For an Aging Brain, Looking for Ways to Keep Memory Sharp

Paul Rogers - NYT

Paul Rogers – NYT

By Jane E. Brody
May 11, 2015 —The New York Times Well Blog

With people worldwide living longer, marketers are seizing on every opportunity to sell remedies and devices that they claim can enhance memory and other cognitive functions and perhaps stave off dementia as people age.

Among them are “all-natural” herbal supplements like Luminene, with ingredients that include the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid, the purported brain stimulant ginkgo biloba, and huperzine A, said to increase levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; brain-training games on computers and smartphones; and all manner of puzzles, including crosswords, sudoku and jigsaw, that give the brain a workout, albeit a sedentary one.

Unfortunately, few such potions and gizmos have been proven to have a meaningful, sustainable benefit beyond lining the pockets of their sellers. Before you invest in them, you’d be wise to look for well-designed, placebo-controlled studies that attest to their ability to promote a youthful memory and other cognitive functions.

Even the widely acclaimed value of doing crossword puzzles has been called into question, beyond its unmistakable benefit to one’s font of miscellaneous knowledge. Although there is some evidence that doing crosswords may help to delay memory decline, Molly Wagster, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, said they are best done for personal pleasure, not brain health. “People who have done puzzles all their lives have no particular cognitive advantage over anyone else,” she said.

Read the full article in The New York Times

PNA Swoosh

Advertisements

Seeking a ‘Beautiful Death’

Ken Orvidas (NYT)

Ken Orvidas for NYT

By Jane E. Brody
The New York Times Well Blog—February 9, 2015

Virgie Divinigracia had the kind of death last month that most Americans say they want: at home, relieved of physical and mental pain, surrounded by those she loved, “a beautiful death” as those present described it. Alas, this is true for too few Americans. Most still die in costly medical facilities tethered to machines, often unable to communicate, in a futile attempt to prolong their lives.

Dr. Angelo E. Volandes, the author of an enlightening new book, “The Conversation,” said that although Americans received some of the best health care money could buy, “they also experience some of the worst deaths in the developed world,” mainly because people failed to articulate what they wished for at the end of life, and doctors failed “to recognize that fixing specific problems may not fix the whole patient.”

Mrs. Divinigracia’s experience is illustrative. At 88 and in need of full-time care after 10 years with Alzheimer’s disease, she developed acute kidney failure. Her doctor suggested dialysis.

But after a clearheaded review of her prospects, her devoted husband and primary caregiver, Paul, and their son and daughter acknowledged that, had she been able to say so, she would not have chosen aggressive medical treatment that would only further diminish the quality of her remaining days.

And so she lived to have an 89th birthday celebration with her family before deteriorating health prompted a call to hospice for help.

Read the full post here.

PNA Swoosh

The Tyranny of Safety

YOUNG, OLD. NO ONE ESCAPES THE TYRANNY OF SAFETY. Image: Greg Hollobaugh

YOUNG, OLD. NO ONE ESCAPES THE TYRANNY OF SAFETY. Image: Greg Hollobaugh

By Anthony B. Robinson
Crosscut.com — February 3, 2015

In the era of school shootings and terrorism it is understandable that safety has become a priority. But has it also become an obsession?

Are we so focused on “safety” that we overlook the downsides, or at least the other side, of this priority? In her provocative book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit notes, “A recent article about the return of wildlife to suburbia described the snow-covered yards in which the footprints of animals are abundant and those of children entirely absent.

But it is not only the young that lose out when safety becomes an unquestioned norm. It is also the old.

“As far as the animals are concerned,” Solnit continues, “the suburbs are an abandoned landscape, and so they roam with confidence. Children seldom roam, even in the safest places. Because of their parents’ fear of the monstrous things that might happen (and do happen, but rarely), the wonderful things that happen as a matter of course are stripped away from them . . . I wonder what will come of placing this generation under house arrest.”

Others have also commented on the constrictions of so-called helicopter parenting and the over-scheduled child. A concern for safety is at least part of what has eroded the opportunities for children to roam the neighborhood and have the unstructured time to do so.

But it is not only the young that lose out when safety becomes an unquestioned norm. It is also the old.

In the new book of physician-author Atul Gawande, Being Mortal, Gawande describes what has happened as safety becomes the be-all and end-all as people age and encounter the trials of sickness and mortality. Safety, concludes Gawande, is not the same thing as meaning.

Continue reading here.

PNA Swoosh

The House II

By Marilyn Zuckerman

Zuckerman home deck (courtesy Louise S. Wright Design)

(Photo courtesy Louise S. Wright)

Deck Afternoon

Hello Louise,
I’ve been sitting
on your beautiful deck
imagining I am
on the deck of a steamer
although I am listening as well
to the pileated woodpecker
ratatatting away
a few blocks below me
(unless it was a neighbor
driving nails)
but, no it had that intermittent
woodpecker tattoo.
So thank you.
M

Pileated woodpecker

The deck for me is the star of the show for one who can no longer travel. It is my ship reaching out to the Sound and to the mountains and to go on sea voyages. So I’m almost surprised not to feel the swell, not to get seasick.

When one is of ripe old age, it is easy to imagine many things as one watches the sea and the earth with its billions of years – earthquakes, mudslides, floods and death that old trickster lurking.

My Ship

Sitting alone
on the deck in the dark
in a steamer chair
counting airplanes and Christmas lights
instead of stars
watching the storm break
breathing fresh air
staring at the Sound
for this is what I came for

I said I wanted a deck to see the world from, a balcony of cables so slender you could forget they were there. I said I wanted something spacious, I wanted sun and shade and now here’s the railing burnished red, there the fragile cords fine as threads. Now someone as restless as me is calmed by the scene before me – the sea, the trees tumbling to the ground, the wild wind singing.

Crows: An Anthropomorphic Poem

Crow on a Branch by Kawanabe Kyosai (1831–1889)

What do two crows say to each other
sitting on a wire above the deck
staring as I am at the sunlit waters of Puget Sound
They are:
talking
courting
smooching
grooming
sometimes posing in haughty indignation
beaks at dueling position
a high wire act
as one sidles over in sad supplication

She: seductively
maybe we can stop tormenting eagles
and settle down
spend more time together
He: sleepily
we’ll see
though he has clearly
begun to feel
the lure of a quiet life

when one flies off
the other follows in hot pursuit

·    ·    ·

Dedicated to Louise Wright who designed not only the deck, but so much of the house.

These poems form the second installment in an ongoing sequence about the construction of my home—read the first here.

 http://marilynzuckermanpoet.com

PNA Swoosh

How Americans’ refusal to talk about death hurts the elderly

the conversation about death is really about autonomy (via Vox)

By Sarah Kliff
Vox—January 11, 2015

In my family, we don’t really talk about death. But, every now and then, we joke about it.

For some reason, there is a running joke among my immediate family about how my parents will die. Specifically, my brother and I will come home for Thanksgiving one year and find them decomposing on the couch.

…these conversations could be the starting point for a health-care system that cares just as well for patients who will heal as those who will not

Yes, this is a bizarre thing to crack jokes about. But it’s also, in its own, ghoulish way, a bit of a fantasy — an affront to the way that Americans tend to die in the 21st century, with ticking machines and tubes and round-the-clock care. In this joke, my parents’ death is a simple, quiet, and uncomplicated death at home.

I joke about death because I am as terrified of having serious end-of-life conversations as the next person. Usually I don’t have to think much about dying: my job as a health-care reporter means writing about the massive part of our country devoted to saving lives — how the hospitals, doctors, and drugs that consume 18 percent of our economy all work together, every day, to patch up millions of bodies.

But recently, the most interesting stories in health care have been about death: the situations where all the hospitals, doctors, and drugs in the world cannot halt the inevitable.

Read the full article here

Confronting the Inevitable, Graphically

A full-page panel from Roz Chast’s new memoir, featuring “cautionary” tales from her childhood. Credit Roz Chast

A full-page panel from Roz Chast’s new memoir, featuring “cautionary” tales from her childhood. (Illustration by Roz Chast)

Review by Michiko Kakutani
May 5, 2014—The New York Times

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

#1 New York Times Bestseller / 2014 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A Memoir
By Roz Chast
(Bloomsbury, 2014)

Roz Chast feels — and draws — our pain. Our neurotic worries and genuine fears, our mundane and existential anxieties, our daydreams, nightmares, insecurities and guilty regrets. Or, rather, she does such a funny, fluent job in her New Yorker cartoons of conveying the things that keep her up at night that many readers are convinced that she is somehow mapping their own inner lives.

It hasn’t been hard to discern the autobiographical impulse in Ms. Chast’s work. Though her earliest cartoons tended to be more conceptual, many of the later ones in her “selected, collected, & health-inspected” anthology “Theories of Everything” (2006) are clearly informed by her experiences as a daughter, wife and mother.

Her account is…by turns grim and absurd, deeply poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.

In her latest book, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?,” Ms. Chast tackles the subject of her parents, writing with a new depth and amplitude of emotion. Her account of growing up with them in Brooklyn as an only child and her efforts, decades later, to help them navigate the jagged shoals of old age and ill health, is by turns grim and absurd, deeply poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. Her fondness for the exclamatory (expressed in capital letters, underlined words and multiple exclamation points) is cranked up several notches here, and her familiar, scribbly people go from looking merely frazzled and put-upon to looking like the shrieking figure in Munch’s “The Scream” — panicked and terrified as they see the abyss of loss and mortality looming just up the road.

Read the full review

_________________________________

Find this book!

Seattle Public Library: http://seattle.bibliocommons.com/item/show/2974415030_cant_we_talk_about_something_more_pleasant

IndieBound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781608198061

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18594409-can-t-we-talk-about-something-more-pleasant?from_search=true

PNA Swoosh

10 Great Frances McDormand Quotes on Aging

The ‘Olive Kitteridge’ star on plastic surgery and becoming an ‘elderess’

Photo © 2014 Ernesto Ruscio  - Frances McDormand at "Olive Kitteridge" event

Photo © 2014 Ernesto Ruscio – Frances McDormand at “Olive Kitteridge” event

By Sue Campbell
November 12, 2014 (Reblogged from NextAvenue.org)

After a 10-year absence from giving interviews, actress Frances McDormand, 57, is back, and I couldn’t be happier.

The Academy- and Emmy-award winner’s latest role is Olive Kitteridge, in a four-part HBO mini-series with that name based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Elizabeth Strout. It premiered Nov. 2 and concluded Nov. 3.

McDormand has said what drew her in — she produces and acts — was the character’s complexity and the chance to explore it over time. The story begins when Olive, a stoic, depressive New Englander, is 45. It follows her for 25 years through life’s losses, lessons and joys.

While she has given interviews for the series, McDormand has spoken frequently on aging. What she’s said has been provocative, straightforward and spot-on. Here, culled from media reports, are 10 of her most incisive quotes:

On why our species is in trouble: “There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.” — The New York Times 

On showing the power that comes with age: “One of the reasons that I am doing press again after 10 years’ absence is because I feel like I need to represent publicly what I’ve chosen to represent privately — which is a woman who is proud and more powerful than I was when I was younger. And I think that I carry that pride and power on my face and in my body.” — National Public Radio

On ageism as a cultural problem: “I want to be a role model for not only younger men and women — and not just in my profession, I’m not talking about my profession. I think that cosmetic enhancements in my profession are just an occupational hazard. But I think, more culturally, I’m interested in starting the conversation about aging gracefully and how, instead of making it a cultural problem, we make it individuals’ problems. I think that ageism is a cultural illness; it’s not a personal illness. — National Public Radio

On the physical difficulties of aging: “Getting older and adjusting to all the things that biologically happen to you is not easy to do, and is a constant struggle and adjustment. — National Public Radio

On her reaction to plastic surgery: “I have not mutated myself in any way. Joel (Coen, her director husband) and I have this conversation a lot. He literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who’ve had work. I’m so full of fear and rage about what they’ve done.” — The New York Times

On why her face gives her an advantage: “I’ve got a rubber face. It has always served me very well and really helps, especially as I get older, because I still have all my road map intact, and I can use it at will.” — Reuters

On what looking old signals: “You are someone who, beneath that white hair, has a card catalog of valuable information.” — The New York Times 

On how home life experience can transfer: “I think that many of my skill sets from being a housewife I used for producing. Because you don’t stop until it’s done.” — The Los Angeles Times

On how she came to be a producer: “With Olive, I realized that I’m a filmmaker — not just an actor. I’ve absorbed a lot over the last 30 years working with a lot of extraordinary filmmakers, and I put that all into play when making Olive Kitteridge.” — The Daily Beast

On how she wants to be treated: “I want to be revered. I want to be an elder; I want to be an elderess. I have some things to talk about and say and help. And, if I can’t, then — not unlike Olive — I don’t feel necessary.” — National Public Radio

PNA Swoosh

Retirees Turn to Virtual Villages for Mutual Support

Some members of the Capital City Village watching a movie in Austin.  Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

By Constance Gustke
The New York TimesNovember 28, 2014

RICK CLOUD, 68, knew that he wanted to stay in his home in Austin, Tex., as he aged. But Mr. Cloud, who is divorced, was not sure how he could do that without relying on his two daughters.

Then he ran across the idea of virtual retirement villages, whose members pay a yearly fee to gain access to resources and social connections that help them age in place. Sold on the concept, Mr. Cloud joined with some friends to start Capital City Village four years ago.

“Our virtual village can connect me with people my own age so I can do more things,” said Mr. Cloud, a retired technology consultant. “I worry about being single and getting older.”

Now, Mr. Cloud has all the support he needs. He can tap into Capital City Village’s network of more than 100 service companies referred by members. Dozens of volunteers will walk his dog or do yard work. When he wants to meet people, Mr. Cloud can attend house concerts in a member’s home, go to happy hour at the local Mexican restaurant or hear a champion storyteller give a talk. He has also made over 40 village friends.

Read the full article here

PNA Swoosh

Author Richard Ford Says ‘Let Me Be Frank’ About Aging And Dying

Mike Groll | AP

A house on the central Jersey Shore coast collapsed after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. Richard Ford said he focused on houses in the wake of the storm in his new book, “Let Me Be Frank With You”, because they have an “almost iconic status.” “A house is where you look out the window and see the world,” he says.  ( Mike Groll | AP )

By Teri Gross — “Fresh Air” | NPR
November 12, 2014

Let Me Be Frank With YouWhen Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford was a young man, he says, he had a cynical view of aging.

“I sort of went through life thinking that when you got to be in your 60s that basically you weren’t good for much,” Ford tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “That’s a younger man’s view. I know that the AARP phones are ringing when I say that, but now I’m 70 and I don’t think that anymore, OK?”

Not only is Ford older, but the character he’s been writing about for years has aged, too. Frank Bascombe, whom Ford wrote about in The Sportswriter and Independence Day, is now 68.

Ford’s latest book, Let Me Be Frank With You, is a series of four interconnected novellas about Bascombe, who is retired from his work as a real estate broker. It’s 2012, just before Christmas, and just a few weeks after Superstorm Sandy destroyed parts of the Jersey Shore near where Frank lives.

Ford says for this book, he had to bring Frank “up to date” to make him a plausible character.

In the stories, Frank is dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, his aging body, a dying friend and his ex-wife, who has Parkinson’s and has moved to a nearby assisted living facility.

“I really got interested in the consequences of the hurricane, and I got interested in having Frank be my instrumental narrator in assessing those consequences,” Ford says. “So once I figured out how old he would be, then I had to sort of fill in the absences there that weren’t taken care of in the other books. In other words, I kind of backed into it being about aging because he happened to be that age.”

In the stories, Frank is dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, his aging body, a dying friend and his ex-wife, who has Parkinson’s and has moved to a nearby assisted living facility.

“I think these things are surrounding us all the time,” Ford says. “We don’t have experiences to get over [them]; we have experiences so we can sort of deal with them and address them and have, in some ways, some stability towards them.”

Listen to this story on NPR, read transcript, or view interview highlights 

Read excerpt of Let Me Be Frank With You

_________________________________

Find this book!

Seattle Public Library: http://seattle.bibliocommons.com/item/show/3009936030_let_me_be_frank_with_you

IndieBound:  http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780061692062?aff=NPR

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20828358-let-me-be-frank-with-you?from_search=true

PNA Swoosh

What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?

Photo illustrations by Zachary Scott for The New York Times

Photo illustrations by Zachary Scott for The New York Times

By Bruce Grierson
Oct. 22, 2014—The New York Times Magazine

One day in the fall of 1981, eight men in their 70s stepped out of a van in front of a converted monastery in New Hampshire. They shuffled forward, a few of them arthritically stooped, a couple with canes. Then they passed through the door and entered a time warp. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan welcomed guests on a black-and-white TV. Everything inside — including the books on the shelves and the magazines lying around — were designed to conjure 1959. This was to be the men’s home for five days as they participated in a radical experiment, cooked up by a young psychologist named Ellen Langer.

Click here for full article

PNA Swoosh