Thursday, 26 February 2015
10 Myths About Ageing
When, in 1995, I began to research what ageing is all about, there were hardly any non-academic books about it (and so it remained until 2005 when the media caught on that the oldest baby boomers were turning 60 and ageing became a hot topic).
Before the subject of ageing took off, one of the least dense, most useful books was written by a Harvard specialist in cognitive ageing, Douglas H. Powell, titled The Nine Myths of Aging. As you would expect, it refutes entrenched ideas and false beliefs that had been (and still are) prevalent about old people.
The most important myth, the one that supports all others is this: All old people are pretty much the same.
As you may have heard, if you've met one old person, you've met one old person. Way too many younger people lump us all together under whichever stereotypes about age they believe in.
But my favorite of Powell's myths is an extra, a tenth one he included: “Aging is a boring subject.” It certainly has not become so for me through these two decades.
Other writers, before and after Powell, have issued their myths of aging and although they don't usually acknowledge the lists that came before their own, they are the same - or close enough. And that is all the more reason to keep repeating them until the world gets it.
Most myths-of-aging lists contain nine or ten items. The latest book, Great Myths of Aging, contains 37. Excessive, thought I, but I like the specificity that shorter lists necessarily skim too quickly. A few of the 37:
3. Older people worry too much about falling
(no they don't)
14. Wisdom comes with age, so older adults are wise
(Not necessarily and not all of them)
29. Older workers are inferior to younger workers
(No they are not)
35. A majority of older adults end up in nursing homes and stay there until they die
(No they don't; by miles they don't)
The authors of the highly readable “New Myths” are Joan T. Erber and Lenore T. Szuchman, both professors emeritus in psychology. This week, they shortened their long list to the more traditional 10 for an article in The Guardian.
They start off with what I call the “eew” myth. “Eew” because there is not a person alive who wants to know anything at all, not a smidgen, about sex and their parents which is probably the biggest reason the majority believe “Older people lose interest in sex.” The writers explain:
”Many surveys prove this to be false. In one study, 74% of women and 72% of men aged between 75 and 85 said that satisfactory sex is essential to maintaining a relationship...
“When we desexualise older couples by calling them cute, this might be disrespectful and can result in harm, such as neglecting to educate older people about sexually transmitted diseases and failing to make privacy possible in nursing homes.”
Here they are on “Old people are stingy:”
”This negative stereotype misses the distinction between stingy and frugal. One of the difficulties older adults face after retirement is deciding how to expend their resources wisely, given the uncertainty about the amount of time those resources must last.
“Many people fear becoming financially dependent on the younger generation. Financial help often flows from the older to the younger generation (such as help with adult children’s and grandchildren’s expenses) until very late old age – hardly a sign of stinginess.”
This one, that I mentioned above, is important because it is too many elders themselves who believe it – but at their peril. “Older people worry too much about falling:”
”In reality, they may not worry enough. Each year, one out of three adults aged 65 and older experiences a fall. Up to 30% of older adults who do fall suffer moderate to severe life-changing injuries (hip fractures or head trauma, for example).
“Yet, a significant number think falling is someone else’s problem and do not recognise the precautions they should take in the home, which is where many falls occur.”
You can read the list of 10 myths at The Guardian. Although I have some quibbles with the book, they are few. It is available at all the usual outlets.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: In the Morning...
Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Not Too Old for Another Surprise
Remember yesterday's post when I quoted some notes from my blog journal? Perhaps you recall reading this one:
”Sometimes I am afraid that there will be no more wonderful surprises, that the future I have left will be no different from today, yesterday and the day before.”
Well, wait till you hear this.
Yesterday morning, I drove half an hour to – well, wait a minute. Let me give you the back story.
In her old age, my mother bought coins. Gold coins, silver coins, old coins, new coins. She wasn't interested in the coins themselves; for her, they were an investment.
Mom was a child of the Great Depression and the coins, she said, were her hedge against the next one. When no one would take paper money anymore, she told me, she could always get a loaf of bread with real gold or silver.
When she died in 1992, I followed her instructions about the coins. She wanted them, especially the gold ones that were the bulk of her loot, to go to her stepson and so they did.
I've forgotten why but when he and I were cleaning out her apartment and sorting what to do with everything, he handed me the silver coins and one gold coin.
I promptly forgot about them.
Now, 23 years later, I found them when I was cleaning out a closet shelf a few weeks ago. There were about two dozen or so silver dollars, some Kennedy half dollars, a few 19th century coins of some kind and one gold Mexican coin approximately the diameter of an American nickel.
For most of this month, the coins sat around on my desk getting in the way. Apparently, Ollie the cat felt the same way; he kept knocking them onto the floor for me to pick up.
Then yesterday morning it struck me (I'm slow sometimes) that the coins might be worth a few dollars. So on a sudden whim, I stuck them in a little velvet bag I have and went off to a coin dealer's shop I recalled driving by.
Walking in, I began to feel kind of silly. What if they were worth only their face value. I hadn't counted but I guessed that would be about $50 plus whatever the gold peso coin was worth. It was almost paper thin so probably not much.
Oh well, I thought. At least they'll be off the desk.
A nice man greeted me at the counter. He consulted some books with price lists as he sorted the coins and kept a running list. In the end, the total sale price came to – wait for it - $885 and change.
Whoa ho! Who knew. I told the man the story about my mother hedging against a depression and that I'd had these coins for more than 20 years and was surprised – pleasantly – at their value.
The prices had increased a lot in the time I had held on to them, the man said (not that I recalled having them all those years). In the early nineties, they would have fetched about $200.
I was surprised again when he counted it out to me in cash money. I guess he saw the surprise on my face and offered to write a check. I decided to keep the paper – well, for as long as took me to drive to the bank.
Okay, $885 isn't like winning the Moneyball lottery, but it ain't chickenfeed either and the little savings account I keep, the one where I accumulate the funds during each year to pay the choke-inducing property tax, is now paid up for the year.
Isn't that a wonderful surprise? I had no idea anything that out of the ordinary would happen yesterday.
Of course, now I can't go around – at least for awhile – complaining about a lack of surprises in my life.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: Patchwork of Memories – Part 2
Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Dear Diary: Some Notes on Ageing
There is a handwritten journal I keep although, unlike the kind many others' have, the entries are undated. This latest edition is the third I have filled over 10 years (they are thick with many pages). It is my blog book, my book of ageing.
In it is a loose, running list of scribbled ideas for possible future stories along with some age-related quotations I've saved, stray thoughts I want to further consider and, sometimes, just a phrase I like. There are titles of books I intend to read (and sometimes do), movies I want to see and topics for research.
There is much more material about aging stored on my laptop – more organized too. The journal is meant to be personal, random, serendipitous, and although I regularly flip through the pages, I doubt I have used more than five or ten percent of the information on TGB.
Maybe that's because a lot of these jottings would take a great deal of development to turn into blog posts and I am lazy about that. But going through them over the weekend, I wondered what TGB readers might make of some of the thoughts – how you might run with them.
So here are a few, just as they appear on the pages of the journal:
There was so much time in youth. We were so cavalier with it. We believed for so long that goodbyes were not final. It is impossible not to know now that every goodbye might be forever.
Some rules for being old:
Own your age
Be true to yourself
Have a life, not a lifestyle
Know that living, life itself is risky
(more to come)
Elders who brag about how healthy and active they are should consider how lucky they are instead. After a certain age, we are all one broken hip or bad diagnosis away from permanent disability. Good for you in your good health but don't hold yourself up as a paragon of virtue over others less fortunate. You could join them tomorrow.
Sometimes I am afraid that there will be no more wonderful surprises, that the future I have left will be no different from today, yesterday and the day before.
”In this country, some people start being miserable about growing old while they are still young.” (Margaret Mead)
A life in old age that is honest and true and real, and that it is normal, not shameful, to be old.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: And the World Gets Through Its Day
Monday, 23 February 2015
Oliver Sacks' Essential Essay on Dying
On the Op-Ed page of The New York Times last week, renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks announced his impending death from terminal cancer.
True to his nature – or what I know of it from his 12 books and dozens of stories and reports in The New York Review of Books – his essay is eloquent, thoughtful, honest, beautiful, inspiring and for us who will be left behind, deeply sad.
”The cancer occupies a third of my liver,” he explains, “and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.
“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”
Of course he does. The man I have come to respect and admire and learn from over decades of reading could do no less.
Given what I know of TimeGoesBy readers – well, those of you who comment regularly – I suspect that a large number of you have already read this piece and it is so complete in itself, there is nothing worthy I can add.
But at a blog dedicated to what it is really like to get old, neither can I let this go unmentioned, so a few words of personal response.
In one section, Dr. Sacks reminds me of what I hope for about my own demise in a description that is amazingly close to what I experienced some years ago when an accident convinced me that my death was imminent:
”Over the last few days,” writes Sacks, “I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.
“On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.”
Although it involves a death sentence delivered, I assume, with an approximate time table, I passionately wish to be granted that time.
My mother was. For the same diagnosis as the good doctor, she was given three or four months during which I cared for her, and what Sacks expects to do with his remaining time is similar to what I watched in my mother:
“I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at NewsHour every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
“This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future.”
Exactly - “detached.” I felt that in my own accident and watched it happen both with my mother and with other loved ones as they were dying. In this remarkably brief essay, Dr. Sacks covers a lot of important ground; he is still, as he has all these years, teaching us.
In May this year, his autobiography, titled On the Move, will be published. Here is the dust jacket which is remarked upon thusly at oliversacks.com blog where there is a larger image: “Yes, this is how Oliver Sacks rolled in 1961 (in Greenwich Village on his BMW).”
It pleases me to know this little thing about his younger self.
If you haven't read the essay, please do – it is a keeper to be read and re-read and read again. I also recommend a previous Op-Ed from Sacks in 2013, titled The Joy of Old Age (No Kidding.) It is equally important and Sacks is always a joy to read.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Orthorexia, Healthy Food and “Piecing Around"
Sunday, 22 February 2015
ELDER MUSIC: The Devil Made Me Do It
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Continuing the devilish theme from two weeks ago - after all, he wrote a lot of good songs - I give you today's music dedicated to him.
"The devil made me do it the first time, the second time I done it on my own." So said Billy Joe Shaver in his song Black Rose. I'll start with that very song, but not Billy Joe's version. I prefer WAYLON JENNINGS singing it.
But then, Waylon was one of the finest song stylists who ever pulled on a black hat and a Fender Telecaster.
I wasn't familiar with WADE RAY until I started searching through my music for songs for this topic. (There's still stuff there I don't know about, I just need the right topic to bring it to light.)
Wade started out on the vaudeville circuit and later was a fiddle-playing, western swing band leader rather like Bob Wills but Wade was a far better singer.
He became a member of Willie Nelson's touring band when they met at the Grand Ole Opry in the sixties. He died in 1998 at age 85. He performs Let Me Go, Devil, which sounds suspiciously like another song.
MARTY ROBBINS is always welcome in one of my columns. Indeed, I've devoted a whole column to him way back in the mists of blog time.
There are a few songs called Devil Woman or something similar. This is the pick of them. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I?
I had quite a few choices for the song Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. After listening to them all I decided on GERRY MULLIGAN.
This is from his early quartet that included Chet Baker on the trumpet. On this track we also have ANNIE ROSS singing.
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON has a couple of devil songs I could have chosen.
My selection amounted to little more than tossing a coin. Okay, I didn't actually do that but the choice didn't involve too much soul searching, dedicated listening or the like.
The song I selected is The Silver Tongued Devil and I, from the album of the same name.
Given the topic, the LOUVIN BROTHERS are an automatic inclusion.
They really had a thing about all this sort of thing. The Louvins’ song is called Santa is Real. Oh, hang on, that should be Satan is Real – an easy mistake to make about a couple of mythical characters whose names are so similar.
Well, they certainly told me. I really have to avoid being unneighborly or I could be in real trouble.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. Here's MILES DAVIS.
No messing around, Miles plays Devil May Care from his “Quiet Nights” album.
She's a devil in disguise, you can see it in her eyes. You can't say it plainer than that. The ones who are saying it are the FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS.
This was a group who, at the time of recording the next song, had more members of The Byrds in the group than The Byrds did in theirs. There's no devil in the title, but as you have already seen, he turns up in the song. Christine's Tune.
Even THE BEATLES got into the act.
This is a very early song of theirs, Devil in Her Heart.
I ended the first column on this topic with Charlie Daniels' song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia. It's appropriate that I should end this one with an homage to that song.
The homagers (I just made up that word) are the SENSITIVE NEW AGE COWPERSONS.
The Cowpersons come from about as far away from civilisation as it's possible without getting wet. That is, they're from Fremantle which is a suburb of Perth (Western Australia) that likes to pretend that it's not a suburb of Perth.
Their song is Doc Met the Devil.
Saturday, 21 February 2015
INTERESTING STUFF – 21 February 2015
Two sisters in their 90s live and work together in their New York City apartment which doubles as their dressmaking shop. As explained at Aeon,
"A lifetime ago in their native Hungary, Mimi was a renowned costumer, crafting clothes for operas, circuses and dance performances, though what she always wanted was to be a dancer herself.
“Vali, meanwhile, had a way with men, attracting even the attention of the one Mimi was to marry.”
OVERJOYED BY THUNDERSNOW
This will give you a great laugh – maybe even if you live on the east coast and are thoroughly fed up with snow and cold. It's Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore's over-the top, exuberant reaction to the the rare phenomenon of thundersnow in Boston.
POT CAUSES THE MUNCHIES - DUH
Come on, now, admit it. I'm not the only one around this blog who has enjoyed toking up - in my case, going back for half a century. We always knew the munchies are a side effect and now it's official – or, semi-so if mouse research counts:
”A study in mice published on Wednesday found, unexpectedly, that the active ingredients in pot essentially make appetite-curbing regions of the brain reverse functions.
“When that happens, neurons that ordinarily transmit a signal that means, 'you're full, stop eating,' instead give the brain the munchies, neurobiologists reported in the journal Nature.”
I suspect, too, that if we had thought about it, we could have told them this part is true too:
”It does not fool the brain into eating just anything, however. Smoking marijuana rarely leads to a craving for broccoli. Instead, he said, the brain mechanisms create a desire for calorie-dense foods like salty, fatty chips and rich sweets.”
You can read more about the research here.
ANOTHER REASON TO HATE COMCAST
Every year, Comcast turns up in various polls as one of the top most hated corporations in the United States. In December, a University of Michigan survey confirmed that again.
Now there's another reason. Take a look at this short video. (Hat tip to Tom Delmore)
JOHN OLIVER ON BIG TOBACCO
Even when I'm not 18 minutes-worth interested in a Last Week Tonight show topic, I've learned to watch anyway because it is always like a standup act wrapped in the subject. I learn AND I laugh usually, like this time, out loud even when I'm alone.
If you think 18 minutes is too much to sit through, you would be wrong. The last three minutes are pricelessly wonderful but won't have the same impact if you haven't seen the first 15 minutes. Do it.
See? I told you so.
It was announced this week that John Oliver's show has been renewed by HBO for two more seasons, each consisting of 35 episodes, that will take it through 2017.
On one hand that's great news, on the other it means he won't take over hosting The Daily Show as I was hoping for when Jon Stewart leaves later this year.
BIG YEAR FOR ELDERS AT THE OSCARS
The annual Academy Awards will be handed out tomorrow evening (ABC-TV – 7PM eastern, 4PM Pacific time) and old folks are represented in greater numbers than I've seen before. Here is the list of oldest nominees in the major categories:
American Sniper – Director
Clint Eastwood age 84
The Judge – Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall age 84
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Best Picture
F. Murray Abraham age 75
Harvey Keitel age 75
Tom Wilkinson age 67
Bill Murray age 64
Jeff Goldblum age 62
Selma – Best Picture
Jim France age 70
Into the Woods – Lead Actor
Meryl Streep age 65
Whiplash – Supporting Actor
J.K. Simmons age 60
Well done, Hollywood, even if I wish there were more women. Maybe next time.
FRANCE IS BACON
A lot of TGB readers are big language mavens and you're going to love this. It's from four years ago in answer to the question: What word or phrase did you totally misunderstand as a child?
Do you have any similar stories?
HOUSE OF CARDS RETURNS
Ready to binge-watch, anyone? As with the previous two years, the entire third season of House of Cards - 10 episodes - will be posted on Netflix next Friday 27 February at 12:01AM.
Ten days ago, 11 February, Netflix accidentally (or on purpose?) posted at least one episode of the third season and yanked it down within minutes. As Mashable reported,
"'Whoops, something went wrong...' read the Netflix error message on screens of Mashable staff who viewed portions of the episodes. 'The video you are trying to play is not available.'"
As a result, apparently, of that leak a video of short “spoilers” was then released on YouTube but don't be fooled. There are no real spoilers in the video - something I would have known immediately if I had noted that it was posted by someone named “House of Cards.”
If there is no story posted here on Monday 2 March, you'll know I was too exhausted from binge watching the entire series over the weekend.
CAT VS. MAILMAN
On the rare occasion in recent years that I've scrolled past America's Funniest Home Videos on the teevee, I've left within seconds because the videos are never funny. (Maybe all the good ones go to YouTube these days.)
But this one – found on YouTube – is different. If you know anything about cats, it's really funny.
Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.
You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its URL.
Friday, 20 February 2015
In the Tenth Decade of Life
When the renowned essayist – most often about sports, but other topics too – Roger Angell published “This Old Man: Life in the nineties” it became, deservedly, an instant classic.
A couple of weeks ago, Tom Delmore emailed to remind me that it has been exactly a year since Angell's tour of life in the tenth decade first appeared in The New Yorker and although I mentioned it last February in an Interesing Stuff post, it deserves another outing at greater length.
In the media coverage of old, old age, it is centenarians who get all the attention usually focused on the single fatuous question about how they got to such a great age.
Of course, no can answer that question in any useful manner and it's not what anyone else really wants to know about them. Angell, however, does tell us what we want to know, quite eloquently, starting with a list of physical changes:
”I’m ninety-three, and I’m feeling great,” he begins. “Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple of Tylenols in the past four or five hours...”
That's for the leftover symptoms of a bout of shingles. The “glitches,” as Angell writes, pile up by the nineties: in his case, arthritis, stents, angioplasties, statins, beta blockers and more:
”My left knee is thicker but shakier than my right. I messed it up playing football, eons ago, but can’t remember what went wrong there more recently.
“I had a date to have the joint replaced by a famous knee man (he’s listed in the Metropolitan Opera program as a major supporter) but changed course at the last moment, opting elsewhere for injections of synthetic frog hair or rooster combs or something, which magically took away the pain.
“I walk around with a cane now when outdoors—'Stop brandishing!' I hear my wife, Carol, admonishing—which gives me a nice little edge when hailing cabs.”
What Angell has done in this essay is touch with astonishing honesty the major topics we all consider mostly, I would guess, in our solitary hours. He acknowledges but doesn't dwell on decline and disaster:
”It shouldn’t surprise me if at this time next week I’m surrounded by family, gathered on short notice—they’re sad and shocked but also a little pissed off to be here—to help decide, after what’s happened, what’s to be done with me now.
“It must be this hovering knowledge, that two-ton safe swaying on a frayed rope just over my head, that makes everyone so glad to see me again.
“'How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!' they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, 'Holy shit—he’s still vertical!'”
By the tenth decade too, he notes, we are surrounded by loss. This is part of one of the loveliest passages:
“'Most of the people my age is dead. You could look it up' was the way Casey Stengel put it. He was seventy-five at the time, and contemporary social scientists might prefer Casey’s line delivered at eighty-five now, for accuracy, but the point remains.
“We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children, parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It’s no wonder we’re a bit bent.
“The surprise, for me, is that the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming.
I am 20 years younger than Angell and feel this already, if less so at my age. I keep mine close.
In this treasure of a ramble through old, old age, Angell touches on many of the events and circumstances we discuss here with some regularity:
”My work—I’m still working, or sort of,” he says. “Reading. The collapsing, grossly insistent world. Stuff I get excited about or depressed about all the time.
“Dailiness—but how can I explain this one? Perhaps with a blog recently posted on Facebook by a woman I know who lives in Australia. 'Good Lord, we’ve run out of nutmeg!' it began. 'How in the world did that ever happen?'
“Dozens of days are like that with me lately.”
Me too. Well, maybe not dozens yet at 73, but more than before in my life.
And the invisibility? He tells us younger oldies to expect more of it:
”Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends—old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties—and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming in Nyack or Virginia Woolf the cross-dresser.
“There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it.
“What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA—a transient ischemic attack? I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response.”
But I am cheating with these excerpts. It is unfair to you and to Roger Angell. His dispatch from the future – should we live as long a he - needs to be read in its entirety, preferably in one sitting.
And then read again. And again. Hardly anyone else is writing about what it is really like to get old as well as Mr. Angell has.
As great good luck has it, this brilliant, thoughtful, wry, nourishing essay is available online here even if you are not a New Yorker subscriber.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Fritzy Dean: My Mother Named Me Fritzy