December 30, 2011

"Auld Lang Syne" 2011

Auld Lang Syne (literally "old long since") is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns, set to the music of a traditional folk song. It is typically sung at the stroke of midnight to celebrate the beginning of a new year. But it is also sung to mark other endings -- graduations, funerals, etc. In a particularly moving rendition during World War II, a Japanese ship carrying over 1,000 passengers (mostly Australian prisoners of war) was sunk, and as the ship went down, the Aussies in the water sang it for their mates trapped on board.

As I come to the end of my roller coaster ride through 2011, I have lots of contemplating to do about the ups and downs of the past year. One of the great things about this stage in life is that there's plenty of time for contemplation (IF I rein in my lifelong go-go-go obsessive compulsive tendencies). I'll spend time in the next week or so reflecting upon the past year and where I am and where I want to go.

But it doesn't take much reflection to know that what was most important last year was the old acquaintances who fortunately have not been forgot and, more importantly, have not forgotten me. And they've been bolstered by new acquaintances that I know won't be forgot.

Friends and family become increasingly significant as the years go by.

And God knows when I look at what's happening in our country these days we all need to take a "cup of kindness yet" . . . or better a large pitcher of it.

When I look back at all the times I've sung (badly) Auld Lang Syne, a couple stand out -- one small scale, the other huge. But both involved being with loved ones who joined with others in a larger event of significance.

December 29, 2011

Compressibility: Why We Like the Music We Do

I’ve said it before: the music of Christmas is a part of the season I like most. And by that I mean – like everything in the world – IN MODERATION. If I worked in retail, and were subjected to the all-day, all-night Musak onslaught of holiday favorites, I’d lose my mind. Or what’s left of it.

At the Barnes & Hampton Consort Celtic Christmas concert I attended earlier this month in Georgetown’s candlelit Dumbarton Church, I was especially moved by several pieces – one very familiar (“Silent Night”), and another unknown to me (the blues music that lute/guitar/mandolin player Linn Barnes improvised while Robert Aubry Davis read several Langston Hughes poems.

The pieces were so different and so satisfying. A day later, I started wondering what it was in the music that made it beautiful to me. Yes, there were other factors in play – the church, the good feeling in the audience, the presence of family and friends, the warm gingerbread at intermission, the candlelight – that contributed to my feeling of pleasure, of satisfaction. But what was it ABOUT THE MUSIC that reached me?

December 27, 2011

Best Therapy for a Bad Back: A Walk in D.C.'s Palisades (with photos)

When I crashed my car and fractured a vertebrae in August, my doctors said I'd need about four months to recover. August + four  months = NOW, right?

When I recently saw my back doc to tell him about continuing pain, he said the vertebrae had indeed healed. He also informed me there was an accumulation of arthritis in my lower back -- the culprit now. He said exercise could help, and prescribed two physical therapy sessions a week for four weeks. So far, I've had three PT sessions and have concluded that they focus primarily on standard back pain exercises that are easily found on the web and done at home. See for example. Additional clinic-based exercises are added... I think mainly to "justify the visit." Unfortunately, during my last visit, one of those add-ons did more harm than good.

So far, the best exercise advice from the doctor has been "just walk through the pain." I wish I'd forced myself to follow this suggestion. But since the pain occurs only when I stand and walk, it's easy to find excuses to stay put in the easy chair... or in bed.

My family celebrated the holiday this year on Christmas Eve, so Christmas Day and Monday's holiday were event-free on my calendar. The sunny, mild weather created an incentive to get out there and explore my beloved Palisades neighborhood.

December 23, 2011

A Christmas Poem Written in 1983 Resonates Even More Today

This poem was written in 1983 by John C. Harper, rector of St. John's Church, Lafayette Square (the "Church of the Presidents") for 30 years. John was a treasured friend, as is his widow Barbie -- who used this poem as part of her Christmas card greeting this year. The poem seems even more appropriate now.

Who knows if Bethlehem's star will shine
This year among the rubble of Beirut,
Or whether once again its light will come
Upon those seated in the power's seat;
Whether it will bring into a world forlorn
A glimpse of joy and hope and peace;
Or whether now in this our calloused time
Men will not see its ray or else
God will deny his warmth to us?

Who knows if those who man the guns and tanks
Will find the body of the Prince of Peace
Amid the discord and grimy waste
Of city street and love's forgotten souls
Who this year are wandering lost
As human discards within the urban vale
And like the Babe himself have no other place
To lay their heads than on some steamy grate
Where hope is only in the moisture of another night?

Who knows if war and devastation of what's good
Can ever let Christ come into our lives
At Christmastime to give one chance to see him
Face to face and love him as our Lord of Love?
He knows; this Deity who dwells in people,
Palaces and temples, battlefields and alleys of deep pain;
He lives in spite of rubble, hurt, and loss
And in his light we find our way again
To Bethlehem and from it hence to Calvary's hill.

"O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel."
Rescue us who have no reason
Save that we need this holy season
To make ourselves now fit for thee
And in thy light thyself to see.

December 22, 2011

More on Michael J. Fox's Joking About Parkinson's

Most of us who are dealing with chronic illness have days when we're sick and tired of being sick and tired. But we can keep those "downs" under control if we find occasions to laugh at ourselves and our illnesses.
Yesterday in a guest post, Leon Paparella, a psychotherapist who has lived with Parkinson's for over 20 years, used a recent appearance by Michael J, Fox on the comedy show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as the jumping off point for comments on how caregivers and the general public relate to the quirks of people with Parkinson's. I found a video clip from the show Leon mentioned and posted it here yeaterday.
I got such a good laugh from that clip that I went back and found the video from the prior show that portrayed an earlier confrontation  between MJF and Larry David.  This one seemed even funnier to me:

Happy Holidays!

December 21, 2011

Guest Post: "Curb Your Enthusiasm and Parkinson's Disease"

This guest blog is from Leon Paparella. Leon is a group psychotherapist based in Washington, D.C. His practice today is focused primarily on working with individuals, couples, and groups who are dealing with Parkinson's disease. Leon has Parkinson's himself -- the young-onset kind -- and has been living an active life with PD for over 20 years. He is the moderator of my weekly Parkinson's support group. Based on my experience with him, I enthusiastically second this tribute to Leon I found on the internet: "He has a fearlessness with his own vulnerability and internal process, which he uses ingeniously and strategically in his groups to catalyze levels of intimacy, honesty, and mutual support in sessions like you've never seen.". 

Here's the HBO segment from the show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" that Leon uses to launch his observations:

Here's Leon:

December 20, 2011

The REAL Caveat Emptor about Gifts: Add a Stocking Stuffer at Your Peril!

On December 8, I shared results from an interesting study that showed people preferred receiving gifts they specifically requested more than unsolicited gifts the that givers considered creative, personal, and thoughtful.

So, that special person on your list asked for “Inter-Stellar Vampires” video game? Get him exactly that.

And – apparently – nothing else.

According to a new study just reported on NBC’s online “Health on TODAY,” stocking stuffers – and other additional offerings -- only serve to devalue the bigger gift.

In a nutshell, study subjects received either an iPod, or an IPod with ONE free song already downloaded. Interestingly, the recipients who got only the iPod liked it MORE than the recipients who got exactly the same thing PLUS the free song. Go figure.

It’s no wonder that lots of people have had it up to HERE with the whole holiday gift-giving thing.

See the full report at Beware the evil stocking stuffer.

December 19, 2011

Good News! My "Adopted" Nepali Family Will Soon Be Reunited Here.. . . and Part 1 of "My Nepal Decade"

Here's a picture taken a few years ago of my "family" in Pokhara, Nepal -- my second home for much of the last decade. From left to right:  Laxmi, Rahel, Ramesh and me.

Ramesh arrived in Washington with a green card in January 2009.  Earlier this month we learned that Laxmi and Rahel have been issued their visas to join him here.  They probably will arrive here early in the New Year, marking the successful conclusion to efforts I began nearly 10 years ago.

This has prompted me to look back and revisit my Nepal Decade which I plan to do in several posting during the next week or two.

December 16, 2011

Parkinson's: May I Please Have this Dance?

Crank “dance” and “Parkinson’s” into the Google search bar and… whammo: many hits. PWPs are using dance as therapy all around the world.

The exercise helps. The socialization helps. And not just for those with Parkinson's.

And there’s something about the music, too. Harvard neurology professor Dr. Daniel Tarsy, director of the Parkinson's disease center at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said: "When you hear music, it sort of drives the emotional parts of the brain." The music may bypass damaged brain circuitry.

December 14, 2011

Gesundheit: Avoid Germs!

It's never fun getting a cold or the flu. And let's face it, people like me -- with Parkinson's and prostate cancer -- have more important worries!  :)

It's even worse getting sick at THIS time of year, when we're more likely to have special events to attend with families and friends. Unfortunately, this is also the season when germs seem especially nasty, and when we're most susceptible.

There's now more info online about germs than we could read in a lifetime. Here are just a few tips that looked interesting to me:

December 13, 2011

Health Update & Reflections on Aging and Living

I saw my back doctor yesterday -- a follow-up to my car crash on August 22, when I fractured a vertebrae. This doctor and my physical therapist had both told me that recovery would require about four months. So, even though I'm still experiencing some back pain, I'd hoped to be back in action, and feeling fine, by the end of the year.

After the X-ray, my doctor gave me the usual mix of good news and bad news: the fractured vertebrae is fully healed, but the lingering pain is caused by something else -- a build-up of arthritis in the lower spine, unrelated to my accident. In turn, that bad news was followed by more good news: my doctor thinks a new exercise regimen is the answer. So, I'll meet with a physical  therapist twice a week for the next month. If that doesn't work, we'll consider cortisone injections.

Earlier this week, I had occasion to reflect on various aspects of aging. These thoughts fall under three headings:

1. My 80s as the Mirror Image of My Teenage Years

December 12, 2011

Avoid Falls: Balance Exercises for Seniors

A few days ago, I did a post about avoiding falls, the number one cause of injury-related deaths among seniors. Of all the health risks seniors face, falls probably are the most preventable.

In response to the fall-prevention strategies I mentioned in that post, I've received several emails requesting more information about exercises for seniors that can help improve balance and -- as a result -- reduce the risk of falls. I found several balance exercise videos that seemed particularly good which we'll get to in a moment. But first, two pals reminded me that I shouldn't overlook an easy exercise that's brought seniors good results for years. Their comments proved again the wisdom of --

K.I.S.S. -- Keep It Simple, Stupid!
John Martin succinctly describes the exercise (see first video, below) and its benefits:
Due to the recommendations of an acquaintance who's a physical therapist: Every day, as part of my exercise routine, I balance myself on one foot (standing next to a wall where I can catch myself easily if I lose my balance), standing there for as long as I can, and then do the same on the other side. When I started I was lucky if I could make it to 15 seconds on my left leg. Over time, my balance has improved a LOT, as has (apparently) the strength of small muscles in my feet and legs that contribute to my ability to balance myself/catch myself when I lose balance. These muscles atrophy over time as does our general ability to maintain balance as we get older... "Do not go gentle into that good night!"
As I told John, this exercise had been part of my routine before my Parkinson's diagnosis. Later, I got so caught up in Parkinson's exercises that I forgot about this old stand-by (pun intended). Now I do it first thing in the morning when I turn on the PC and wait for it to warm up, and throughout the day, when -- for example -- I'm waiting for the kettle to boil the water for my tea, or for my supper to finish in the microwave. (My family and friends will confirm that even these elementary procedures tax my limited culinary skills.)

There are some great exercise suggestions on these videos:

December 9, 2011

At 93 and 100: Two Ladies Teaching, Doing, and Being Beautiful!

At 93, Tao Porchon-Lynch has practiced yoga for over 70 years, and taught students in India, France, and the U.S. for almost half a century. She has also written screenplays and produced documentaries.

We're always talking about the importance of exercise (like earlier this week, in a post about avoiding falls). It sure looks like this wonderful lady has her own special secret: staying active and positive, and sharing her passion with others. Listen to her joy:

Now, meet Ruth Kobin, a fabulous New Yorker who marked her 100th birthday with a cruise to Bermuda. Her family and friends were not surprised to see her dancing. How can we NOT celebrate this beautiful lady? Look at her!

Here's Ruth talking about Pilates and other exercises she loves:

Two wonderful women -- an octogenarian and a centenarian -- both active, vital, brimming with life and passion, and showing the rest of us what beauty REALLY looks like.

Hats off to you both!

December 8, 2011

Gifts: Ask Specifically What Your People Want!

Would Baby Jesus have appreciated that gold, frankincense, and myrrh a little more if He had actually requested them? Was He likely to think those gifts actually cost the Magi LESS than the Wise Men actually paid for them? Would the three kings have been better to offer a simple money gift? Might they have profited more – in this life and later – had they called ahead and asked Baby Jesus what He really wanted?

Ah, the season of giving! That complicated minefield of holiday gift-giving, where smiles and “appreciation” abound… at least on the surface. Underneath, well… that’s where things get tangled.

I recently encountered an intriguing study, titled “Give them what they want: the benefits of explicitness in gift exchange,” by Francesca Gino and Francis J. Flynn, published in Elsevier’s “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. “

While I can’t say I was really surprised by the researchers’ findings, several got my attention. And since it’s that time of year, I thought I’d share some of the highlights.
  • Recipients are most grateful for gifts they specifically request. They typically appreciate unrequested gifts less.
  • Givers believe (wrongly) that unrequested gifts – the kind that require special creativity -- will be appreciated at least as much as gifts that the recipients have specifically requested. Not very romantic, but… there you are. In fact, recipients consider requested gift MORE thoughtful and personal than unsolicited gifts.
  • When recipients request one specific gift – instead of a wish-list of items -- givers are more likely make the purchase.
  • Givers believe recipients prefer a specifically requested item more than a money gift. In fact, recipients prefer money more.
  • People believe their internal states are more apparent to others than they really are. This inclination can lead prospective recipients into thinking – wrongly – that givers will know what will be appreciated.
  • Since gift recipients are unlikely to express disappointment, gift givers may believe their offerings more appreciated than is actually the case.
 Check out the full report

Good luck with your holiday gift-giving!

December 7, 2011

Robert Frost's "Reluctance" -- A Poem for this Season of the Year... and Life?

I'm often amazed and humbled by the erudition of the other members of my Parkinson's support group. At last week's meeting, the discussion prompted one of the members to recite  from memory the last stanza of a poem by Robert Frost. I liked it so much -- and the meaning seemed so perfectly aligned with our discussion -- that I made a note to look up the full poem when I got home.


-- Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
Reading this poem in early December, 2011 -- age 82, dealing with Parkinson's and cancer -- I find that it aptly describes what I see in my garden as winter approaches. But it also makes me consider my own "reluctance" to "bow and accept the end of a love or a season." I, too, have "climbed the hills of view and looked at the world, and descended." And like Frost, I've come home, but I'm not persuaded "it is ended." For me, it's not "reluctance" to accept this outcome. It's refusal.

Here's the line I particularly identify with:

The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Wither?" 

December 6, 2011

A Delightful Surprise on the "Road Less Traveled"

Last Saturday, another spectacular and mild late autumn day, I strolled around the neighborhood. I had taken this particular "detour" before, but not when the leaves were gone. So, imagine my surprise when I saw THIS:

I stepped closer, and the view was even more intriguing:

And the fun was just beginning....

December 5, 2011

Avoiding Falls: Here's What I'm Doing. What about You?

My Parkinson's support group spent part of our meeting discussing falls, a major concern for those with PD. But we aren't alone; about a third of us over 65 will fall each year, often with serious consequences.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-based deaths among seniors, and that percentage has risen sharply in the last decade.

Outcomes Linked to Falls

The Center for Disease Control reports these common aftermaths:

  • Twenty to thirty percent of those who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures or head trauma. Those injuries can make it difficult to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death.
  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury.
  • Most fractures experienced by seniors are caused by falls. The most common are fractures of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand.
  • Many people who fall, even if they aren't injured, develop a fear of falling that may cause them to limit their activities, which in turn leads to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness. With reduced fitness, the likelihood of falls increases.

December 2, 2011

Confession: I Flunked The Telomeres Aging Test

Back in July, I reported on findings by Harvard University scientists about reversing age-related degeneration. Those researchers caused partial reversal of degeneration in mice by re-engineering the telomerase enzyme to lengthen the rodents' telomeres.

Other studies had suggested that length of telomeres is a possible indicator of the aging process in humans, too. This summer, I learned about a new, commercially available telomeres analysis. I took the "test" in July and got my results in September. So, why haven't I shared the results yet?

Might it have something to do with learning that my telomeres were shorter -- not longer -- than the average for my age group?   I probably would have reported the results sooner if they had showed  my telomeres were longer than average, suggesting a slower aging process. (I have to laugh at how much my reaction sounds like a typical  teenage boy's concern about comparative size. The more things change, the more they remain the same.)

In any event, at age 82, I'm not thrilled about test results that suggest I might have less time remaining than the average 82 year  old.  But I'm focusing on the research (reported at the end of this post) findings indicating that telomere length is only one, and a relatively minor one, of several factors that play a part in determining one's life span.

The impact of telomeres on aging is getting lots of attention these days. Here's why.

December 1, 2011

Versatile Stem Cells in Breast Milk. No Embryos Destroyed!

The grand saga of the potential use of stem cells to treat diseases is a long, complex tale, one I’ve discussed regularly in this space. There have been many ups and downs, with many great giddy excitements and many sobering reality checks. Among the headlines:
  • Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) Can Reverse Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s!
  • ESC Implants Regularly Rejected by Immune System
  • Vatican Promotes Adult Stem Cell (ASC) Research
  • ESC Therapies Promising in Rodent Models
  • ESCs Causing Cancers in Tissue
  • European Court of Justice Bans Stem Cell Patents
  • Scientists Create Brain Cells from Skin Cells
  • Promising Study Flawed by Small Test Group
And so it goes.

Here’s the latest excitement: just weeks ago, researchers at the University of Western Australia showed that stem cells in breast milk can be coerced into becoming other types of cells in the body -- like bone, fat, liver, and brain cells. Scientists have known for years that breast milk contains stem cells. It's the complexity and potential of those cells that's creating the stir now.