January 31, 2012

Patients Report Improved Vision after Retinal Stem Cell Implants

While the results involved only two people, there’s still reason for excitement in last week’s report – published in the online journal The Lancet – that two women experienced improved vision after embryonic stem cell therapy.

Said Dr. Steven Schwartz, a retina special at the University of California who treated both patients, “It’s a big step forward for regenerative medicine.” The apparent success carries implications for the use of stem cells to treat other diseases, like Parkinson’s.

Both patients were legally blind. A woman in her 70s suffered from macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss among seniors. The other woman, 51, suffered from Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, which effects younger people.

After the 30-minute procedure, the women reported several improvements, like seeing colors better, and being able to thread a needle again.

January 30, 2012

Photo Journey of Tika Time and Nepal's Festivals

Contemplating my hoped-for return visit to Nepal this spring for Nimesh's wedding, I was looking over the photos I took during my dozen visits to Nepal between 2001 and 2008. I was struck by how many of them involved the giving and receiving of tika.

Tika is a paste made of vermilion-colored powder, rice, and yogurt, applied to the forehead. Getting a tika -- from an older person in your family, or from relatives, or from anyone -- is a blessing and expression of love. Tika-giving is a centerpiece of most of the festivals that enrich the Nepali culture. 

Here's a photo log of some of the tika-giving occasions.

January 27, 2012

DEPRESSION: Myths and Facts

I’ve had some experience – mild, and not long-lasting – with depression. Chances are, you have, too.

The more I read, the more I’m inclined to believe that there’s lots of undiagnosed depression among seniors. It’s an important topic I plan to pursue on this blog in the weeks ahead.

As a start, I wanted to share these “myths and facts” about depression, from an excellent recent slide show from WebMD (one of my favorite online resources). I’ve recapped the bullet points here, but encourage you to click on the link to the slideshow that appears below. It provides helpful explanations and additional information.

January 26, 2012

Lower Your Risk of Cancer With Healthy Eating, Weight Loss And Exercise

This message comes through loud and clear in the cover story in the current issue of one of my favorite newsletters, Nutrition Action, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The excellent article was written by Bonnie Lieman.

Who Gets Cancer?
One out of two men and one in three women. But the American Cancer Society estimates that of the 571,950 cancer deaths last year, a third would never have happened if no one smoked. And another third could have been prevented with weight loss, exercise, and healthier eating. 

Here's a rundown on the how diet, weight and exercise are linked to the risk of some of the major types of cancer:

BREAST:  No other cancer strikes anywhere near as many women as breast cancer, though lung cancer claims more lives. Excess weight, even if it's not obesity, increases the risk.

January 25, 2012

Treating Essential Tremor with Ultrasound: Are Cancer and Parkinson's Next?

A segment on the ABC Evening News on January 24 caught my attention. Medical correspondent Dr. Richard Besser reported on the success of treating Essential Tremor (ET) with MRI guided focused ultrasound.

The clip showed the dramatic results for a woman with ET. Before the treatment, shaking prevented her from easily touching the tip of her index finger to Besser’s. After the non-invasive, ten-minute procedure – no problem.

Her results were similar to those of the man in this brief video:

January 24, 2012

Age 45? New Study Shows Cognitive Impairment Occurs Earlier than We Thought

A ten-year study of 7,000 British government workers revealed a modest decline in mental reasoning for men and women aged 45-49. Earlier studies indicated that such losses do not typically occur before age 60.

Reported by Reuters on January 5, 2012, these new findings are especially significant because drug therapies for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are most effective when administered as soon as possible after the first indications of impairment. Now, there is some concern that people with cognitive issues may be receiving therapies when they are too old for those interventions to be useful.

Led by Archana Singh-Manoux from the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, the study assessed participants – ages 45-70 – three times during the ten-year period using tests for memory, vocabulary, and aural and visual comprehension skills.

Men and women who were 45-49 at the start of the ten-year study showed a 3.6% decline. Men who were 65-70 at the start showed an average 9.6% decline; women in the same age category declined 7.4%. About one third of all participants 45-70 showed no decline.

January 23, 2012

Relief for Parkinson's Symptoms: Get on that Bike -- Stationary, Tandem, or Regular

EXERCISE: I wish I had a nickel for every time I've written that word on this blog. We know about the benefits of exercise for almost every affliction. I attribute my underlying good health to a lifetime of biking. It was a very sad day when I decided to stop biking because of my Parkinson's balance problems.

I've got a stationary exercise bike in my rec room in front of the TV, but I haven't been using it much. Now several recent reports have touted the benefits of biking for people with Parkinson's. Let's see what might work for me....

Exercise on a Stationary Bike
A recent article in the Washington Post featured the story of 64-year-old Chuck Linderman, who was diagnosed with PD six years ago. Chuck works out – and I mean WORKS OUT – for an hour and a half every day: 30 minutes on a rowing machine, 30 minutes lifting free weights, and 30 minutes on a stationary bike. It’s a sweaty, muscle-building and aerobic regimen, and Linderman’s results are impressive.

Studies support the premise that hard exercise really helps PWPs. According to the Post article:
Preliminary studies show that after eight weeks of cycling three times a week at a pace high enough to break a sweat and raise the heart rate, some patients can recoup much of their mobility for nearly four weeks. After that, gains disappear unless the patient resumes exercising. While it cannot cure Parkinson’s, heavy-duty exercise shows promise for countering, even delaying, the inability to move that the disease causes.

January 20, 2012

You're Invited! An Arranged Marriage Celebration: July 17, 2024

There's been lots of talk in my house these past few days about a possible arranged marriage and wedding celebration in Nepal. The chatter got me thinking about a marriage I'd like to schedule for July 17, 2024 -- when the bride reaches her 18th birthday. But first, a little background about arranged marriages in Nepal.

Weddings in Nepal
Nepali weddings are momentous occasions, often planned years in advance. Traditionally, marriages in Nepal are arranged by the families, often when the future bride and groom are still children. (So, tradition is on my side!)

Nepali parents searching for future sons- and daughters-in-law typically consider a variety of factors, including caste, religion, ethnicity, age, and connections between the families. More and more, prospective brides and grooms participate in the selection process. There is even a trend toward western-style "love" matches that cross caste lines, as more young Nepalis attend college and work in other countries. Still, respect for tradition and family runs deep for young Nepalis, whatever their experience. And if they compare the success of Nepali arranged marriages (very high) and western love matches (not so much...), they'd have to acknowledge the wisdom in the "old ways" of their parents.

Nepali Weddings -- Great Fun
Hindu weddings in Nepal are certainly colorful. They may last for days, particularly if the groom's traditional journey (with accompanying marching band) to the bride's house involves some distance. He may be on horseback (I saw a groom riding an elephant at an Indian wedding), but a decorated car is more common these days.

In the spring of 2005, I participated in the Kathmandu wedding of my good friends Puru and Sara (shortened versions of their Nepali names). What a joyous occasion! My drab Western garb certainly looks out of place here:

Here are Puru and Sara (now proud parents of two lovely daughters) on their special day:

I looked at several YouTube videos of Nepali weddings. I chose the one here -- an example of a small town wedding with the dohori singing I've grown to love:

And Now -- Drum Roll! -- The Arranged Marriage for July 17, 2024

Here's The Groom:

Rahel is the son of Ramesh and Laxmi. They're my "adopted" Nepali family. I took this photo in December, 2008, during my last of many visits to Nepal. Rahel is on the roof of the family home in Pokhara and had recently turned four. Here's an earlier photo:

And here comes the bride:

My great (really great!) granddaughter Kaylee. This photo was taken at Christmas, 2009. Here's the grown-up Kaylee dining out a few weeks ago after seeing Hairspray:

Rahel's birthday is November 2, 2004. Kaylee's is July 17, 2006. I haven't checked with an astrologer yet. But I'm sure the heavens will bless this marriage. I'm not so sure their parents will.

January 19, 2012

NAPA: New Plan to Fight Alzheimer's, but... Where's the Money?

On Monday and Tuesday, representatives from Health and Human Services met with medical experts to discuss the National Alzheimer's Project Act (NAPA), which was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by president Obama on January 4, 2011. NAPA – when finalized -- is intended to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, and will resemble the wars on cancer and heart disease.

A Great Plan for 2025 But Alzheimer's Research Needs Money Now
An estimated five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a number expected to triple by 2050. Our obesity epidemic will undoubtedly inflate those numbers, too, since diabetics are more prone to AD. People with Parkinson's also face increased risk of AD . . . one reason for my personal interest in NAPA.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducts most groundbreaking disease research. Its budget for Alzheimer's research has remained under $500 million. By contrast, the cancer research budget is $6 billion; HIV/AIDS, $3 billion. No question -- as a prostate cancer survivor, and as someone who has lost many close friends to AIDS, I support those efforts. It's important to recognize success, and death rates from cancer and HIV/AIDS are dramatically down in recent years. Spend the money on research; see results.

For a full list of NIH's research budget by disease, click here.

Alzheimer's differs from cancer and HIV/AIDS since it more often requires extended caregiving. That care is costly in an institutional setting. Even when care is provided at home by family members, it costs society -- as providers often must abandon other productive work.

January 18, 2012

Health, Parents, and Parkinson’s: Guest Post from Leon Paparella

Leon is the treasured moderator of my Parkinson's disease support group. He has a special talent for making sure everyone in the group is involved. He also keeps us focused on how we're feeling, so that our discussions don't simply become commentaries about pills and exercises. Leon has been dealing with PD since 1987, and his experience with the disease is invaluable to our group.

Leon's reflection below first appeared in the fall 2010 issue of the Parkinson's Update of the Parkinson's Foundation of the National Capital Area. I asked his permission to share it -- an interesting example of how mind-body connections play out in our lives.

Health, Parents, and Parkinson’s: A Historical Perspective
by Leon Paparella
In my nuclear Italian-American family, I am the youngest and only son, having an older sister (two and a half years). Throughout my childhood and early life I seemed to have been the focus of excessive concern and worry. Over-protectiveness would be an apt description of my parents’ response to my well-being. I resented this.

Historically, an important experience exemplifies and shaped my response to health concerns. It was my mother’s extreme reaction to a baseball accident when I was eight years old. In my mind, the trauma will always be with me. From it (besides losing two front teeth), I learned to hide, deny and minimize any and all injuries and sickness in order to counteract my mother’s anticipated fear and reactions.

January 17, 2012

Will Insulin -- Salvation to Diabetics -- Also Play a Role in Alzheimer's Treatment?

Over and over, we‘ve learned this fact: no study carried out according to the strictest scientific standards has yet reported an ability to prevent, retard or reverse the progress of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

While the latest news about insulin is certainly encouraging, the study involved is very small – only 104 people – and therefore doesn’t really change anything. Still, it creates a new hope, and a temporary quickening of the pulse.

Published Monday, September 12, 2011, in the online journal Archives of Neurology and reported the next day in the Los Angeles Times, the study suggests that inhaling a dense mist of insulin through the nose twice a day might slow – or even reverse – the progress of the neurological disorder for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

January 12, 2012

Join Me On My Morning Walk from My House in Pokhara, Nepal, to Breakfast at Mike's

When I left Nepal in 2008, I thought it might be my last visit to my "home away from home" in Pokhara. I had visited Nepal a dozen or more times in the 2000s and spent weeks at a time living in the house in Pokhara. The shot above is one of many taken from the roof of the house. Ramesh, the head of the household, had finally gotten his green card when I was there in December, 2008 and was to start his new life in the US a month later, His wife Laxmi and son Rahel would follow later (we hope they'll be here within the next month). So, figuring "this is it," I was in tears as I left that roof to get into the car for the trip to the airport.

But now -- HURRAY! -- it looks like I'll be making another visit. My Nepali housemate Nimesh is virtually certain to get married in Kathmandu this year. I will certainly return for that! I hope I'll be joined by as many members of my family as can make the trip. I'd love to see them all in the Pokhara house.

January 11, 2012

A New Affliction (Arthritis) but Same Old Remedy (Exercise)

Given last year's developments, I should rename this blog "Aging and Parkinson's and Prostate Cancer and Arthritis"... and perhaps dementia? It's not unusual -- as we journey into our 80s -- to pick up additional affliction baggage.

When I crashed my car and fractured a vertebrae in August, doctors said the bones would heal in about four months, and the back pain would subside. Sure enough, the December X-rays showed the fracture had healed... but the back pain remained.

I've now learned the pain is caused by increasing arthritis in my lower back. Arthritis is a chronic illness that would presumably keep me company until I die, like my Parkinson's and prostate cancer -- which continues to exist, according to PSA tests, after surgery in 1995. Those tests showed the cancer grew very slowly for years, until "my number" took a big leap upward last summer.

Arthritis is something new. But there's also something old -- the No. 1 recommended therapy is EXERCISE.
I've written about a variety of ailments. For almost all of them, exercise is up near the top of any list of recommended treatments.

January 10, 2012

What's YOUR Nutrition IQ?

I’ve occasionally mentioned WedMD as a good online resource for health issues.

And on this blog, nutrition has been a frequent topic. It’s right up there with exercise as a key well-being component that we really control.

So, I was happy to find this brief, 15-question quiz about nutrition on WedMD. I like to think I’m pretty well-informed on this topic, and I only got 66% on the quiz – just ten out of fifteen correct answers! At the end of the quiz, I received this comment about my score: “Not bad, but you might want to review the dietary guidelines and take another crack at the quiz.” Good advice.

I’d love to know how YOU score! Won’t you answer the questions -- the process takes about two minutes -- and let me know your results in a comment? Just click here: WebMD Nutrition Quiz

Diet and nutrition are GREAT topics for us to think about, as we start the new year!

January 9, 2012

Preparing for Death with Continued Zest for Life

In the past week, a prominent member of my Parkinson's support group died after a long struggle with both Parkinson's and dementia. When I joined the group two years ago, he was pretty far down the road with his afflictions, yet he showed up for meetings more faithfully than any of us, insisting that his caregivers bring him each week. We all sensed that inside his slumped-over figure was a mind struggling to follow the conversations, anxious to break through the fog and contribute. When he did attempt to speak, everyone became silent and focused on every word he said. We all felt a great loss when he finally stopped coming to meetings; we knew he was being moved into a nursing home to prepare for the end.

Later in the week, I got a call from a dear friend who had been living in a home for low-income seniors for the last 20 years and was in declining health. She wanted to tell me she had been moved to a hospice and probably would be placed in their facility for people awaiting death. But she said she still retained her zest for life even as she prepared for its end.

This may sound sad and depressing, but my reaction has been just the opposite. My death is inevitable, and seeing others deal with its arrival with courage, dignity, and even a continued zest for life is reassuring.

January 6, 2012

Good News for Senior Brains!

So often, we read studies about cognitive decline in seniors. We almost take those results for granted, don’t  we? You age, your hair turns gray, you lose mental abilities.

But wait! As we enter a new year, I’ve just seen a couple studies about the senior brain that suggest: "Not so fast!”

The Cautious, Trainable Senior Brain
The December 27, 2011 issue of the e-bulletin ScienceDaily reports on an interesting study conducted by researchers at the University of Ohio. Essentially, the scientists drew several conclusions:
  • While senior brains may initially take longer than younger brains to make quick decisions in some situations, it’s often because the older study subjects consciously decide to make good, accurate decisions. Their brains have decided that being right is more important than being fast.
  • Those same senior brains that were purposely deliberating about decisions can be TRAINED to act faster, in effect damping down that tendency for accuracy. With training, those older brains essentially acquired the same speed as younger brains, without a significant corresponding drop in accuracy.

January 5, 2012

Wild About Warhol? Not Me

Last Monday was a holiday, so I was surprised when my housekeeper showed up for her bi-weekly gig. Usually when she arrives, I take off for my regular Monday bridge game at the local senior center. But with her holiday appearance, I had to think of something else. I remembered it was the last day of the National Gallery of Art's exhibit, Warhol:Headlines, so I decided to go down and take a  look and see if I could find an answer to the question I've always had about Andy Warhol:

Why on earth is he considered a great artist?

So I spent well over an hour at the exhibit and even invested $5 to rent the audio guide so I could listen to curators explaining the works.

The exhibit focused on Warhol's career-long use of news-related material, ranging from newspaper headlines to photography and films. It even included some of the hundreds of cardboard boxes in which he stored newspaper clippings. In its introduction to the exhibit, the NGA explains:
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is among the foremost American artists of the last century. Alongside Pablo Picasso, he is also considered one of the most important 20th-century artists in the world.
Really? Right up there with Picasso? This is the sort of critical acclaim that befuddles me.

January 4, 2012

Boyd Lee Dunlop, 85: A Story about Music to Make Your Heart Sing

Every now and then, I find stories on the internet I just have to share. Here’s one of them.

Boyd Lee Dunlop is 85, three years older than I am.

He was born in Winston-Salem, NC, and grew up in Buffalo, NY. His mother cleaned houses, and he doesn’t remember much about his father.

He learned how to play piano on a discarded instrument in a neighbor’s back yard. Now, all these years later, he has recorded his own CD and plays concerts on Saturday nights… concerts that people pay to attend.

Here’s Boyd doing his thing:

And here’s the full, wonderful story by writer Dan Barry, from the December 9th edition of the New York Times.

January 3, 2012

A Welcome Warning from a Dear Departed Friend at the Start of a New Year

I was brooding about an appropriate subject for my first post of 2012 when serendipity struck once again.

I stumbled upon the following sermon delivered by my good friend John Harper, the long-time rector of St. John's Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC. It was delivered on the Feast of the Epiphany -- January 6, 1991.

But first, a brief personal note. I was raised Catholic but abandoned religion in my late teens. I became a practicing Episcopalian in my 50s, when I was struggling to maintain my still-recent recovery from alcoholism. Today I'm somewhere between agnostic and atheist.

Nevertheless, I still find much to contemplate in John's sermon and -- at the start of 2012 -- its warning to "go home by another way." I hope you will, too.