September 30, 2011

The Lion Whisperer: Fantastic Video of a Life's Passion

This morning, I looked at a brief video emailed to me by an animal-crazy friend. I was amazed, and had to view it a second time. It’s about South African animal behaviorist Kevin Richardson, who lives with lions and hyenas and has found a way to completely gain their trust. Here's the video:

September 29, 2011

Will You Live to Be 90 Years Old? Maybe Even 100?

I’ve got a handful of friends who share the same birthyear: 1918. Now into their 94th years, they first had to survive the scary flu epidemic that ravaged our country at the end of World War I, when they were newborns. They’ve lived through all the years since – so many changes in the world! – and continue to enjoy active and interesting lives. I’m inspired by their spunk and engagement with life.

Ever wonder if YOU’LL make it to 90? A Swedish study may help provide a few clues. Researchers followed the lives of a group of men born in 1913, evaluated their health in middle age, and then waited to see what happened… and who survived. Interestingly, the study’s results don’t point to genetic attributes. The men who survived into their tenth decade shared these characteristics:

September 28, 2011

From Stem Cells to Dopamine-Producing Brain Cells?

Stem Cell Awareness Day is right around the corner: October 5. With an early nod to that date, I wanted to share some recent news about stem cells and Parkinson’s.

A team led by Dr. Stuart Lipton, director of Sanford-Burnham’s Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research Center, converted human embryonic stem cells into neural progenitor cells (which become brain cells). Then, applying a particular protein (MEF2C), they coaxed those cells to become neurons that actually produce dopamine. It’s the loss of the chemical dopamine that compromises the brain’s ability to send messages that control muscle function – the problem which leads to the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Current therapies treat those symptoms by adding dopamine with medication. This new study suggests it may be possible to enable the brain to produce that key substance on its own.

September 26, 2011

Earthquake Atop the Washington Monument: the Video

On Tuesday afternoon, August 23, as I lay in my bed at George Washington Hospital in Washington, DC, thinking happy thoughts and recovering from my car crash the day before, a 5.9 earthquake centered in nearby Virginia rumbled through our region. My hospital bed shook, I heard some rattling, and I knew it was an earthquake. As long as the building doesn’t collapse, I thought, I was in a pretty good place.

I was lucky. Less than a mile away, tourists were enjoying the glorious eagle’s view from the top of the 555-foot-high Washington Monument on a perfect late summer afternoon. Their experience of the quake, as you can see in this recently released security tape, was a lot scarier than mine. From the top, the shaking was obviously severe, and surely frightened the daylights out of the trapped, vulnerable tourists. Here’s a taste of how they experienced it.

To Drive or Not to Drive? Decision: Drive, but Cut Way Back and Follow Tips for Senior Drivers

That's my decision... for now. The Department of Motor Vehicles may have a different decision when I appear for a hearing on whether to suspend my license as a result of the car crash.

The crash was a definite warning signal that I should cut back on my driving. First of all, I need to pay attention to the tips for older drivers from the American Automobile Association (AAA). They appear at the end of this post.

But I have a checklist of my own:

September 22, 2011

How To Lower Blood Pressure Without Pills -- Tea and Chocolate Sound Good?

I was watching The Today Show this morning while fixing breakfast when they announced an upcoming segment about natural ways to lower blood pressure. With all the trauma of the past month, my blood pressure readings on my home monitor have been jumping all around. So I decided to hang around for that segment. Turned out to be interesting.

They opened by noting that high blood pressure is a factor in 15% of the deaths in the U.S. Then they went on to give a list of things that we can do on our own to lower our blood pressure:

September 21, 2011

This Aging Knee-Jerk Liberal Has Decided That Romney Is The Best Choice for President in 2012

"Aging and demented," many of my good liberal friends will understandably respond.

I've tried to steer clear of politics in the blog. But when I surprised myself by coming to this conclusion after once again depressing myself by reading the Sunday Washington Post and New York Times, I decided that since this was a somewhat bi-partisan decision, I'd use the blog to explain why.

I found out later on Sunday that the Post's liberal op-ed columnist had a "Democrats for Romney?" piece.
His argument was that democrats should stop beating up on Romney because there's an increasingly good chance that the Republican nominee will be elected in 2012, and  Romney would be a hell of a lot better than Perry. For more see:

My rationale is a bit different.

September 19, 2011

Reflections: The Sad Contrast Between My Lucky Generation and Today's Unlucky Generations

In my September 15 post (below), I reflected on the good luck that favored my generation as we entered the work force at the start of the economic boom following World War II. The wartime expansion of our manufacturing industries ended the Great Depression of the 1930s, and their successful transition to peacetime made us, far and away, the world's No.1 economic powerhouse.

Given the lousy state of our economy today, the last month has seen a rash of op-ed pieces that have explored not only where we are today, but also our economy's long decline since the "Golden Age" ended in the late 1970s.

September 16, 2011

Alternative / Complementary Medicine and Exercise: Two New Studies

On September 14, while I was perusing the latest medical developments online, two items caught my attention on, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine’s online journal:
  • A study that focuses on the popularity of complementary / alternative medicine (CAM) with healthcare workers, and
  • Another new study reporting that 15 minutes of moderate exercise daily may add three years to your life.
That first study supports what I’ve recently found from personal experience: alternative therapies have helped me occasionally when more traditional approaches did not. That second study reconfirms everything we know intuitively – and have read in countless studies – about the benefits of exercise (a common theme on this blog). And it certainly makes me feel good about my early morning walks and afternoons in the garden.

September 15, 2011

Reflections: My Unnamed Generation Should Be Called the Lucky Generation Which Gives Us a Special Obligation To Help Others

With all that's happened in the past month or so -- the "best trip ever," the car crash, hospitalization, earthquake, hurricane, sale of my company, and hints that I may not be immortal -- I've decided it's time to reflect on where I've been and on plans for the future. This first reflection is on my growing up in "The Lucky Generation."

I was born in 1929, so I'm somewhere between these two well-known generations:

  • The Greatest Generation: This is the term coined by Tom Brokaw to describe the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight World War II. It's usually defined as those born between 1901 and 1925, although those born in the earlier years grew up in the 1920s (the core years of the "Lost Generation") and are more closely associated with the values of that generation. The core of the GG is generally viewed as those born between 1914 and l924. The depression and World War II usually are cited as the defining events for the GG. I would add the passage of the GI Bill of Rights. By the time it ended in 1966, 7.8 million vets had used it for college education or vocational training, and another 2.4 million had taken out home loans backed by the Veterans Administration. No other single piece of legislation comes close to having the impact that the GI Bill had on transforming the middle class and bolstering the economy.
  • The Baby Boom Generation:  The core of this generation consists of those born during the post-war baby boom years of 1945 to 1964. They grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of great affluence in North America and Europe. The years from 1947 to 1977 are viewed by many as the Golden Years for the U.S. economy. Those born in those years, as a group, were the healthiest and wealthiest generation up to that time. For most of our history, each generation grew up expecting progress to continue so that they would end up surpassing their parents in well-being. This optimism was particularly true for those in the BB generation. Unfortunately, it looks now that they may have been the last generation to ride that wave.

September 14, 2011

Be Your Own Best Advocate: Become Informed and Trust Your Instincts

I dreamed last night that I was in London and needed to get to Heathrow airport in record time. I was pretty sure I knew the fastest route from past experience, but a policeman suggested a different way. I took his advice, got hopelessly lost, missed my flight, and regretted not trusting my own instinct.

Now, I wonder if the dream was a shadowy recollection of an experience I had three weeks ago, when I had to drive to an unfamiliar part of Washington, DC to recover some personal items from my totaled Honda Fit. I checked a map, and saw what looked like the best plan to get from here to there. Pretty simple, really. Then I did a MapQuest search, which provided a different, more complicated set of directions. Thinking that the computer program knew something I didn’t, I followed the MapQuest suggestions. About one hour after leaving home, I finally arrived at the lot, frazzled from getting completely lost – and in torrential rain the entire time. Had I done it my way, the trip would have taken fifteen minutes.

These experiences – one imagined, one real – underscore my belief in the importance of being well-informed, and then in trusting one’s own point of view.

September 13, 2011

"Best Trip Ever" Part II -- Seattle to San Francisco

The first post (below) covered the trip heading north from Yosemite to Seattle. Now we'll take a look at the trip heading back to San Francisco.

But first -- an aside prompted by a piece in Sunday's New York Times by Nicholas Kristof about his family's backpacking this summer along the Pacific Crest Trail. Kristof says he's concerned "that Americans love their national parks, but they sometimes love video games more." The National Park Service reports that the number of recreational visits to our national parks was lower last year than a decade earlier. In 1979, the parks had 35% more backpacking campers than in 2010.

The Outdoor Foundation says that fewer youths are heading outdoors each year, adding that "the American childhood has rapidly moved indoors leading to epidemic levels of child obesity and inactivity."

Adults, as well as children,  need nature, Kristof says, "as a tonic, as a balancing force, as therapy," 
The wilderness trims our bravado and puts us in our place. Particularly in traumatic times like these, nature challenges us, revitalizes us, humbles us, exhilarates us and restores our souls.
I couldn't agree more. At age 82, I'm unfortunately not up to backpacking up and down mountain trails. But nevertheless the three weeks we spent driving through the Pacific Northwest was revitalizing.

September 12, 2011

Recalling "The Best Trip Ever" To Revive My Spirits

Two weeks after the car crash and hospitalization, I need to move on and revive my normally upbeat outlook. So for starters, I'm going to do two posts on highlights of "my best trip ever" -- the August tour of the Pacific Northwest. This one will cover the first half of the trip going north from Yosemite and ending in Seattle.
We flew into San Francisco and immediately headed out in our rental car for Yosemite National Park on the other side of the state.

September 9, 2011

What Do 5-HTP and Vodka Have in Common?

They both enhanced my mood and helped me sleep but then turned on me when this addiction-prone guy overdosed on them.

I gave up on the vodka 33 years ago when I finally accepted the fact that I'm an alcoholic. I was 16 when I started drinking (and had an alcoholic blackout the first time I drank) and I stopped at age 49. So this year at age 82, I will finally have logged more years sober than drunk.

Given that background, you'd think I'd be cautious about over-using other drugs. I'm embarrassed to admit I went through the same pattern of denying I was having a problem using 5-HTP. At least this time it only took a year to confront the denial.

September 8, 2011

If I End Up Buying a New Car, Here's What It Probably Will Be

Drum Roll Please:

The Hyundai Elantra!

Check out the posting yesterday for the reason why buying a new car is an "if."

For at least 30 years, my cars have been Honda Civics. I'm not a car person. All I care about is a reliable, uncomplicated car that's small enough to easily navigate the narrow streets of DC and squeeze into tight parking spaces.

The Honda Civic satisfied those requirements and the hatchback has the added advantage of enabling me to transport bulky items like garden plants and bags of mulch, top soil, and bird seed. As an example of my disinterest in cars, when I made one of my infrequent visits to a car dealership to replace an aging Honda, I just went to the showroom of a nearby dealer and came away with a new car in less than an hour. Only when I brought it home did I notice that it wasn't a hatchback. Fortunately the dealer let me bring it back and exchange it for a hatchback.

This time, however, I decided to explore other options. One of my pals who is also a city dweller recently bought a Hyundai Elantra after extensive research. He will have to wait several weeks for delivery since demand for this model is so high.

I checked it out by going to As a long-time CR subscriber, I'm able to get the full text of their research reports free of charge. They list the Elantra as their No. 1 choice for small sedans.

Here's their summary:
Following its 2011 redesign the Elantra sedan emerged as our top-rated small car. It combines nimble handling with a comfortable, well-controlled ride and a neatly laid-out, well-equipped interior. The 148-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission deliver solid performance and a very good mpg overall. A six-speed manual also is available. The interior is nice and has decent rear-seat room. Our two major gripes are the low-mounted dash vents and pronounced road noise. The wagon version, the Elantra Touring, remains unchanged. We expect reliability of the sedan to mirror the above-average record of the previous Elantra.
Too bad I can't order it with one-click at, my favorite way to shop. I'm indifferent to cars, but I actively dislike store shopping.

September 7, 2011

My Question Is Not "To Be or Not to Be?" It's "To Drive or Not to Drive?"

Two weeks after my car crash, I now face the question most seniors dread  --  Is it time to give up driving?

To recap, two weeks ago I was driving to my usual  Monday bridge game at the Iona Senior Center, a ten-minute drive from my house. A block away, I approached a stop sign with a small van already stopped ahead of me. I applied the brakes... and the car speeded up. Shocked, I pressed my foot down harder and the car accelerated even more. The resulting crash sent me to the hospital for two days. Doctors determined that the only definite injury was a fractured sternum, but an MRI indicated possible neck injury. Yesterday, I had a follow-up X-ray on that issue.

September 5, 2011

Nine Risky Medications for Seniors

As we get older, some common medications may become more risky to take. The American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging, AARP reports, recommends that adults over 65 use caution when using these nine medications:

1. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Be cautious of long-lasting NSAIDs such as piroxican (brand name Feldene) and indomethacin (Indocin). In older adults, these particular meds can increase the risk of indigestion, ulcers and bleeding in the stomach or colon. They also can increase blood pressure, affect your kidneys, or contribute to heart failure.

If you need to use NSAIDs, better choices are the shorter-acting ibuprofen (Motrin) and salsalate (Disalcid). Because of the increased risk of bleeding, don't use NSAIDs with aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavis), dabigatran (Pradaxa), dipyridamoie (Persantine), prasugrel (Effient), ticlopidine (Ticlid) or warfarin (Couma).

If you take NSAIDs regularly and have a history of ulcers, or are 75 or older, you may need to protect your stomach against bleeding with a prescription med such as misoprostol (Cytotec) or a proton pump inhibitor such as omeprazole (Prilosec).

2. Muscle relaxants
Be cautious of cyclobenzapine (Flexeril), methocarbvamel (Robaxin), carisoprodel (Soma), and similar meds. They can leave you feeling groggy and confused, increase your risk of falls, and cause dry mouth, constipation or urination problems. Plus, there's little evidence that they work well.

3. Anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia drugs
Be cautious of benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) or chlordiazepoxide (Librium, Limbitrol, Librax) as well as sleeping pills, such as zalepion (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien).

In older adults especially, these meds can increase the risks of falls or cause confusion. Because it takes your body a long time to get these drugs out of your system, you could feel groggy and sleepy for an extended period of time.

Personal experience with ambien: During my many trips to Nepal from 2001-2009 (usually two visits a year), I used Tylenol PM for jet lag when arriving in Nepal and when arriving home. I also occasionally added an Ambien on bad nights. On one trip where there was a lot going on, I used both meds much of the time and for the week after I got home. At the end of that week, I was hit with a sudden attack of depression and anxiety unlike anything I had ever experienced, plus a return of insomnia big time. For the next several months I went to doctors, psychiatrists, and sleep specialists who kept prescribing different meds, none of which helped and most of which made things worse. I kept saying that I was sure the problem had its origins in the abuse of Tylenol PM and Ambien. Finally the psychiatrist decided I should stop all the meds and try holistic approaches. That tactic finally worked, but only after I had gone through one of the worst periods of my life.

Recently a friend overdid it with Ambien after a death in his family and ended up being hospitalized due to the Ambien-induced craziness. I've heard other similar stories. BEWARE OF AMBIEN.

4. Anticholinergic drugs
Be cautious of these medications which include the antidepressants amitriptyline (Elavil) and imipramine (Tofranil), the anti-Parkinson drug trihexyphenidyl (Artane), the irritable bowel syndrome drug dicyclomine (Bentyl) and the overactive bladder drug oxybutynin (Ditropan). These drugs can cause confusion, constipation, urination problems, blurry vision and low blood pressure.

Personal experience with Elavil: When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson's, I was prescribed Elavil for the depression that often accompanies Parkinson's. A few months later, my new neurologist expressed concern about the possible cognitive side effects from Elavil. I also found that I was gaining weight while using Elavil. I switched to the over-the-counter serotonin-booster 5-HTP which took care of the depression, insomnia, and weight gain.

5. Heart medications
Be cautious of digoxin (Lanoxin) in doses greater than 0.125mg. This drug, which is prescribed as a treatment for heart failure and irregular heart beat, can be toxic in older adults and people whose kidneys do not work well.

6. Diabetes drugs
Be cautious of glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase) and chlorpropamide (Diabinese). They can cause severe low blood sugar in older adults.

7. Opioid pain relievers
Be cautious of meperidine (Demerol) and pentrazocine (Talwin). These meds, also known as narcotric analgesics, can cause confusion, falls, seizures, and even hallucinations, especially in older adults.

8. Anti-psychotic drugs
Unless you are being treated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or some form of depression, stay away from these meds, such as haloperidol (Haldol), risperidone (Risperdal) and quetriapine (Seroquel).These drugs can increase the risk of stroke or even death; they also can increase tremors and the risk of falls.

9. Estrogen
Be cautious of Estrogen pills and patches, which typically are prescribed for hot flashes and other menopause-related symptoms. Estrogen can increase your risk of breast cancer, blood clots or dementia.

What To Do If You Take One Of The Meds On This List
Do not stop taking the med without first consulting with your doctor.

Here's some other advice from AARP on prescribed medications and supplements:

  • Once or twice a year, ask your primary care provider to review the list of drugs, supplements and vitamins that you take. Ask whether you still need to take each one at the current dose.
  • If you are prescribed a new med, ask your provider to check it in a computer drug interaction database, particularly if you are taking 5 or more drugs.
  • If you are prescribed a new med to alleviate the side effects of an existing drug, ask if it might make sense instead to switch to another drug.
  • If at all possible, have all your prescriptions filled at the same place.Most pharmacies use computer systems than flag possible drug interactions.

September 2, 2011

Consumer Reports Recommendations for Best Car Models for Seniors (2010 Models)

As I begin thinking about a replacement for my new 2010 Honda Fit that was totaled last week, I Google'd "best cars for seniors." The best hit was a  September 2010 report from Consumer Union on the "Best Car Models for Teens and Seniors." Here's what CU had to say:

"When it comes to finding right cars for seniors, we recommend vehicles that offer easy access, good visibility, a roomy driving position, and comfortable seating."

Here are its recommendations (2010 models) for the best cars for seniors in different categories:

September 1, 2011

Cancer Risk Assessment: From Saliva?

Last week, we learned that researchers had generated brain cells (neurons) from skin cells of a Parkinson’s patient: a potential step forward in studying and treating the disease. This week, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers unveiled a new saliva test that measures potential carcinogens attached to a person’s DNA. This new test might soon be available commercially, and could help people assess their risk for cancer and other diseases, like Alzheimer’s.