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

Older Americans Are Increasingly Unwilling — Or Unable — To Retire

“About 1 in 4 adults age 65 and older is now in the workforce. That number is expected to increase, making it the fastest-growing group of workers in the country.”

This article from National Public Radio (NPR) looks at why so many older adults continue to work after age 65.

Lifestyle changes, not a magic pill, can reverse Alzheimer’s

Clayton Dalton, a medical resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, reports on results of study out of UCLA that suggest lifestyle changes may be more important than medication in treating Alzheimer’s disease. 

the researchers used a protocol consisting of a variety of different lifestyle modifications to optimise metabolic parameters – such as inflammation and insulin resistance – that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Participants were counselled to change their diet (a lot of veggies), exercise, develop techniques for stress management, and improve their sleep, among other interventions. The most common ‘side effect’ was weight loss.

Dalton points out that the study was small. As with all medical research, further study is necessary to replicate and strengthen findings. Still, he concludes, “it’s time to start taking these approaches much more seriously. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple over the next three decades, to nearly 14 million in the United States alone.”

For Sale: Jane Austen’s Wince-Inducing Descriptions of 19th-Century Dentistry

Check out this interesting article from Atlas Obscura for photos and discussion of the state of dentistry when Jane Austen wrote this letter to her sister in 1813. “At the time Austen penned the letter, dentistry was still painfully unstandardized. Treatments varied widely, and troublesome teeth were often yanked out by people from all sorts of professions.”

The search for one woman’s family led a reporter to find her own roots using oral history, archives and DNA tests. It also led to stunning results

Deborah Barfield Berry explains “My search was sparked by an assignment from USA TODAY to write about a family in Hampton, Virginia, who believes its members are descended from the first Africans brought to the English colonies in 1619. If their claim is true, they are connected to a founding American family, heirs of a legacy history has ignored.” The family name is Tucker, and Berry knew that her grandmother’s last name was Tucker and that she was from a place near Hampton, Virginia. So Berry thought, “What if, in this world of six degrees of separation, I was related to the family I was writing about?”

‘I’M A NEUROLOGIST, AND THESE ARE THE 5 THINGS I DO TO KEEP MY BRAIN HEALTHY’

“Ajeet Sodhi, MD, a neurologist and the director of neurocritical care at the California Institute of Neuroscience, shares the habits and activities he does to promote and improve brain function every single day.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

What Were People Reading in the Summer of ’69?

cover: Valley of the Dolls

We’re seeing a lot of articles this summer about that pivotal summer of 50 years ago. This one informs us that, in 1969, The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann was the #1 novel, The Godfather by Mario Puzo was #2, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth was #3, and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton was #4.

Do you remember reading those novels? I don’t think I’ve ever read The Love Machine, although I did read Valley of the Dolls. I do remember reading both The Godfather and Portnoy’s Complaint, both of which I enjoyed but wasn’t particularly affected by. But I vividly remember throwing the hardcover edition of The Andromeda Strain across the room as soon as I finished it because the cop-out ending so infuriated me.

It’s All Greek to You and Me, So What Is It to the Greeks?

In a wide-ranging number of languages, major and minor, from all different branches of the language family tree, there is some version of “It’s Greek to me.” These idioms all seek to describe one person’s failure to understand what the other is trying to say, but in a particular, dismissive way. It’s not just, “Sorry, I can’t understand you.” It’s saying, “The way you’re speaking right now is incomprehensible.” And it specifically compares that incomprehensibility to a particular language, a language agreed upon in that culture to be particularly impenetrable.

A wide-ranging exploration into the many different forms of the idiom “It’s all Greek to me.”

ZERNA SHARP, 91, DIES IN INDIANA; ORIGINATED ‘DICK AND JANE’ TEXTS

cover: Dick and Jane

Last Monday, August 12 (1889), marked the birthday of the woman who developed the Dick and Jane books that many of us learned with in our early school years. This article is a digitized version of The New York Times obituary that marked her 1981 death.

Miss Sharp did not write the books, but worked with an illustrator, Eleanor B. Campbell, and several others to produce the texts. In the books, only one new word was introduced on each page and no individual story introduced more than five new words. The illustrations showed the characters carrying out the action of the words.

Liz Weston column: Will you be a scam artist’s next target?

Since people age 50 and older control 83% of the wealth in the U.S., they are often the target of scammers. Business writer Liz Weston offers some specific suggestions on how to become less susceptible to scammers’ efforts.

Weston advises that, since overconfidence can make us part with our money unwisely, we should get a second opinion on financial decisions “from a trusted adviser or money-smart friend.” She also has some advice on steering clear of romance scams, which loneliness can increase our susceptibility to.

11 Groovy Books That Will Transport You Back to the ‘60s

Since we began with books from the 1960s, it seems right to end with the same topic. This article, as the title suggests, references both books originally from the 1960s—such as Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, The Graduate by Charles Webb, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion—and books written later about that era—such as 11/22/63 by Stephen King, The Girls by Emma Cline, and The Road to Woodstock by Michael Lang.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

A sampling of some of the most interesting items that caught my eye over the last week.

KODAK GOT THE DIGITAL PICTURE TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Here’s an interesting article on how Kodak, author of all those famous “Kodak moments,” missed the boat by refusing to accept and adapt to the advent of digital photography.

6 EASY HOW-TO COMPUTER BOOKS FOR NEW TECH USERS

Two books on this list are aimed specifically at us older folks:

  • Computers for Seniors: Email, Internet, Photos, and More in 14 Easy Lessons by Chris Ewin, Carrie Ewin, and Cheryl Ewin
  • Computers for Seniors For Dummies by Nancy C. Muir 

Don’t let the title of that second one get your goat. The For Dummies series is well known and even somewhat loved. When you need information on a subject you know absolutely nothing about, the For Dummies guide is often a good place to start.

Study: Retirees lose by taking Social Security at wrong time

Sarah Skidmore Sell reports for The Associated Press on a new study revealing that many older Americans aren’t maximizing their retirement income from Social Security, which “accounts for about one-third of all income annually received by U.S. retirees.” The study concludes that “optimizing Social Security would improve the lives of millions of retirees,” but there is very little information here about how individuals can figure this out for themselves.

HOW SMART TECH IS HELPING DOCTORS BATTLE DEMENTIA

Mention “dementia research” and most people will probably think of scientists looking for biomedical ways to diagnose, treat and eventually cure degenerative brain diseases. But there is also a burgeoning research program that aims to improve care for the increasing numbers of people living with dementia — estimated at 850,000 in the United Kingdom and 50 million worldwide.

Half of women over 40 say older women in fiction are clichés, survey finds

A recent survey by Gransnet, the UK’s biggest social media site for older people, and publisher HQ (HarperCollins) found that 51% of women over 40 “feel older women in fiction books tend to fall into clichéd roles.” Here are some of the most interest findings from the survey:

  • 47% of women over 40 say there are not enough books about middle-aged or older women.
  •  “when older characters do appear in fiction, half of women (50%) say they’ve seen them being portrayed as baffled by smartphones, computers or the internet – and think it’s insulting.”
  • 75% buy their books online.

As a result of the survey findings, Gransnet and HQ are launching a fiction writing competition for women writers over age 40. The article contains more information on both the survey and the writing competition. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Here are some of the more interesting articles from around the web that caught my interest over the last week.

A 40-Something Looks Back at ‘Thirtysomething’

As a teenager, a writer secretly viewed the ABC drama in her basement, trying to learn about marriage. Rewatching it now, she is surprised at the actual lessons she’d absorbed.

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life

BookBrowse offers notes and reviews of this newly released book by Louise Aronson.

Can You Reshape Your Brain’s Response To Pain?

This article discusses the current understanding of how trauma, especially childhood trauma, can cause physical pain that may continue throughout one’s life. A new form of therapy, emotional awareness and expression therapy (EAET), has been shown in a small study to help patients alleviate their chronic pain. According to “Pain Management Best Practices,” a report published in May from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Research indicates that EAET has a positive impact on pain intensity, pain interference, and depressive symptoms.”  

The article focuses on how the treatment’s emphasis on recognizing and understanding childhood emotional trauma can help adults who experience the widespread chronic pain of fibromyalgia. One need not have lived through horrific childhood experiences such as accidents or school shootings. Neuroscientists now recognize that prolonged exposure to verbal and emotional trauma (such as bullying or humiliation by others, particularly adults) can be as damaging as physical abuse.

New payroll tax is pioneering experiment to help Washington state seniors age at home

Nearly a decade after federal officials discarded a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would have provided Americans with long-term care insurance benefits, two states — Washington and Hawaii — are experimenting with taxpayer-funded plans to help older residents remain in their homes.

Becoming a Digital Grandparent

Paula Span, a grandmother herself, assures us that engaging in interactive screen chats with grandchildren doesn’t violate the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations of limiting children’s screen time. Those guidelines “exempt video chat, which is inherently interactive and doesn’t involve the same sped-up pace, overstimulation or passivity as, say, watching cartoons.”

The Many, Tangled American Definitions of Socialism

I’ve often thought that no self-proclaimed socialist will have a shot at being elected president of the U.S. until after all of us born at the beginning of the Baby Boomer era have died. After all, we remember what that second S in U.S.S.R. stood for.

the historian John Gurda would like to add some perspective to how we think about socialism. The term has been “ground into the dust over the years,” he told me, when we met in his home town of Milwaukee, and his aim is to rehabilitate it. “Part of my self-assigned role is to provide some of the context, the nuance, where it makes sense again. Because it’s the straw man, it’s the boogeyman for an awful lot of people.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

U.S. banks working to guard seniors from rising financial abuse

Elder financial abuse has more than doubled in the last five years and U.S. banks are taking steps to protect vulnerable seniors.

Source: U.S. banks working to guard seniors from rising financial abuse

Last Week’s Links

What will your life story say about you?

Life is a story that we write and while writing we rediscover our unique selves as well as the opportunity to newly discover the uniqueness and diversity in others.

In this short article Anita P. Jackson, a clinical counselor and emerita professor at Kent State University, explains how we can examine our own life stories to better not only ourselves but society as well.

How the Elderly Lose Their Rights

Guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent—and reap a profit from it.

Here, according to this article from the New Yorker, are the facts:

In the United States, a million and a half adults are under the care of guardians, either family members or professionals, who control some two hundred and seventy-three billion dollars in assets, according to an auditor for the guardianship fraud program in Palm Beach County. Little is known about the outcome of these arrangements, because states do not keep complete figures on guardianship cases—statutes vary widely—and, in most jurisdictions, the court records are sealed. A Government Accountability report from 2010 said, “We could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, state or local entity, or any other organization that compiles comprehensive information on this issue.” A study published this year by the American Bar Association found that “an unknown number of adults languish under guardianship” when they no longer need it, or never did. The authors wrote that “guardianship is generally “permanent, leaving no way out—‘until death do us part.’ ”

In the United States, guardianship is governed by state, not federal, law.

This long and frightening article focuses on cases around Las Vegas, NV, but some of the information is generally applicable.

Are Job Ads Targeting Young Workers Breaking The Law?

When an employer sets out to recruit young people for a certain job, is it discriminating against older job seekers in a way that breaks the law? That question is at the center of several pending lawsuits that could help improve job opportunities for older Americans.

11 Novels with Older Characters You’re Sure to Love

Taylor Noel offers a list of “11 novels with older protagonists that you’re sure to love.”

‘A different way of living’: why writers are celebrating middle-age

But we search in vain if we turn to these books for answers, partly because these writers are more interested in asking questions, and partly because they are too singular, and too defiant, to tell us what to do. Greer ends by announcing that though younger people anxiously inquire, and researchers tie themselves in knots with definitions, “the middle-aged woman is about her own business, which is none of theirs”. Women come racing up from behind, asking how to negotiate the next phase. But we’re not going to learn much because, Greer says, the middle-aged woman is “climbing her own mountain, in search of her own horizon, after years of being absorbed in the struggles of others”. The ground is full of bumps, the air is thin and her bones ache. Nonetheless, the ascent is worth it, however baffling it may seem to others. Greer exhorts her middle-aged readers not to explain or apologise. “The climacteric marks the end of apologising. The chrysalis of conditioning has once and for all to break and the female woman finally to emerge.”

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Off Your Mental Game? You Could Be Mildly Dehydrated

How severe does dehydration have to be to affect us?

A growing body of evidence finds that being just a little dehydrated is tied to a range of subtle effects — from mood changes to muddled thinking.

Moreover:

As we age, we’re not as good at recognizing thirst. And there’s evidence that older adults are prone to the same dips in mental sharpness as anyone else when mildly dehydrated.

So how much water do we need every day?

A panel of scholars convened several years ago by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that women should consume, on average, about 91 ounces of total water per day. For men, the suggested level is even higher (125 ounces).

The phrase total water means that water from all sources counts: fruits, vegetables soup, smoothies, and, yes, even your morning cups of coffee or tea.

And remember that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already beyond the point of mild dehydration. According to the article, an hour of hiking in the heat or a 30-minute run might be enough to cause mild dehydration.

Hands off my data! 15 default privacy settings you should change right now

If you’re concerned about all your personal data that’s being collected, here’s some advice on how to minimize exposure on Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.

Existing drug may prevent Alzheimer’s

Emerging evidence suggests that a “potent” drug could prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease — but only if a person takes the medication long before symptoms of this condition make an appearance.

Any advance against Alzheimer’s disease is welcome news, even though this one seems to offer a mixed message. The professor who oversaw the study thinks that it may never be possible to cure the disease once patients become symptomatic. However, he hopes identification of patients at risk and treatment before onset might “prevent it from starting in the first place.”

‘Too Little Too Late’: Bankruptcy Booms Among Older Americans

The New York Times reports on findings of a recent study from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project.

Tyrian Purple: The disgusting origins of the colour purple

Even after reading this, purple is still my favorite color.

Purple is a paradox, a contradiction of a colour. Associated since antiquity with regality, luxuriance, and the loftiness of intellectual and spiritual ideals, purple was, for many millennia, chiefly distilled from a dehydrated mucous gland of molluscs that lies just behind the rectum: the bottom of the bottom-feeders. That insalubrious process, undertaken since at least the 16th Century BC (and perhaps first in Phoenicia, a name that means, literally, ‘purple land’), was notoriously malodorous and required an impervious sniffer and a strong stomach. Though purple may have symbolised a higher order, it reeked of a lower ordure.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

‘Customers First’ to Become the Law in Retirement Investing – The New York Times

The Labor Department, after years of battling Wall Street and the insurance industry, will require financial advisers and brokers to act in their clients’ best interests.

Source: ‘Customers First’ to Become the Law in Retirement Investing – The New York Times

This looks like a topic that warrants further investigation.

Notes on Aging

Lifting Weights, Twice a Week, May Aid the Brain

Many neurological studies have found that, by late middle age, most of us have begun developing age-related holes or lesions in our brains’ white matter, which is the material that connects and passes messages between different brain regions.

lifting kettle bellThese brain lesions show up on imaging studies before people begin experiencing their symptoms, just as osteoarthritis (joint degeneration) shows up on x-rays before people begin feeling pain. Most studies that advocate the benefits of exercise on maintaining brain health have focused on aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking. But a new study suggests that light resistance exercise, lifting weights, may also improve brain health.

Teresa Liu-Ambrose, professor of physical therapy and director of the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, looked at the brains of a large group of generally healthy women between the ages of 65 and 75 who already were enrolled in a brain health study that she was leading. The new study focused on 54 of the women whose brain scans showed existing white matter lesions.

For this study, researchers divided the participant pool into three groups:

  1. Those who began a once-weekly program of light upper- and lower-body weight training
  2. Those who underwent the same weight training program twice a week
  3. The control group, who began a twice-weekly program of stretching exercises and balance training

The results found that those in group 2 “displayed significantly less shrinkage and tattering of their white matter” than those in both of the other two groups. These results, published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggest that working out just once a week may not be sufficient.

Whatever the reason, exercise, including weight training, clearly “has benefit for the brain,” Dr. Liu-Ambrose said. “However we are just really now gaining an appreciation for how impactful exercise can be.”

Can You Get Smarter?

In this opinion piece in the New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, examines the question of whether brain training can enhance memory and cognitive functioning. Since “one in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease,” concerns about maintaining brain health are common, and brain training has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

Friedman looks at the effects of several areas of intervention on improving brain health: mental exercises, physical exercise, and medication. He discusses both the encouraging news and the caveats arising from the scientific research.

He concludes that there is one thing that consistently seems to help preserve cognitive functioning: other people. Analysis of data from a large study:

showed that people with the highest level of social integration had less than half the decline in their cognitive function of the least socially active subjects. Also, the cognitive protective effects of socializing were greatest among subjects with fewer than 12 years of education.

Friedman concludes:

there is much that you can do to reach your cognitive potential and to keep it. Forget the smart drugs and supplements; put on your shorts and go exercise. If you’re 60 and up, consider brain training. And do it all with your friends.

Costs for Dementia Care Far Exceeding Other Diseases, Study Finds

Three diseases, leading killers of Americans, often involve long periods of decline before death. Two of them — heart disease and cancer — usually require expensive drugs, surgeries and hospitalizations. The third, dementia, has no effective treatments to slow its course.

This eye-opening article looks at the costs associated with long-term care of patients with dementia. What’s most sobering is the that fact that much of the required care is not covered by Medicare:

On average, the out-of-pocket cost for a patient with dementia was $61,522 — more than 80 percent higher than the cost for someone with heart disease or cancer.

While Medicare covers medical care, such as doctor visits, hospitalization, and surgery, it does not cover the personal care required by many people with dementia—help with bathing, dressing, and eating. Most people pay for this care from their own funds. When they have nothing left, Medicaid, a joint federal and state program, takes over.

This article makes clear why caring for an elderly relative with dementia can be such a devastating burden, both physically and financially.

Assessing the Fitness of Wearable Tech

wearable fitness trackerJane E. Brody discusses fitness trackers: “experts say that older adults are among those who could benefit most from such devices.”

The wearable fitness tracker has blossomed, but the gadgets can be expensive, from about $49 to $250, Brody reports. But, according to a study published recently in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), smartphone applications are just as accurate as wearable devices in tracking physical activity.