What Matters to Crabby Old Lady Today

Crabby Old Lady here. Remember that mini-vacation my alter ego, Ronni, took on Monday? It sure wasn't much of a vacation.

Not that Crabby had big plans. Mostly she wanted to be free for a day from “shoulds” which in her case this week means ignoring the mess of books, magazines and various papers in need of filing on the dining table; ditto the desk; the pile of chemotherapy hats in the bedroom that need a tidier storage place, answering a big backlog of email, and so on.

In that part, Crabby succeeded: it is all still there today (Tuesday), untouched.

She had wanted to walk over to the neighboring park but it rained again as it has seemed to do every day since Christmas. Okay, Crabby exaggerates, but it feels that long.

Instead, she took note of her breathing as a prelude to a short trip to take out the trash and check her nearby mailbox. In the past few weeks, breathing has become difficult when doing anything much more strenuous than such a short, slow walk as this.

An inhaler has helped a bit but Crabby is looking forward to seeing the doctor soon to find out what else he can do for Crabby's breathing difficulty. Meanwhile, Crabby decided the trash and the mail could wait another day.

By mid-morning and for no good reason (Crabby had slept well the night before), she felt tired. Avoiding the bedroom, which means sleep, she snuggled down on the sofa with a cozy quilt, pillows and a light-hearted detective novel.

But her mind kept wandering from the book.

Is Trump really going to pardon criminals convicted of treason on Memorial Day? What kind of mind thinks that's a good idea? Is there no one who can stop him?

Why hasn't Attorney General William Barr been jailed? He refused a subpoena from the House but the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have done nothing since Barr's absence on 2 May - no contempt of Congress citation, nothing.

On Tuesday this week, former White House Council Donald F. McGahn, at the order of Trump, defied a similar subpoena. He too just didn't show up as scheduled and like Barr, there has been no penalty.

”Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York,” the panel’s chairman, reports The New York Times, opened the brief session with a stern warning both to Mr. McGahn and Mr. Trump. The House, he said, would move quickly to bring Mr. McGahn to court, citing him for contempt of Congress if he does not relent.

“'This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it,' Mr. Nadler said, staring down at an empty chair for Mr. McGahn.”

And blah, blah, blah. It's what they've been saying since Trump was elected - “contempt of Congress” and “if we have to go to court” or similar threats and nothing happens.

You can bet your booties that if Crabby Old Lady or any of you defied a Congressional subpoena, we would immediately be frogmarched off to jail.

And then there is Special Council Robert Mueller. If there ever were real discussions to arrange for him to testify before the Judiciary Committee, they have disappeared – at least publicly.

The Washington Post reports Representative Nadler told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week that Congress should open an impeachment inquiry into Trump but Pelosi is still holding out on that option. More blah, blah, blah.

Not to mention the potential new war in Iran. A friend told me that Trump says doesn't want a war; it's National Security Advisor John Bolton who does. Oh really? And when was the last time you could be certain that Trump would stick to what says?

And Crabby hasn't even started on the bunch of old, white men intent on taking control of women's bodies by killing Roe v. Wade.

Are any of you as bone-deep exhausted from living in Trumpworld for more than two years that you, like Crabby, can't even stay awake on a “vacation” day?

There is so much wrong with our government, with our president, with legislators too timid to do anything but let the president and all the crooks he has appointed to high positions steal as much from the treasury and the American people as they can, it is beyond measurement now.

There is plenty more to be concerned about but even with only the above, no wonder Crabby is tired enough to nap even with a good night's sleep under her belt.

After thinking over all the above, Crabby Old Lady was tired again. Sleep overcame her for another hour or so.

The rest of Crabby's Monday “vacation” was more of the same although she did get about halfway through the novel before turning out the bedside lamp for the night.




A TGB READER'S STORY: Aunt Vickie

By Janet

Today I’ve been thinking about a lady I used to know. It makes sense that I use the word lady, because it implies a gentle manner and is a word that seems to embody who and how she was.

I think we must have met long before my first recollection of her. Nevertheless, the first time she appears in my memory is on a summer afternoon. Her white-grey hair is carefully combed, as always, and she’s wearing one of her floral cotton summer dresses. The pink and white one, I think it was.

She’s standing in the doorway of her tidy little house, holding the door open for us, smiling and chattering cheerfully. We would come to repeat this ritual many times over several summers, but that first time and how she looked on that day has stayed with me for all these years.

She always seemed genuinely happy to see my mom (Patsy) and us. “Oh, Patsy, how are you? Come on in. Look at all these nice kids. Oh, and here’s my little Jeanne!”

My mom and I and some of my siblings had made the two or three mile walk to her house - an easy trek because it was all downhill (and because I didn’t have a toddler to pick up and carry every so often like my mom did).

After taking our shoes off at the door, we respectfully made our way into her house. It was a curious place to me, neat as a pin and simply decorated with old fashioned furniture and knickknacks.

I remember a figurine that sat on a small table by her green and gold lamp. It was of a woman with a fancy hat and gloves and a very glamorous smile painted across her porcelain face.

In the dining room was a corner shelf that held several elegant flowered teacups with matching saucers. I can still picture the bright colors and delicate handles of the teacups, and how strikingly they stood out against the dark ornate wood of the shelf.

I didn’t think about it then, but today I can imagine her placing each teacup in just the right spot, and how she must have dusted them one by one, carefully returning them to their proper place on the shelf.

Her windows were filled with plants. She was a prolific and gifted gardener; one of the many sweet things about her I didn’t truly appreciate until it no longer was. I’m lucky after all these years to have vivid memories of her flower garden, and of her walking gracefully in and out of the rows of beautiful flowers like a butterfly who didn’t want to miss out on a single one.

She was at home in the middle of all those flowers, chatting happily about which ones were doing well, which would bloom next and what colors they would be, stopping here and there to select just the right blossoms for a pretty and colorful bouquet to send home with my mom.

After a visit to her flower garden she would send us to the neighborhood store for vanilla ice cream. She would open the ice cream carton from the side and slice it like a loaf of bread. It was a special treat when raspberries were in season. She’d put them on our ice cream fresh from her garden. I’d be hard pressed to remember having a better treat before or since.

As I write this, I realize I have an overflow of memories about this sweet lady - too many and too fond to write about in one sitting. So just for now, I will remember her the way she was on those sunny summer afternoons, greeting us with a smile, making sure our visit was pleasant and special the way a gracious hostess does, and sending us off with more smiles, happy chatter, some homemade raspberry jam, and of course, a bouquet of beautiful flowers.

Here’s to you, Aunt Vickie.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]




A Mini-Vacation

As I mentioned two Fridays ago, at the oncologist's suggestion I am skipping one chemotherapy treatment just to give myself a little break, a vacation if you will, from the effects of the chemo drugs.

That means four weeks between treatments instead of two and today (Tuesday), I am part way through the third week giving me about 10 more days before the next chemo session.

It feels like such a luxury to have this time. What the chemo is doing for me so far – reducing the size and number of visible cancer nodules – is more than I expected and I'm a little worried that interrupting the infusion schedule might change that. But not so worried that I'm not enjoying every minute of this time.

So this is just filler and there's no need to respond in the comments – unless you've got something you want to say. About anything.




ELDER MUSIC: Beatles Favorites

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

* * *

I like to walk along the beachfront on days when I’m not otherwise occupied. This is easy to do as I live not far away. Whenever I’m alone on the walk, I usually have my Sony Walkman along for entertainment, and before people make cracks about living in the seventies, cassettes and whatnot, the current model plays digital files.

As I’ve been doing this for 10 years (I’ve upgraded the Walkman a couple of times) I’ve listened to a range of things – serious talks, audio books, music, podcasts and whatever has caught my fancy.

A recent discovery, although it’s been around for a couple of years, is a podcast called “Compleatly Beatles” (that’s the way they spell it) where a couple of Canadians discuss all the Beatles’ albums, one per podcast.

Each song is discussed and occasionally they say something like “That one wouldn’t make my top five Beatles songs, or top 10 or top 50”. That got me thinking along the lines of which are my top ten Beatles songs?

So, here they are in no particular order. Now, before we have the usual, “What about...?”, remember these are my selections. No doubt yours are different.

Beatles

Many people put the song, Things We Said Today down near the bottom of their lists. Even Paul, who wrote it, is believed to be embarrassed by it. Quite obviously, I disagree as it’s in the list. It’s from “A Hard Day’s Night”.

♫ Things We Said Today


Beatles

Eleanor Rigby sounds so integrated that you’d expect that it was written by a single person, but all four of them had a hand in writing it. Maybe that’s the reason.

Paul started it and brought it into the studio where they all finished it off. It’s from the album “Revolver”. Paul said that Eleanor was named after Eleanor Bron who was in the film Help! with them. Rigby is from a wine store he noticed one day and Father McKenzie came from the phone book (well, the McKenzie part).

None of The Beatles played an instrument on the recording.

♫ Eleanor Rigby


Beatles

We Can Work It Out was released as a double-A side single. That’s because Paul wrote (most of) it and he, George and Ringo thought it should be the A-side. John had written, and they had recorded, Day Tripper and he thought that should be the A. So, they compromised.

Paul wrote about his long term, but now deteriorating, relationship with Jane Asher. I think Jane should get some royalties, not just for this one, but she inspired several of Paul’s finest songs.

♫ We Can Work It Out


Beatles

For No One is another song Paul wrote about Jane. It’s a great song, but a heartbreaking one. They often make the best songs.

Paul played all of the instruments except for the French horn that George Martin thought would add to it. He was right. The song is from “Revolver”.

♫ For No One


Beatles

It’s best not to listen too closely to the words of Baby’s in Black because if you do, you can go down a couple of different rabbit holes of interpretation. Just listen on the surface is my advice, but even that’s a bit problematic as I’ve found the song to be a real earworm.

It’s from the album “Beatles for Sale”.

♫ Baby's In Black


Beatles

When Bob Dylan recorded the song Fourth Time Around for his “Blonde on Blonde” album, Al Kooper, who played on the song, suggested that John (Lennon) might sue Bob as it’s an obvious pinch of Norwegian Wood.

Bob said that he wouldn’t as he had played the song for John before Norwegian Wood was even thought of. So, it’s a matter of Bob pinching from John or vice versa. The upshot is that John didn’t sue, or even threaten to. The song appeared on “Rubber Soul”.

♫ Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)


Beatles

Many people think that The Ballad of John and Yoko is a John Lennon solo effort. It’s not, it was attributed to The Beatles and sold really well (okay, everything they did sold really well).

It wasn’t on any of their albums though, it came out as a single. It was The Beatles’ final number one single. Only John and Paul played on the record.

I was surprised that Paul played bass as it’s a rather perfunctory effort from probably the best bass player in rock and roll. He also played piano and drums.

♫ The Ballad of John and Yoko


Beatles

The song And I Love Her is another of Paul’s about Jane. This is from early in their relationship so things are going well at this stage. Because of this, Paul is under represented on the album “A Hard Day’s Night”; John wrote most of the songs for that album.

♫ And I Love Her


Beatles

After recording the album “Let It Be”, no one particularly liked the way it sounded. Several people had a go at remastering it without any success. Finally, John took it along to Phil Spector to see what he could do.

Spector added heavenly choirs, orchestral overdubs and all sorts of bells and whistles. No one was satisfied with that but it was released that way as everyone was sick and tired of the whole thing.

About 15 years ago, Paul got the original tapes and remastered the songs stripped back to the way the album was originally intended to be heard. It was released as “Let It Be (Naked)”, and I think it’s much more interesting than the original.

From that version of the album here is Let It Be, as it should be.

♫ Let It Be


Beatles

Paul wrote the song I’ve Just Seen a Face, and it really moves along at a decent clip. The Dillards recorded the song as well on their album “Wheatstraw Suite”, and it’s a rare instance of a cover being better than the original.

However, today is Beatles day. Paul also wrote the next song on the album (“Help!”), but we don’t have that one today (or yesterday either).

♫ I've Just Seen A Face


Beatles

If I were ranking the songs, the next one would have to be put at the very top of the heap. It’s amazing that the song In My Life was written by men in their twenties. It was mostly John’s song, with a little help from Paul.

It certainly gave the album “Rubber Soul” added gravitas.

♫ In My Life


Beatles

On the subject of life, the next (and last) song probably had to be present. If I left it out it’d be like omitting Like a Rolling Stone from a Bob Dylan selection.

From “Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”, here is A Day in the Life, an appropriate note on which to finish as it concluded that album in fine style.

♫ A Day In The Life

Okay, the “top ten” blew out a bit, but I imagine that’d be the same for everyone.




INTERESTING STUFF – 18 May 2019

86 YEAR OLD ACES DRIVING TEST

In Britain, the Institute of Advanced Motorists' test examines a higher level of skills than the standard practical driving exam. Mrs Bradshaw first passed in 1977 but she decided to take it again to prove she still could.

This time, she was just one mark short of a perfect score.

More at the BBC.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS - A CAT AND CHICKS

Nothing else to see except this one still shot – but it makes me smile and maybe you too.

CatandChicks

There are 49 more funny animal photos at Bored Panda.

ALEX TREBEK/PANCREATIC CANCER UPDATE

Alex Trebek said Monday that the opening of the Centre for Geography and Exploration in Ottawa was the culmination of a "fantastic" two weeks, including what he hopes was his last chemotherapy session.

Take a listen.

RESCUING ZOO ANIMALS FROM WAR ZONES

Who takes care of zoo animals when was breaks out? There are people who do that. As the Youtube page explains:

”Imagine being trapped in a cage as active combat rages around you. That’s the terrifying reality for zoo animals living in war zones. Veterinarian Amir Khalil is saving as many as he can. He runs the rapid response unit of the animal rescue organization Four Paws and risks his life rushing into trouble spots around the globe, treating and evacuating shell-shocked, starving and injured animals.”

CO2 HIGHER THAN EVER BEFORE IN HUMAN HISTORY

Reports TechCrunch, among most other news sources,

”The human race has broken another record on its race to ecological collapse. Congratulations humanity!

“For the first time in human history — not recorded history, but since humans have existed on Earth — carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 415 parts per million, reaching 415.26 parts per million...”

CO2highestever

Or, perhaps we could look at this way:

CleanAirCartoon

”The properties of CO2 also mean that it adds to the greenhouse effect in a way that other emissions do not, thanks to its ability to absorb wavelengths of thermal energy that things like water vapor can’t. That’s why increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance causing Earth’s temperature to rise, according to the NOAA.

More at TechCrunch.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT “REAL ID” IS? I DIDN'T

It's important because as of 1 October 2020, you will not be allowed to fly within the United States without a “Real ID” and most people so far do not have the proper kind of ID.

The TSA has answers for a list of commonly asked questions here.

FIRST TOUR INSIDE FIRE-DAMAGED NOTRE DAME IN PARIS

A walk through parts of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

There is more information and more photographs at ABC News.

WASHINGTON BECOMES FIRST STATE TO CREATE LONG-TERM CARE PROGRAM

TGB reader John Gear sent this story about Washington state enacting the first insurance program for long term care.

”All residents will pay 58 cents on every $100 of income into the state’s trust. After state residents have paid into the fund for ten years—three if they experience a catastrophic disabling event—they’ll be able to tap $100 a day up to a lifetime cap of $36,500 when they need help with daily activities such as eating, bathing, or dressing.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill into law last Monday. You can read more at The Nation and The Olympian.

WHY OTTERS HOLD HANDS WHILE FLOATING

Well, the obvious answer is the correct one but you probably figured that out yourself. This is just an excuse to show you some really cute otters.

* * *

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” at the top 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.




Making a Misery of Old Age?

In response to Wednesday's post about MIT's AGNES suit, I was startled to find this email in my inbox:

”I think people make too much misery out of old age. My eyes are dimming and so are my ears, my steps are slow. My breath is short and my nights long. My husband of 62 years died in Jan.

“Nevertheless I see friends daily, go to weekly workshops, write a newspaper column, just went to NYC with friends and visited family in NJ. I see lots of movies and read the NYTimes and a cascade of books. At 86 I don't expect miracles, but for now I'm having a fine time.”

How lucky that you apparently do not have any major impediments to being as active as you want. That is not true for all old people nor do they bring it on themselves, as you appear to imply. According to the U.S. National Council on Aging,

”...about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68 percent have at least two. In our survey, nearly one in two seniors reported living with two or more chronic conditions...

”From making it difficult to perform daily tasks such as walking up steps or bathing, to causing significant physical, emotional, and financial strain, these diseases can take an extensive toll, particularly among seniors. What’s more, without proper care, chronic illness can reduce quality of life, and keep seniors from maintaining the level of independence they desire.”

God knows I've said it often enough here over 15 years but one more time seems necessary: we age at entirely different rates. Sometimes a 50-year-old needs full-time care and other times, a 90-year-old is functioning as well as we expect a healthy 50-year-old to do.

My surprise at reading this email wasn't done. Checking the comments on the blog, I saw that about half a dozen dismissed the AGNES suit out of hand:

”I have a strong negative reaction to these types of suits,” wrote James Cotter. “They suggest that ALL older persons experience all of these decrements at one time. They do not reflect the experience of growing older, especially for those who have maintained decent health and mobility.”

Let's stop right there with “...those who have maintained decent health and mobility.” What about the people who haven't? Does anyone here think it is the patient's fault she was diagnosed with MS at age 31? And no, AGNES does not suggest that all old people suffer exactly the same experiences.

”I think these toys have some utility,” wrote Harold, “but they will not provide insight into what it's like to wake up with these limitations permanently installed and likely to become more pronounced and an awareness that this is the best it's ever going to be.”

First, AGNES is not a toy. For well more than a decade, MIT has used the suit to help people design products and services that help elders engage with the world more easily.

As to understanding that limitations are often permanent, we can't ask people to wear the suit for a week or a month or more. But a day will do it quite well in increasing understanding of elders.

Jeanette wrote, ”...what is missing is their learning that there is an interior life - where we can explore as many different worlds as they do - where we can laugh, make love, watch Mick Jagger on a rope bridge - we can read, listen to music and through the magic of technology.”
”...for real understanding of coping with some of the simulated conditions,” wrote Emma J., “I suspect the value may be minimal. The emotional and psychological aspects of coping with chronic pain, limited mobility, vision and hearing deficiencies, dental problems, poverty without realistic hope of eventual relief can be insidious.”

Oh, I'm not so sure about that, Jeanette and Emma J. No one needs any kind of suit to imagine other worlds, to laugh, make love, etc. Young people do those things every day. And I would bet good money that after even an hour or so in the suit, participants begin to see the difficulties you mention, Emma J. We all come to realize that growing old won't always be easy.

No suit can exactly emulate a human being physically, emotionally or any other way. But for many years, AGNES has been educating people who need or want to know what daily life is like for old people. Let's not throw out that baby with the bath water – the AGNES suit is a good tool that has proved its importance and usefulness in hundreds of ways.

As it happens, just a week ago, The New Yorker published a long, online profile of the director of the MIT AgeLab, Joseph Coughlin, written by the estimable Adam Gopnik who tried out the AGNES suit. I will quote his experience with it:

Slowly pulling on the aging suit and then standing up—it looks a bit like one of the spacesuits that the Russian cosmonauts wore—you’re at first conscious merely of a little extra weight, a little loss of feeling, a small encumbrance or two at the extremities.

“Soon, though, it’s actively infuriating. The suit bends you. It slows you. You come to realize what makes it a powerful instrument of emotional empathy: every small task becomes effortful. 'Reach up to the top shelf and pick up that mug,' Coughlin orders, and doing so requires more attention than you expected.

“You reach for the mug instead of just getting it. Your emotional cast, as focused task piles on focused task, becomes one of annoyance; you acquire the same set-mouthed, unhappy, watchful look you see on certain elderly people on the subway.

“The concentration that each act disrupts the flow of life, which you suddenly become aware is the happiness of life, the ceaseless flow of simple action and responses, choices all made simultaneously and mostly without effort. Happiness is absorption, and absorption is the opposite of willful attention.

“The annoyance, after a half hour or so in the suit, tips over into anger: Damn, what’s wrong with the world? (Never: What’s wrong with me?)

“The suit makes us aware not so much of the physical difficulties of old age, which can be manageable, but of the mental state disconcertingly associated with it—the price of age being perpetual aggravation.

“The theme and action and motive of King Lear suddenly become perfectly clear. You become enraged at your youngest daughter’s reticence because you have had to struggle to unroll the map of your kingdom.”

MIT AgeLab has worked with thousands of volunteers of all ages – including old adults even past age 85 - to participate in research and interactive workshops. And the AGNES suit has helped other thousands create new technologies that help people design products, delivery services and policies that improve the lives of elders.

And here's something else that is useful – recounting the “misery of old age.”

When I began this blog 15 years ago, I was appalled by all the negative writing about old people. Whether academic research, news and magazine stories, movies, TV, novels and more, the prevailing attitude was that getting old is the worst thing that can happen to anyone.

I didn't believe that and then made the rookie mistake of ignoring too much of the downsides of ageing. Looking back at those years, I found a lot of overstatement on my part about how good life is after 60 or 70 or 80 and more.

Geez. Of COURSE, our bodies slow down. Some body parts stop working properly. Others give out. Mysterious aches and pains show up. It's what bodies do. The key in old age is to adapt but that's for another day.

What I've changed here at TGB now since I realized my early mistake in being a bit too rosy about the effects of growing old, is make room on a fairly regular basis to complain and moan and groan and bitch about the irritations of life in the old person lane.

I believe this kind of time is valuable particularly now when we in the oldest generation have lived most of our adult lives in an atmosphere where old age could barely be acknowledged let alone discussed.

But it helps - a lot sometimes - to learn that other people are struggling through the same things you are. It doesn't mean we don't also laugh, read books, go to the movies and whatever else engages us that is still possible. But letting off steam together kind of clears the air.

But no one here is “making a misery of old age.”




What It's Like to Be Old

That headline is not about me nor is it about most of you who are reading this. We're already old and we know quite well what being old is like.

Instead, I'm talking about much younger people, the ones who invent, design and/or market products and services for and to old people. You know, the ones who haven't a clue about what old age is like but who don't let that get in the way of telling old people what's good for them.

Like I once was and was Ceridwen Dovey, a 30-ish novelist and short story writer who tried to create a late-80s-year-old-man (among other elders) from her imagination. As she said later in the New Yorker about her attempt:

”I modeled my characters on the two dominant cultural constructions of old age: the doddering, depressed pensioner and the ageless-in-spirit, quirky oddball.

“After reading the first draft, an editor I respect said to me, 'But what else are they, other than old?'”

This next quotation, longer than the first, is from psychologist Tamara McClintock Greenberg writing in Psychology Today about learning what many elders live with every day.

After being outfitted with earplugs, popcorn kernels for her shoes, gloves to simulate neuropathy and eyeglasses to limit peripheral vision, she tried the “simple” activity of walking no more than a few feet down a hall.

”I thought to myself,” said Dr. Greenberg, “'I can do this.'”

“Then, given a cane, I was asked to walk down the hall. It was maybe 100 feet. I was pretending to be an elder with impaired hearing and vision, bad mobility and numbness in my hands and pain in my feet. I realized that I was not sure that I could actually complete the walk down the hall.

“Suddenly, my class exercise did not feel like a game. I started to panic. From the loss of peripheral vision, I could not see who was standing next to me, and I started to feel suspicious. As I walked, I had a lovely young woman at my side (I was lucky, she is a physical therapist in real life), who could help me if I needed it.

“I did not want help however; I wanted out of my body, which felt trapped, alone, and isolated. Weirdly, even though we were pretending, I felt mad at my companion, who had a body that worked so much better than mine.

“It was at this moment I understood something in a way that I never have before. I thought, I might kill myself if I had to live this way.”

She's not alone in that thought and some elders carry it through to its logical conclusion. Most, however, do not.

As it turns out, those changes that were made to limit Dr. Greenberg's mobility already exist in what the Age Lab at MIT calls its AGNES suit (invented at the Age Lab) that simulates the physical difficulties that come with old age. Here is a short video about what AGNES does:

There is a further explanation on the YouTube page:

”Put on this suit and you feel increased fatigue, reduced flexibility in joints and muscles, spinal compression, and difficulty with vision and balance.

“Altogether, AGNES is more than just a suit. It is a calibrated method developed and constructed by exercise physiologists, engineers, and designers. As demographics shift, we need to fully understand the needs of an aging population to design a future that is accessible and engaging for people of every age.”

The Try Guys are a group of four comedians, actors and filmmakers who, since 2014, have been making videos about – well, anything they are curious about – what it's like to be a mother, changing diapers, making cupcakes, pottery and in today's case, testing the AGNES suit.

Last month, the Age Lab posted several videos about ageing – two of them about the AGNES suit. Here is the first one with the four members of The Try Guys along with the director of the Age Lab, Joseph Coughlin. (Pay attention to him. He knows a lot about what it's like to be old.)

These are long-ish videos. If you are up for more, here is the video of The Try Guys wearing the suits for a full day. The video makes an important point about being old that is rarely mentioned – how hard it is to get through a day of what we called normal activity when we were younger, but no more. It's not easy when you're old.

MIT AgeLab and the AGNES suit have helped many companies design products and services that better and more realistically serve old people's needs.

As I've said many times and Joseph Coughlin says at least once in these videos, anything that improves life for old people does so, too, for people of every age. As just one example, curb cuts work as well for mothers with kids in strollers as they do for adults in wheel chairs and scooters.

We need a lot more of such seemingly “ordinary” innovations; the U.S. Census Bureau tells us that “by 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18.”

Feel free to add anything in the comments that would help not-yet-old people understand what being old is like.

(Even though they've been around online since 2014, I had never heard of The Try Guys before researching this story. They're funny while trying all sorts of things they've never done before and in addition to laughs they leave you, by the end of each episode, with some interesting thoughts, ideas, facts and information you probably didn't know before.)

Here is their YouTube channel.




A TGB READER STORY: Widgie

By Sylvia Li

Dad never saw himself as a storyteller. He was a nuclear physicist, overlaid on a practical hands-on prairie farm boy who knew how to stook wheat and machine his own steel screws.

He didn't much believe in fiction, except when it was literature, which he respected. He wanted truth if he could get it. New truth about the deep nature of the universe thrilled him. Failing that, he didn't mind not knowing the answer to a question.

All the same, when his two adored preschool kids demanded, "Tell us a story, Daddy!" What could he do but try?

He spun us fantastic tales of adventure, making them up on the fly, desperately grasping fragments out of the air from anything he could remember. We were the most enthusiastically receptive audience anyone could hope for. The tiniest of hints painted whole shared worlds.

Widgie? He was a little boy who lived in Carleton Place, right on the edge of town with fields and woods just past his back gate where he could go to play every day. (When I was older I was disappointed to learn that Carleton Place is a real town just outside of Ottawa. What? It isn't a magical realm like the North Pole?)

Widgie stories were the best. Oh, the exciting adventures he had! He picked hazelnuts and wild strawberries. He ran a race across the fields with an old woman on a flying bicycle. And won.

In the woods he found a little house made of salt. There was a huge old tree he loved to climb. High in its branches he met friendly bears, and an elephant with an umbrella, and bees.

One afternoon in late October, Widgie fell asleep leaning against his tree. When he woke it was night. Stumbling around in the dark, he tumbled down a deep hole between two gnarly roots. Luckily he wasn't hurt.

After he dusted himself off, he discovered he was on a staircase leading down to a cave lit by a kerosene lamp. He was surprised to see chairs and tables and cupboards. In one cupboard was a wooden box and in the box there was a fine fur cape, the kind a very rich man would wear. He tried it on, just to see.

Right away, it wrapped around and became his skin. He turned into a wolf!

All night long he ran through the forest meeting ghosts and witches and skeletons. He was not even a little bit scared. After all, he was a wolf with very sharp teeth.

He wasn't scared, but we were. How was Widgie going to get back to being a boy? Dad didn't say. Years later he confessed that he himself didn't know. Maybe that's why I remember it best!

Mum put her foot down, though. Even if it was Halloween, she said, no more scary stories at bedtime.

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["Stook" is a real verb, though almost nobody does it anymore. It means stacking bound sheafs of cut grain by threes to dry in the hot sun before threshing.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]




Skin Hunger and Elders

”Touch is the most primitive of all the senses,” explains a physician writing in Psychology Today two years ago. ”It is the first sense to develop, and is already present from just eight weeks of gestation...

“Compared to children, adults are less dependent on touch, but older adults, who tend to be more alone, more vulnerable, and more self-aware, are likely to need considerably more skin contact than their younger counterparts.

“Therapy animals have become common in care homes, and, despite a lifetime of reservations, residents can be encouraged to hold hands or rub each other’s shoulders.”

Even with all the joy and solace pets can provide, I have my personal doubts about therapy animals - not to be confused with robot animals – but both seem to work for some people.

And a good thing that is because the older we get, the fewer friends we have. Last time I wrote about skin hunger here six years ago, one quotation made that poignantly clear (the source website no longer exists):

“One elderly woman put it this way, 'Sometimes I hunger to be held. But he is the one who would have held me. He is the one who would have stroked my head. Now there is no one. No comfort.'”

I know something about that feeling and I have no doubt some of you do too. You can't get as old as some of us are without our social circles shrinking.

Studies have shown, according to Newsday, that people who are significantly devoid of human contact or who resist or avoid touch, could be at a higher risk for experiencing depression and stress. They are likely to be less happy, more lonely, and in general have worse health...”

Further, according to Newsday,

”Satisfying your skin hunger requires you to have meaningful physical contact with another person. Although many people satisfy their skin hunger through sex, or in fact, confuse the need for touch with the need for sex, skin hunger isn't really a sexual need...

“Neuro-chemically, human touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which is shown to be integral to human bonding and in intimacy. Showing affection physically to those closest to us, from something as simple as a pat on the shoulder or back rub, or a hug establishes trust and communicates a commitment to them, and their well being, as well as to bonding with them.”

There are studies, too, showing that as little as 15 minutes a day of touching usually bring benefits. Further, according to The Atlantic,

Studies that involved as little as 15 daily minutes found that touch alone, even devoid of the other supportive qualities it usually signifies, seems to have myriad benefits...

And from The New Yorker:

“In her New York Times Modern Love essay, writer Michelle Fiordaliso makes the case for unexpected moments of intimacy between strangers. 'Touch solidifies something – an introduction, a salutation, a feeling, empathy,' she writes.”

Evidence has been piling up for years that from cradle to grave, the human touch is a necessity to our wellbeing. Newborns who are not held and cuddled do not thrive. And neither do old people. In one series of studies,

”...one group of elderly participants received regular, conversation-filled social visits while another received social visits that also included massage; the second group saw emotional and cognitive benefits over and above those of the first.”

We are living, in these current times, in a touch-free environment, where touching one another is seen as dangerous.

Maria Konnokova reported in her New Yorker story:

”Recently, the Toronto District School Board warned its employees that 'there is no safe touch when you work with children.' Many of our kids spend most of the day in a touch-free zone.

“We don’t mind getting a massage, but we fear embracing touch wholeheartedly, either because we think it’s dangerous, in the case of young children, or 'touchy-feely,' in the case of adults. We await what Tiffany Field, in 1998, called 'a shift in the social-political attitude toward touch.'”

Why wait? The evidence is strong that touching appears to help keep us healthy. Why not start changing this now?




ELDER MUSIC: Classical Predilections 4

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

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More stuff that has caught my ears in recent times.

GUSTAV HOLST is mainly known these days, probably only known, for The Planets.

Holst

I’ve never been a fan of that suite, but he wrote other stuff that’s more to my liking. One of those is rather amusingly called A Fugal Concerto, for flute, oboe & string orchestra, Op. 40-2, H. 152. Here is the first movement.

♫ Holst - A Fugal Concerto for flute oboe & string orchestra Op. 40-2 H. 152 (1)


ARCANGELO CORELLI was a major figure in Baroque music, much admired by Handel and Bach.

Corelli

He did more than anyone to develop the sonata and concerto forms of music we know today. As was the custom then, others were not above pinching tunes from their contemporaries, and if you listen closely to his Fugue for Four Voices (although no one’s actually singing) you’ll see where Handel got his Hallelujah Chorus.

Bach appropriated this tune as well. Check the original called Fuga a Quattro voci, played by the New Dutch Academy.

♫ Corelli - Fuga a Quattro voci


Coming right up to date, indeed to the present day, we have someone who’s younger than most of us who are reading this: LUDOVICO EINAUDI.

Ludovico Einaudi6

Ludo is an Italian composer, noted mostly for film and TV scores, but he composes “serious” works as well. He’s often lumped into the “minimalist” movement just because people like to label things, but he’s much more than that.

Here he plays his composition Bella Notte (beautiful night).

Ludovico Einaudi - Bella Notte


J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most famous, and loved, pieces of music of all time. However, old Johann wasn’t the only one who used this topic. Indeed, he wasn’t even the first.

Before him (and I can’t say if he was the first, I imagine that he wasn’t) was RICHARD DAVY. Old Rich didn’t stand still long enough to have his photo taken. He was an English composer in the 15th century and his works were compiled in the Eton Choirbook (along with others from the time).

The book is a collection of motets and magnificats devoted to the cult of Mary, a tradition that was pretty much obliterated by the Reformation. Fortunately, his music survived.

This is the eleventh and final movement, “Ah Gentle Jesu”, of his St Matthew Passion.

♫ Davy - Ah Gentle Jesu


ANTON WRANITZKY (or Antonin Vranicky) was a Czech composer and violinist.

Wranitzky

He followed his big brother Paul to Vienna, where he became a pupil of both Mozart and Haydn - talk about learning from the best. He later became friends with Beethoven – now there’s an accomplishment.

He was well regarded in his day for his compositions, particularly his violin concertos, one of which we have today. The third movement of his Violin Concerto in C Major. Op. 11.

♫ Wranitzky A - Violin Concerto in C Major. Op. 11 (3)


DOMINENICO ZIPOLI was an Italian Baroque composer.

Zipoli

Somehow or other he got to Spain where he joined the Jesuits as he wanted to go to South America to teach the indigenous peoples about music (and God and stuff, I suppose).

He did just that ending up in what’s now Argentina, where he served as musical director at one of the churches. Alas, some sort of disease struck him down; details of his life are a bit sketchy.

He wrote a bunch of really nice Suites and Partitas, presumably for the harpsichord, but today played on a piano: Suite No. 1 in B Minor, the fourth movement.

♫ Zipoli - Suite No. 1 in B Minor (4)


I always like to include a string quartet in these columns, but this one is a little different. Instead of the usual line up of instruments, two violins, a viola and a cello, everyone took a step to the right and took up two violas, a cello and a double bass.

I really like the way this sounds. The person responsible for this was GEORG WAGENSEIL.

Wagenseil

Although virtually unknown these days, Georg was quite famous in his day – both Haydn and Mozart took note of what he was doing. What he was doing this day was writing what he called the Sonata VI in G, the second movement. Really, it’s a string quartet before the term had been invented.

♫ Wagenseil - Sonata VI in G (2)


I used not to like GIOACHINO ROSSINI very much but my radio station kept playing him over the years and I gradually became a fan.

Rossini

He wrote one of the most famous arias in opera, Largo al factotum della citta, from “The Barber of Seville”. I’m sure most of you will recognize it when you hear it. Simon Keenlyside sings it.

♫ Rossini - Largo al factotum della citta


FELIX MENDELSSOHN wrote his “Songs Without Words” for a solo piano, and, of course, no singer was in evidence.

Mendelssohn

Naturally, through the years people have tinkered with these. In the case today we have a cello (played by Steven Isserlis) join the piano (played by Melvyn Tan). This is the one D Major, Op. 109.

♫ Mendelssohn - Song Without Words for Cello and Piano in D Major Op. 109


LOUIS SPOHR wrote music for the clarinet that was nearly as good as Mozart’s. Nearly, but that means it was very good indeed.

Spohr

His first concert tour (playing violin) was when he was only 15, and during that he wrote his first violin concerto. Later on he used to play with Beethoven, and complained that Beethoven’s piano was out of tune. Perhaps Ludwig didn’t know (that’s a joke, not a very good one).

Anyway, he wrote a whole bunch of stuff, the usual compositions, including the Clarinet Concerto No.4 in E minor WoO 20. This is the third movement.

♫ Spohr - Clarinet Concerto No.4 in E minor WoO 20 (3)