Cancer/COPD Update – Greed Edition

Fall colors are gorgeous here in northwest Oregon this year. The most brilliant yellows, reddest reds, a wide variety of greens and some leaves so orange they seem to have been invented on purpose just for Halloween.

Me too. I'm feeling all dressed up and ready for a party or, at least, some ice cream. I feel so much better than I felt all summer.

Summer was bad but the odd thing is, I didn't realize it at the time. I thought I was okay if I didn't count the pain. Isn't it strange how it can take some distance sometimes to understand what was going on.

In July, I compared my cancer predicament to that of the characters in the TV show M*A*S*H who were stuck in a war zone:

”It is easy with a diagnosis of terminal cancer to feel despair,” I wrote, “wishing even that the wait for the end be over soon. But after watching M*A*S*H, which I do two or three times a week, I feel empowered to persevere, that there are people I love I want to spend more time with, books to read and this blog where you, dear readers, allow me to hold forth on whatever crazy ideas I have.”

Yes. But it turned out to be not that simple.

For the pain, I was using extreme dosages of over-the-counter medications which worked only to a degree plus they made my head fuzzy. Mostly I managed to keep up this blog but little else. Social life almost disappeared; I didn't have the energy.

It felt like I was winding down. Day by day, I was gradually accepting the idea that I did not have much time left. When I looked at my medical calendar, I wondered if my doctors just took off for the summer. It seemed that way with hardly any appointments scheduled compared to winter and spring.

At any other time in my life I would have been happy to have doctor-free days and weeks. This time I felt abandoned and there were moments when I wondered if absence was the doctors' way of telling me I was done for.

When the pains finally were under some control, my mind cleared a bit and what I noticed was a deep malaise, and a dwindling interest in just about anything that took more mental effort than watching a M*A*S*H episode.

At an excruciatingly slow pace over August and September, the pains subsided. Some are still with me but less like pain and more like a presence. I no longer need pain medication.

With the end of summer, the number of medical appointments has picked up. Earlier, I had been diagnosed with COPD in addition to cancer and now oxygen therapy has been prescribed. (What a huge load of equipment that entails.)

A physical therapist gave me some exercises that have helped with the remaining pain and stiffness in my hands and fingers.

Last week, the pulmonologist suggested a course of physical therapy meant to teach me how to live more easily with a breathing difficulty and yet another physical therapist gave me an excellent list of ways to conserve energy so that even with less than optimal breathing, I can still do much of what I want and need. All good.

The most profound change has been my mood. I'm me again and it took so little to make the difference: realizing that several professionals, who work with a lot of patients who share my kind of predicament, think I'm healthy enough to use precious resources that will improve my quality of life.

Having figured that out, I drove home from last Friday's appointment wearing a grin as wide as the whole outdoors. The fall colors blazed brightly and I wondered how I had allowed myself – pain or no pain – to become so dejected over the summer.

Few people with pancreatic cancer live more than a year or so after diagnosis. There was a time when staying alive long enough to see the Mueller Report was enough for me.

Well, that was a dud and now I've gotten greedy. I want to see the results of the 2020 election. Whether President Trump is impeached and removed from office or not, this is an election like none of us has seen before. I hope not to miss it.

A TGB READER STORY: Framing My Story

By Carol Nadell

The delicate picture frame is almost as old as I am. It is made of real wood of a light gray tone perfectly suited to the muted shades of the formal portrait it once held.

That photo was taken more than 72 years ago, when I was not yet two years old. It is not really black and white, not really color, and not really sepia. Its hues are soft and soothing, just what must have been needed as the country emerged from the horrors of a long and brutal war.

The photo was part of a grouping, along with similar portraits of my older brother and sister, taken on the same day. They sat atop the piano in our living room for 20 years, until my mother, a widow at just 53, moved to a two-bedroom apartment.

The photos went with her and, perched on her dresser, I suspect they were a comfort to this still-young woman who found herself so unexpectedly alone. When two years later, she remarried and moved into her new husband’s house, the photos again found a prominent spot on her dresser.

A widow again 20 years later, my mother would eventually become a “snowbird,” dividing her time between an apartment in Massachusetts and another one in Florida.

And when she made the journey back and forth, she was always accompanied by those three photos in the soft grey frames. They became snowbirds too.

When she made her final move to a senior living facility at 89, she placed the photos on the credenza in her living room, along with those of the rest of the family, by that time including grandchildren and great grandchildren.

After my mother’s death, I took the old photo home with me. My husband had always loved that image of me – the profile with the turned-up nose and the soft curly hair. And, so, the photo moved from my mother’s credenza to my husband’s dresser, where it joined the smiling faces of his children and his long-deceased parents.

And after my husband’s death four years ago, that little girl with the turned-up nose continued to smile down on me, a reminder of the now-long arc of my own life.

The burgundy velvet backing of that soft gray frame became worn and discolored with age, but it still recalled an earlier time before everything was made of cardboard and manufactured in China. The tiny nails that attached the backing to the frame spoke of permanence: the frame would hold the photo intact forever.

But 70 plus years proved to be too much for the easel leg designed to hold the frame upright. It hung aimlessly, separated from the backing, and the frame only stayed erect when I leaned it against those on either side of it.

I kept telling myself that it would be too difficult to find a new frame that would accommodate the oddly-sized photo. But the truth is that I couldn’t imagine parting with that frame.

It was a link to my past, to that little girl with the pug nose and huge smile who had her whole life ahead of her.

And it was a link to my mother who had caused the photo to be taken and placed in that delicate frame and who had carried it with her to multiple homes for well over half a century.

And, finally, it was a connection to my husband whose smile I could still see as he looked lovingly at that little girl who would become his wife.

But when the frame toppled over several times in one day, I finally made my way to the local art supply store where I found a serviceable frame of just the right size.

It isn’t the soft gray of the original and it certainly does not have a velvet backing, but it stands upright on its own – still on top of my husband’s dresser, which is now filled with my clothes.

An hour or so after placing the old frame in the blue plastic bin in my apartment building’s trash room, I rushed to rescue it. Sending it to a recycling plant felt like abandonment or betrayal. Of my mother? Of my husband? Of the little girl in the photo?

I’m not sure, but for now the empty frame with the broken, detached backing sits unseen on a shelf behind a closed door in my living room cabinet. I am not yet ready to part with it.

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

How Old Should a U.S. President Be?

On Tuesday last week, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders suffered chest pain at a campaign event and was taken to a hospital in Las Vegas.

At first doctors said the senator had a blockage in an artery but when he left the hospital on Friday, the campaign issued a statement saying Sanders had suffered a heart attack.

“'After two and a half days in the hospital, I feel great, and after taking a short time off, I look forward to getting back to work,' Sanders said in the statement quoted in Slate.

It was announced on Thursday that Senator Sanders will attend the 15 October Democratic debate in Ohio.

Bernie Sanders is 78 years old and until this past week, few journalists had dipped their pens into the quadrennial presidential age conversation. But his heart attack seems to have loosened reporters' reticence and there has been a sizable uptick in the number of opinions on the matter in the past few days.

After skimming through a number of them, it seemed to me to make better sense to have a bunch of old people like us at this blog discuss the presidential age issue. So here we are today.

This year, in addition to 78-year-old Sanders, there are 76-year-old Joe Biden, 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren not to mention 73-year-old Donald Trump running for the office of president.

Former President Jimmy Carter turned 95 last Tuesday. A couple of weeks earlier he told a crowd that he hopes there is an age limit on running for president:

“'If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger,' Mr. Carter said, 'I don’t believe I could undertake the duties that I experienced when I was president,' according to The New York Times.

“'One thing is you have to be very flexible with your mind,' he continued. 'You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them all together in a comprehensive way.'”

It's hard to argue with a guy who's been there, done that so I won't try. Another age limit proponent, Andrew Ferguson, writing in The Atlantic back in June, had a different reason for wanting a younger president: “to break the gerontocracy” of the Democratic Party:

”There is a huge gap between where the energy and creativity of the party lie, with a group of dynamic activists and House members in their 30s and even their 20s (thank you, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and the ruling class of 70-somethings layered far above like a crumbling porte cochère...

“The trick for old folks is to adjust their search for purpose and meaning as they follow nature’s course and give way to their juniors.”

I'm ignoring that “crumbling porte chochere” crack along with the false assumptions about age stuffed into so short a quotation to offer the notion that some experience – as you might have noticed over the past two-and-a-half years – wouldn't hurt.

I think The Squad and some other young newcomers to Congress are terrific but I don't think one year is Congress is quite enough to tackle the biggest job.

Personally, I oppose a cutoff age for presidential candidates for the same reason I keep arguing against lumping all old people together. Come on now, you can sing it with me: People age at dramatically different rates.

Some 50- and 60-year-olds would be incapable of keeping up with the demands of the top job. Some 70-somethings and even 80-somethings can. But you don't need to hear that from me. Almost any geriatrician or gerontologist would agree:

”Gerontologists and other experts in aging say there is simply no way to definitively address the question of an upper age limit on the rigors of the presidency, reports The New York Times.

“'There’s no answer. It’s unknowable,' said Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian. 'It’s true that rates of physical and cognitive impairment are age dependent but there’s all kind of variability.'”

And, hoping I'm not being too flip about it, what do you think vice presidents are for?

Ed Kilgore, writing in New York magazine last June came down on the side of no age limit:

”So from a historical perspective, Trump, Sanders, and Biden (and Elizabeth Warren...) aren’t too old at all as compared to the rest of the population. From a health point of view, it’s hard to say if they are riskier propositions than younger pols.

“There is the cautionary tale of Reagan, whom many observers thought was showing signs of serious cognitive impairment during his second term. On the other hand, another president who was clearly impaired, Woodrow Wilson, only 62 when he suffered a debilitating stroke...”

Now it's your turn, dear readers. Should there be an upper age limit for presidential candidates?

ELDER MUSIC: The Pretender

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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That’s me - and here is a prime example of a pretender (from a long, long time ago).


Actually I’ve never claimed to be a musicologist, it’s just that we thought that Norma should have a title and after many options, we settled on the joke title of Norma, the Assistant Musicologist.

That would suggest my title, but you’d be wrong if you thought that. I’m just a music buff with lots of music at my command, and a really good memory (and the help of Dr Google).

So, here are some pretend songs. Okay, they’re real songs, they’re just songs about pretending.

I’ll start with the song that inspired this column. Those with similar taste in music will know I’m talking about JACKSON BROWNE. The A.M. and I were watching a vid of Jackson in concert, and naturally this song was included. Light bulb moment. I know several pretend songs, I said, I’m sure there are enough for a column.

Jackson Browne

I was rather ambivalent about Jackson’s album (“The Pretender”) when it first came out, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate immensely, especially the title track, The Pretender.

♫ Jackson Browne - The Pretender

There are several great pretend songs in the column and a few more of a different quality (I have to make up the numbers somehow). This is one of the former; how could it not be when it’s performed by NAT KING COLE.

Nat King Cole

Nat is always welcome in my columns. Unfortunately, the song is from after his great early recordings as a trio. Here the record company throw all the bells and whistles in to back him up, although not as grievously as on some of his songs.

Nat sings Pretend, one of his hits.

♫ Nat King Cole - Pretend

In spite of what I said about memory above, I had the thought that there were many versions of the next song. There may be, but I only have two in my collection – Bobby Vee and JERRY VALE.

Jerry Vale

The song, Pretend You Don’t See Her, was written by Steve Allen and was a big hit for Jerry back around 1957. Bobby’s version was some years later, of course.

♫ Jerry Vale - Pretend You Don't See Her

There was no pretence about BILLIE HOLIDAY, she was the real deal.

Billie Holiday

Because of racism and sexism, singers like Billie used to get the dregs of the songs that established singers (usually male and/or white) didn’t want to record.

It reminds me of food – way back the peasants and other poor people had to make do with meat and vegetables that the rich folk wouldn’t touch. They made do and created a cuisine that now costs top dollar in trendy restaurants.

The same with Billie. She created gourmet fare from the least of songs. I don’t know if this is one of those, but it fits in today. I Can't Pretend.

♫ Billie Holiday - I Can't Pretend

Here is the greatest pretend song of them all – this is the real thing, if that’s not an oxymoron given the topic. It’s by one of the finest vocal groups ever, THE PLATTERS.

The Platters

People around my age will remember one of their greatest hits, if not the pick of the lot, The Great Pretender. They were blessed with one of the finest lead singers in popular music, Tony Williams.

♫ The Platters - The Great Pretender

KITTY WELLS was a trail blazer in her time.

Kitty Wells

She was the first woman to top the country music charts (although Patsy Montana would have done so had the charts been around in her time).

She was the first country female performer to release an album (it was thought that females didn’t sell records) and the first country female to receive a Grammy lifetime achievement award. She had many other firsts as well.

She’s also name-checked in one of Willie Nelson’s best songs. Kitty is here today for her song, I'm Tired of Pretending.

♫ Kitty Wells - I'm Tired of Pretending

I didn’t know if I should include KATIE THIROUX but the A.M. said that it would make a nice change of pace.

Katie Thiroux

The change being that this is an instrumental, so there’s no pretence mentioned, except for the title: Can't We Just Pretend, a tune Katie wrote herself. Katie is a bass player and singer, although as mentioned, that’s not evident on this tune.

♫ Katie Thiroux - Can't We Just Pretend

I’m so used to hearing the music of LES PAUL AND MARY FORD that this song came as a bit of a shock to me.

Les Paul and Mary Ford

The shock is that Mary usually sings (often with herself, maybe even several versions of herself) and Les (and Mary now and then) plays guitar. On this song Les sings (sounding rather like a cross between Bing Crosby and Leon Redbone).

Naturally there’s some beautiful guitar work. The song is Pretending.

♫ Les Paul & Mary Ford - Pretending

THE DELLS would be high on the list of the longest lived groups in popular music with most of the same musicians.

The Dells

They formed in 1952 and only called it a day in 2012 due to illness of their lead and bass singers. At the time they still had four of the original group.

They started off as doowop performers, but expanded their repertoire, of course. I imagine that The Temptations listened closely to them. From 1973 here is My Pretending Days Are Over.

♫ The Dells - My Pretending Days Are Over

I only discovered FIRST AID KIT a couple of years ago, but I’ve come to appreciate their music since then.

First Aid Kit

The Firsties (the Aidies? the Kitties? – you know that Australians like to abbreviate everything, unless it’s already short, in which case we’ll elongate it) are Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg along with three others on various instruments.

They perform Master Pretender, with Klara singing lead and some nice harmonies from both of them.

♫ First Aid Kit - Master Pretender

I’ll end with the King; here is ELVIS from the seventies, not his best period.


He’d lost his swagger and rock and roll panache, but boy he could still sing, as is evident in Just Pretend. Actually, this is the style of song he claimed he always wanted to perform.

♫ Elvis - Just Pretend

INTERESTING STUFF – 5 October 2019


When you see the size of the two Golden Retrievers and one Husky compared to tiny, new kittens, it's not hard to fear for the kittens. But watch:


The YouTube page told us in September that

”The SeaBubbles startup is testing its 'flying' taxi on the Seine in Paris. The vehicle is noise and pollution free, and its founders say it could help address congestion and pollution in Paris.”

I'm posting the video because I think the taxi is cute:

The AP has a bit more information about the bubble taxi.


When I was doing a lot of business travel in the 1970s and 1980s, flying was fun - the seats were comfortable and even in economy class, the food was pretty good. Even better in first class.

We all know the horror of flying these days and it may get worse. Over 12 days later this year, 720 volunteers will test every flyers worst nightmare, an evacuation. Federal regulations require that an airplane be able to evacuate everyone in 90 seconds.

“'A bad outcome would be for them to keep the seats essentially as they are or even allow them to shrink further,' says Paul Hudson, president of the consumer organization Flyers Rights. 'A good outcome would be for them to require the seats and passenger space be sized in order to accommodate the demographic profiles that we now have.'”

I'm five feet two inches tall and on the last flight I took, MY knees touched the seat in front of me. What do taller people do?

You can read more at the Washington Post.


There aren't a lot of fireman on the African savanna to help a cat who realizes he made a big mistake climbing a tree.


My friend Hank Berez sent this saying it is well worth the 30 seconds it takes to read it. There is no author listed and I have edited it for clarity.

Story 1: Once, all villagers decided to pray for rain. On the day of prayer, all the people gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella. That's FAITH.

Story 2: When you throw babies in the air, they laugh because they know you will catch them. That's TRUST.

Story 3: Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning, but still we set the alarms to wake up. That's HOPE.

Story 4: We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future. That's CONFIDENCE.

Story 5: We see the world suffering but still we get married and have children. That's LOVE.

Story 6: On an old man's shirt was written a sentence, “I am not 80 years old; I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.” That's ATTITUDE.


Okay, this is a bit rude for a family show but it's really funny too and it's only 20 seconds long.


Last Tuesday, as President Trump seemed to be digging his impeachment hole deeper by the hour – or not - MSNBC host Brian Williams asked Yale Professor Timothy Snyder – a man who knows a thing or two about authoritarianism, fascism and tyranny - to talk about Trump's behavior and its potential consequences:


TGB Reader Linda Burdick sent this video of a beautiful octopus that left his (her?) human watchers awed. The video is both mezmerizing and relaxing.

There is more information at the YouTube page, at Huffpost and at Nautilus Live.

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

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

Wasting Crabby Old Lady's Time

It's not as though the topic of today's blog post is news to anyone. Crabby Old Lady doubts there is anyone reading this who hasn't been there but that doesn't make it less irritating, even enraging.

All Crabby needed to do a few days ago was update a payee's bill payment information on her bank's website. It should have been a 30-second operation. But no. When she clicked the “enter” button onscreen, a pop-up told her the operation could not be completed and to call an 800 number for help.

Of course you know what happened next. Crabby went through four – count them, FOUR customer service representatives who, the various on-hold recordings told her, are apparently called “bankers” nowadays: “A banker will be with you shortly.”

It's anyone's guess, as far as Crabby can tell, why a “banker” would know anything about a webpage malfunction but that's how things go these days.

With various amounts of time on hold, the dreaded “I'll transfer you”, one broken connection during a transfer with each one requiring Crabby to navigate the phone tree yet again, Crabby Old Lady spent more than 45 minutes before finding a person who even understood the problem, simple as it was.

And get this: Crabby told each of the four people that she probably knew the cause of the problem: that the new name of the payee was nine words long and would not fit in the character-limited box on the screen.

After another five or ten minutes on hold, the fourth person told Crabby that she was correct, the name was longer than the character limitation allows but she had fixed the problem and it would now work.

It did.

Does a happy ending make you feel any better for having slogged through eight paragraphs of a story you know all too well?

Probably not but Crabby wanted to give you a flavor of her hour and 15 minutes on a phone call that should have taken two or three minutes.

In her old age, Crabby Old Lady finds that everything takes longer and that's not her imagination. Undoubtedly, that's true for some of you.

Crabby wears out so easily nowadays that she has no more than about six, maybe seven hours of productive time a day. All her life, Crabby was a jump-out-of-bed kind of person, eager to get going on a brand new day.

Now she lies in bed each morning, so comfy, cozy and warm, free of any kind of pain and thinks seriously about staying there. She hasn't done it yet but you never know.

With her new-ish COPD diagnosis, simple walking becomes problematic. Crabby Old Lady forgetfully starts out toward the trash bins or mailbox as if she's still in New York City at rush hour. It takes only a few steps before she is heaving for breath.

Changing the bed takes at least twice as long as all her previous life because she needs to sit down for a short rest two or three times before she's finished.

And then there are the mystery time losses such as this one: Crabby decides to wash up the few dishes in her sink and when she's done, she sees that 30 minutes (!) have gone by.

Really? It's only Crabby eating here and the dishes are few – those from lunch and maybe left over from breakfast too so it should take five minutes or so of mild effort.

What happened to those other 25 minutes?

Sometimes it happens when she is getting dressed or folding laundry or sorting the papers on her desk. Large swathes of time disappear and Crabby doesn't know where they went. Did she black out for awhile and not know it?

Crabby Old Lady was blessed with 76 healthy years of life before being diagnosed with cancer and don't think she doesn't appreciate it. But it has been so hard to adjust to living with the time demands of ongoing disease – and that's on top of the normal slowdown due to age alone..

So it time is already short in old age. When poorly trained or incompetent people can't deliver what they are paid to do so that hours go by, that is theft of Crabby Old Lady's time.

And it's not like stolen money - no one can pay back time.

At Eternity's Gate

In the time since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than two-and-a-half years ago, an appeal of the writings by very old people and of those near death has grown within me.

On the weekend, I came across one that I want to share with you. It is from a book published last year in the United Kingdom titled, Written in History: Letters that Changed the World by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

An excerpt from the book turned up last Saturday in a weekly newsletter titled Air Mail from former, long-time editor of Vanity Fair magazine, Graydon Carter.


Briefly, this is a hastily-scribbled letter from Czech prisoner Vilma Grünwald to her husband, Kurt, as she and one of their two sons are selected by Joseph Mengele for instant extermination at Auschwitz on 11 July 1944.

The letter is almost unbearably poignant and I urge you to read the full background at Air Mail. Here is the text of the letter:

"You, my only one, dearest, in isolation we are waiting for darkness. We considered the possibility of hiding but decided not to do it since we felt it would be hopeless. The famous trucks are already here and we are waiting for it to begin.

“I am completely calm. You—my only and dearest one, do not blame yourself for what happened, it was our destiny. We did what we could. Stay healthy and remember my words that time will heal—if not completely—then—at least partially.

“Take care of the little golden boy and don’t spoil him too much with your love. Both of you—stay healthy, my dear ones. I will be thinking of you and Misa. Have a fabulous life, we must board the trucks.”

“Into eternity, Vilma.”

The original letter was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Vilma's and Kurt's son who, like his father, survived.

A TGB READER STORY: Remembering Kathy

By Kathleen Morse Noble

I met Kathy at a Scrabble Club in Phoenix with a bunch of other nerdy word nuts. After talking with her and playing a few games, I knew we would be friends.

Kathy was feisty and super smart and – like me - had an informed opinion about EVERYTHING. Like me, she really liked to be right! Can you see where this is going?

We were very competitive playing Scrabble in person but particularly online. I looked at our stats yesterday and she beat me 3 times out of every four and we played 379 games. She didn’t cheat, either.

Kathy felt very comfortable making comments on my friends' Facebook pages. Sometimes her comments started what seemed to be the equivalent of a Facebook cat fight, often with my conservative relatives and childhood friends!

I usually agreed with what Kathy said, but tact was not her strong suit and I have too few relatives left on earth to afford to lose them so sometimes I asked her nicely to back off. She did.

Kathy was also a fabulous storyteller. One of the funniest involved a certain future son-in-law who sleepwalked when Kathy was visiting her daughter and who came out and lay down next to her on the sofa where she was sleeping, thus trapping her.

She was so tiny, he apparently didn’t notice her behind him. She had to call for help!

In addition to being feisty and funny, Kathy was truly a woman of faith. She loved to go to the Franciscan retreat center, especially after she got colon cancer. She didn’t talk very much about her faith but she lived it.

She valued generosity, and loved nature, goodness and justice. She did not put on any airs - what you see is what you got from Kathy.

We loved to go out for movies, especially after she got sick as it was one thing that she could do easily. Her stomach would growl so loudly in the movie theater and I know she hated it, but I laughed!

Even after she lost so much weight, she always looked gorgeous and dressed so colorfully and I totally was jealous of all her earrings, as I love them too.

I had colon cancer in 1998 when I was only 52. Because I had been through surgery and chemo, Kathy and I could talk about our experiences and all the tough side effects, sometimes even over lunch. I tried to help her find ways to be more comfortable, but her cancer had spread and just got worse.

I talked to her when she was in the hospital and she told me a lovely story about a young doctor who came in, sat down so she could see his face and chatted with her about living in St. Louis, where he also had lived. She told me that it was so nice to have him see her as a real person and not just a patient. I don’t know this doctor’s name, but I am so grateful to him.

Kathy loved her daughters and especially her granddaughter so very much. Her face would just light up when she told me about funny things that little Teegan said nearly every time we talked.

Her cat, Sunny, also was a huge source of comfort and entertainment for her, and me, too, when I visited her. I was startled to walk into her tiny kitchen after she moved in and suddenly see the cabinet open up and Sunny sauntering out!

The last time I saw Kathy was the day before she died. I drove to the nursing home and brought a card that had 3-D hummingbirds on it and that I thought she would love. I held her hand and she got upset with me when I asked her if she remembered that my husband, Dave, also had cancer (“Of course I do!”)

The nurse came in with her pain meds and she told her that she didn’t want them because she wasn’t in any pain. We held hands and said that we loved each other. She had wanted to return to her own little house but it was too late, she didn’t have enough time. We said goodbye and she said I could come back again. I didn’t get a chance.

Facebook has a way of gobsmacking me every so often with an old photo or message about Kathy. “You haven’t played Scrabble with Kathy for a while…” “You and Kathy became Facebook friends…”

This photo is of Kathy with her daughter and granddaughter. She died soon after:


The Public Image of Old People

[EDITORIAL NOTE: My apologies to non-subscribers for the number of New York Times links. Usually I try to use as many sources without paid firewalls as possible but these are the links I had collected over time not knowing I would use them all in the same place. I think, however, the quotations stand on their own.]

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Every now and then, I get all wound up about how poorly old people are treated in the media. This is one of those times.

For every nicely done cable series starring old people (Grace and Frankie and The Kominsky Method come to mind), there are a zillion portrayals reminding everyone that if you're older than 50 (and even younger sometimes) you are no better than dead.

Sometimes it is that literal. Earlier this year, New York Times New Old Age columnist Paula Span related this incident:

”It happened about a year ago. I stepped off the subway and spotted an ad on the station wall for a food delivery service. It read: 'When you want a whole cake to yourself because you’re turning 30, which is basically 50, which is basically dead.'”

Ageism can also be quite subtle. Here's a webpage about a group of professionals dedicated to combating ageism in the advertising business. But it is close to impossible for anyone older than 40 to read it thanks to the light gray text on a white background.

However much they may mean well in regard to ageist words and images in media, what is the point if they can't get this simple part right.

Recently, there has been an uptick in the number of news stories about how marketers mostly ignore old people. In one of them, Tiffany Hsu at The New York Times writes:

”...the demographic is shunned and caricatured in marketing images, perpetuating unrealistic stereotypes and contributing to age discrimination, according to a new report.”

Ms. Hsu, referencing that report, from AARP, notes that although people 50 and older make up more than a third of the U.S. population and one-third of the labor force, they appear in only 15 percent of all types of media images and in only 13 percent of media images showed older people working.

Repetition plays a large role in cementing our beliefs (see or hear it often enough, it must be true) and none of us is immune all the time. In addition, what we do NOT see can be as powerful as what's right in front of us – like screen texts that even middle-aged eyes can't read and old people working alongside people of all other ages.

When old people are excluded from the public media conversation, they become less than everyone else, as if they have a disease, and denigrating them directly or by omission, becomes acceptable.

According to reporter Hsu, some advertising agency employees blame their own ageist offices for fostering ageism in the advertising and marketing they produce. AARP says it is pressing agencies to change their ageist ways and in one instance AARP has

”...teamed with Getty Images, the stock media supplier, to introduce a collection of 1,400 images on Monday that show older people running businesses, playing basketball and hanging out with younger generations.

“'What we needed was imagery showing mature adults leading full lives,' Rebecca Swift, the global head of creative insights for Getty Images, said in a statement.”

That's what bothers me. I'm tired of seeing headlines such as this one, also from The New York Times, June 2019:

”She’s 103 and Just Ran the 100-Meter Dash. Her Life Advice?”

Too often and perhaps in a misguided attempt to show elders as equal to mid-age adults, the media report only on the few old people, the “superelders”, who behave like 30- or 40-year-olds by skydiving and climbing tall mountains. In the real world, most elders must accommodate the inevitable decline of our bodies but that doesn't mean we become stupid or irrelevant.

Do I want to see old people portrayed realistically as workers, business owners, playing whatever sports they enjoy and doing the things they have done all their lives? For god's sake, yes, appropriately for their age.

But I also want us portrayed on the other side of realistic: the ones of us who use wheel chairs or canes to get around, for example, but still go to work, drive cars, cook, clean and take care of the chores and errands everyone else does even if we are a bit slower - that's normal with age. I'm tired of seeing old people portrayed most frequently as needy and dependent.

I want old people to be as respected by the culture and portrayed in the media as the grown ups they are, a right they once had in their lives but which was snatched away when they started to look 50 or 55 or 60.

In short, I want it to become okay to be old and I want to see that reflected in the all the various media that is so much of our lives.


Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

It’s been a while since I had a variation on a single song column, so it’s time for another. The song for today is Die Moritat von Mackie Messer. You may know this better as Mack the Knife.

Macheath first saw the light of day in John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” back in 1728. He was based on a real person, Jack Sheppard, who was a thief but essentially a good guy. Others suggest that it might have been Robert Walpole, but that was probably just for political purposes.

The character turned up in several plays after that getting darker and darker, until he became the Macheath in “Die Dreigroschenoper”, by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. This is more commonly known in English as “The Threepenny Opera”.

Let’s start with the original version, the woman who sang it in the first production of “The Threepenny Opera”. Interestingly, in many versions since this one, this singer was name-checked as one of the victims. She is LOTTE LENYA.

Lotte Lenya

Lotte was married to Kurt and besides the German version, she also appeared in a revival (in English) in New York. Here she is with original Ballad of Mack the Knife (Moritat).

♫ Lotte Lenya - Ballad of Mack the Knife (Moritat)

For a complete change of pace, I’ll give you an instrumental version, sounding somewhere between the zither playing from “The Third Man” and Lawrence Welk’s bubble machine. The players are LES PAUL AND MARY FORD.

Les Paul and Mary Ford

Unfortunately, Mary doesn’t sing on this one (neither does Les). It’s just their guitars doing strange things on Moritat.

♫ Les Paul & Mary Ford - Moritat

We now get to something approximating the way we generally know the song. This one is a pretty straight ahead pop version by PEGGY LEE.

Peggy Lee

However, Peggy has never made exactly straight ahead pop. There’s always something interesting in what she sings. That’s why I’ve included her performing Mack the Knife.

♫ Peggy Lee - Mack The Knife

Getting back to the original, but sung in English, here is STING.


This is the only English language version that mentions his arson and the murder of children. I guess that was a bit too much for the pop sensibilities of the other performers (or record executives). Of course, if you don’t listen too closely you’ll miss the references. Here is The Ballad of Mac the Knife.

♫ Sting - The Ballad Of Mac The Knife

This column was inspired when I heard RICKIE LEE JONES perform our song on a local radio station.

Rickie Lee Jones

I thought she did an interesting interpretation and wondered if there were more out there (apart from the obvious candidates). A search of my music collection found that that was certainly the case. Indeed, more than would fit in a single column.

So here’s today’s inspiration, Rickie Lee with Mac the Knife.

♫ Rickie Lee Jones - Mac the Knife

DAVE VAN RONK was a blues musician who could sing pop songs and numbers from musicals and make them sound like the deepest blues.

Dave Van Ronk

That’s what he does here – makes our song sound as if it originated from the Mississippi Delta or the bayous of Louisiana, rather than Berlin in the Twenties. He calls this one .

♫ Dave Van Ronk - Mack the Knife

SONNY ROLLINS produces my favorite version of the song.

Sonny Rollins

That’s probably because there are no words and the tune is not at all evident apart from brief glimpses at the start and end. It’s mostly Sonny going off on his own tangent with some beautiful improvisation. He calls it Moritat.

♫ Sonny Rollins - Moritat

There was an English film made in 1989 called “Mack the Knife” based on “The Threepenny Opera”. It had a surprisingly good cast of actors and singers. One of the singers, and the one who sang the title song, is ROGER DALTREY.

Roger Daltrey

Baby boomers, and those who are familiar with the music of the sixties and seventies, know that Roger was the main singer from the rock group The Who. He doesn’t sound at all the way he did in that group when he sings Mack the Knife, along with other singers from the film.

♫ Roger Daltrey - Mack the Knife (1989) ~ The Moritat

You might think that some of the tunes today have been a little away from the way you remember the song. Now we have one that’s totally off the planet, and it’s probably no surprise that the performer is DR JOHN.

Dr John

The good Doc brings in elements of New Orleans (of course), but also rap, hip hop and who knows what else. He has the help of Mike Ladd and Terence Blanchard on this one. He simply calls the song Mack the Knife.

♫ Dr John - Mack the Knife

I first became aware of the song when LOUIS ARMSTRONG recorded it back in the Fifties and took it to the top of the charts.

Louis Armstrong

I imagine I’m not alone in that. Satch produces some wonderful trumpet playing in this one, something I probably didn’t appreciate at the time. You were probably all expecting this one, so I don’t want to disappoint you. Here is Mack the Knife.

♫ Louis Armstrong - Mack The Knife

I know some of you will be saying, “Where’s Bobby Darin?” I thought his version was too much like Louis’, and was obviously based on that one. I wanted as much variety as possible.

INTERESTING STUFF – 28 September 2019


Television commercials can sometimes be their own kind of art and one that has charmed me since 2011 is the Hollywood actor Dean Winters playing the Allstate “Mayhem” bad boy.

In one of the most recent commercials, Winters is a cat and the producers got a lot of the irritating and funny habits cats plague us with. Take a look:

You can find out more about Winters' career at Wikipedia.


Following on the cat theme, here is a lion dad at the Denver Zoo meeting his little cub for the first time.


Last Monday, I posted TGB's semi-annual story to remind us how to avoid falling. What I left out and always have is what to do if you do fall. I ran across these tips at the National Institute on Aging and quote it now:

”If you do fall, stay as calm as possible and follow these steps:

Take several deep breaths to try to relax. Remain still on the floor or ground for a few moments. This will help you get over the shock of falling.

“Decide if you are hurt before getting up. Getting up too quickly or in the wrong way could make an injury worse.” (PERSONAL NOTE: When I fell a few months ago, people tried to help me get up right away when I just needed to adjust to the pain and mentally check my body to see if I was all in one piece. Insist on time to do this when people try to help. They mean well but...)

“If you think you can get up safely without help, roll over onto your side. Rest again while your body and blood pressure adjust. Slowly get up on your hands and knees, and crawl to a sturdy chair.

“Put your hands on the chair seat and slide one foot forward so that it is flat on the floor. Keep the other leg bent so the knee is on the floor. From this kneeling position, slowly rise and turn your body to sit in the chair.

“If you are hurt or cannot get up on your own, ask someone for help or call 911. If you are alone, try to get into a comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.

“Carrying a mobile or portable phone with you as you move about your house could make it easier to call someone if you need assistance. An emergency response system, which lets you push a button on a special necklace or bracelet to call for help, is another option.”


The latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show was recorded on Thursday 26 September, just after the Congressional hearing with Acting DNI Joseph Maguire ended.


You've heard this music or something very close to it a zillion times in your life whenever a movie or TV show needs to underscore an ominous situation.

The music has been around since the 13th century and VOX explains it all for us.


A study released this week in the journal Nature reports the discovery of 7,000-year-old baby bottles containing residue of non-human milk:

"'I can just imagine a little prehistoric child being given one of these with milk in it and laughing,' says the paper's lead author, archaeologist Julie Dunne of the University of Bristol, [quoted at NPR]. 'They're just fun. They're like a little toy as well.'”

Here's what the bottles look like.


The bottles, which were found in Bavaria, Germany, may also have been used for human milk, and they apparently still work in the 21st century:

"'When we gave a reconstructed one to [baby] Noah, it's very intuitive, so it fit just perfectly within a baby's cupped hands. And he loved it,' Dunne says. 'He started immediately sort of suckling from it. He was really happy, sitting there playing with it and suckling from it for ages.'”

There is more information at NPR and at the BBC.


There are more babies than usual in today's Interesting Stuff and here is another.

A rare, spotted Zebra was recently born in Kenya's Maasai Mara National reserve. From Frank Liu Photography:

There is more information and additional still photos of the baby zebra at Bored Panda.


In honor of Constitution Day last Tuesday and at a time when the U.S. founding document is being tested daily, The Library of Congress has launched a new website, Constitution Annotated.

”For over a century, the Constitution Annotated – known officially as the “Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation” – has served as the official record of the U.S. Constitution,” explains the Library of Congress page.

“Prepared by attorneys in the American Law Division of the Library’s Congressional Research Service, it explains in layman’s terms the Constitution’s origins, how it was crafted and how every provision in the Constitution has been interpreted throughout history.

You can explore it here.


We begin and end with two different kind of cats today. Nothing much goes on in the video except a cat showing us what relaxing is all about. Thank TGB reader Christi Fries for this video.

* * *

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

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

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Every now and then – much more frequently these days than I would ever have believed in the past – something happens in the world that is not directly related to the topic of this blog but is so important that I want to give us a chance to discuss it.

Events move so quickly these days that you might think I'm talking about the whistleblower and the U.S. House of Representatives' opening a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. It certainly meets my criteria for this kind of blog post.

But I haven't caught up to that yet. I'm still on climate change, on the worldwide climate strike marches last Friday and that astonishing young girl who is wise and brave beyond her 16 years, Greta Thunberg.

Listen to her fierce and powerful speech to the United Nations' Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday. Even if you have heard it before, it's worth paying attention to again. And again.

(You can read the transcript of Ms. Thunberg's U.N. speech at NPR.)

Isn't she wonderful. In the 30 years that have passed since science made it clear that humankind is killing our only planet, have you heard any world leader match her understanding and passion and intention?

She reminds me a bit of David Hogg and his fellow students who survived the Valentines Day 2018 mass shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and who are making their way through college these days while still working as gun control activists.

Ms. Thunberg inspires me. She makes me believe that we – humankind – can win the climate challenge before Earth is destroyed by it – even while I am still pessimistic.

Pessimistic about Earth's future because the leaders of the world attending the U.N. Climate Action Summit haven't offered a whit of concrete support for Ms. Thunberg's almost desperate call to action.

In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Michael H. Fuchs, noting that the United States should be leading world-wide cooperation to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, compared Greta Thunberg and the U.S. President Trump:

”Her remarks reminded us what leadership, courage and sacrifice look like...”, Fuchs wrote.

“Trump refusing to participate in the UN climate summit was little surprise from a president who gutted domestic environmental protections, announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, and is even trying to prevent California from enacting higher emissions standards for automobiles.”

In Isaiah 11:6, the Old Testament tells us,

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.

In the aftermath of terrible, frightening events like shootings and climate, it does seem like it is the children, not adults, who are leading the humane response.

Ms. Thunberg, who is actually a teen, won't be a child for much longer but as far as I can tell she is working circles around the grownups who refuse to face our ultimate existential problem.

It occurs to me that if her passion were matched with the knowledge of scientists, with others who can apply the scientists' solutions and still others who can organize countries worldwide, maybe, maybe, maybe there is a chance to save the planet.

Pipe dream? I hope with all my might it is not.

Last week, former U.S. President Barack Obama called Greta Thunberg “one of our planet’s greatest advocates.” It looks like she may have arrived at the last minute but perhaps there is still time if we start soon.

While she was in New York City, Ms. Thunberg was a guest on The Daily Show with host, Trever Noah. It's worth the eight minutes of your time.

If you want to know more about Greta Thunberg, Wikipedia has some good background, and there is a 30-minute Vice documentary titled, Make the World Greta Again about her early efforts. You will find it here.

Are You Dropping Things More Frequently?

Nearly four years ago, I wrote about how, as I have gotten older, I have been dropping things more frequently. At the time, January 2016, it seemed like one of those minor irritations that may or may not be real so I decided to check with you, always reliable dear readers.

Astonishingly, it is the most popular story ever published in the 15 years of this blog – 2,458 visits in just the past 30 days which is about average for most months.

All but a handful of visitors to the “dropping things” post during these past four years have arrived via search engines which means to me that a whole lot of people are sitting around wondering if this dropping stuff is peculiar to elders and should they do anything about it.

Like me, when I was researching it, they aren't finding much information online.

Because I am behind in a few things in my personal life and need some extra time, I'm reposting that story today from archive.

* * *

It is hard to be sure but [dropping things more frequently] seems to be so for me. And it is really annoying.

For example, one day last week, I dropped a spoon on the kitchen floor. I picked it up, rinsed it off and as I reached for the towel, I dropped in again. Damn.

A day or two before that, I had dropped the shampoo bottle in the shower – a new, full one that barely missed my toes. Later that day, I dropped the two-quart, plastic box where I store the cat's dry food, scattering it all over the kitchen. Damn again.

Not long ago, I dropped a nine-inch butcher knife – that one could have been disastrous – but on another day I was lucky to be standing on a carpet when I dropped my mobile phone so it didn't break.

None of these occurrences is important individually and probably not even in their proximity to one another. But they made me wonder if dropping stuff is a “thing” with old people. So I took to the internet.

There is a lot of unsourced and untrustworthy health information online and that is always dangerous for “low information viewers,” as it were. The first I found was a large number of forums where people with no expertise were freely offering their uninformed opinions.

In answer to inquiries about dropping things, many instantly went to fear-mongering: Based on nothing at all, they advised people to see a doctor right away because it could be an early symptom of MS, ALS, Huntington's disease and more.

That's nuts. Those were anonymous forums, for god's sake. I hope no one takes them seriously.

Digging deeper at more reputable websites, I found that sometimes dropping things can be among the symptoms of serious disease but only one symptom, a minor one among dozens of others anyone would notice long before worrying about dropping something.

Checking further, I found that dropping things is not a big enough issue with growing old to warrant much notice.

In fact, a webpage of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for training elder home staff is the only direct mention of elders dropping things I found.

”The sense of touch changes,” they report. “In older adults the sense of touch may decrease as skin loses sensitivity. Pressure, pain, cold and heat do not feel the same as they used to feel. Decreases in touch sensitivity may cause residents to drop things.”

That reference to skin losing sensitivity reminded me that a few years ago, I discovered through personal experience that old people often cannot be fingerprinted, particularly with electronic scanners, because their fingerprints are worn off.

When I wrote about that here three years ago, I quoted Scientific American magazine:

”...the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.”

That would certainly affect sense of touch and the ability to know if you are holding things tightly enough. A report from Oregon State University [pdf] concurs with Pennsylvania report supplying a bit more medical information:

”With aging, sensations may be reduced or changed. These changes can occur because of decreased blood flow to the nerve endings or to the spinal cord or brain. The spinal cord transmits nerve signals and the brain interprets these signals.

“Health problems, such as a lack of certain nutrients, can also cause sensation changes. Brain surgery, problems in the brain, confusion, and nerve damage from injury or chronic diseases such as diabetes can also result in sensation changes.”

I finally found the most pertinent answer to my question at The New York Times. Noting that fine touch may decrease in old age,

“Many studies have shown that with aging, you may have reduced or changed sensations of pain, vibration, cold, heat, pressure, and touch. It is hard to tell whether these changes are related to aging itself or to the disorders that occur more often in the elderly...”

This Times information is quoted from A.D.A.M., a private source of medical information for health professionals and other paid subscribers.

So what I have deduced from two or three hours on the internet is that barring injury or disease or, perhaps, waning strength that affects one's ability to grip strongly, maybe elders do drop things more frequently.

Maybe a diminishing sense of touch in general means that we cannot effortlessly perceive the appropriate strength of our grasp as automatically as when we were younger. At least, that's what I choose to believe for myself until someone enlightens me further.

Following on that, for the past few days I have been making a conscious effort to be sure I am holding whatever is in my hand tightly enough that it will not slip.

I want that to become second nature because the knife I mentioned was a close call and I certainly don't want to drop a cup of hot coffee on my foot or the cat.

Does any of this ring a bell for you?

A TGB READER STORY: Why Amazon Will Rule the World

By Fritzy Dean

Dear Mr. Target,

Whatever happened to your express check-out lanes? I clearly remember a time when a shopper with fewer than 10 or 12 items could get in an express lane and in a reasonable amount of time, be on their way.

Today when I asked a red-shirted employee for the express lane, she first looked puzzled, then pointed me to the multiple self-check lanes.

I choose not to use self-check lanes for a few reasons. First, I am not an employee and don’t wish to contribute my labor to your corporation. Secondly, I know that every self-check lane allows the store to get rid of three employees.

I realize, of course, the scanner does not take shifts or coffee breaks or vacations or sick leave. They never get grumpy or need the bathroom like a human checker.

Still I prefer the human. So I will wait in a lane where an actual human is checking. I don’t need that job, but someone does.

However, I have a suggestion that should be implemented as soon a possible. Since you have done away with he express lane, I feel you need a designated slow lane. This lane will be for the shoppers who:

Have a cart full of items and EVERY single one of them requires special handling.

If you have a discount code and you have to scroll through 400 items on your cell phone to find it, go to the slow lane.

If you have a coupon in a printed ad and must flip thought the advertisement 15 times to find it, go to the slow lane.

If you buy an item that must be purchased in combination with another item to get a special price, make damn sure you have both items and get in the slow lane.

If you are oblivious to the world around you and don’t even notice the ever-growing line of people behind you, you NEED to be in the slow lane.

Mr. Target, I bet you could think of other shoppers who could benefit from a slow lane. But, Mr. Target, I have no confidence you will implement this sensible and reasonable suggestion.

That is only one reason, Mr. Target, that you and other retailers are losing ground every year to Amazon.

I truly wanted to do my part to avoid that scenario but, Mr. Target, I have seen the light. After 20 minutes behind one of those slow shoppers today, I finally asked the checker if I should move. She shrugged and said, “Well, she is almost half way done.”

I will not weep when Amazon rules the retail world.

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

Today: Falls Prevention Awareness Day

Right now, you who have been reading TGB for awhile, are likely groaning: Is she really going to go through the falls prevention thing again? Really?

Well, yes. Twice a year I post a reminder and time-proven advice to help us all avoid falling. I do it because it can save our lives.

Today is the first day of fall, the day the U.S. National Council on Aging chose for its annual reminders about preventing falls. This year there is some updated research that is not encouraging:

Mortality From Falls Among US Adults Aged 75 Years or Older, 2000-2016 is a study published in June 2019 in the medical journal JAMA.

The researchers discovered that the number of deaths from falls among people 75 and older more than doubled between 2000 and 2016. As The New York Times noted in its report of the study:

”In 2016, the rate of death from falls for people 75 and older was 111 per 100,000 people, they found. In 2000, that rate was 52 per 100,000 people.”

That's a huge jump in fatal falls. The study states that the researchers do not understand the increase.

Earlier statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state them differently:

Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall

Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall

Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths

Obviously, those numbers will increase if the new statistics from JAMA are applied.

So what can you do to help keep yourself safe from falls. Here is a short, well-done video I've posted before – from the U.S. National Council on Aging:

This year I've discovered an excellent website about fall prevention that I had not seen before: Health in It is extraordinarily clear, concise and useful. Here are links to the main sections:

Basic Facts


Diagnosis and Tests

Care and Treatment

Lifestyle and Management

Unique to Older Adults

That is not the only good site on this subject - there is an abundance of information online about falls prevention. We should make good use of it because unlike cancer, dementia, COPD, heart disease and other conditions that affect so many elders, we can each have a direct effect on preventing falls.


Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

John Prine

JOHN PRINE is one of the finest, most admired and best loved songwriters for the last 50 years. Like most of his ilk, he’s probably the best interpreter of his songs but because so many people have performed them there’s bound to be some gems by others out there as well. I have a couple of those in the column as well as John’s own.

John Prine

John was one of the few people who could write sensitive and accurate songs about old people when he was still a young man. Robbie Robertson from The Band was another who did that. I suspect all the others didn’t have the imagination to want to try to do that.

The song I’m talking about, and it’s not his only one in this genre, is Hello in There.

♫ Hello in There

John Prine

There have been many terrific versions of the song Paradise. Probably the best of these was by the Everly Brothers. John Denver had a good one, as did the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Good as these are I’ll go with John.

He recorded it twice, once on his debut album “John Prine”, the second on the more recent “German Afternoons”, where he performs it in semi-bluegrass style.

John was writing about environment concerns years before it was even considered in politics (okay, that’s not difficult as it’s barely mentioned even now).

♫ Paradise

On her album “Other Voices, Other Rooms” where she performs cover versions of other songwriters, Nanci Griffith sings one of the best cover versions of a song by John.

Nanci Griffith

In this case she has the help of the man himself on Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.

♫ Speed of the Sound of Loneliness

John Prine

John has fun speculating on what happened to Jesus during the time that the New Testament is silent on what happened to him. That’s fine by me as I believe that the rest of his life is equally speculative. Here is Jesus, The Missing Years.

♫ Jesus, The Missing Years

The song Let’s Invite Them Over could make a pretty good plot for a TV soapie. John has the help of IRIS DEMENT on this one.

John & Iris

Of course we don’t know the attitude of the other couple, but as the song includes “again” I imagine that they’re okay with the situation.

This isn’t one of John’s songs, it was written by Onie Wheeler and was first recorded by George Jones and Melba Montgomery. John and Iris do it better.

♫ Let's Invite Them Over

John Prine

Lake Marie is a multilayered song - it’s a love song intertwined with history, murder, legend and heartbreak. It’s ostensibly about a lake in the Chain O’Lakes near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, but it’s a lot more than that. This is a really great song.

♫ Lake Marie

BONNIE RAITT has recorded, and played in concert, quite a few of John’s songs.

Bonnie Raitt

She’s probably the best interpreter of his music except John himself, and on Angel From Montgomery Bonnie might even pip him at the post.

♫ Bonnie Raitt - Angel From Montgomery

I grew up in a town about this size, so I know what John’s singing about. We left when I was about 13, but of course your formative years stay with you for the rest of your life.

To know what I’m talking about we should listen to John singing In a Town This Size with the help of DOLORES KEANE.

Dolores Keane

♫ In a Town This Size

John Prine

Back when John wrote Illegal Smile, what he was referring to certainly was illegal. Nowadays, there are a lot of place where it’s perfectly legal. I wonder if that removes the frisson of the song somewhat.

♫ Illegal Smile

Normally, I would say that I really like to include LEE ANN WOMACK in a column, but I discovered that this is the first time I’ve done that. Thanks John, for getting me to do it.

Lee Ann Womack

Unfortunately, Lee Ann seems to be trying to be Dolly Parton rather than herself, but I’m including the song anyway. It’s a good old cheatin’ song, this time with someone from the past. Fifteen Years Ago.

Fifteen Years Ago

John Prine

Oh my, can John write sad songs that sound as real as any news story? Well, more real the way news is at the moment. You can picture Donald and Lydia quite readily, but that’s not unique to this one – John’s details in most of his songs make them stand out from most other writers’ material.

Donald and Lydia

INTERESTING STUFF – 21 September 2019


Early last week, Alex Trebek gave ABC-TV's morning show, Good Morning America, an unwelcome update on his pancreatic cancer.

You can read more at the Good Morning America website.

Perhaps fittingly in relation to Alex Trebek, I ran across a lot of items this week about words and language. Here are three of them.


The use of the word “they” as a singular, non-binary pronoun has been gaining usage in the past few years when referencing people who do not identify as either male or female.

This week, Merriam-Webster added that definition to its dictionary, as in, “Ask each student what they want for lunch.”

You can read that it is not such a new idea after all at the Merriam Webster website and at the Washington Post and The Guardian.


Can you guess what that word is? Here's a video about how it came to be.


...on a page with a list of 15 things that make the internet awful. This one is all too familiar and hugely irritating, she said laughing ruefully:

“Password must contain a capital letter, a number, a plot, a protagonist with some character development, and a surprise ending.”

More on that list of awful internet things here.


TGB reader Ali sent this beautiful video which was made by a college student in Scotland. As the Youtube page tells us:

Fox Fires is inspired by the Finnish folk tale of the same name. The story isn't based strictly on it, I wanted to make up a creationist fable about how the fox fires may have come to be.

“But the Fox Fires or Revontulet are what the Northern Lights are called in Finland, as the folk tale believes they are caused by a fox kicking snow up into the sky.”


The nature of time has been a lifelong interest and over the years I have collected a dozen or so of “expert” explanations for why time seems to speed up as we get older. This week, TGB reader Jane Mahoney sent a video of yet another stab at the question.

The speaker in the video is neuroscientist David Eagleman who is the author of a delightful and funny little book I've mentioned in the past titled, Sum – 40 Tales From the Afterlife.


Wait until you see what this woman can do with not much more than a pair of scissors. Here's what the YouTube page says:

”It’s amazing what Anne Rosat can do with a pair of scissors. This 83-year-old artist has been depicting life in the Swiss Alps through the folk art known as papercutting for 50 years. Using scissors, paper, tweezers and glue, she crafts intricate, colorful and layered works that are uniquely hers. Rosat invites us into her home in Les Moulins, Switzerland, to show us how she tells beautiful stories with paper.


Over our lifetime, a lot has changed and that can make “the talk” between a father and son about the birds and the bees a minefield. Comedy Central took a stab at what that might be like these days. Thank Ali for this video.


This video arrived from Norma, the Assistant Musicologist via Peter Tibbles who writes the TGB Sunday Eldermusic column.

The YouTube page says this is a beluga whale. I'm not so sure – it looks like a dolphin to me. But what do I know.

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

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

Scheduling Old Age

Let me say right up front that the thoughts in this post are speculative. I have not discussed them with anyone (except for you today) and it could be that there is a term for this I don't know that caused me to come up empty when I tried an internet search.

Nevertheless, it is a real and important issue in my life and I wonder if its an old people's thing more generally.

I have always kept a detailed calendar. It relieves me of trying to remember if we said we would meet on Monday or Tuesday, and it is a central place to keep notes about the items on the calendar I might otherwise misplace.

Nowadays, electronic calendars make themselves even more useful than the pre-computer paper ones with such conveniences as reminders and syncing phone to desktop. And a calendar is no less important to keeping track of my life in retirement than when I was working.

What has changed, however, is that I am older, sicker, tireder and, compared to my work years, have much less time to take care of what's necessary each day, set aside time for leisure and be sure to meet the obligations I have made with others.

Thank god for calendars.

All that is to say that I curate my time and energy via the calendar. If I have medical tests or doctor appointments, I make no other plans that day and often not the next. With travel to and from, those usually eat up three hours of the day, sometimes four.

And for some reason activities away from home are extra tiring than whatever I'm doing at home.

One of my greatest pleasures is keeping up this blog. That involves setting aside hours of time on certain days, sometimes full days, because there is never any telling how long it will take to get something written that is good enough to publish.

I rest more often than I once did. A couple of times a week, I feel the need for a nap. If not, I usually stop whatever I'm doing now and then to just sit. Sometimes to meditate, sometimes to be still and let my mind wander for awhile.

In addition to the usual household chores – cooking, cleaning up, sweeping, laundry, taking out the trash etc. - I schedule regular, long telephone calls with friends who live far away. They tend to last about an hour but three hours is not unusual either.

So on paper, I would seem to have all my ducks in a row to, within the circumstance and requirements of my age and health issues, keep daily life running smoothly.

And that's true. Except when it's not.

Although I schedule my time loosely so not to be too rigid, it is a schedule nonetheless and when I book too many appointments in a short period of time, I pay for it with increased fatigue and distraction which, of course, means things don't get done.

I might be too tired to do the grocery shopping I'd planned or if it's late in the afternoon, I can't seem to concentrate on the blog post I'm writing. When I'm that tired I even have trouble answering email sometimes.

What no one told me about being old is how long it takes to do everything and if you (well, I mean me) don't plan your time well enough, you end up getting nothing done – neither requirements nor the fun stuff.

So much to do, so little time.

So if a friend wants to reschedule a phone chat or change the day of a lunch, I'll probably wind up with a day crammed full of too many activities – it doesn't take much these days for that to happen.

There are many reasons any of us might reschedule appointments and I don't recall ever thinking much about it until the past few years. In my working years, it was no big deal; now it can throw off my energy level for two or three days.

The worst, the thing that incurs my wrath, is when someone doesn't show up. A while back, a person I hardly know, never arrived at the coffee place we had agreed to meet. After a half an hour wait, I went home, seething.

Three or four days later, I received an email saying she'd forgotten and, as though that was a normal thing to happen, suggesting we reschedule. I don't know what you would do but I hit delete.

But right now, I'm interested in the bigger picture – that after a certain age (undoubtedly different for each of us but in the same ballpark) – it is crucial to manage our energy and stamina. Oddly, too much time with people as when I have two or more appointments in a day, exhausts me even while being with people always enhances my sense of well-being.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you schedule your time?

Old People and the Opioid Problem

On the day after my 12-hour Whipple surgery in June 2017, as I lay barely conscious in a hospital bed, a doctor put something in the middle of my back that I later learned delivered fentanyl to my body to control post-surgical pain.

It stayed there for three days and because of that, I know exactly how people become addicted. When the doctors busted me down to Tylenol along with some other over-the-counter pain killer, I yearned for, lusted after fentanyl.

The OTC drugs cut the pain to a tolerable level but oh my god, did I miss the feel-good part of fentanyl. I wanted to keep feeling that way. Forever.

Now, the United States is caught up in “the opioid crisis” and I am not here to doubt it. People are dying from opioid overdoses by the tens of thousands a year. According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (emphasis is mine),

”More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids - a 2-fold increase in a decade...

“Drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioids rose from 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017.”

When counting all opioid deaths, young people die in much larger numbers than old people. But two age groups in one category - prescription opioids - are just about even according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They report that in 2017, deaths numbered 1,100 for people 24 and younger, and 1,055 for people 65 and older.

In an effort to combat these terrible numbers, the medical community, reports the Washington Post, is conducting

”...a sweeping change in chronic pain management — the tapering of millions of patients who have been relying, in many case for years, on high doses of opioids.

“With close to 70,000 people in the U.S. dying every year from drug overdoses, and prescription opioids blamed for helping ignite this national catastrophe, the medical community has grown wary about the use of these painkillers.”

I have personally seen the difference in prescriptions related to my cancer. When I left the hospital after that surgery in 2017, I was handed a bottle of oxycodone (or oxycontin – I don't recall which) to take home with me for pain control.

As it turned out, I didn't need it and I later recycled the pills at a drug take-back day in my community.

In the past few months, I have had trouble with severe joint and body pains and opioids were never mentioned. It was suggested, instead, that I take certain over-the-counter pain pills three times a day.

When normal dosages were ineffective, the doctor didn't offer a prescription pain killer. He told me to double up on what I was taking. That worked fairly well, but nothing like fentanyl. When the pains subsided a good deal after a couple of months, I cut back to the normal dosage which I need now only once a day most of the time.

But I wonder if I might have been able to skip the weeks of all-day, all-night pain with an opioid. Here's a short video from the Washington Post story about one man's pain predicament:

This is happening to elders and others with chronic pain all over the U.S. The Washington Post explains further:

”Hank Skinner has been tapered gradually over the course of the year. The situation is worse for people forced to cut back their medication too quickly.

“Even medical experts who advocate a major reduction in the use of opioids for chronic pain have warned that rapid, involuntary tapering could harm patients who are dependent on these drugs.

“There is little doubt among medical experts that opioids have been prescribed at unsound and dangerous levels, particularly in their misuse for chronic pain. But at this point there’s no easy way to dial those dosages back.

“Long-term use of opioids creates dependency. Tapering can cause extreme pain from drug withdrawal, regardless of the underlying ailment.”

So the medical system's cutback on opioid prescriptions appears to be a case of throwing out the elders with the bath water.

Let's be clear about this: very few elders are taking fentanyl or other opioids recreationally. Old people did not cause the opioid crisis.

Lots of old people have lots of pain. Cutting their opioid drugs or recommending over-the-counter drugs instead, is causing them harm, they are suffering as one TGB reader, Elizabeth Rogers has been telling us here for quite awhile and she's angry about it. From last Saturday's comments:

”...ongoing physical pain is a significant challenge,” she writes. “Thanks mostly to 20-somethings who overdosed on illicit opioids used recreationally, our omniscient government cracked down--on chronic pain patients, many of whom are 60+, and their physicians.

“DEA raids on doctors' offices haven't done much to reduce overdoses among 20-somethings from heroin and fentanyl, but they have without question had an impact on patients who have used prescribed pain medications responsibly for years.”

Last year, WebMD reported on a study of opioid use from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ):

”...millions of older Americans are now filling prescriptions for many different opioid medications at the same time, while hundreds of thousands are winding up in the hospital with opioid-related complications...

“AHRQ's second report found that nearly 20 percent of seniors filled at least one opioid prescription between 2015 and 2016, equal to about 10 million seniors. And more than 7 percent - or about 4 million seniors - filled prescriptions for four or more opioids, which was characterized as 'frequent' use.”

I'm no physician but yes, I would guess that that number of opioid prescriptions at once is a bit over the top.

My point, if I've be too verbose for it to come through, is that it is wrong, as always, to lump all people together. It is younger people who most often abuse drugs (and we as a country need to be helping them). But old people should not be caused to suffer pain when there is a remedy; their lives are harmed by being denied them.

The secondary issue is that I have no idea what to suggest on how to correct this. I have no suggestions and no advice for Elizabeth Rogers or anyone else to restore needed drugs for elders who suffer with chronic pain.


By Ann Burack-Weiss

This loft had stairs! We could come Down the stairs for breakfast in the morning! We could go Up the stairs to bed at night!

We had each grown up in cramped apartments on the outskirts of a major city. Roy’s apartment in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx where he slept in a kitchen alcove supposed to hold a dinette set.

Mine in Brighton, Massachusetts, where a rarely played baby grand piano - wedged tightly into the cell-sized foyer - forced a sideways slide into the small adjacent rooms.

Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, neither of us had even been inside a house with stairs. All we knew of them was from outside (windows on top of each other spoke of rooms upon rooms) and from books and movies.

So although we had since been guests in a variety of two-story houses, and knew that stairs could be mounted and descended in misery as well as in joy, to have stairs of one’s very own still seemed exotic and wonderful.

Decades passed and we never gave another thought to the stairs. We passed from one floor to another as unthinkingly as we walked room to room on level ground. It never occurred to us to count the stairs (there are 19) or to notice their unusual height or to even touch the bannister, a long flat piece of wood that made an attractive wall decoration.

Roy climbed the stairs for the last time on the evening of March 12, 2010. He came down on a stretcher six hours later, borne by two men sent by the funeral home, his body covered by a white cloth.

Stairs began to appear in my dreams. Stairs covered in pale green carpet like ours, stairs of bare wood. Some flights extending endlessly to the sky, others collapsing upon themselves like an accordion.

I began to fall. Bone bruises, pelvic fractures. Assaulted knees and hips responded with arthritic pain. A hip replacement and rehabilitation. Each episode requiring an altered relationship with the stairs.

I now approach the stairs as a military campaign, standard operating procedures in place with sufficient latitude for unforeseen changes of circumstance.

Things to be carried up or down are placed, at debarkation points awaiting the next floor-to-floor maneuver. Empty coffee cups and crumby plates that belong downstairs at the top, just purchased toiletries and books that belong upstairs at the bottom.

Sometimes a canvas carrying bag, to sling over my good shoulder lies alongside, sometimes a fanny pack or back pack to free my hands.

I have deliberately slid down the stairs backside first and crawled up on hands and knees. I have walked up one step at a time, intent as a toddler trying out a new skill. I have reached for the bannister as for the hand of a caregiver - grasp it a few feet above me to pull up, hang on at hip length to go down.

But then will come a lovely day – sometimes weeks, months of lovely daysb– when I can walk up and down almost as easily as I ever did. And it feels again like the time when 19 steps were as nothing, Roy would be waiting for me on the landing, and stairs were still magic.

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