about this stuff when we were younger, so surprises – mostly unpleasant ones – become key elements of growing old.
Not that everything is a complaint. Here are a couple more poems from Jane's book that resonated oh so strongly with me:
Most of the time
I'm in love
with my single life
which is not to say
I don't have room
to be in love
with a good man,
but this time around
I think I'd just like
and every other
Ha! I cannot count how often I've had exactly that thought. Here's another, more whimsical than some others:
I look behind, in front,
around. No one
on the street.
And then I do
what I've been
yearning to do
since last week
when I saw and
and then grinned
while I watched
the two little girls.
Jane Seskin's book of poetry, Older Wiser Shorter: An Emotional Road Trip to Membership in the Senior Class, is available at Amazon. I highly recommend it.
Back in January, Jodie Jackson of Primaris, a healthcare consulting company, interviewed me about my blog, about ageing and about my cancer diagnosis for the company's blog.
I particularly like the title on the podcast page: The Space Between Life and Death which nicely captures this indeterminate period I'm in now.
We had a fine ol' time talking this over and in addition to publishing the podcast, Jackson excerpted parts that you can read at the website. What struck me is how closely what Jackson and I spoke about meshes with Jane Seskin's poetry. One example:
”What the aging 'experts' didn’t explain or even talk about were daily details about aging,” writes Jackson. For instance, 'I had dropped a knife that came perilously close to my toes.' She wrote about dropping things and the response was resonating.
“'It turns out that old people do drop more things' because their fingers lose sensitivity to touch. 'Yes, me too, me too, me too,” was the cacophony of responses. 'There are all kinds of things like that. Your doctor won’t tell you…the little things you’re going to have to accommodate as you get older.'”
TIME GOES BY DONATION WEEK REMINDER This is day two of the 2019 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By for the next five years. You can read the details on Wednesday's post.
Whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's post.
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Perhaps you have noticed that this is Valentine's Day – a perfect time for me to again thank you all for your continuing support of this blog and especially your many good thoughts, prayers and well wishes throughout the ups and downs of this cancer predicament in which I find myself.
Sending all good Valentine's Day greetings to each and every one of you.
Last week, well-known American poet, Mary Oliver, died in her home in Florida at age 83. She had won both the Publitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
In Oliver's obituary, The New York Times reported:
”Her poems, which are built of unadorned language and accessible imagery, have a pedagogical, almost homiletic quality. It was this, combined with their relative brevity, that seemed to endear her work to a broad public, including clerics, who quoted it in their sermons; poetry therapists, who found its uplifting sensibility well suited to their work; composers, like Ronald Perera and Augusta Read Thomas, who set it to music; and celebrities like Laura Bush and Maria Shriver.
“All this, combined with the throngs that turned out for her public readings, conspired to give Ms. Oliver, fairly late in life, the aura of a reluctant, bookish rock star.”
Many TGB readers noted Oliver's passing - so many that it feels like every one of you sent this particular poem of hers. I thank you all and can't imagine how I have missed it all these years.
When Death Comes
By Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
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.
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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.