Last Week’s Links

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship

It’s easy to focus on the people we’ve most missed seeing during our extended period of lockdown: our families and closest friend. But here Amanda Mull thinks of all the more amorphous groups of people she’s been isolated from: fellow patrons of the local sports bar where she used to watch the big games, co-workers with whom she chatted in the communal kitchen, workers at the local coffee or sandwich shop.

Lately she has realized “I missed all of those people I only sort of know.”

Brain scans, surveys help scientists paint neural portrait of loneliness

Loneliness has always been a potential problem for people whose friends begin to die as they age, but the social isolation of the pandemic has increased its effects. This article reports on research results that researchers hope may increase their understanding of how loneliness affects the brain. “Understanding the ways loneliness influences brain structure and neural patterns could help researchers develop remedies for these problems.”

They met in high school. Fifty years later, the pandemic helped them realize they belonged together.

I always love finding stories like this one. My husband and I met in high school and will celebrate our 50th anniversary in June. Betty and Peter’s story, told here, is a bit different from ours but still heartwarming. And it’s good to hear of positive results brought about by COVID-19.

6 Groundbreaking Facts About Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s First Woman Physician

In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. A few years later her younger sister, Emily, also became a physician. Together, the Blackwell sisters forged the path for women to become doctors.

Elizabeth Blackwell’s autobiography is one of the works I wrote about in my dissertation on life stories. Last month saw the publication of a new book about Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell: The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women—and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura.

‘Tapestry’ at 50: How Carole King ‘bet on herself’ to record a singer-songwriter classic

album cover: Tapestry by Carole King

I haven’t had a turntable for about a thousand years, but I still have my original record of Carole King’s album Tapestry, which turns 50 this year. Here’s the story of its making and historical significance.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

‘People in their 80s and 90s are bloody brilliant!’ Kate Mosse on writing – and being a carer

“The bestselling historical novelist has had a productive lockdown – reading 250 books and writing two, all while caring for her elderly mother-in-law.”

Historical novelist Kate Mosse was “one of a number of novelists commissioned by the Wellcome Trust to write about issues of social or medical care.” The result is An Extra Pair of Hands, to be published later this year. Mosse based the book on her experiences caring for, first, her mother during widowhood and, second, her mother-in-law during the current lockdown. 

Can You Treat Loneliness By Creating an Imaginary Friend?

I began reading this article thinking that it would discuss how many people, even adults, may have felt the need to create imaginary friends for company during this time of social isolation. But I was wrong. 

Here Jim Davies, professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Carleton University, discusses tulpamancy:

Over the last several years, a community of people, interacting mostly in online forums, like Reddit, have discovered a way to create something like imaginary companions as adults. This process is known as tulpamancy, and the people who engage in it call themselves “tulpamancers.”

The process involves the creation of a tulpa, an imaginary companion who is thought to have achieved full sentience. “In other words, this is a benign hallucination.”

Davies writes, “What is interesting to me about this phenomenon, which is only now beginning to be studied scientifically, is the reason that people decide to create a tulpa in the first place: Most often they do it to relieve loneliness.” He imagines several situations in which this practice might serve a useful function.

James R. Flynn, Who Found We Are Getting Smarter, Dies at 86

“A philosopher who moved into psychology and studied I.Q., he showed that as society grows more technical, human intellectual abilities expand to meet the challenge.”

I offer this piece not specifically for the obituary, but rather for the history and significance of Dr. Flynn’s work in isolating and understanding the field of intelligence testing. His work has continuing importance.

Remote learning isn’t new: Radio instruction in the 1937 polio epidemic

We all know about the use of remote learning during the current pandemic shutdown. Here Katherine A. Foss, professor of Media Studies at Middle Tennessee State University, tell us “This is not the first time education has been disrupted in the U.S. – nor the first time that educators have harnessed remote learning. In 1937, the Chicago school system used radio to teach children during a polio outbreak, demonstrating how technology can be used in a time of crisis.”

Hall of Fame voters pitch a shutout as character questions muddle Cooperstown debate

I’m a big baseball fan, and I’ve been interested over the past several years how the media and fans have reacted to the problem of performance-enhancing drugs in all sports. I was not surprised to hear of the recent vote that kept former MLB players Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling out of the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. In this article for the Washington Post Dave Sheinin examines how the voting works, including an explanation of how “the so-called character clause” in the voting instructions works.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Granny’s on Instagram! In the COVID-19 era, older adults see time differently and are doing better than younger people

Marcia G. Ory, founding director of the Texas A&M Center of Population Health and Aging, has been studying the effects of COVID-19 on the older adult population. Her overall finding: “older adults – despite their awareness of increased risk – are generally not reporting more feelings of anxiety, anger or stress than younger age groups.”

Nikki Giovanni, Finding the Song in the Darkest Days

Now in her late 70s, poet Nikki Giovanni has never stopped writing over “her 52-year career.”

“Her staying power over half a century comes from a stream of acclaimed work, her proclivity for a punishing schedule of tours and readings, and a fearlessness born of not caring what foolish people think.”

2020 wasn’t all bad: Here are 8 small but great things that happened in Seattle

I urge you to look for an article similar to this one in your own local newspaper.

From the Seattle Times: “But at the end of a very overwhelming year, we asked our writers to look back and identify some good things we discovered or experienced within ourselves and our communities in 2020. Here’s what they came up with.”

When Your Dad Falls Apart

Kevin Grant tells the story of his father’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s  disease at the age of 58.

Outwitting the Grim Reaper

Kevin Berger reports on an interview with Daniel Levitin, age 62. An emeritus professor of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University, Levitin’s book Successful Aging offers insight into how aging affects our bodies.

Asked why we age, Levitin replies, “We age because there’s been no evolutionary pressure to keep our bodies alive for a long time. I don’t know why that is and I don’t think anybody does.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

This Is Not a Moon Landing. It’s a Murder Hornet Operation.

Click on this link to see the photo, even if you don’t read the article. 

“After an operation that looked like a cross between a lunar landing and a low-budget sci-fi flick, entomologists on Saturday suctioned away the first “murder hornet” nest found in the United States.”

The first nest of the invasive Asian giant hornets was found and destroyed in northern Washington state. It’s an interesting article, with a lot of photos.

How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension As an Adult

Reading comprehension, defined as the “ability to process and retain information from texts,” is something we usually think of as happening to children in their early years of school. But here Christine Ro reports on some recent research into enhancing reading comprehension for adults and offers some suggestions for doing so.

Unsurprisingly, some of her suggestions involve slowing down while reading and actively engaging with the text, for example, by annotating, all examples of slow reading.

As holidays near, the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, putting families in a quandary about celebrations and travel

Amidst all the discussion of pandemic fatigue, many families are wondering if they’ll be able to celebrate together this fall and winter. This article indicates that Barbara Alexander, a physician and the president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, will not attend the annual Christmas gathering of about 35 people at her parents’ farm this year.

An epidemiologist explains the new CDC guidance on 15 minutes of exposure and what it means for you

“the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is acknowledging that even brief contact can lead to transmission. Specifically, the new guidance suggests that those spending a total of 15 minutes of contact with an infectious person over the course of a 24-hour period should be considered in close contact.”

Here’s some more information if you’re still making up your mind about attending family events this holiday season.

‘Passion and expertise’: UW’s Dr. Vin Gupta shares coronavirus insights with the nation

In normal times, Dr. Vin Gupta would be spending more time with his family and less time on national TV.

But since the world is battling a pandemic — and a flood of conflicting information — pick any weekday and you’ll likely see Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist and an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, on at least one news show on either NBC or MSNBC as a medical contributor.

Many of the first cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. appeared in Washington state. Here’s a profile of a physician from the University of Washington who has emerged as one of the experts seen most often on news coverage of the virus.

“A Sow Killer”: Nursing Home Residents Wither in Isolation Forced by the Virus

One of the worst things about growing old is the social isolation caused by the loss of friends and family members. This year the viral pandemic, with its enforced isolation to suppress the contagion, has been especially hard on older people, particularly those in nursing homes, where strict regulations prohibiting visiting have been necessary to control the spread of the disease.

The article explores how some facilities are addressing the seemingly contradictory requirements for both physical distancing and personal human contact.

Q&A: Did Justin Turner put Dodgers at risk by celebrating their World Series championship?

I always watch the World Series, even when, like this year, none of my favorite teams is one of the last two left standing. But I turned the TV off after the announcement of the Series MVP (Corey Seager of the L.A. Dodgers) and didn’t learn until the next day that Dodgers’ player Justin Turner, who had been pulled late in the final game because of a positive COVID-19 test result, had come out onto the field to celebrate the victory with his teammates.

While I can certainly understand his desire to celebrate, I was incensed and disappointed by his action. In many of the photos he’s not even wearing a mask.

What do you think? 

Should Turner have been allowed to leave the room where he was isolated and mingle with his teammates on the field? 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Study: Older adults may be excluded from many COVID-19 trials

More than half of all clinical trials evaluating vaccines and potential treatments for COVID-19 are “at high risk for excluding older adults,” according to an analysis published [recently] by JAMA Internal Medicine.

And here’s why we should care about this:

“My biggest concern is that without clinical trial testing, older adults will ultimately be denied treatments and vaccines — as a result, equitable distribution to this population will not be possible, and this will be an egregious oversight,” said [study co-author Dr. Sharon] Inouye, director of the Aging Brain Center at the Marcus Institute for Aging Research in Boston.

After 71 years, their marriage — and that wedding gift of a toaster — endure

Here’s one of those heartwarming stories often featured in the weekend magazine section of local newspapers. It’s too good not to share.

The older I get, the more I appreciate stories like this. How about you?

older man and woman

Older people like President Trump are at more risk from COVID-19 because of how the immune system ages

It didn’t take long into the COVID-19 pandemic for the date to start to accrue indicating that older adults are at higher risk than younger people from this particular disease. Here’s a good explanation of why that’s true and how we can take appropriate action to protect ourselves.

Carter Williams, Who Unshackled Nursing Home Residents, Dies at 97

“By closely describing the inner lives of older people, Ms. Williams altered legal regulations and clinical standards applied to nursing homes.”

Although I didn’t know anything about Carter Williams before coming across her obituary, I now know that we all owe her an enormous debt of gratitude.

Ms. Williams, a social worker, amassed hundreds of accounts . . . for the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform as it lobbied for legislative change in the 1980s. And they proved influential as the group helped shape the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, which required skilled nursing facilities to maintain the “physical, mental and psychosocial well-being of each resident.”

Celebrate her achievements, which benefit us all, by reading her life story.

Who is handling the pandemic best emotionally? Boomers and other retirees.

As the social lockdown has gone on since March, I’ve felt for the younger people I know who were having to shuffle times and locations for their own work-from-home requirements along with their children’s remote-learning activities. I realized quite early on that, with little day care available, their lives had become a pressure-filled chaos that I’m not sure I could have handled.

Even though I’m in the older demographic most at risk from COVID-19, I’ve been grateful all along for being retired. Sure, the pandemic means that we can’t eat at a restaurant or hold our weekly social get-togethers, but other than that, my life hasn’t changed much from what it was like before March. Or at least the logistics haven’t significantly changed, even with the increased anxiety and existential dread of the whole situation. 

In fact, I’ve even been feeling a little guilty about how relatively easy my pandemic-constrained life has been. I was therefore relieved that I’m not the only one feeling this way. According to Daryl Austin in the Washington Post:

The emotional toll of the coronavirus pandemic is steep for most everyone, but it turns out that one group is handling it better than the rest: retirees.

That might seem counterintuitive, since the virus is more dangerous for older people, but studies looking at mental health in the pandemic show that retirees who live at home are free from two of the stressors that are squeezing their younger counterparts — job security and parenting children as they navigate at-home learning and isolation.

 How about you?

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Books to Celebrate the Life & Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The New York Public Library has compiled a list of books about the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The list includes several children’s books.

Leave the Kids with Grandma: 7 Insightful Stories Featuring Grandparents We Love

“Here are seven heartwarming and insightful adored stories about beloved grandparents to remind us of their lasting impressions.”

What Made Black and Blue Pens Standard? A Colorful Look at Ink

When I was a kid, ballpoint pens—which we didn’t get to use in school until 4th grade—came only in blue, black, or red. By the time I started college, green ballpoints were available, which the rebel in me promptly adopted as my main writing implement.

24 colored pens

In this article Yashvi Peeti delves into the history of ink and the psychology of color to help us choose among all the writing implements and colors now available.

How to make friends as an adult

“Making more friends in adulthood is going to take some deliberate effort on your part.”

My husband and I made a huge move—from St. Louis, Missouri, to Tacoma, Washington—when we retired. We moved to be near our daughter, but that move also meant leaving behind the friends we’d made over the course of living in the same general area for more than 40 years. One of the reasons we chose to move into a retirement community instead of buying a house in the city was to be near people of similar age with whom to share planned activities. We’ve been very happy with the new friends we’ve made here.

Nonetheless, making new friends as an adult can be difficult. Here psychologist Marisa G. Franco offers some background on the benefits of friendship and hints about making new adult friendships.

The Pandemic Is Chasing Aging Coaches from the Field

Although I’m a pretty big sports fan, here’s one aspect of the COVID-19 health crisis I hadn’t thought about until I read this article

“While young athletes are considered less vulnerable to Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, aging coaches are at higher risk of infection and having a severe response.” As a result, many older coaches are choosing to leave their sports rather than risk getting sick.

On Remembering to Be Grateful on the Darkest Days

“Through the coronavirus and a loved one’s cancer scare, I’ve found immeasurable relief through writing in a gratitude journal.”

woman's hand holding pen and writing

Dom Nero explains the benefits from keeping a gratitude journal, which, he writes, “doesn’t have to be all about the big picture stuff. In fact, I often find it’s more satisfying when I focus on the random joys from my day.”

The act of recording even short and simple snippets of things to be grateful for can help relieve the anxiety and uncertainty most of us have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, he says.

Nursing Homes Oust Unwanted Patients With Claims of Psychosis

Here’s an alarming trend to be aware of:

Across the United States, nursing homes are looking to get rid of unprofitable patients — primarily those who are poor and require extra care — and pouncing on minor outbursts to justify evicting them to emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals. After the hospitals discharge the patients, often in a matter of hours, the nursing homes refuse them re-entry, according to court filings, government-funded watchdogs in 16 states, and more than 60 lawyers, nursing home employees and doctors.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Does forgetting a name or word mean that I have dementia?

September is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and therefore a good time to talk about dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common dementia, but there are others to be aware of, a gerontologist explains.

Source: Does forgetting a name or word mean that I have dementia?

Last Week’s Links

The Literature of Elder Care is Often About Shifting Power Dynamics

As people live longer, adults frequently face “elder-care responsibility.” 

“An important facet of these relationships, which often appears in fiction and nonfiction works, is the shifting power dynamic between older adults and their adult children, particularly in the United States and other predominately white Western countries,” writes Ellyn A. Lem. In this article Lem looks at how these relationships play out in literature by Shakespeare, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, Let Me Be Frank with You by Richard Ford, Days of Awe by Lauren Fox, several works of nonfiction, and several films. 

How to Embrace Uncertainty, Even If You’re Not Sure What Will Happen Next

Not only are we dealing with our usual sources of uncertainty, but then there’s the whole global pandemic, where we’re trying to stop the spread of a virus we have never seen in humans before. We’re not just in uncharted waters—we’re scrambling to stay afloat. As it turns out, there are ways to more effectively deal with feelings of uncertainty, and embrace what’s next with some level of confidence (even if it’s very low).

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist and adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University, offers “two strategies for handling uncertainty in a healthier way.”

The Museum Where Racist and Oppressive Statues Go to Die

“Germany has found ways to display problematic monuments without elevating them.” Daniela Blei reports on the job of the Citadel Museum in the Berlin suburb of Spandau, which “aims to contextualize the past, putting uncomfortable realities on display in productive, educational, and sometimes challenging ways.”

Whether you are a night owl or early bird may affect how much activity you get during the day

I am definitely a night owl. When I was in college, I discovered that I worked better if I stayed up studying until about 2:00 AM, then slept until about 10:00. Because I went to a huge university with lots of class offerings, I was able to take almost all my classes between 1:00 and 6:00 PM. Unfortunately, after graduating from college, I realized that the rest of the world doesn’t work that way. Very few workplaces accommodate a night owl’s preferred schedule, and once I had a child who had to be gotten up and out for school, any possibility of catering to my own schedule went out the front door.

Because of my own experience, I’ve been interested in relatively recent research into the differences between early birds and night owls. This article reports on various chronotypes, the “master clocks” in our brains that determine how our bodies respond to the time of day. Recent research out of Finland found that “among both men and women, the morning types and many of the day types moved significantly more than the evening types, even when the researchers controlled for people’s health, professions, socioeconomic status and other factors.”

The conclusion: “Overall, the study’s findings suggest that late risers may want to monitor how frequently they move.”

How to not fear your death

Sam Dresser suggests “several philosophically inspired reasons not to be fearful of your own death.” 

In addition to the philosophical insights offered her, the article includes some links and references to use if you want to dig more deeply into this topic. 

One Twitter Account’s Quest to Proofread The New York Times

The former English teacher and copy editor in me could not resist this article. Overall, not just in particular news sources, I’ve been appalled by all the examples I constantly find in publications (both print and digital) that make me groan, “If only you’d had a copy editor take a look at this . . . .”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Grace Edwards, Harlem Mystery Writer, Dies at 87

“A former director of the Harlem Writers Guild, she published her first novel when she was 55, and her first mystery, featuring a stylish female ex-cop turned sleuth, when she was 64.”

Finding Meaning and Happiness in Old Age

Jane E. Brody has been a major health writer for the New York Times for quite a while. In honor of her recent birthday, the Times reprinted some of her past, but still relevant, articles. 

In this piece from March 2018 Brody examines two books by authors who share their wisdom on aging learned from years of working and talking with older people: The End of Old Age by Dr. Marc E. Agronin and Happiness Is a Choice You Make by John Leland.

Why Creating the Post-COVID New Normal Is a Job for Individuals

I keep seeing articles about what the “new normal” will look like as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. T.A. Frank writes in Vanity Fair that “staying safe while getting back to ordinary life is a matter of people making good decisions based on science and common sense.”

Read some of his suggestions for modifying our post-pandemic behavior here.

‘Perry Mason’ New Trailer: Matthew Rhys Is Out to Solve a Murder in HBO’s Reboot

I remember watching the black-and-white TV show Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr, with my grandmother. I got goosebumps when I read here that HBO is releasing a updating the series, starting June 21, with Matthew Rhys from The Americans in the lead role. 

“. . . while Burr’s take on the character saw him as a defense attorney helping the wrongly accused, Rhys is set to play a younger take on the character before he entered a courtroom.”

‘What will the years coming look like?’: Coronavirus has thrown a wrench into Washingtonians’ retirement plans

This article from the Seattle Times has a local emphasis, but much of the discussion here, from Washingtonians over age 50, applies to many Americans in this age group.

“The first message: Don’t panic.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The Covid-19 ‘Infowhelm’

Heather Houser explains that infowhelm is “the term I use to describe the phenomenon of being overwhelmed by a constant flow of sometimes conflicting information.”

Further, “Infowhelm goes beyond simple overload—it’s characterized by the crucial complications that data are uncertain and evolving (testing has been flawed and even the six-foot rule is up for debate), they’re contested by those in power (President Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro), and the stakes of taking action are enormous.” 

Since infowhelm involves not just the information itself but our ability “to filter and assess it,” Houser offers some advice for improving our data literacy.

Why it’s so hard to read a book right now, explained by a neuroscientist

If you’re one of the people having trouble concentrating long enough to read effectively, take heart: You’re not alone. Here Constance Grady interviews Oliver J. Robinson, a neuroscientist and psychologist based at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London.

Dark feelings will haunt us until they are expressed in words

Tom Wooldridge—an associate professor and chair in the psychology department at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, a psychoanalyst, and a board-certified, licensed psychologist—discusses alexithymia, the inability to describe one’s inner life. “It refers to a cluster of features including difficulty identifying and describing subjective feelings, a limited fantasy life, and a style of thinking that focuses on external stimuli as opposed to internal states.”

While this condition might sound like what we’re all experiencing now during the coronavirus pandemic, Wooldridge explains that it is something we all experience in our everyday lives to some degree. “Developing this capacity – the psychic elaboration of emotion – is a life-long task with which we must all engage. It is a cornerstone of psychological self-knowledge.”

Learning to describe our emotions with “images and words, and subjecting them to ongoing reflection” is a key to continued mental growth, Wooldridge concludes.

Not everyone hates being stuck at home. Some people are thriving

Molly Creeden writes in the Los Angeles Times, “the unusual circumstances of being cloistered at home have proved a welcome change of pace, if not wholly enjoyable. And while no one is happy about the reasons we find ourselves in this abbreviated style of living, those well-suited to it are thriving.”

Read some of the explanations by people who appreciate the changes the current situation has brought to their lives and who hope to carry over some of those changes when the isolation restrictions ease.

No Country for Old People

Sweden did not set out to kill thousands of its older citizens. Nor did any country as COVID-19 swept across the globe. But Sweden’s unique and closely watched approach to the pandemic has spotlighted the tragic toll the coronavirus has taken on the elderly. It has cast a harsh light on the value that societies have placed on the freedoms of some to the expense of others.

Robert Bazell, adjunct professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale, argues that “The COVID-19 death rate in Sweden has exposed worldwide bias against the elderly.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown