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.


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.

Healthy Aging

Ask Well: Assessing Knee Supports

A while back I had gotten lax with my walking routine and found myself quite out of shape. My husband encouraged me to accompany him for a walk one day, and I did. But he was much more ambitious than I was, and we walked so far that when I got home, my right knee was a bit sore. I went to the drugstore and looked at the various knee supports available. I chose one made of neoprene that wrapped around the knee and fastened with Velcro. I wore it for a few days and my knee gradually got better.

Because of this experience I was interested in this column in the New York Times in which Gretchen Reynolds answers the question “How effective is wearing a stabilizing knee support?”

When you say “effective,” I assume that you’re asking how well a knee support can stabilize a wobbly knee or lessen the pain of an arthritic one. The answer, based on a large body of science, is that nobody really knows.

“It’s important, however, to differentiate among the types of knee supports,” she adds. She distinguishes between braces, which include rigid materials that press against the bones of the knee and offer firm external support. Soft neoprene sleeves do not offer the same support but may increase knee stability by improving the wearer’s balance. But, Reynolds says, a 2012 study found that neoprene sleeves offered no significant improvements in balance for people with knee arthritis. There is also no evidence that knee supports worn on healthy knees prevent knee injuries.

Reynolds ends with the advice that if your knees are bothering you, don’t self-diagnose. Go to a doctor, who can diagnose your problem and determine whether a knee support will help.

The knee support I used was not really a sleeve, which is a tube, but one that I could tighten or loosen with the Velcro. I wore the support and avoided any more long walks, and my knee pain did clear up within a few days. Of course the same improvement probably would have occurred whether I had worn the brace of not, but I did think that, at least initially, it lessened my discomfort.

Here’s Why You May Be Aging Faster Than Your Friends

Alice Park discusses recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined 18 measures of aging in people in their 20s and 30s. The markers studied mirror the biological effects of aging found in older people. The study followed 954 people born in 1972 or 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand, from age 26 to age 38. The 18 markers measured included blood pressure, lung function, cholesterol, body mass index, and inflammation. On the basis of these measurements, researchers calculated a biological age for each volunteer. They re-examined the study participants again at ages 32 and 38 to calculate the pace at which each person was aging.

Some people were biologically older and aging faster than others, despite being the same chronological age. Not only that, but the researchers showed, by giving the 20- and 30-somethings the same tests of balance and thinking skills that gerontologists give for older adults, that these aging changes were the same as those occurring later in life.

Comparing the data of those aging more quickly with those aging more slowly should suggest some ideas of how to slow down again. Such a testing program can also provide a way to test whether a specific anti-aging treatment works.

Researchers plan to re-evaluate study participants again at age 45 to see if habits such as diet, exercise, and smoking affect the rate of aging.

Exercise can improve brain function in older adults

Here is that E-word again: exercise. New research out of the University of Kansas Medical Center suggests that older adults can improve brain functioning by increasing their fitness level.

Results indicated that aerobic exercise improved brain function, and those who exercised more saw more cognitive benefits. The intensity of the exercise appeared to be more important than the duration, so it’s important to exercise as vigorously as you safely can.

As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Swindlers Target Older Women on Dating Websites

This article is painful to read but could prevent some heartache. It describes scams that people employ through online dating sites to woo potential victims out of their savings.

Older people are good targets for such scams because they often have accumulated savings over their lifetime. Older women, who outnumber older men, are particularly susceptible.

Just how serious is this problem?

How many people are snared by Internet romance fraud is unclear, but between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2014, nearly 6,000 people registered complaints of such confidence fraud with losses of $82.3 million, according to the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Most of the scams involve online contacts who establish a relationship with a potential victim, then began asking for money to cover situations such as medical emergencies or having their wallet stolen abroad and needing money to travel back home. And one request follows another, often adding up to significant sums:

Victims typically lose $40,000 to $100,000, said Wendy Morgan, chief of the Public Protection Division of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. The highest reported loss in the state was $213,000.

Read the stories in this article of how people were scammed. Knowing how the process works could help you avoid losing your life’s savings.