July 31, 2011

Enough already! I'm Out of Here!

Our Founding Fathers had a lot of terrific ideas. But building the nation's capital on a swamp was not one of them.

I love Washington ten months of the year. But July and August are tough going. As I age, dealing with the humidity gets increasingly difficult.

Here's what I saw on my morning walk a couple of days ago:

July 30, 2011

A Walk on the Wild Side

My previous photos of walks in our neighborhood woods have devoid of animal life, except for an occasional dog and walker. This morning was different.

My housemate and I headed out about 6:30am. As we were walking up University Terrace, the street that goes uphill from the house, here's what we saw:

July 29, 2011

Midyear Checkup: My Prescription Meds, Supplements, and Experiments

Continuing my personal "checkups" at midyear, I'd now like to review the medications and supplements I'm taking. It's hard to tell which is contributing more -- exercises or medications -- to my current feeling of well-being.

I've talked repeatedly about exercise recently. Now, let's take a look at medications.

July 28, 2011

Know Someone Who's Very Creative? Probably A Jerk!

They don't put it quite like that, but psychologists practically say as much in a recent study about the personality traits of creative types. The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
The psychologists asked more than 1,300 college students to complete a personality test and answer creativity questionnaires. Researchers wanted to know how six different personality traits influenced creativity.

Here's what they found:

July 27, 2011

The Parkinson's Connection to Cognitive Impairment and Dementia

This subject -- cognitive impairment and dementia -- scares me the most, particularly if my Parkinson's increases the likelihood I'll encounter these conditions later. (Sometimes -- please tell me why I just walked up the stairs to the second floor -- I think the future is now.)

I was interested in an article in the summer 2011 supplement to Johns Hopkins Medicine's ongoing report on Memory Disorders. It's written by Jason Brandt, director of John Hopkins division of medical psychology.

This opening comment grabbed my attention: "Although Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder affecting movement, it is also associated with a sometimes disabling, often overlooked psychological condition known as cognitive impairment. This impairment can affect your memory and attention span as well as your ability to plan and organize. Many patients already have some degree of cognitive impairment when first diagnosed. As the disease advances, the ability to recognize people and objects and communicate with others becomes increasingly difficult, especially in the later stages."

An unwelcome wrap-up followed: "Some experts believe that nearly all patients will ultimately develop some degree of cognitive impairment."

Here's more:

July 26, 2011

A Walk on Potomac Avenue: DC's Prettiest Street. Come Along!

I've written before about my favorite neighborhood walk -- through the woods at Battery Kemble Park. The walk today ranks a very close second.

My neighborhood in DC is called "The Palisades." Google that word and you'll find this:  "A precipice of trap-rock on the western bank of the Hudson river" and a notation that it also describes similar formations elsewhere. Like right here. We're perched atop a precipice along the Potomac River between Georgetown and the DC/Maryland border.

And the only street that runs along that river precipice -- Potomac Avenue -- is where we're headed today. Let's go!

July 25, 2011

Controlling the End of Life: Commentary from Brad Woodward

Thanks, Brad, for this contribution.  --John

We often see lamentations that those of us outside Oregon, Washington, and Montana cannot get a doctor's assistance to hasten our deaths when life becomes unbearable during a terminal illness. In an ideal world, we'd all get that help to die a peaceful and dignified death at the time of our choice. But we don't live in that world. And we don't die in it, either. That doesn't mean there's no hope or control at life's end. It simply means taking personal responsibility. Don't look to a doctor, a spouse, or a friend to do the hard lifting for you. Do it yourself! It's wonderful if someone willingly and without reservation decides to help you. If others close to you are hesitant, what right do you have to place them in a terrible moral, ethical or legal dilemma because you have failed to prepare and do your own research?

July 21, 2011

Midyear Checkup on Mood and Sleep: Both Fine, Thanks to Exercise, 5-HTP and Meditation

For many of us dealing with Parkinson's and aging, depression and insomnia top the list of our worries. I've struggled with both over the years, but neither bothers me today.

Observations as I continue my midyear health checkup:

July 20, 2011

More Exercise, Better Memory

Looks like it's Exercise Week on the blog. After posts on the subject these past two days, I was going to change the subject. Then my mailman delivered the summer 2011 issue of The Johns Hopkins Memory Disorders Bulletin. I saw that it included an article: "Boosting Memory with Exercise."

Here's a summary:

July 19, 2011

Exercise? Let's Do It! Come Along on My Morning Walk.

Exercise tops my list for aging well and dealing with Parkinson's. For me, the most important health-related development this year was realizing that I could take advantage of the hour between meds and breakfast to get out and walk. Here's why it's has been a great discovery:

  • All too often in DC's summer heat and humidity, by the time I've had my breakfast and coffee, the thought of getting out and exercising has lost its appeal. The mercury will climb into the 90s today, but at 7am... no problem!
  • It's a treat to complete this important to-do item first thing each day. Exercise? Check!
  • I've lived in the DC Palisades for 55 years. Only now, by walking, am I really getting to know this terrific neighborhood.
OK, let's get going. What will we see today?

July 18, 2011

Midyear Checkup: Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!

I've decided to post a couple updates in the next weeks as a midyear check on how I'm dealing with Parkinson's and aging. Exercise heads my list; it's usually at the top of any list of recommendations for dealing with Parkinson's, heart disease, depression, arthritis... you name it.

Exercise is a key reason I'm in pretty good health today as an 82-year-old with Parkinson's. Here's my story.

July 15, 2011

Telomeres: Does New Study Offer Hope for Reversal of Age-Related Degeneration?

Last fall, Harvard University scientists reported that partial reversal of age-related degeneration in mice had been achieved for the first time. The study was conducted by engineering a controllable telomerase gene.

The results showed new brain and testes growth, improved fertility, and return of lost cognitive function. OK, how do I sign up?

The telomerase enzyme maintains the protective caps ("telomeres") that shield the ends of chromosomes. By using the telomerase gene therapy, the Harvard scientists were able to lengthen the telomeres.

Other studies have suggested that telomere shortness in humans is a prognostic marker for disease risk and aging progression. In a related development, a U.S. laboratory is offering the first commercially available telomere analysis in the U.S. This story was featured recently on NBC's the Today Show (video clip follows below).

Let's take a closer look at these two fascinating new studies "of mice and men."

July 14, 2011

A Quickie: Casey Anthony, Betty Ford, and Politics

"Quickies" like this one will become regular features on the blog -- short and (maybe) sweet comments about... anything. (I was going to say "weekly feature" before my fear of commitment kicked in.)

So, a quickie.

July 12, 2011

"I Will End My Life by My Own Hand When the Time Is Ripe"

The Sunday New York Times certainly flashes some provocative headlines! Last week, it was "Infidelity Keeps Us Together" -- for its magazine cover story about sex-advice columnist Dan Savage's view that stability, not monogamy, should be the goal of marriage. We explored that article just last Friday (below).

This week, it's the line quoted in the title above which appears with a moving and provocative piece written by Dudley Clendinen, a former national correspondent and editorial writer for the Times. The article concerns his November, 2010 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also know as "Lou Gehrig's Disease").

There's no cure or meaningful treatment for ALS, he notes. One medication, Rilutek, might add a few more months of life but at a cost of about $14,000 a year. But that program just doesn't make sense to Clendinen.

July 11, 2011

Midyear Checkup: Shifting Blog Focus Reflects Emerging Personal View on Aging with Parkinson's

Just as my new car will need a 5,000-mile checkup, I need to take this old jalopy (me) into the "garage" for a proper midyear self-assessment.

I received my Parkinson's diagnosis in September 2009 when I was 80 years old. I'd been in good health all my life (except for some slow-growing cancer cells after a prostatectomy in 1995). But my good fortune changed a few years before the PD diagnosis. I realize now that I was dealing with Parkinson's-related depression and insomnia. I was also having balance problems (no tremors) that I attributed to aging and assumed they'd just get worse.

The Parkinson's diagnosis and treatment got me back on track. A year after the diagnosis, I started this blog. 

In my midyear 2011 review, I'm struck by how the shifting focus of the blog parallels my changing views on living with Parkinson's. I suspect that others dealing with chronic and progressive ailments follow similar trajectories. Looking back, I see three stages in my progression:

July 8, 2011

Does Accepting Infidelity Make Relationships Healthier?

The cover of last week's New York Times Sunday magazine featured this headline, over a big red heart: "Infidelity Keeps Us Together -- Reconsidering What Makes a Healthy Marriage."

Well, that got my attention. The article explores Dan Savage's views about monogamy. He's the openly gay man whom the piece's author, Mark Oppenheimer, describes as "America's leading sex-advice columnist."
I've been a regular reader of his column, "Savage Love," which runs in our weekly Washington City Paper.

The Sunday Times cover story focuses on Savage's contention that the goal of marriage (or any committed relationship) should be stability, not monogamy. Savage also argues against compulsive promiscuity: a gay male stereotype since the beginning of time.

Here's my summary of the fascinating article:

July 6, 2011

Tennyson's "Ulysses": Do YOU View Aging This Way?

In my rather erudite Parkinson's support group, the Ulysses in Tennyson's poem is often mentioned as an admirable role model for dealing with aging and infirmities. "Poetry challenged," I had to look up the poem and was intrigued enough to do some research about it.

I'm still wondering if the poem is a clarion call for me. What do you think of it? What does it say to you?   

Here's a summary of the background. The text follows.

July 5, 2011

On Her 93rd Birthday, Margaret Recites One of Her Own Poems

A friend just sent me a short video he took of his mom on her 93rd birthday, June 29. In it, she recites a poem she'd written for a friend about 60 years ago. What a lovely message. And what a fine example we see here of aging with grace. Brava, Margaret! And a belated Happy Birthday!

July 1, 2011

Why Is There No Straight Pride Parade?

Several of my posts in the past week talked about how my decision to take a NYC break happened to coincide with what turned out to be Gay Marriage and Gay Pride Weekend.

Which may have prompted you to ask the above question. Here's one guy's answer:

My Take on "The Mother F____r with the Hat": Finally a Show with a Realistic Look at Alcoholism Recovery

As I noted in my photo journey summary of my NYC trip last weekend, the play I saw Friday night was the Tony Award winner for best drama -- The Mother F____r with the Hat. Most of the reviews and the news stories generated by Chris Rock's appearance in the play miss what I thought made it unique. Of all the plays and movies that have dealt with recovery from alcoholism, this show seemed the most realistic in showing that getting sober does not solve everything.

As a friend in recovery reminded me: "If you were a drunken horse's ass, getting sober, without more, only means that you're now a sober horse's ass."  The play explores that truism.

Here's a summary of the plot:

Reflections on the Link between Today's Gay Marriage Laws and the AIDS Outbreak of the 1980's

This is the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of AIDS as chronicled in the current Broadway revival of Larry Kramer's 1985 play The Normal Heart. I saw the play last Saturday night -- less than 24 hours after the Republican-dominated New York State Senate cleared a Gay Marriage Act for Governor Cuomo's signature, and just a day before Manhattan's Gay Pride Parade, which became an unexpected, impromptu celebration of the new legislation.
The Normal Heart is Kramer's largely autobiographical portrayal of an angry, aggressive AIDS activist (like Kramer in real life) during the plague's early years, when the number of AIDS cases rose from a handful in 1981 to 16,000 by the end of 1985. As the play mentions several times, the New York Times gave repeated front-page coverage to the deaths of seven people from defective Tylenol, but ran only a few back-page stories about AIDS. President Reagan never spoke about the growing epidemic until 1987.

In the final scene in the play, the activist holds his lover in his arms as he dies of AIDS. I've never heard as much sobbing in a theater as I did Saturday night. As one of those openly moved playgoers (and I know like many others in that audience), I was deeply affected because so many memories came flooding back... recollections of treasured loved ones, vital young people, who died hideous deaths in those early years of the new disease.