YOU CAN COUNT ON IT!!!

TENNIS

Did you know that out of the 5 million people who have Alzheimer’s right now, 3.2 million of them are women? By the age of 65, 1 in 6 women will get Alzheimer’s compared to 1 in 11 men. In fact, women over 65 are twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s as they are breast cancer. Does this give you pause?

 Now I’ve got to tell you, that’s weird. Why? Because when you look at the checklist of what to do to NOT get Alzheimer’s, the number one thing science says it to, “make friends & create social connections.” And guess what? Women do that WAY better than men! In spades!

 So what gives? Apparently, if you have the APO-E4 gene, which is linked to Alzheimer’s, and you’re a woman, you are very likely to succumb to the disease. If you’re a man? Not so much. There is some research that says it’s because women live longer and that estrogen loss contributes to the buildup of amyloid plaques, but really? The jury is out.

 So here’s my take: if you’re a woman, make friends and lots of them. I consider myself super fortunate because I do have friends, lots of them, from Australia to Arizona. I have a zillion more friends than my husband and considering the statistics, maybe that’s a good thing. My friends come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Even better, the ones I know that I can count on would be totally cool if I started talking to plastic tumblers. In fact, they would talk to them, too, just so I don’t feel so alone. Now, that’s a real friend.

So, in case you are looking for one yourself, here is a checklist:

1.  They accept you “as is” but they don’t let you get away with BS.

2.  They are ‘empathetic’—not ‘sympathetic.’ 

 3.  They encourage you to be your BEST self and kick your butt if you’re not.     

 4.  They listen and listen and then some.

  5.  They are ‘there’ for you even if you haven’t seem them for 40 years.

 In the pictures above and below, you will see some of my tennis girlfriends. I love them. I can count on them and know what else? They can count on me.

 tennis friends 1

 

 

 

 

UPSIDE DOWN

handstand

 Well go figure. Apparently I have been doing something good for my body and brain for the last 40 years and I didn’t even know it!! I guess you could say it started in my 20’s and I just sort of kept it up.  I do it at home and always when I’m travelling. You name it. Anywhere I find the space, I  simply just do it. Like how it feels. Love how it gives me a different perspective on things.

I’ve done it in SO many hotel rooms your head would spin.  I’ve done it in public, in private, under bright lights, in pitch dark, against fences, bathroom doors in shopping malls and smack on the beach in broad daylight.  What am I talking about??  You guessed it:  handstands.

Now, science says that what I have been doing several times a day for all these years has 5 beneficial results:

  1. Builds core strength.
  2. Makes the upper body strong.
  3. Increases balance
  4. Helps with bone health, circulation & breathing
  5. BOOSTS YOUR MOOD!!

Here’s the crazy thing: anyone can do them. It just takes a little practice, a little confidence and a nice strong wall to fly up against. Place your hands about a shoulder’s width apart; aim them about 12 inches from a nice, sturdy wall…and GO FOR IT. The worst that could happen is you chicken out half way up and come back down.

One word of caution: in the thousands and thousands of handstands I have done over the years, only once did I have a disastrous result. As I recall, I was staying in a rundown Motel 6 and there was no room to do one. So, I closed the bathroom door and did a handstand against it. Well, the door didn’t latch tightly.  So as my feet landed on it, I had the lovely sensation of going all the way over and both feet landed smack in the toilet. Thank God I was only 20 at the time.

Give it a try….it just might change your mood AND perspective on things. 🙂

P. S.  Yes, this was me this afternoon at the YMCA.

BASS ACKWARDS

Image

Ready for this?  Do you know what the 3rd major cause of death is in the US right now?  It’s listed right there after heart issues and cancer:  Alzheimer’s.  Why?  Because once that amyloid plaque gums up your neural connections your brain shuts down.  Once that happens, here comes pneumonia, falls that lead to operations, and a host of other ills that befall our elderly.  So while that death certificate may have said, “Pneumonia,” Alzheimer’s was behind it all.

So, you would think that in our infinite, scientific wisdom we would be doing everything we could to prevent that plaque buildup in the brain in the first place.  Instead, where are those billions going?  Into ‘miracle’ pills that are supposed to remove the mess once it has already begun tangling the wires in our thinking.  It’s like telling a teenager:  “Oh, you’re pregnant?  Well the abortion clinic is down on 21st street.”

 As my aunt used to say, “We have it all bass ackwards.”  As a kid, I actually thought that was a real word.  Didn’t know until the day I told my geometry teacher that the stupid theorem had it all “Bass Ackwards.”  He glared at me and said, “You watch your mouth, young lady.”  ‘Hard to do without a mirror,’ I thought to myself but didn’t dare say out loud.  Thought he was an idiot.  Then I looked it up.

 So let’s just cut to the chase:  young or old here are some things you should be doing NOW—not once you forget your own address or how to tie your shoelaces.

  1.  MOVE—no, not out of state, off your butt.

2.  THINK—not just about your next errand but make meaning in your moments.

3.  EAT WELL—you already know what that means so I won’t bore you with broccoli.

4.  GET SUNSHINE—or take Vitamin D.  Better yet, plan a trip to the Caribbean.

5.  CONNECT WITH OTHERS—no, not at the bar or hooking up at rock concerts.  Something that makes you connect in a REAL way with others:  sports, games, and regular volunteering will do the trick.

6.  BE GRATEFUL for the time you DO have.  You never know when it will be up.  Just be sure that when it is your lights aren’t already out.

GOING, GOING. . .

going, going, gone

Much ado has been made about Alzheimer’s.  In the Netherlands there is even an entire, self-contained village where people with dementia live like ‘normal’ people.  Denmark has a community called, “Life in the 50’s” for those boomers who want to retire in nostalgia.  However, while championing the cause of the moment, we are neglecting entirely the real problem facing us right now:  our elderly.  Every 7 seconds someone in the US turns 60.  In 5 years, one-third of the population will be over 55.

 So what are we doing?  Building thousands of nursing homes instead of designing our present cities so that we can age gracefully in them.  I live in a lovely, long-established neighborhood but there is not a single sidewalk so that I can walk through it safely.  I could move to one of those retirement communities where everyone drives around in golf carts but that would get ‘old’.  Besides, I would miss seeing and learning from young people and though they don’t know it yet, they would miss me, too.

Since one-third of us will soon be in that special milieu just how ‘golden’ will those years actually be?  Our culture STILL has a fascination with all things young and Madison Avenue continues to sink millions into glitzy Cosmopolitan advertisements.  But who wants to be sold high heels when they have trouble climbing the stairs?  Who will buy the next high-tech gizmo that takes 20-20 vision and fast, nimble fingers to operate?  And while collagen may plump up your lips, it takes joy to really make them smile.  That feeling springs from a nurturing community, not a divisive one.

 We need to stop creating separate spaces that divide us and design ones that incorporate both young and old.  Imagine a park where Maya Angelou strolls with Miley Cyrus discussing poetry as Jack Nicklaus shows Justin Bieber how to swing a 9 iron. Hard to imagine?  Yes, but not so long ago that was how life in America looked.  People were connected face to face—not cyberspace.

Am I sounding political?  You bet.   If we continue devaluing the old while placing premiums on the young we will create a restless, impatient and mentor-less society.  Unemployment figures would shrink to zero if focus were put on aiding the elderly:  building one-level homes, designing smaller cities that are walkable, creating abundant parks, planting greenery and simply caregiving our real ‘antiques;’ the ones so priceless they cannot be sold at auction.

ONE IN TEN

How dare TIME magazine announce:  “Alzheimer’s:  At last, some progress against the most stubborn disease.”  Imagine my disappointment to read merely the same old stuff:  It’s hereditary.  No drug cures it.  Some have side effects worse than the disease itself.  We still spend 5 billion a year on cancer research and only 500 million a year on Alzheimer’s.  So where’s the progress?  Slow in coming.  “Ironically, it is the one disease that most of us are likely to get,” says Dr. Peterson, head of Alzheimer’s research at the Mayo Clinic.  One in ten of us if you want the exact statistic.

Now I don’t need statistics to tell me my own prognosis is not looking so hot.  My grandmother lingered for 13 years in its stranglehold.  My mother may well have had it but other ills took her sooner.  This week, though, brings another blow:  my aunt, the one with the doctorate, who edited my college papers and never let me get away with ‘shallow thinking,’ has just been diagnosed with it, too.

The signs were there:  Last year, she sent me a copy of her Will along with a partial recipe for shortcake with the last paragraph inexplicably cut off.  The year before, after her recent visit to China, I invited her to visit.  She was always independent, so I rented her a car.  However, after watching her turn the ignition two more times while it was already running I returned it and kept her with me for the rest of our visit.

I am still keeping her with me though ‘she’ is vanishing fast.  The authors that she insisted I read in college: Whitman, Frost, Voltaire, and Shakespeare, still stand tall in my bookshelf.  Believe it or not, I can still do a perfect cart-wheel just the way she taught me when I was 12.  ‘Now hold your arms and legs into a perfect ‘X,’ she commanded, ‘then roll straight over like a wheel.’   My aunt didn’t just outsmart me at Bridge and Scrabble when I was a kid, but always showed me how she did it.  She questioned my answers until my answers became questions themselves and I loved her for it.  Still do.  Always will.  The important thing is that when she was here she was HERE.  May the rest of us be so fortunate.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.   http://www.helen-hudson.com).

ALZHEIMER’S? HMMM. . .

Picture this:  me backstroking in the middle of my half mile swim.  Have the lane all to myself and starting to pick up speed, which at my age is relative.  Thinking how I can’t wait until it’s over.  Then. . .smash.  Suddenly, I collide with my friend, Forest, who in his Alzheimer’s state of bliss has no clue what has just happened.  He has plunked himself into my lane without so much as a second thought or look.

“Oh,” he says with a gurgle.  “There you are.  I haven’t seen you in a while.”  Now this length of conversation is the longest we have had yet.  And, the most lucid.  Every day his caregiver sits on a bench at the end and waits as he wades back and forth in his flowered swim trunks and duck-like pool shoes.  He doesn’t swim exactly, rather plods from one end to the other with a laissez-faire stroll that would make a Persian cat jealous.

“Well, Hi, Forest,” I smile.   “It’s not a good day for climbing trees,” he confides.  “You’re right,” I reply.  “That’s why it’s a good thing we’re in the pool.”  Now I have to figure out my next move.  The lane next to us is open but if I move over it might hurt his feelings.  So, I continue.  Each time we get close, I pause until he passes and go on.

Just as I start my last lap, we reach the end at the same time.  “Hey, Forest,” I suddenly chide, “Wanna chase me?”  “Oh, Yes!” he says.  And with great anticipation on his face, Forest begins to ‘chase’ me.  I do the backstroke as he pursues.  His flowered trunks balloon around his hips like small sails.  I can tell he has picked up his pace, but no one watching would see a difference.  I don’t let him catch me, of course.  Just watch this grown man trying to come after me with all the glee of a young boy in pursuit of a rabbit; in this case, a ‘gray hare.’

I am already halfway up the steps to leave as he arrives.  “That was fun!” I say.  “Yes,” he smiles.  “And you are looking GOOD!”  “Well, so are you,” I reply.  At that moment, a rather large, buxom blonde steps down into his lane.  As I turn to leave, I hear him say, “I haven’t seen you in a while. . .”  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a nonfiction memoir of the 13 years she and her husband cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com)

 

SINGIN’ SWINGIN’ SENIOR

What a thrill I had at the supermarket this morning!!  As I was coming through the checkout line with a single bottle of CHEER, the cutest little teenage checker gave me a huge smile and said, “Are you a singer?”  “Why, yes, I am,” I said, perfectly delighted that she may have recognized me.  “Okay, then, you get 5% off today!”  Suddenly, I wished I had bought more.  “How nice,” I said, do you give all singers a discount?”  “Oh, no,” she replied.  “Just Seniors cuz it’s Wednesday.”

 

I thanked her politely and semi-staggered to my car trying to mentally calculate that my vain stupidity had just saved me about forty cents.  I blamed my poor hearing on the fact that I had just finished swimming and probably still had water in my ears.

 

While I am fully aware that I have seen more than five decades pass, for some odd reason I am still stuck in my 20’s in my head.  When my grandmother was in her sixties I asked her, ‘What does it feel like to be so old.”  ‘Well, Dear, it’s only when other people talk to me like I’m old that I realize that I am.”  I get it now.

 

But here is the real beauty of aging if you’re lucky enough to keep at it.  A few hours later I was filling my car with gas when a pickup truck with two, cute teenage boys pulled up on the other side of the pump.  Suddenly, one yelled out, “Hi, Mermaid!”  I turned around to find one of the YMCA lifeguards grinning at me.  As we talked, he seemed so proud to know me that by the time I pulled away I wasn’t feeling so old anymore.

 

However, next Wednesday I plan to take my bruised ego and gray hair straight back to that supermarket.  I am loading my cart to the brim and just guess whose aisle I’m going to?   (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir detailing the 13 years she cared for her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).

NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT

     I first dragged my girls to play piano at nursing homes when they were in middle school.  I wanted them to see firsthand what it’s like to get old–really old.  I also wanted them to know what happens to you if you can’t take care of yourself any longer:  Strangers do it.  Enough said.  At first, my oldest was intimidated by the bizarre behavior of those whose wits had failed.  While she played, one woman  kept yelling at her to, “Get out of my house.”  My youngest went squeamish at the smells and sights. 

     While those experiences had a sobering effect on them, it didn’t last long and that’s probably a good thing.  Why dwell on ones demise before one reaches the brink of all possibility?  As teenagers now, their lives are mostly all ahead of them.  They are navigating those chapters after, “The Preface.”  For those in the homes where they played Chopin and Bach, life is mostly all behind in the chapters before, “The End.”  

     What most of us seem to forget, though, is that ALL of Life’s chapters carry equal importance.  What good is the Introduction without the Epilogue?  How can you understand Chapter 27 if you haven’t read chapter 8?  The finest part of our stories ultimately comes at the Conclusion; that transfixing moment where all the tribulations and triumphs that made us human culminate.  Who were we?  How did we navigate our birthrights?  Ultimately, what did we offer this world where we make such a very, brief presence?  

     I cherished my children from the moment I knew they were forming inside of me.  My husband and I marveled over their first words, held our breaths at their first steps, dried their tears and held them close.  Someday, though, someone else will hear their last words, watch their final steps and hopefully, hold them very, very close.  We will likely not even be here when our girls reach the very age we are now.  I have done the math.  So, I have to hope that the world they are aging into will one day embrace the wrinkles, the mottled skin, and the dementias.  For it does not now and the gap between our young and old is very wide indeed.

     How to bridge it?  Take the kids to Grandpa’s.  So what if he is cantankerous and crotchety.  All the better.  Let them see how they don’t want to grow up.  Pay your kids to rake the leaves off, “Old Aunt Becky’s” porch.  Better yet, if your own parents are beginning to lose their grip, move them in with you.  Even in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s many are finding it both cheaper and more rewarding than a nursing home.  At the very least, you’ve offered the example to your children.  There’s really no time like the present.  (Helen Hudson cared for her grandmother for 13 years when she had Alzheimer’s.  “Kissing Tomatoes,” is her story of those years).  http://www.helen-hudson.com

 

      

OLD FOLKS & ARTICHOKES

     When Granny* first taught me how to eat an artichoke, I was perturbed that I had to go through all those layers of armor just to get to that mushroom cap of a heart.  Frankly, at 13, I thought the best part was the butter dipping.  Until last night, as I began instructing my own teenagers on the ‘art’ of eating one, I never realized how much artichokes remind me of old people: thin-skinned, thorny & tough on the outside, multi-layered, increasingly soft towards the middle, and way, down deep inside is a heart so delectable it is protected by a Fort Knox of cellulose.  

     “Artichokes,” the dictionary also tells me, “have a very, long growing season and prefer mild climates.”  Sounds like old folks to me.   On first glance, you really don’t want to get too close to them.  (The artichokes, that is).  The two I had purchased were hard as rocks & my youngest, in particular, was skeptical.  After steaming them, though, we began with the scrawny, meatless, tough outer stalks.   They were scaly and mottled with spots just like the skin of, yeah, you know.  My oldest marveled at the design & symmetry of their leaves as my youngest impatiently rolled her eyes.  “Ouch!” she said suddenly.  “You never said there were thorns on these!” 

     The truth is I had forgotten.  It’s funny how one forgets the barbs as time passes.  Now, we peeled our way deep towards the center where the petals are lighter and softer, and the flesh thicker with taste.  Down we dove, eating through the tender, inner layers, lined with purple edges that form a whitish curve inwards.  “Now grab hold of that section and pull,” I commanded.  My oldest tugged lightly.  “No.  Really pull it hard and kind of wiggle it.”  Suddenly it broke free. There was the carpet of white, cilia-like, thin fibers hovering tightly over the heart.  Indeed, it resembled a full crown of white hair.  “Is this the choke?  Will I choke if I eat it?” my youngest queried.   “Not if we scrape it away.” 

     Patiently, we took a spoon and carved the hairs away until the heart was smooth.  My oldest savored the morsel with a touch of lemon and salt and pronounced it, “Pretty good.”  My youngest, not overly fond of any vegetable, said it was, “Okay, but that sure is a lot of work for that little bit of food.”  Yes.  So is life.  So also is learning to appreciate the old folks among us.   Both are journeys well worth taking.  For the record,  I find them deliciously splendid and rich at heart!.  (The old folks that is.)  *From “Kissing Tomatoes,” by Helen Hudson.  http://www.helen-hudson.com)         

SIX YEAR-OLD SHARES SECRET OF LIFE

     I was raised by a grandmother who believed you should put your heart in the moment.  She never looked back or too far forward and it drove me crazy.  Why?  Because her complacency appeared to me as a total lack of ambition.  I had plans.  She just smiled with a deep sense of inner peace that completely eluded me.  Still does.*  

     Now every day I swim 1/2 mile in a usually too cold, chlorine filled, cement pool.  Back & forth, back & forth.  16 back and forths every day.  Yes, EVERY day.  No, I don’t particularly enjoy swimming, but my knees are too shot to run & it keeps the arthritis at bay.  I detest the too tight cap that rips my hair every time I pull it on and off.  Absolutely loathe the goggles that leave round, racoon marks around my eyes for hours afterwards.  In fact, I truly hate every single agonizing stroke.  What’s even more ridiculous is that even though I KNOW I am going to swim every morning –I delay getting there as long as possible.  Yesterday, for example, I actually pulled the whole dryer out just to clean lint from behind it.  Fortunately, I hadn’t done it in a while and managed a full 1/2 hour delay.  Anything to keep from getting to that swim.  But when it’s over I’m a new person & fairly bubble with joy as I float out the YMCA door. 

     Today, there was a little boy in the lane next to me.  He was merely paddling a bit and then floating on a styrofoam noodle while he stared out the window.  I huffed and puffed past him several times.  ‘Just wait ’till he’s older,’ I thought to myself.  ‘He’ll be trying to stay in shape and huffing and puffing, too.’  I did the backstroke and the butterfly but the waves I created didn’t seem to disturb the simple joy he seemed to find in just floating.  Finally I stopped.  “No school today, huh?” I asked him.  “Nope,” he said with a smile.  “How old are you?” I continued.  “Six,” he replied.  “Oh,” I said slightly surprised, “I figured you were at least seven.”  He looked straight at me with his gentle, blue eyes.  “Well,” he paused, “I WILL be seven on Saturday.” He seemed mystified that I had guessed so closely.  “You mean to tell me that in two days you will be seven?  Most kids would say, ‘I’m almost seven.’  He just smiled, looked back out the window and replied, “Well, right now I’m just happy being six.”  For a moment, I saw my grandmother.  (* Excerpt from “Kissing Tomatoes,” http://www.helen-hudson.com)