For those of us who’ve lived long enough to see a thing or two:
Historical analogies – basically, the claim that two events or phenomena separated by time, and sometimes also by space, are similar in essential ways – are all around us. ‘History is repeating itself’ is a prominent idea, often phrased as ‘We’ve been here before’ or ‘This feels awfully familiar.’ Given that analogies are not a central feature of historical writing, or even something historians are normally trained to do, it’s worth asking: who makes historical analogies and why? How do historical analogies work? When do they catch on? Why are they so popular? What purpose do they serve? Do they help us better understand the world?
An experimental blood test was highly accurate at distinguishing people with Alzheimer’s disease from those without it in several studies, boosting hopes that there soon may be a simple way to help diagnose this most common form of dementia.
We always have to understand that these medical reports are preliminary. Still, it’s comforting to learn that research is progressing.
Many of us are old enough to remember when a phone ringing in the middle of the night indicated that something very bad had happened. Of course, that ringing phone was a landline, the only kind of phone we had back in those days.
“Since its invention, in the nineteenth century, the landline has often been portrayed as sinister—the object through which fate comes to call,” writes Sophie Haigney. She discusses how the landline was used in literature “as an open line of possibility, just waiting to ring,” that has been eliminated by the ubiquitous cell phone.
Mystery author S.C. Perkins discusses some of her favorite mysteries that feature older adults who are “long on great personalities” as secondary characters: “I’m here to give respect to the elder characters who not only offer the protagonist the benefits of their knowledge learned through a long life, but also possess a sense of humor about the world that comes from having seen it all.”
To lift your spirits, take a look at these recreations of classic music album covers by older adults from senior communities in England.
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown
Here’s a report on recent research suggesting that controlling blood sugar levels “might help lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
And here’s another report on research. The results of personality tests given to 82,232 teenagers in 1960 were compared with Medicare diagnoses of dementia from 2011 to 2013. Researchers “found that high extroversion, an energetic disposition, calmness and maturity were associated with a lower risk of dementia an average of 54 years later, though the association did not hold for students with low socioeconomic status.”
But the lead researcher emphasizes, “‘our findings are suggestive, and we don’t want to draw strong conclusions about causation.’”
Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One: A Robot and a Team of Irish Scientists Walk Into a Senior Living Home
Meet Stevie, a robot from the Robotics and Innovation Lab at Trinity College, Dublin, who lives with the residents of a retirement home for military officers and their spouses just outside of Washington, DC. The purpose of the collaboration is to see if AI (artificial intelligence) can help support human care workers in caring for people 65 and older, “the fastest-growing age demographic in the US.”
Here’s something to think about:
One can be outraged by the seemingly unfair treatment older workers receive. But are we each without ageist bias? The fact is we can be our own worst enemy when we adopt these assumptions as our truth. While we can’t change how others think, we can certainly tackle our own deeply held beliefs about aging that sabotage our financial future and well-being.
Happy Birthday to the Internet!
Born on October 29, 1969, the Internet is now 50 years old. Here are two articles about that milestone.
The Internet came into existence in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957. Chagrined that the USSR had beaten the U.S. in the space race, President Eisenhower formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the Department of Defense to promote study of science, technology, engineering, and math in U.S. universities and research labs. The need for separate terminals in each place of study led researchers to conceptualize ARPANET, a system that would allow each research lab to communicate with any or all others.
Adam Rogers, reporting for Wired, a publication that came into existence to cover the digital world, remembers (and links to) the article he wrote 25 years ago marking the Internet’s 25th birthday.
And he laments that the Internet’s 50th birthday “marks not only the internet’s decrepitude but also my own.”
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown
“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.
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.”
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?”
“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
A sampling of some of the most interesting items that caught my eye over the last week.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Here are some articles that caught my eye over the past several days.
Here’s a long though fascinating look at what goes on in the AgeLab, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge. Here researchers work not only on adaptive devices to help with the problems of physical aging but also on questions about whether those problems of aging can be biologically controlled.
Retirement expert Sara Zeff Geber offers some reading suggestions in this article for Forbes.
Here’s a booster for your immune system: an explanation of how it works and how to take care of it.
Only 10 percent of people between ages 50 and 64 with a family history of dementia say they have talked to a doctor about preventing memory problems, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging published Wednesday at the University of Michigan.
We all have moments from our past that gnaw at us — a regret, an unanswered question, an old tragedy. We obsess over these moments when we can’t sleep, or when we need a good cry. But most days, we try to ignore these unwelcome memories, pushing them aside so we can buy groceries or go to work or do new things that we won’t regret. Our poor choices and hurt feelings fade to the background, until another quiet moment beckons them to come pick at us again.
In this way, a single moment can pester us for years and years — unless we return to the past and confront it head on.
Kalila Holt has some advice on how to undertake the process of confronting such moments head on.
Finally, some good news:
Glucosamine has long been used as a supplement to help ease the joint pain of arthritis, but new research suggests its anti-inflammatory properties might also lower heart disease risk.
And a bit more good news:
A new drug for treating Alzheimer’s disease has successfully passed the first phase of testing in humans. Preclinical studies had already shown that the drug could improve memory and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in older mice.
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is particularly devastating. This article tells the story of a loving couple when the husband, Jo, was diagnosed:
Four years ago, Jo was diagnosed with dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease, an extremely rare form caused by a genetic mutation slithering through his family tree. Jo watched his mother die of the same illness when he was a teenager. Even in this early-onset form of Alzheimer’s, Jo is a terrible rarity: he was 37 years old when he was diagnosed.
The publication carried an earlier story, soon after the diagnosis, that is linked here.
This article decorously discusses the many issues this family faces, including information about the decision to place Jo in an a home and end-of-life directives in patients with dementia.
In the pre-internet days we called wild-sounding stories urban legends. Nowadays most such stories are spread across the internet, and we call them hoaxes.
All those viral hoaxes, spread by social media, have created a market for fact-checking sites, with Snopes, started in 1994, being the champ.
I’ve been consulting Snopes for ages, but I did not know until I came across this article that it is run out of a 97-year-old house in Tacoma, WA, my new home town. In fact, the Snopes house is in Tacoma’s North End, which is where I also live.
Snopes is particularly busy in the current political climate, in which “the hoax reports just keep rolling in.” So before you blindly repeat that story you heard on Twitter or read on Facebook, ask yourself: “ Just what is your receptivity to something that sure looks like it came from a bull?”
Big electronics store Best Buy is positioning itself to attract an older clientele by becoming the go-to niche market for digital health:
In August, Best Buy announced it would buy GreatCall for $800 million. GreatCall makes Jitterbug cell phones with big buttons and bright screens designed for senior citizens, as well as medical alert devices that can detect falls and summon help.
The demand for digital health products and services will grow in the future as the U.S. population of people over 65, now at around 50 million, doubles over the next 20 years as Baby Boomers retire.
I was somewhat relieved to read this news. When Google Plus came into being, I tried for a few weeks to use it. But I never really got it: Its interface wasn’t obvious, and I never saw the point of simple links with no context.
So I’m glad to learn that I no longer have to feel inadequate about not knowing how to use Google Plus effectively. Now if I could just figure out Instagram …
Nursing home residents are increasingly spending time in rehabilitation treatment during the last days of their lives, subjected to potentially unnecessary therapy that reaps significant financial benefits for cash-strapped facilities, a study shows.
A study out of the University of Rochester, based on data from 647 New York-based nursing home facilities, revealed that “Some residents were found to have been treated with the highest concentration of rehabilitation during their last week of life.”
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
This article reports on the “germ theory” of Alzheimer’s disease. Germs in this case “means microbes like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. In other words,” is Alzheimer’s an infectious disease. This theory “has been fermenting in the literature for decades,” but research in this area has received almost no funding.
If the germ theory gets traction, even in some Alzheimer’s patients, it could trigger a seismic shift in how doctors understand and treat the disease.
Having come of age in the glorious 1960s, I took particular interest in this list of books published in the following decade that, in a literary way, reflect the profound ways in which the ’60s influenced later society. The books from this list that I remember most vividly are Rabbit Redux by John Updike, Kindred by Olivia E. Butler, The Stories of John Cheever, All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi.
What about you? Do you remember any of these books?
Ever since we began visiting the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. in the mid 1990s, I’ve been fascinated by the Giant Pacific octopus native to this area. Octopuses (yes, that’s the correct plural) are extremely intelligent, although their decentralized nervous system differs greatly from our own. Octopuses are also asocial, in contrast to humans’ need for social contact.
This article reports on a study by scientists interested in whether octopuses would react the same way humans do to “the drug MDMA, versions of which are known as molly or ecstasy.” The drug commonly makes people “feel very happy, extraverted, and particularly interested in physical touch.” The scientists were interested to discover that, despite our different nervous structures and social behavior tendencies, octopuses’ reactions to the drug resembled humans’ reactions.
It’s clear that psychoactive drugs like MDMA, LSD, and magic mushrooms are going through a scientific renaissance—they’re being studied as potential treatments for depression and PTSD—and as their stigma decreases, scientists are more open to studying them, and more research funding becomes available. This could be important for our understanding of animal and human brains.
This is a long article, but it’s a must-read for anyone who moves from one place to another or from one medical facility to another. Dr. Ilana Yurkiewicz explains how lack of compatible electronic medical records can disrupt medical treatment and how such disruption can lead to life-and-death situations.
caffeine is powerful stuff, and because it has a direct effect on your energy level, you should drink it with intention rather than on autopilot.
This article is aimed at office workers (hence the emphasis on productivity), but it’s good advice for anyone who is bothered by occasional insomnia.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
Here’s a profile of Annelise Barron:
Alzheimer’s is the root cause of 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and the complexity of the disease has troubled neurology researchers for decades. But Barron, an associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford, has uncovered a way for our own immune system to fight off a major cause of Alzheimer’s. If her research leads to a treatment, it would be the first new therapeutics development in more than a decade.
Being of a certain age myself, I enjoy books that feature older women characters. And if you’re into reading challenges that ask you to read a book featuring “a strong female character over 50,” here are eight books to help you fill in that category.
And if 50 is too young for you, here’s a list of six books featuring female protagonists over age 60. I heartily second the recommendation of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and would also add Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney.
That disease would be loneliness:
Experts agree that we’re facing a loneliness epidemic, one that has profound consequences for our physical health, our longevity and our overall well-being. But where others emphasize the scale and seriousness of this looming crisis, Murthy offers an encouraging message: Yes, loneliness is a pervasive problem worldwide, but there is a simple and actionable solution.
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
Oh, what’s the matter with kids today?
Why does every generation express worry that its kids aren’t as good? Because of fear, this article argues:
We talk of children in terms of continuation. They carry on our traditions. They take our names. We delight in how they look like us, act like us, think like us. We want our kids to adopt our politics, our causes, our sense of meaning. In our children, we seek immortality.
But then they grow up, and we discover they’re not us. They are their own people. They’ll find their own politics, their own causes, their own sense of meaning. They’re more interested in the future than the past. They’ll know their parents’ names, of course, and probably their grandparents’ names, but perhaps not their great-grandparents’ names, and certainly not their great-great-grandparents’ names. Which means one day they’ll have children, and those children will have children, and our names will begin to be forgotten too. We will slip into nothingness, remembered by nobody, having left no recognizable impact.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
The recent fires [across the western U.S.] actually highlight an ongoing debate among ecologists about whether Smokey should shoulder some responsibility for the flames now regularly sweeping across natural lands. For much of the last century, Smokey was the pitchman for the federal government’s aggressive wildfire suppression policy. That tactic, some scientists believe, may have contributed along with climate change to making American forests vulnerable long-term to combustion. They call it “the Smokey Bear effect.”
This look at the history of modern American fire prevention explains what looks like a counter-intuitive concept.
There’s no danger of impersonality in “The Rest I Make Up,” Michelle Memran’s documentary portrait of the playwright María Irene Fornés (which [screened] August 23rd through the 29th, at moma). It’s very much a four-handed film, made (as the credits say) both by Memran and by Fornés, and it’s explicitly, inescapably about their collaboration. The resulting film is a profound, tragic, yet joyful vision of art. It’s more than the portrait of an artist (or even of two); it’s a revelation and exaltation of the artistic essence, of the very nature of an artist’s life as an unending act of creation in itself.
The New Yorker looks at a film documenting Alzheimer’s disease.
A science journalist spent months researching sleep. Here’s what he found.
Sean Illing interviews Henry Nicholls, author of Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest. Nicholls says that establishing sleep stability—going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning—is the simplest way to begin addressing sleep problems such as insomnia.
the protest group is still active, increasingly frustrated by a visible age gap between older veterans of the peace movement and younger, politically active citizens who seem to have moved on to other causes.
A local (Pacific Northwest) take on a national matter of concern to those of us who grew up marching and protesting and chanting, “There is some s**t we will not eat.”
The lesson communicated by the tale of the tortoise and the hare, one of Aesop’s fables, holds true in the animal kingdom, according to new research.
The fable’s lesson is simple: consistency and perseverance beat out disinterested talent. In nature, faster animals tend to apply their speed inconsistently, just like Aesop’s hare.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown