Last Week’s Links

Their romance was new when covid hit. Both in their 90s, they snuck around ‘like teenagers.’

When their retirement community enforced the COVID-19 regulations for isolation,  Bill Biega, age 98, and Iris Ivers, 91, had to make a quick decision: follow the regulations and stay separated, or cohabit and face the pandemic together. They decided that Iris would move in with Bill. More than a year later, they’re still together.

“Even in your 90s, it’s never too late to have a love life,” Bill says.

How Long Can We Live?

“As medical and social advances mitigate diseases of old age and prolong life, the number of exceptionally long-lived people is increasing sharply.” The United Nations estimates that there will be 25 million centenarians in the world by 2100. 

This article examines the various research approaches into aging and how to prolong lives. 

Affluent Americans rush to retire in new ‘life-is-short’ mindset

In an article from Bloomberg reprinted in the Seattle Times, Michael Sasso declares, “About 2.7 million Americans age 55 or older are contemplating retirement years earlier than they’d imagined because of the pandemic, government data show.” 

He goes on to report that “Early retirements, whether desired or forced, will deprive the labor market of some of its most productive workers and have an impact on the economic recovery that is still too early to evaluate.”

The ‘gray divorce’ trend: As the Gates split shows, more older couples are getting divorced. Here’s why

CNN uses the news that Bill and Melinda Gates are getting divorced after 27 years of marriage as the springboard for a discussion of the upward trend for toward divorce by older adults. 

Johnny Bench Misses His Hall of Fame Friends

I’ve been a baseball fan all my life and have been particularly struck by the number of former players who have died recently. This article focuses on Johnny Bench, the longtime catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. “Bench knew, played with or played against all of the 10 Hall of Famers who died in the past year.”

If you remember watching those men play, this article will tug at your heart strings, as it did mine.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

For some of us, returning to pre-COVID life is turning out to be harder than we expected

As an introvert, I had no trouble accepting the enforced isolation caused by COVID-19 and am beginning to regret that I’ll gradually be expected to get back out and socialize. But this article examines an aspect of “returning to normal” that I had not thought much about: fear that discontinuing the measures we’ve taken to stay healthy will allow us to get sick.

Some of us have jumped at the chance to see movies in actual theaters, grab a drink at a bar, cheer the Dodgers or attend a small dinner party with fully immunized friends. Yet for others — even the fully vaccinated — the fear that any relaxation of safety protocols will lead to another surge is hard to shake.

Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Aging

Xochitl Gonzalez writes:

in my experience — I’m in my 40s — aging has not only been dynamic, it’s turned out to be pretty damn good. Now, I’m not talking about aging in terms of night creams and micro-needling. I’m talking about the larger sense, about having more life to live and a joy about living it.

She explains that earlier in her life, she had developed her concept of aging from hearing the lamentations of her grandmother, who had decided that she was old at age 40. But at age 35 Gonzalez realized that her grandmother’s notion of old came from an earlier time, when women’s lives progressed through the various stages society expected of them—getting married and having children—at the pace society expected.

I must admit that I find the notion of someone in her forties discussing being old quite whimsical, but she makes a good point: Since that realization, “Time, going forward, has been marked less by what happened in my past than what might be possible in my future.”

Sleeping Too Little in Middle Age May Increase Dementia Risk, Study Finds

This article on new research suggesting “that people who don’t get enough sleep in their 50s and 60s may be more likely to develop dementia when they are older.”

We should always take research results with a grain of salt and, especially, remember that correlation of two conditions does not prove causation. And this article does point out the limitations of the study. Nonetheless, if inadequate sleep is something we can control, we might do well to correct the situation sooner rather than later. 

The Brain ‘Rotates’ Memories to Save Them From New Sensations

“Our ability to make sense of our surroundings, to learn, to act, and to think all depend on constant, nimble interactions between perception and memory.”

Here’s a report on new research designed to “figure out how the brain prevents new information and short-term memories from blurring together.” 

Historical looks at a previous pandemic and fatal police shootings show familiar inequities

This article is a portrait of Nancy Bristow, history department chair at the University of Puget Sound here in my hometown of Tacoma, WA. One of the sources writer Tom Keogh looks at is Bristow’s 2012 book American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the Influenza Epidemic, an account of the 1918-1919 Spanish flu epidemic:

She gives extensive consideration in her work to a subject that has also recently preoccupied the United States during our current COVID-19 pandemic: inequities in how medical treatment has been allocated to people of different classes, color and political power.

But Keogh focuses on Bristow’s 2020 book Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College. Bristow has been teaching African American history for 30 years. About this recent book she says:

“I came to the Jackson story because I’ve been teaching African American history for three decades,” says Bristow. “One of the through lines when you teach a survey of African American history is the persistence of violence. It’s there in slavery, Reconstruction, post-Reconstruction. It continues on up to the present.”

In that book, about a shooting at Jackson State that killed two young Black men and wounded 12 other people, she examines how authorities used rhetoric to excuse violence.

Top tips for older writers who want to write a memoir

“As an older adult, you have a wealth of wisdom and memories to share with the world – but sometimes fear can get in the way of putting yourself on the page. These tried-and-true tips will help you get started.”

I got started studying life writing by working with older adults interested in writing down their life stories and memories for their families. In this article from The Writer Dani Burlison offers advice on how to get started accessing your memories, finding your theme, making your life stories interesting to other people, and finding your voice.

This article is spread over three web pages, so be sure to click on the numbers at the bottom of pages 1 and 2.

I would add to the information Burlison offers the request that you not get too wrapped up in finding an overarching theme for your recollections. It’s enough to write about your memories of events and important people in your life without connecting them with a theme. 

And don’t fuss too much over your writing style. Your family will cherish a collection of self-contained stories written in your usual, conversational voice.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The Girl in the Kent State Photo

If you’re old enough to remember the photo above, this article might interest you. I don’t think I ever knew that the girl in the center was only 14 at the time.

My college graduation (Boston University) was canceled because of the killings at Kent State. We were in the middle of final-exam week. Exams already taken would be included in final grades, but the rest of exams were called off. Those of us living in the residence halls were told to move out within the next couple of days.

COVID-19 Vaccines Could Unlock Treatments for 5 Other Deadly Diseases

Research often leads to serendipitous, seemingly unrelated discoveries. This article explains how the COVID-19 vaccines work and why scientists hope their development can yield new treatments for other diseases, including HIV, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.

Some young women embraced their gray hair during the pandemic. They might not go back.

And here’s a story of a different kind of serendipitous discovery. Maura Judkis, age 34 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, carefully watched “the silver stripe that expanded every week where I parted my hair.”

Then she discovered the Silver Sisters, an online group of women who were letting their dyed hair grow out and their natural silver (the term they prefer over gray) hair grow in. “The Silver Sisters don’t just accept the inevitable, they embrace it,” Judkis writes.

The process not only allowed her to save about $1,000 annually at the salon but also prompted some self-evaluation: “Confidence with gray hair and comfort with aging are not necessarily the same thing . . . The pandemic was an opportunity to reflect on what we’re really afraid of underneath the hair dye and anti-aging cream, which is mortality.”

Seattle launches second firefighter-social worker team to cover U District, Ballard

Discussion has been going on for a while now about how society can change its emergency response to mental health crises. Here’s how Seattle is changing its response to “non-emergency calls about substance abuse, mental health, medical problems and other issues that don’t require an ambulance ride.”

Looking Forward to Your 170th Birthday

Annie Murphy Paul reviews the book Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old by Andrew Steele. Paul writes that Steele “relies heavily on examples from the animal kingdom, such as the Galápagos tortoise, which dwells for the many decades of its life in an enviable state known as ‘negligible senescence.’”

But, Paul argues, Ageless contains a major flaw: “Steele does not begin to grapple with the deeper implications of the project he champions so enthusiastically.” Because of this flaw, she calls the book “technically impressive but morally and emotionally shallow.”

Zoom bombings that target marginalized people spark demands for legal protections

With the COVID-19 pandemic, our retirement community has jumped aboard the Zoom bandwagon for social meetings, classes, and other enrichment activities. But my husband and I have declined to participate because we had heard so many stories about how insecure and subject to hacking Zoom is. This article gives some examples.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

These people thrived in pandemic isolation — and aren’t ready to return to ‘normal’ socializing

“Living life mostly apart from society — with few if any direct contact-based social, work or school obligations — has been a blessed reprieve for socially anxious people.”

CNN describes people with social anxiety and asks us to “[i]magine you are like them, for a moment.” The article has suggestions on re-entry into society for both people who experience social anxiety and people who will be interacting with them.

Column: I abandoned all my big pandemic projects. Here are 13 lessons I learned instead

Mary McNamara, culture columnist and critic for the Los Angeles Times, writes that she had big plans at the beginning of the pandemic. With refreshing humor she reports that, while those big plans didn’t pan out, she did learn a number of lessons, including “dogs fart all the time” and “I do not love to cook.”

5 Ways to Tap Into Your Smartphone’s Audio Powers

Younger generations seem to have developed great proficiency at typing fast with their thumbs. If you’re more like me and still tap out your text messages and emails on your phone very slowly with one index finger, you might find these directions on how to do more on your phone by voice a big time saver. Learn, among other things, how to dictate a voice memo and send an audio message.

Psychiatric and neurological problems are common in COVID-19’s wake, study finds

Some disturbing news from the Los Angeles Times:

New research highlights COVID-19’s lingering effects on the brain, finding that in the six months after becoming ill, roughly a third of surviving patients were diagnosed with at least one neurological or psychiatric disorder.

The neuropsychiatric ailments that followed COVID-19 ranged widely, from stroke and dementia to anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Virtually all were more common among patients who became sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and the risk was even higher for those admitted to an intensive care unit.

These research findings about the neuropsychiatric aftereffects of a coronavirus infection were published recently in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Solutions from Around the World: Tackling Loneliness and Social Isolation During COVID-19

The Commonwealth Fund’s mission is “to promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, and people of color.”

This report tackles the issue of loneliness, which has been exacerbated by the global pandemic:

As Americans heed the advice of public health and government officials to remain physically distanced from neighbors, friends, and relatives to fight the coronavirus, another epidemic is exacerbated — social isolation. This can result in loneliness, and the negative consequences can be severe: an increased risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death.

There’s news here about programs enacted by several industrialized countries “to address the problem, especially for elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.”

10 Organizations Connecting Generations During the Pandemic

Encore.org is an organization “founded on the belief that the aging of America isn’t so much a problem to be solved as it is an opportunity to be seized.” Here the organization reports on efforts being made to help with the problems of isolation and loneliness that are affecting young people as well as older adults.

This article offers some specific suggestions for “ways to connect the generations.”

Loneliness won’t end when the pandemic ends

The “loneliness epidemic,” as some experts call it, was a problem well before Covid-19. And while physical reunion is now in sight, it’ll take more than dinner parties to reach the marrow of a complicated and deeply cultural problem.

CNN reports on the need to address the problems of isolation and loneliness even after pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links . . . And Some Questions for You

Losing a long-term spouse can be deadly, studies show

The recent death of Prince Phillip has raised concern about Queen Elizabeth:

Known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, “broken heart” syndrome is a documented medical condition.

Another possible complication for people facing bereavement is the widowhood effect: 

The risk of an elderly man or woman dying from any cause increases between 30% and 90% in the first three months after a spouse’s death, then drops to about 15% in the months that follow. The widowhood effect has been documented in all ages and races around the world.

This article from CNN provides advice for people facing bereavement.

He’s a cop. He’s 91. And he has no plans to retire

Here’s another article from CNN. This one profiles L.C. “Buckshot” Smith of Camden, Arkansas. Now 91, Smith has worked in law enforcement for more than 56 years. 

He tried retiring once but “quickly realized he missed the work.”

What happens to our cognition in the darkest depths of winter?

You’ve probably heard of season affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression caused by the reduction of sunlight during the short days of winter. Here Tim Brennan, professor of psychology at the University of Oslo in Norway, discusses both his own and other scientists’ research into the question of what he calls human seasonality, or “the psychological effects of extreme swings in the physical environment.”

“A particular challenge when studying human seasonality is that the widespread belief about mental sluggishness in winter tends unjustifiably to seep into the science,” Brennan writes. However, his research lead him to the conclusion that “there really isn’t evidence of much difference between summer and winter in our thinking, memory and attention.”

Our book critic pays homage to Beverly Cleary, whose characters played a key role in so many of our childhoods

Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, celebrates the life of children’s author Beverly Cleary, who died recently at the age of 104. “For so many of us, Ramona and Beezus and Henry Huggins and Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford were friends, keeping us company during the strange journey of growing up.”

For some Seattle-area residents with COVID vaccines, ‘re-entry anxiety’ is real

Since my husband and I have been “fully vaccinated” for some weeks now, I’ve been watching with interest how people like us are approaching the return to social interaction. In fact, I find the term “fully vaccinated” in itself interesting, since the reality used to be that you were either vaccinated or you weren’t.

Although this article focuses on people in the Seattle area, my guess is that the individuals described here are pretty representative of people of the same demographic everywhere. And I especially resonate with the experience of one woman in the article, who discovered “Reentry anxiety is a real thing.”

How About You?

If you’ve been vaccinated and are returning to society, I’d be interested in hearing what your experience has been. 

  • Are you starting to get back into activities that were suspended during the pandemic? 
  • Do you have concerns about how safe such a return to society is right now?

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The Power of Flexible Thinking

“Flexible thinking is often referred to as cognitive flexibility. This means an individual is able to adapt to new thinking patterns. These individuals often see more than one solution to any presented problem.”

Flexible thinking can help us adapt to challenges we face as we get older. The article offers some specific approaches to becoming a more flexible thinker, including change your routine: “Introduce new changes as you feel comfortable. Keep challenging yourself.”

Atwood, Grisham among contributors to pandemic novel

e knew it was only a matter of time until we started to see literature arising from the pandemic of the last year. 

“One of the first novels about the pandemic will be a collaborative effort, with Margaret Atwood, John Grisham and Celeste Ng among the writers.” Titled Fourteen Days: An Unauthorized Gathering, the novel will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media and will raise funds for the Authors Guild Foundation.

“The story is set on a Manhattan rooftop in 2020 as the virus spreads worldwide and the rich are fleeing the city.”

A year of pandemic life, as told by the things we Googled

In “a story sketched out by a year’s worth of Google searches,” Popular Science examines “some of the prevailing themes that emerged in our collective queries.”

Nearly 50% of people are anxious about getting back to normal, pre-pandemic life — here’s how to cope

“A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends.” 

Here’s some advice on how to cope with continuing anxiety and uncertainty as we all continue to emerge from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fully Vaccinated and Time to Party, If You Are 70

“Older people, who represent the vast majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, are emerging this spring with the daffodils, tilting their faces to the sunlight outdoors. They are filling restaurants, hugging grandchildren and booking flights.”

Jennifer Steinhauer reports on how older adults, one of the earliest groups to be vaccinated against COVID-19, are leading the trend back into activities that used to be considered part of “normal life.” Steinhauer points out the the demographics of this trend will change as more people become eligible for vaccination.

Study: ‘Persistent’ loneliness in middle age increases dementia risk

Social scientists have long known that loneliness is one of the biggest problems older adults face as their circle of acquaintances and their own mobility decrease. But a new study has found that “People who were ‘persistently lonely’ between ages 45 and 64 had a 91% higher risk for dementia and a 76% higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease compared to people who don’t feel lonely.”

“Although loneliness does not itself have the status of a clinical disease, it is associated with a range of negative health outcomes, including sleep disturbances, depressive symptoms, cognitive impairment and stroke.”

At age 80, Sylvia Byrne Pollack of Seattle will publish her first book of poetry

Don’t you love stories like this? I certainly do!

“Part of the magic of poetry is that, when you write the words, you’re a writer,” Pollack continues. “And once you put them down, they’re not really yours anymore. The reader has to do the other half of the work.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Why are side effects worse after a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine?

I had heard stories about the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine producing more pronounced side effects than the first dose. But I was pleasantly surprised when my second shot produced only a very mildly sore arm for about 24 hours. 

woman receiving vaccination in left arm

As more Americans line up for the COVID-19 vaccine, some are anxious about the second-dose side effects, which tend to be stronger than the first. But experts say that the symptoms, which range from a sore arm to headaches and nausea, are a sign that the second dose is doing its job: turbo-charging the immune system’s response to the initial dose, and thus providing more vigorous and long-lasting protection against the virus.

The fence is uncomfortable, but it affords the best view

Iris Schneideris, professor of psychology at the University of Cologne in Germany, discusses ambivalence, or the presence of conflicting emotions.

“It’s appealing to think about the world in black and white. . . . Although this simple view of our inner lives is tempting, day-to-day experience tells us that reality is more complicated and messy than that; it’s full of contradiction,” she writes. But, as uncomfortable as contradictory emotions may be, “being ambivalent comes with many benefits.”

We humans have dumped on the poor pigeon for too long; it’s high time to admire this fascinating, fast, quirky bird

Ron Judd writes in Pacific NW Magazine that pigeons don’t get anywhere near the love they deserve. Sit back and have a good long look at what Judd sees as the good points of these ubiquitous birds.

Maggots, Rape and Yet Five Stars: How U.S. Ratings of Nursing Homes Mislead the Public

The New York Times takes a deep investigative dive into how care facilities for older adults are rated.

Study: 20% fewer seniors in U.S. had serious vision impairment than in prior decade

Here’s some good news: “About 20% fewer adults age 65 and older in the United States have serious vision impairment compared to the prior decade, according to a study published [recently] by the journal Ophthalmic Epidemiology.”

Study confirms that some people age more slowly

People age at varying rates. This article reports on recent research that “found that by the tender age of 45, people with a faster pace of ‘biological aging’ were more likely to feel, function and look far older than they actually were. And that relative sprint toward old age began in their 20s.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

A Visit to the Library! And a Restaurant!

On Monday I saw an announcement in our local paper that two branches of the Tacoma Public Library would be opening for timed-entry, in-person browsing beginning the next day. One of those two is a local library for us, so this was a not-to-be-missed opportunity.

A quick click to the library web site revealed that there will be four different times each day: noon, 1:00, 5:00, and 6:00, each lasting for 45 minutes. By the time I got there, the first two time periods for Tuesday were already filled, so I signed us up for 5:00. 

Yesterday, I was twitching with excitement by the time we got to the library. When they opened the door and I walked through, my eyes filled with tears. I immediately went for the new fiction section, where only a few books remained (and none of those were titles that I at all recognized). This was somewhat disappointing, but, hey, we were AT THE LIBRARY!

I had forgotten how small this library branch is, but, hey, we were AT THE LIBRARY! So I soldiered on. In the children’s section I found The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while. And in the large print section stood a copy of Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. 

2 books: The Island of the Blue Dolphins and Something in the Water

I hadn’t planned to spend the rest of my reading time this month with these two books, but, hey, they are actual library books checked out AT THE LIBRARY. So there we are. This whole experience didn’t require anywhere near 45 minutes.

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day here in the Pacific Northwest, so we got to see the trees in flower in the parking lot.

flowering trees in parking lot

Back in the car, my husband announced that he wanted to stop at Oddfellas, one of our favorite local eateries, for dinner on the way home. When I asked if he wanted to order online for pickup, he said no, that he wanted to go inside and sit down to eat—and drink, of course, because Oddfellas offers a large selection of draught beers.

Restaurants in our area are now allowed to open at 25% capacity. Odfellas is small. When we got there, the only other diners were a couple of women eating and chatting at a table along the back wall and a solitary man sitting at the bar. We took a booth well removed from them. While we were there, two or three other couples arrived. There was enough room for all of us to be more than appropriately socially distanced.

But, as much as I enjoyed my pizza, I also felt ambivalent. My husband and I both had our second dose of COVID vaccine more than two weeks ago, but I fear that if people start to mingle in public again too soon, there may be another upsurge in COVID-19 infections.

So we won’t be eating out routinely now, and we’re certainly not going to Disneyland any time soon. But for a couple of hours yesterday evening, I felt almost like a normal person again.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

There’s No Real Reason to Eat 3 Meals a Day

“Your weird pandemic eating habits are probably fine.”

Of the many aspects of daily living that the COVID-19 pandemic has rejiggered, eating patterns probably rank high on the list. Amanda Mull, staff writer for The Atlantic, describes how she came up with her notion of Big Meal.

A Model and Her Norman Rockwell Meet Again

“The illustrator’s paintings told his stories. Now a teenage subject reveals her own, 67 years later.”

Here’s an interesting story for those of us who grew up with Norman Rockwell’s covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

They can only hold hands, but for Britain’s elderly, first touch with a relative ‘means everything’

A year of pandemic isolation protocols has left us numb to how this disease has changed our lives. This is a heartwarming story of how people are beginning to get some of their humanity back.

Finding Your Voice After 50

“While many manuscripts worthy of publication land on the desks of 20-something-year-old agents, a great majority are written by women over the age of 50 and targeted to a more mature reader,” writes Heidi McCrary. 

For aspiring writers over 50, McCrary, “a woman 50+ . . . looking forward to the second half of my own story,” has four pieces of advice.

Friends by Robin Dunbar review – how important are your pals?

Rachel Cooke reviews the book Friends by Robin Dunbar, which concludes that “the quality of our relationships determines our health, happiness and chance of a long life.”

Cooke notes, “Dunbar could not have known that his book would be published in a time of such loneliness.” 

Final thoughts

“Do deathbed regrets give us a special insight into what really matters in life? There are good reasons to be sceptical”

Neil Levy, professor of philosophy at Macquarie University in Sydney and senior research fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, examines the concept of deathbed regrets. In order to find out what really matters in life, he says, one method is to ask the dying what they most regret. “There’s very little systematic research on this question, but there’s some unsystematic research,” he writes. 

Read why Levy says, “I’m not convinced that the reported regrets of the dying provide us with reasons to think them valuable.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown