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

How to be alone

“Solitude is a skill. You can get better at it with practice.”

Sigal Samuel urges us to lean into being alone.

Many factors have conspired to make us bad at solitude. They’re mostly not our fault. As Jenny Odell lays out in her book How to Do Nothing, we live in a culture where sociability and constant connectivity are rewarded, and where choosing to be by yourself marks you out as a loser, crazy, possibly immoral.

This article goes deeper than I expected. Samuel offers several ingredients for making the most of solitude:

  1. “First, there’s the idea that to succeed at solitude, you have to accept that you’re being “thrown upon yourself” — to confront your reality rather than opting for distraction.
  2. “Another key ingredient to successful solitude, psychologists have found, is having a clear sense of purpose.”
  3. Some people who have adapted to living in isolation “emphasize the importance of routines — the little daily rituals that anchor us in time and give shape to a day.”
  4. “Many artists insist that isolation is necessary for creative work.”
  5. “Most world religions, even if they’re ambivalent about solitude as a long-term path, acknowledge that it’s useful for fostering spiritual insight.”

But Samuel also acknowledges that sudden isolation, such as that forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic, can also have risks. There’s a link to a guide to developing “distress tolerance skills” developed by psychologists for the Centre for Clinical Interventions, supported by the Australian government’s department of health.

Loneliness Hasn’t Increased Despite Pandemic, Research Finds. What Helped?

NPR reports on several new studies that suggest the huge increase in loneliness social scientists expected to accompany the mandatory isolation necessary to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus hasn’t materialized.

Some researchers wonder if the many ways communities have found to band together while socially distanced—such as porch chats, Zoom dinners, neighborhood dancing—have contributed to the lower-than-expected rate of loneliness. Still, they add, conditions are ripe for anxiety and depression, which we should be on the lookout for in both ourselves and others.

As the pandemic surges, old people alarm their adult kids by playing bridge and getting haircuts

My husband and I are both over 70, and we’ve been terrified by how hard this virus is hitting older adults. We have minimized our trips out as much as possible, always wear masks when outside the house, and stay six feet away from others when we do go to the grocery store. So I was surprised to see this news story about older people shocking their children by not following recommended health guidelines.

Various factors are contributing to this generational divide. Older people in the United States are statistically more likely than younger generations to listen to conservative media and to politicians who have played down the dangers of the virus, and some may have followed their lead. Others may be well aware of the risks but have weighed them against the mental and physical benefits of maintaining exercise and social routines.

Whatever the reasons, the dynamic can leave middle-aged people, many of whom may already be worried about their adult children going to protests or beach gatherings, feeling that they must also parent their parents.

You’re Doomscrolling Again. Here’s How to Snap Out of It.

This experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news is so common that there’s now internet lingo for it: “doomscrolling.” Exacerbating this behavior, shelter-in-place orders leave us with little to do other than to look at our screens; by some measures, our screen time has jumped at least 50 percent.

Read explanations of how to use these approaches to lift yourself out of the doom and gloom:

  1. Create a plan to control your time
  2. Practice meditation
  3. Connect with others

Viewing Literature as a Lab for Community Ethics

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront many bioethical questions, such as, when resources are limited, which lives should be saved and which sacrificed? Maren Tova Linett, author of Literary Bioethics, argues that fiction, with its ability to present imagined worlds, offers the chance to explore such concerns: “Fiction has the virtue of presenting vividly imagined worlds in which certain values hold sway, casting new light onto those values. And the more plausible we find these imagined worlds, the more thoroughly we can evaluate the justice of those values.”

Literary Bioethics considers novels such as The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Lingering Legacy of America’s First Cookie-Cutter Suburb

I’ve been hearing a lot about systemic racism in the U.S., the fact that racism is built so basically into our culture that even the best-intentioned white folks don’t notice it. This article from Atlas Obscura startlingly illustrates that point.

“The idyllic ideal of modern suburbia in the United States was born in 1947 with the creation of Levittown, a large housing development in Long Island, New York.” Furthermore:

A clause in the standard lease for the first Levitt houses baldly stated that the homes could not “be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.” Government policies at the time, such as those of the Federal Housing Administration, supported such racist practices, blocking Black Americans and other people of color from the new suburbs and homeownership.

I’ll just leave that fact right there.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

How to train your brain to accept change, according to neuroscience

Change is naturally more difficult as we age, but it’s beneficial to our cognitive health to stimulate and encourage it.

Because our brains have evolved to resist change, accepting changes, even when we know they are for our own good, can be difficult. Nicole Spector offers some advice for teaching our brains to accept change:

  • Do cognitive rehabilitation exercises—the gym for the brain
  • Learn a new language or a task that is out of your comfort zone

Learning something new, something that we never thought we’d be able to do, can give us the confidence to undertake other new experiences:

Over the years, we learn to succeed by viewing our previous failures and successes in a certain light and as we get older we lose sight of that. When you try a new thing it makes you more confident to try to do more new things.

Michael Douglas Refuses to Age Gracefully in ‘The Kominsky Method’

Playing a shabby acting coach in his first ongoing TV role since the 1970s, the “Wall Street” star confronts the realities of growing older, onscreen and in his own life.

Dave Itzhoff profiles actor Michael Douglas, who, at age 74, portrays an aging acting coach in the Netflix series The Kiminsky Method.

On “The Kominsky Method,” [Chuck] Lorre [the show’s creator] said he wanted a show … that would let him address topics about confronting aging and mortality that are usually shunned on such programs.

Douglas stars along with Alan Arkin, whose character’s wife dies in the show’s first episode, “forcing Kominsky [played by Douglas] to realize that his own time on earth, however degrading, is also limited.”

THE FUTURE OF AGING JUST MIGHT BE IN MARGARITAVILLE

Kim Tingley reports for The New York Times Magazine on Latitude Margaritaville, a community for residents 55 and over, being built along a highway in Daytona Beach, Florida. As the name suggests, the community is based on music by Jimmy Buffett.

The real frontier here, though, was not the surrounding wilderness but a hitherto uncolonized stretch of time: the multiple decades that more and more Americans can expect to live in better and better health after they retire. What will these pioneers do? Who will they become? And how will that, in turn, alter the course of human history?

Tingley describes Latitude Margaritaville as one of many experiments the senior housing industry is undertaking. These experiments are driven by statistics:

The Census Bureau projects that in 2034, for the first time ever, people 65 and older will outnumber those under 18. Americans are living longer and having fewer children, and fewer immigrants are showing up.

Yet communities specifically designed for seniors face a dilemma: How do they conceal the facts of living that help residents adapt to the needs of aging? At what age does the notion of life as a beach party become obsolete? These are questions that the growing industry of senior housing seeks to find answers for.

WILL THE GOVERNMENT BLOCK THIS GENETICIST FROM SELLING AN ANTI-AGING PILL?

Molly Fosco profiles David Sinclair:

he’s a professor of genetics at Harvard and founder of the Sinclair Lab, where he and his team study the processes that cause age-related diseases. Sinclair aims to develop a drug that will interrupt these processes and, ultimately, find the Holy Grail: a way to reverse aging. If, that is, he can get government approval — and at the moment that’s looking doubtful.

Age-related diseases include high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and dementia. According to Fosco, Sinclair believes that doctors who treat these diseases are going about it all wrong because they do not treat aging itself as a disease:

“Your doctor should be able to prescribe a drug that would slow or reverse aging,” he [Sinclair] says, “the same way he or she would prescribe a drug for high cholesterol.”

Sinclair doesn’t want to simply increase the human lifespan; he wants to increase the number of years people live healthy, mobile, and disease-free lives. His approach puts him outside the mainstream of scientific research into aging.

After a Wildfire, Rebuilding Life Can Be Hardest for the Oldest

Alexandra S. Levine reports on the recent California wildfire:

The hardest-hit community, Paradise, Calif., was a popular place to retire, with more than one-quarter of its residents 65 or older, according to census figures. Many of them have now lost everything late in life and must start over from zero, often with little support and with major health challenges.

The fire was devastating to the region’s high population of older adults:

Many of the thousands of structures in Paradise and surrounding parts of Butte County that were lost in the fire were nursing homes, assisted living facilities, other geriatric care centers or mobile home parks catering to retirees. Roughly 2,300 residents of the fire zone had relied on in-home health aides, according to Shelby Boston, the county director of employment and social services.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Aging in Place

The New York Times this week features a discussion of aging in place, the term for adapting an existing home to accommodate changes necessary as its inhabitants get older. This article contains links to related coverage.

Last Week’s Links

Older Entrepreneurs Take On the ‘Concrete Ceiling’

Many older Americans want to start a business but find they lack certain skills, and sometimes also the confidence to try something new. In response, more organizations focused on training entrepreneurs are targeting baby boomers.

A look at programs across the U.S. that help older adults start their own businesses.

‘Elder Orphans’ Have a Harder Time Aging in Place

I had never heard the term elder orphan before I came across this article and had no idea what it might mean.

An elder orphan has no adult children, spouse or companion to rely on for company, assistance or input. About 29 percent (13.3 million) of noninstitutionalized older persons live alone. The majority of those are women (9.2 million, vs. 4.1 million men).

Carol Marak, who describes herself as an elder orphan, writes about why we need more services for people like herself who have no family to help them make crucial life decisions as they age. Marak started the Elder Orphan Facebook Page “designed for individuals over the age of 55 who live without a spouse and adult children to look after us as we grow older.”

Vitamin B12 as Protection for the Aging Brain

Jane Brody, age 75, writes that even though she eats a balanced diet, she’s considering taking a vitamin B12 supplement. As people age, she says, their ability to absorb B12 from dietary sources may diminish:

“Depression, dementia and mental impairment are often associated with” a deficiency of B12 and its companion B vitamin folate, “especially in the elderly,” Dr. Rajaprabhakaran Rajarethinam, a psychiatrist at Wayne State University School of Medicine, has written.

Others besides people over age 50 who may have a B12 deficiency include vegetarians and vegans who eat little or no animal protein, people with stomach or small-intestine disorders like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, people whose digestive systems have been surgically altered for medical reasons, and chronic uses of proton-pump inhibitors to control acid reflux. A blood test can measure one’s level of B12.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

People Are Happiest At This Unexpected Time of Life

old-people

New research suggests that people get happier with age. Earlier research has suggested that peoples’ mental health improves as they age, and this study of 1,546 randomly selected adults in San Diego County suggests a correlation with happiness.

Have a Story to Tell? Your Personal Memoirist Is Here

Even in an era when it seems every life is displayed on social media for the world to see, a whole generation is getting older, and its stories, if not written or otherwise recorded, will be lost. Serving that market is becoming a small-business enterprise.

This article describes how personal historians work with clients to write the individual’s life history.

Is This Sustainable Village The Future Of Retirement?

An account of Serenbe, a multigenerational community in Chattahoochee Hills, outside Atlanta,GA. The community clusters homes and commercial buildings together so that a large portion of wooded land can be left undeveloped.

Nygren’s vision for Serenbe was modeled on the English countryside, where high-density villages are surrounded by expansive rural spaces.

Writing a ‘Last Letter’ When You’re Healthy

Dr. VJ Periyakoil, director of the Stanford Palliative Care Education & Training Program, describes the Stanford Letter Project, which encourages older adults to write letters to their loved ones expressing sentiments they might not have been able to say face-to-face. The article contains a link to the Stanford Letter Project, which offers free letter templates.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Recent Articles on Aging and Retirement

Old and on the Street: The Graying of America’s Homeless

The homeless in America are getting old.

There were 306,000 people over 50 living on the streets in 2014, the most recent data available, a 20 percent jump since 2007, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They now make up 31 percent of the nation’s homeless population.

This New York Times article takes a detailed look at the growing number of homeless older people in the U.S.

When seniors stop driving, social isolation looms

Social isolation is one of the primary factors in reducing the quality of life for older adults. Some recent research examined how giving up driving can contribute to such isolation:

When elderly drivers have to stop getting behind the wheel, they run the risk of social isolation, especially if they don’t have an alternative transportation plan, a recent study suggests.

The study looked at driving habits and social activities, like visiting friends and family or going out to dinner or the movies, for more than 4,300 adults over age 65.

Fearing Drugs’ Rare Side Effects, Millions Take Their Chances With Osteoporosis

This article reports on a dramatic drop in the number of patients taking drugs for treatment of osteoporosis because of their fear of rare but severe side effects. But, as the article points out, many more people benefit from the medications than are harmed by them:

“You only need to treat 50 people to prevent a fracture, but you need to treat 40,000 to see an atypical fracture,” said Dr. Clifford J. Rosen, a professor of medicine at Tufts University who has no association with the makers of the drugs.

Be sure to discuss all medications with your health practitioner.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Retirement Lifestyle

Mean Girls in the Retirement Home

Here’s a sad story indeed. Jennifer Weiner writes about her 97-year-old grandmother’s entry into an independent living facility. The mean girls at the facility wouldn’t let Weiner’s grandmother sit at their table in the dining room. They talked about playing bridge but told Weiner’s grandmother that they didn’t need any new players.

Weiner uses her grandmother’s experience to ponder the question of how typical or atypical this treatment is among residents of independent living centers. She cites a recent study by Karl Pillemer of Cornell University that found aggression among residents in nursing homes to be widespread:

According to the study’s news release, one in five residents was involved in at least one “negative and aggressive encounter” with another resident during a four-week period. Sixteen percent were cursed or yelled at; 6 percent were hit, kicked or bitten; 1 percent were victims of “sexual incidents, such as exposing one’s genitals, touching other residents, or attempting to gain sexual favors;” and 10.5 percent dealt with other residents’ entering their rooms uninvited, or rummaging through their belongings.

Weiner also points out that age discrimination is rampant: “Even in a residence for the elderly, the 80-somethings will still be cold to the 95-year-olds.” This discrimination leaves people like her grandmother, now 99 and without cognitive impairment, with no one to talk to. Such is the pain of having outlived almost all of one’s contemporaries.

An Unexpected Bingo Call: You Can’t Play

Here’s another story that even goes beyond the experiences of Jennifer Weiner’s grandmother. Paula Span describes what happened to Ann Clinton, who is 80 and has Parkinson’s disease, at Redstone Village in Huntsville, AL. Redstone is a type of facility known as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Such communities offer a full range of care, from independent living through assisted living and then skilled nursing care. Many CCRCs promote their range of care as a benefit for potential residents.

Ann Clinton and her husband began their retirement life in an independent living apartment at Redstone. Her husband moved through the assisted living and skilled nursing continuum and died last fall. Throughout her husband’s decline Ann Clinton found companionship and support at the weekly bingo game held in the independent living area of the building. But when she entered the Redstone nursing wing after back surgery, she was told she could no longer participate in the Monday night bingo game, even though she could easily ride her motorized scooter to the game.

And thus began the bingo wars at Redstone. My heart sank as I read how the conflict has escalated. Both Redstone administration and some independent-living residents want to keep Mrs. Clinton out.

Read how lawyers from AARP and the National Senior Citizens Law Center are attempting to fight such discrimination as a violation of both the federal Fair Housing Act and and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Retirees Find Meaning Serving the Needs of Their Communities

Not all the news about retirement life is bad, though. This New York Times article describes how retired folks are volunteering to do “difficult and meaningful work” to give back to their communities:

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that runs the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs, some 24 percent of older adults volunteered in 2013, providing nearly 190 million hours of service. Despite the disruption of a recession six years ago, that rate has held fairly steady over the past decade.

Read here about three people who

personify what Mitch Anthony, a consultant, speaker and author of “The New Retirementality,” calls the “legacy or mission phase” of life. At this point, people may be less concerned with paying bills and more interested in paying back.

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

And there’s more good news in another New York Times article:

For many, a retirement of babysitting grandchildren, golfing and relaxing on the beach is passé. Older people today approach work as a pillar of a retirement lifestyle, planning ahead and adding skills even before leaving their current jobs.

Colleges and universities are trying to figure out how to tap into this growing population of potential students. According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2030 the number of Americans age 65 and older will reach 72 million, up from 40.2 million in 2010.

A Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, a research firm that focuses on aging, found that nearly three of every five working retirees said retirement was an opportunity to shift to a different line of work.

For some of those seeking to change careers, retirement offers an opportunity to pursue a calling that wasn’t economically feasible earlier. Still others, forced into earlier-than-expected retirement by health concerns or layoffs, need to keep working for financial reasons.

Read here how many colleges and universities, including community colleges, are working to develop both degree and non-degree programs for older adult students. Especially encouraging is the news that state universities in California, Texas, and Pennsylvania offer tuition-free enrollment for older adultls.

A Dark View of Assisted Living

A Dark View of Assisted Living – NYTimes.com

the hourlong “Frontline” documentary “Life and Death in Assisted Living,” airing Tuesday night on PBS stations across the country, doesn’t really break new ground on the subject. But it is important nonetheless.One reason is that families, who make most of the decisions about assisted living, don’t pore over gerontology journals or state regulations as they are looking for a place that is not a nursing home.

So they don’t always realize that these reassuring-looking residences may have no nurse on the premises most of the time, that health care in assisted living frequently consists of a 911 call, that the average length of stay — according to the Assisted Living Federation of America — is less than two years.