Last Week’s Links

Her Kind Of Blue: Joni Mitchell’s Masterpiece At 50

Ann Powers reports for NPR on Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, which came out in 1971, with an emphasis on its storytelling:

the creative process is as mundane as it is miraculous. It’s dribs and drabs and then a rush and then back to staring at the ceiling, wondering if the rush will come back. Blue is an album about working through something — a heartache, people say. But it’s just as much a document of the process of sharing that heartache, an inquiry into personal storytelling itself. Until Blue, Mitchell was getting there, but she hadn’t wholly figured out what she alone could say. That’s because what each person alone can say is, in its pure state, incommunicable. Stories are what get left behind as their tellers keep living and evolving. They’re always inconclusive.

The Secrets of ‘Cognitive Super-Agers’

From Jane E. Brody, for The New York Times:

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans reach the age of 100, and new data from the Netherlands indicate that those who achieve that milestone with their mental faculties still intact are likely to remain so for their remaining years, even if their brains are riddled with the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Brody reports on research about how people who are “physically able to reach 100 may also be able to remain mentally healthy.”

10% Of People Will Likely Experience Post-Pandemic Growth—Here’s What It Means

Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Daniel Amen explains that after experiencing trauma, some people develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) while others exhibit PTG (post-traumatic growth). Since COVID-19 has certainly been a time of trauma, he predicts that “the lucky ones who will experience post-pandemic growth.” 

He offers advice on changes you can make to nurture PTG.

Why Introverts May Find It Hard When Life Returns to Normal

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., considers what post-pandemic life will be like for introverts, most of whom have become comfortable with enforced social isolation. She first looks at personality-based research (most of it conducted on a college campus before the pandemic hit) that found that people tend to choose geographic locations on the basis of their personalities: “Participants higher in extraversion were the ones that researchers encountered in central, less secluded spots on campus. Those high in introversion, by contrast, set themselves up in quieter spaces away from the campus hub.”

On the basis of this research, she encourages introverted people to search for quiet personal spaces where they can seek occasional respite once they begin moving back into society.

Poor sleep linked to dementia and early death, study finds

CNN reports on recent research that found older adults “who have significant difficulty falling asleep and who experience frequent night awakenings” are at increased risk of dementia or earlier-than-normal death. The article ends with some suggestions of how you can reduce your risk by taking steps to avoid sleep deprivation.

Death is Both an Event and a Process

The loss of people we know tends to get more frequent as we get older. Understanding grief, and how it works, can help us get through those hard times. Writer Brandy L. Schillace explains: “Death is not a thing, but things: a process of emotions, states of being, suddenly shifting relationships.” She encourages thinking of grief as “a path, a journey, a process.”

Our need to face death and its associated grieving is more pronounced now, in the time of COVID-19, than usual. This is the first in a series of articles Schillace plans “to try and better understand death not as the end of life, but as part of it — even in these changing and uncertain times.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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

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

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

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

Cheating, Inc.: How Writing Papers for American College Students Has Become a Lucrative Profession Overseas

In my earlier years I did freelance writing and editing. Scrambling for freelance gigs was a frustrating, humbling, and often thankless task. But one type of writing gig was always on the job boards: writing papers and admission essays for students. The evergreen presence of these jobs meant that, periodically, the question would arise about whether writers could or should accept them. There were always passionate answers on both sides: (1) morality be damned, I’m trying to earn a living, and (2) I may be starving, but my conscience is clear.

Just to be clear, I never took any of these jobs. But one thing I learned from this article surprised me: Many of the people taking paper-writing jobs live abroad, not in the U.S. And many of these college-educated writers make a better living at this job than they’d earn in the profession they had trained for in their country.

People Who Read Before Bed Not Only Sleep Better, But Eat More Healthily and Make More Money

This article is concerned mainly with people who read in bed at night. I have sleep disturbance problems, and people like me are always told not to eat, read, watch TV, knit, or do anything else in bed at night. The idea is to train your brain that when you go to bed, you’re ready to fall asleep. I feel deprived of the great luxury of reading in bed, but, for me, reading in my recliner before getting under the covers will have to suffice. 

But it is good to know that people who read before bed are healthy and wealthy as well as wise.

Is Dying at Home Overrated?

“A palliative care physician struggles with the complex realities of dying at home, and the unintended consequences of making it a societal priority.” 

Unless a family has the significant resources necessary to hire aides or nurses, informal caregivers become responsible for nearly everything — from feeding to bathing to toileting. These tasks often get harder as the dying person weakens. In my experience, most family members want to care for their loved ones at home, but many are unaware of caregiving’s physical and emotional toll.

Dr. Richard Leiter compassionately looks at the multiple aspects of end-of-life care and, on the basis of his own experience, concludes “we need to focus not only on where, but also on how they die.”

Nursing Homes Are a Breeding Ground for a Fatal Fungus

This article examines the potential problems involving “Candida auris, a highly contagious, drug-resistant fungus that has infected nearly 800 people since it arrived in the United States four years ago.” 

Daydreams Shape Your Sense of Self

Psychologist Eve Blouin-Hudon addresses the question “Why is daydreaming so prevalent?” She observes that we often daydream about ourselves, about how we may feel and react in certain situations. Such daydreams contribute to building our life story: “These self-related stories allow people to make sense of who they are and to build their narrative identity—their sense of continuity through time. People need to connect who they believe they are to ongoing experiences.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

On Keeping a Notebook: A Reading List

A lot has been written on the why and how of keeping a notebook or journal. Here writer, editor, and translator Jeanne Bonner explains, “You can always write in a notebook — on a plane, in the car, even while out on a lake in a canoe. It’s almost never a breach of etiquette to pull out a notebook.”

She provides a list of, with links to, eight in-depth articles that “explore the joys of keeping a notebook and the art of writing longhand.”

Study finds guns automatically prime aggressive thoughts — even when wielded by a ‘good guy’

Since the 60s, studies have tested whether the presence of a gun increases measured aggression in participants. The results of these studies have confirmed that the presence of a gun does indeed prime aggressive thoughts, a phenomenon referred to as the “weapons effect.”

This article discusses the results of a recent study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Binge drinking is increasing among seniors, study finds

I unthinkingly associate binge drinking with young adults, so this article caught my eye. 

A report published July 31 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that more than 10% of people over age 65 engage in binge drinking, defined in the study as consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks at a time. 

Moreover, the study found that such binge drinking among older adults is on the rise. The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Benjamin Han, assistant professor of geriatric medicine at NYU Langone Health in New York City, theorizes that the increase may be occurring because older women are catching up to older men, whose rate of binge drinking remained relatively stable between 2005 and 2014.

Han also says, “‘Many organizations, such as the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA], recommend lower drinking levels as people get older or have more chronic diseases.’”

Novels That Explore the 1970s

Over time, I’ve posted a lot of articles, mostly nostalgic, about the 1960s, the decade during which I came of age. But I was a new adult in the following decade, the 1970s, and was therefore continuing my maturing process.

If the ’60s had been a decade in which young people focused their attention on making changes in their society, the ’70s has often been called “the me decade,” as individuals turned their attention inward in hopes of finding peace from outside chaos. The enormous social problems people had protested in the 1960s didn’t disappear, but for a variety of reasons, social issues didn’t seem as compelling to many people as the need to change themselves. Self-help became big business.

Here’s a list of novels set during that time:

  • The Summer of Ellen by Agnete Friis  
  • Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid  
  • Drop City by T.C. Boyle  
  • Beatlebone by Kevin Barry  
  • Surfacing by Margaret Atwood  
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison  
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James  T
  • he Interestings by Meg Wolitzer  
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg  
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng  
  • All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church  
  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem  
  • Unworthy by Antonio Monda  
  • Rusty Brown by Chris Ware  
  • Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel  
  • Hippie by Paulo Coelho

More older adults die from cancer despite high screening rates

A recent report published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians found that “the fastest-growing age group in the United States, adults older than age 85 have higher incidences and death rates from cancer than those between ages 65 and 84.”

“The purpose of our study was to provide a comprehensive review of cancer in the oldest old using the most up to date national data,” Carol Desantis, a researcher at American Cancer Society and study author, told UPI. “We hope that these data spur additional research on cancer in this vulnerable and rapidly growing population.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Pavarotti Captured the Sublime and Vulgar Sides of Opera

Even if you’re not interested in opera, you might find this article informative about Ron Howard’s new documentary film about Luciano Pavarotti.

Opera fans hold on to his 1960s and ’70s glory days, when his sunny voice was in its prime . . . and he challenged himself in corners of the bel canto repertory. The broader public is likelier to remember the cheesy charity concerts and duets with Bono, the guilty “Three Tenors” pleasure with a white handkerchief clutched in his hand and endless high C’s.

According to this article, Pavarotti “never learned to read music.”

Storytelling Helps Hospital Staff Learn About The Person, Not Just The Patient

VA hospitals are pioneering the use of storytelling to strengthen the relationships patients have with doctors and nurses. With more information about patients, there may be some health benefits.

The medical profession is catching on to the notion that you can’t really know people until you know their life stories.

Seattle man finds cache of historical photos by famed crime photographer Weegee in his kitchen cabinet

Check those attics, basements, garages, and kitchen cabinets, folks!

Stonewall: The Making of a Monument

Ever since the 1969 riots on the streets outside New York City’s Stonewall Inn, L.G.B.T.Q. communities have gathered there to express their joy, their anger, their pain and their power.

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Donating Your Body to Science

Organ donation is one way of leaving your body to science. But this article discusses how to donate your entire body and how whole bodies (cadavers) are used to further scientific study.

Deadly Falls in Older Americans Are Rising. Here’s How to Prevent Them

The rate of deaths after falls is rising for people over 75, a new study shows. But falls are avoidable for most seniors. We have some tips.

The Man Who Told America the Truth About D-Day

Ernie Pyle’s dispatches offered comfort to readers back home. Then the Normandy landings — 75 years ago this week — changed his perspective on the war’s costs

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

When a DNA Test Shatters Your Identity

You’ve undoubtedly seen the ads for DNA tests that will allow you to connect with extended family members. While such tests can produce many exciting discoveries, they also have potential to turn up some very upsetting news. This article from The Atlantic discusses some of those bombshell results.

Most of the people presented here who’ve experienced such results are over the age of 50. Many people actively researching their family tree are those to whom retirement has provided the time necessary for genealogical research.

The generation whose 50-year-old secrets are now being unearthed could not have imagined a world of $99 mail-in DNA kits. But times are changing, and the culture with it. “This generation right now and maybe the next 15 years or so, there’s going to be a lot of shocking results coming out. I’d say in 20 years’ time it’s going to dissipate,” she predicted. By then, our expectations of privacy will have caught up with the new reality created by the rise of consumer DNA tests.

The article focuses on a support group on Facebook for people whose genetic tests deliver upsetting news.

One Seattleite’s way of celebrating his 100th birthday: jumping out of a plane

So, what are your birthday plans?

The Mystery of End-of-Life Rallies

Palliative care experts say it is not uncommon for people in hospice care to perk up briefly before they die, sometimes speaking clearly or asking for food.

This did not happen with my mother, who died almost two years ago at age 89, but, according to the article, such rallies, also known as terminal lucidity, sometimes occur. However, there is little scientific evidence about either the frequency of or the reasons for such rallies.

Write Your Own Obit

Far from seeming narcissistic, undertaking a self-obituary can be a form of summation and of caregiving for those who may be in need of direction after we are gone.

This is one of those topics that comes around periodically. Writing one’s own obituary is a variation of the psychological concept of life review, a process of life evaluation that many older adults go through, either consciously or unconsciously. Writing the obituary helps make the life review a conscious process that allows people to record the events, accomplishments, and values that they would most like to be remembered for.

For people in midlife, remembering that we all have to die may redirect ongoing goals; for seniors, such a workout may remind us to view current problems within the context of what really matters most to us.

This article contains links to obituaries others have written for themselves and suggestions for writing one’s own.

What Rereading Childhood Books Teaches Adults About Themselves

Emma Court examines the benefits of adult rereadings of childhood books.

In a 2012 study that looked at why people reread books, rewatch movies, and revisit the same places, the researchers interviewed 23 participants about which experiences they chose to repeat, why, and how they felt during it. They found that repeat experiences “allow consumers an active synthesis of time and serve as catalysts for existential reflection.” Childhood books offer an opportunity to sit down in the river of time, if just for a moment, and ponder the full scope of one’s life. For one woman in the study, who often rewatched the 1999 romantic drama Message in a Bottle, the movie helped her process an upsetting breakup.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Here’s what I’ve been reading recently around the web.

High blood pressure threatens aging brain, study says

Here’s yet another reason to get your blood pressure under control: High blood pressure later in life may contribute to blood vessel blockages and tangles linked to Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

They took a survey in their teens. 60 years later, these Puyallup students are being recruited for a new one

Here’s a local take on a national survey from the early 1960s.

More than 400,000 high school students from 1,353 schools across the country participated in Project Talent between 1960 and 1963. About 1,269 of the students were from Puyallup High.

And now, 130 of those students, some no longer living in the United States, were tracked down to take another survey.

This time, the focus is on health.

“There’s a big push to fund Alzheimer’s research,” Project Talent director Susan Lapham said. “Baby Boomers are edging into a time period where Alzheimer’s really becomes an issue.”

Talking about Death

What constitutes a good death? While end-of-life care has come a long way, the aims of the medical industry are often in conflict with the wishes of patients.

LaCroix, Sparkling Ice, Bai and beyond: Are fruit-flavored waters good for you?

I’ve never liked the taste of water, so this discussion of what’s in some of the more common substitutes for plain water interested me.

There are so many different ways to hydrate these days — it’s clear we’ve come a long way from watered-down water. If you love fruit flavors and want to try something new, these new beverages can make a great addition to your hydration rotation — just take a few extra seconds to read what’s in the fine print.

The Power of Positive People

While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness. A recent report found that a person’s exercise routine was strongly influenced by his or her social network.

Why don’t we know more about migraines?

A look at one of the oldest recorded human ailments.

Given the prevalence of migraines among women, this apparent neglect could be a result of how physicians tend to underrate pain in female patients. It may also reflect the historic – and similarly gendered – associations between migraines and mental illness.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown