SURPRISE!!!

Broken Chair

Last week, one of my tennis partners and I found ourselves in a heart to heart talk about aging. Her husband recently had a stroke and can’t speak. She is his fulltime caregiver. “There are so many years behind me,” she said sadly, “and so much fewer ahead.”  So true.

 A few days later, a friend confided, “Aging is hard. I never knew it would be this hard. Sometimes I wonder if I have the strength for it.” She just got out of the hospital after what she thought was a routine bronchitis, which she’d had before. This time, she couldn’t shake it alone.

 Another emailed after taking a cruise to say that he had, “really wanted to hike through Europe” but feared his legs might not hold him up. Instead, he “saw it mostly through my cabin window.” Still another told me that she is, “terrified of falling.   I’ve put night-lights every six feet in my house. If I fall again, I’m dead. That’s it.” She recently had a hip replaced and the recovery took almost a year.

 I could chalk my friends off as being ‘alarmists’ or ‘overly pessimistic,’ but they echo my own sentiments. I, too, have set myself a daily routine to maximize safety and minimize stress. I swim, but only so far, so as not to overtax my shoulders. I walk, but avoid hills, so as not to overstress my knees. I eat healthy, nap, meditate, do mild yoga, read enlightening books and practice music daily to keep my synapses sharp.

 However, all of this moderation only carries one so far. There is no accounting for the surprises that life can throw your way. This afternoon, I made a salad and went outside to enjoy it in the sunshine. As I sat down on the chair, the seat underneath me gave way. Not only did I jolt my joints but my lovely salad spread itself all over the pavement.

 Apparently, there’s good reason for all of us to take extra precautions. Right now, the accidental death rate is up 12% in the US. Why? Falls among the elderly and drug overdoses. Shakespeare, describing impending death in Hamlet said this: “And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” For now, I’ve decided to appreciate those ‘shocks.’ It means that I’m still here to tell you about them.  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Advertisements

MIRROR, MIRROR!

mirror mirror

While Christmas shopping, I stopped into Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up a larger oven mitt for my husband. Lately, he’s been cooking up a storm and mine is much too small for his hands. While there, I noticed a woman my age staring at herself in the above mirror. Now I don’t know about you but the last thing I want for Christmas is a $200 mirror that lights up AND magnifies my face up to 5 times its’ size!

 But apparently this woman did. Her husband, however, was not such an easy sell. He was astounded by the price tag and kept staring hard into the mirror, as if trying to figure out just what the heck she saw in that thing. Maybe it was like the magic mirror in Snow White and was telling her that she was the, ‘fairest of all,’ but somehow I didn’t think so.

 At one point, he even raised his voice and said, “Jesus, Lorraine. No one should have to spend that kind of money just to look at their own face. You already know what it looks like by now. Besides, it’s beautiful to me. That’s all that matters.” I was impressed by the way he finessed his way out of that one, cuz moments later, they both left happy.

 As soon as they did, I hustled over and stared hard into that mirror. Fortunately, I wasn’t wearing my glasses, for even without the lights on, it was a startling sight. My face was about the size of a cantaloupe, my pores looked like the surface of the moon after multiple Apollo landings and my nose clearly resembled the big dipper. Yikes!!

 This afternoon my husband came home from the ophthalmologist who just prescribed him, ‘blue light blocking’ glasses to wear when driving at night. Apparently, removing this band from the visible spectrum enables us to see better in the dark and also protects our eyes. Gosh, if they can do that, surely they can make those, ‘rose colored’ glasses for real, right? Until then, I shall muddle along happily seeing through my ‘glass darkly,’ without spending one, single, solitary cent.   

 

 

DANCING IN THE DARK?

hiking w: Herb

An older friend of mine recently asked me to hike with him. He said it would be easy on my knees and I’d love the view so I said, ‘Sure.’ He arrived with his walking stick, water bottle and a grand sense of confidence. As I looked up at the trail he had chosen for us, I remarked, “Gosh! This looks pretty steep!” “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “It’s really easy. I’ve done this hike many, many times.”

 What he had forgotten was that he had not done this particular hike in more than 15 years. For less than 5 minutes later, after slipping on gravel and struggling to get our footholds, we both had to turn around. It was hard for him to give up and I could see the disappointment in his face. In his mind, this exact hike had once been truly easy for him.

 Funny how we remember things, isn’t it? Science says that our memories are often faint and altered recollections of what actually transpired. They have now discovered that each time we recall one, it actually takes on a slightly, different tenor. A recent article in Science Digest says, “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.” We have 86 billion neurons in our brains to keep them humming and yet? Apparently that’s not enough to keep our memories both exact and intact.

 Not long ago I said to my husband: “Remember when we used to go dancing?” His reply? “Honey, we only danced when we were dating, not once we got married. I think you’re confused.” I was dumbfounded. Apparently, dancing with him was SO memorable that 37 years has not extinguished my memory of it. Then again, his memory may not be accurate and maybe we’ve been dancing all along.

 

 

REALITY CHECK

 

ssa

This is where I found myself last week, registering for Medicare. Yes, that program for OLD people; the one my grandmother was on for as long as I can remember. The whole process felt like a dream that someone—anyone–else should be doing but me. And yet? Here is where I find myself: almost 65. It’s not that I don’t own the years. I just can’t quite come to grips with the fact that now they own me.

 If you look at the statistics—and I do—they are sobering: 63% of folks over 65 are in need of long-term care. The probability of my becoming disabled or cognitively impaired is 68%. Finally there is this: 69% of us will develop disabilities before we die and 35% of us will enter a nursing home! ‘Not me,’ I can hear you saying. Well, I’m saying it, too, but talk is cheap.

 It’s hard enough to face one’s own mortality without having to sign on the dotted line about it. I also have to, “Choose a plan from A to N.” What that really means is: do I pick the Pollyanna plan which says that I’m healthy, will live forever and nothing bad will ever happen to me? Or, do I pick the plan that has me covered if I break every bone in my body, contract cancer and have only 6 weeks to live?

 In times like these, I often refer to the wisdom of noted neurologist and philosopher, Viktor Frankl, who wrote, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is a book that I read in my youth and one which speaks to me still.       

 “The pessimist observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. The optimist removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it carefully away. He reflects with pride and joy on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What does it matter to him that he is growing old? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.”

 Ah, clearly I should face this new reality with the spirit of possibility and carry on.   N’est-ce-pas?

. . .A GRAIN OF SALT.

saltHere are some contradictory tidbits that I’ve been ‘digesting’ from recent news:

  1. Practicing yoga increases cortical brain thickness in the region responsible for executive function and induces a sense of peace in the practitioner. Yoga causes as many injuries as other sports, including “drop foot.”
  2. Salt is important for maintaining normal blood pressure and iodine levels. Salt intake causes water retention, high blood pressure and may be iodine-poor.
  3. Spinach contains iron and lutein, known to prevent cataracts and glaucoma. Spinach has oxalic acid, which can bind with calcium and cause kidney stones.
  4. Eggs contain all 9 essential amino acids that we can’t produce on our own and high levels of choline, vital for nerve and muscle function. Eggs are high in cholesterol and increase the level of TMAO (TriMethylamine N-Oxide) in our system, which can lead to cardiac and diabetic issues.
  5. Massage is good for draining the lymphatic system, un-tensing tight muscles and creates an internal feeling of well-being. Massage can be detrimental, leading to overtaxed kidneys, nerve damage and muscle and joint pain.
  6. Vegetarianism is healthy for your body and easier on the planet.  Eating meat provides necessary protein that is difficult to get on a vegetarian diet. Vegans may have a 42% less risk of heart disease, and lower blood pressure.  However, a vegan diet is deficient in B12, iron, calcium, zinc, folate and Omega-3’s.
  7. Eating gluten is deadly for the digestive system and causes allergies, mental disorders and a host of intestinal issues. However, processed gluten-free foods, because they are lower in fiber, can often be higher in fat, sugar and calories, which leads to weight gain, poor digestion and other health issues.  
  8. Drinking coffee helps protect you from Type 2-diabetes, improves cognitive function and decreases depression. Coffee may cause insomnia, restlessness and raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) levels depending on the type and brew.  
  9. Red wine has high levels of resveratrol and antioxidants, which raise HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce cognitive decline, coronary artery disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. Red wine can raise blood pressure, hamper muscle healing and increase the risk of breast cancer.
  10. A high fat diet leads to obesity, diabetes, heart attack and premature death. A high fat diet, containing ‘good’ fats, (avocado, nuts, fish and lean meats) is essential for the brain, as it needs cholesterol to function efficiently and regulate hormones.

 So, take what you read with a grain of salt. (Just don’t ask me which salt.) Like the Greek poet, Hesiod, suggested in 700 BC, I plan to use, “moderation in all things.” Seems to me that folks were a whole lot wiser before they got too Google-educated.  

DON’T NUKE…..CUKE!!!

cucumber

If you think that today’s 20-something is, “irresponsible” and “doesn’t consider the future,” get this: People over 50, and there are 76 million of us, don’t either. In a recent survey, fully ¾ of us said that we have profound worries about aging. Our top two concerns are, “losing our independence,” and “being a burden” to our family. The participants were then asked which on a list of 10 things they would be willing to put into place to address those concerns.

Here is the list:

  1.  Have family or friend move in with them.
  2. Move in with children, other family members or a friend.
  3. Rely on your spouse, family member or a friend for care.
  4. Attend an adult day care facility.
  5. Hire an in-home aide or agency for care.
  6. Hire a live-in caregiver.
  7. Move into an assisted living facility.
  8. Move into a nursing home.
  9. Make modifications to your home.
  10. Use the value in your home (your equity) to pay for care.

Dare I tell you how many of us seriously considered those options let alone said we’d be willing to put them in place?  About 20%.  Stanford professor, Douglas Bernheim, recently did a study called, “The Baby Boomer Retirement Index,” with Merrill Lynch. He discovered that only about 1/3 of Baby Boomers have saved enough money for their retirement years. This, despite the fact that most of us feel we, “will maintain our same standard of living in our later years.” Are we victims of, “magical thinking?”

Quite frankly, I have friends who have planned out their funerals better than they have their aging futures. Which brings me to the cucumber. Did you know that sniffing the scent of one can relieve anxiety? Indeed, a recent study put claustrophobics in an elevator reeking of cucumbers and their symptoms were relieved! Dr. Alan Hirsch, renowned for his work with various odors declares that he can even cure migraines with the scent of green apples.

So don’t worry about the future. When we all get too old to take care of ourselves and run out of money or find ourselves in long-term care cubicles, just spray our rooms with cucumber and we’ll be happy campers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHATEVER

I

american-flag

It is almost unbelievable for me to imagine that my own daughters, who will be voting this year, actually have a woman to consider as candidate for President. When I was their age, the idea that a woman would ever be elected to that office was inconceivable. I was raised believing that a ‘good’ profession for a girl would likely be a teacher or a nurse—certainly nothing much higher. Women at the time weren’t even doctors or lawyers, let alone Presidents. Title 9 had not yet taken effect, so my high school had only, one softball team for girls!  Your only other choice was to be a cheerleader.

 Oh, how things change. But it isn’t just the rising of the glass ceiling. Change is everywhere and not just in technology. As a teen I thought ‘gay’ simply meant, ‘happy.’ I was oblivious to the idea of homosexuality. It simply didn’t register. A boy in our high school, whom I rather liked and thought was sweet, was often teased by the other boys. I never understood why. Years later, I would learn that he killed himself because he could not take the persecution from others for being homosexual.

 But those days are gone as clearly as the recent presidential race shows. Frankly, I’ve not watched the TV or followed the polls. After that first debate, I had enough. Why? I’ve lived long enough to know that it doesn’t really matter who becomes President. What matters are all of us underlings holding up the flag. What matters is who WE are. We rose above Vietnam. We rose above the World Trade Center and we will rise above whoever walks into the Oval Office tomorrow.

 God bless America….and God bless the people who make her great.