September 28, 2012

Traveling with Parkinson's

In September, 2009, when I was 80, my doctor told me I had Parkinson’s.

Among the many things I wondered that day was: How would this new diagnosis change my lifelong love affair with travel?

Here’s the partial verdict thus far: not so much. At least not yet.

In May, 2010 -- within a year of that revelation about my health -- I journeyed for three weeks in Turkey. It was a rigorous adventure, and I spent days walking the crowded sidewalks of Istanbul, exploring the haunting ruins of ancient Greek cities along the Aegean coast, and hiking up and down the hills of Cappadoccia in central Turkey. I didn’t see many people my age in the remote places I visited, and I felt pretty good about that.

For the first time in my life, I used a cane – the collapsible, travel variety – on a few of the most arduous hikes. And I found the cane came with an extra bonus. Ten minutes after I entered a spectacular cave church -- the "Dark Church" -- in the Goreme Open Air Museum in Cappadoccia, the small space filled with a big tour group that completely  filled the place. Eager to escape the crowd, I bent over and stepped forward, holding my back with one hand, and maneuvering with the cane in the other. I felt like Moses fleeing Egypt, as the sea of tourists suddenly parted, and I made a quick escape.

Here's that cane, temporarily out of service as I snap a picture
in the rugged Honey Valley, Cappadoccia, Turkey.  

In June, 2011, I spent a momentous weekend in New York City. Quite by accident, I was there when Governor Como signed the Marriage Equality Act into law. As if those celebrations weren't enough, the city also hosted the Gay Pride parade that same weekend. I walked everywhere – no doubt fueled by adrenaline and buoyed by the uplifting spirit of the time – and felt fantastic.

Here I am at the Gay Pride Parade as the SAGE 
(Service & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) contingent marches by.

September 27, 2012

Mark Bittman: "Is Alzheimer's Type 3 Diabetes?"

Yesterday, I wrote about diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Today, I noticed a burst of internet comments about an article published online yesterday by the New York Times’ well-known food writer Mark Bittman. The title: “Is Azheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?”

While Bittman isn’t a medical scientist, he knows food. And in his thoughtful piece, he explains the role that food plays in brain health.

We’ve always asked, “If you could improve your health and appearance by eating more thoughtfully, would you?” Now, Bittman suggests, we should ask, “If you could preserve your brain function and sharply limit your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by eating more thoughtfully, would you?”

Bittman discusses junk foods, sugar, glucose, insulin, the different varieties of diabetes, brain plaques, dementia, and Alzheimer's. He knits together an explanation of how these issues are connected.

September 26, 2012

Diabetes Drug: Another New Hope for Alzheimer’s?

I often worry about the time I spend on the computer researching and writing this blog. But I just joined my housemates in the rec room, intending to ride my exercise bike and watch TV with them. My housemates were watching one of the endless "amateur hour" talent shows. This one was called The Voice. I had wanted to ride the bike for about 15 minutes, but I had to leave after just five minutes. What mind-numbing crap!

Dementia is another chronic worry. If I am headed in that direction, I'd surely speed up the process if I spent my evenings watching shows like that.

I find internet research on health topics fascinating and mentally stimulating. Maybe it also helps slow down any drift toward dementia. In any event, it's a more enjoyable way to spend an evening. Even with a good TV show, I tend to doze off after 9 pm, which makes it more difficult to sleep later. But the interactive demands of internet research keep me alert for hours.

So many new breakthroughs are happening in medical research! New studies involving the brain are especially fascinating, particularly for someone with Parkinson's, a disease that has certainly been reducing dopamine-generating cells in my brain for years. New findings establish two principles. First, the adult brain continues to grow and develop throughout our lives. Second, brain development in adulthood is shaped mostly by external stimuli. These conclusions suggest we can conduct healthy "workouts" for our brains, just as we do for our bodies.

The exercise bike for my brain includes scanning the online Science Daily's Mind & Brain News. In its  September 14 edition,, I found a report on the promise of a new diabetes drug to treat Alzheimer’s.

September 25, 2012

K.I.S.S. ("Keep It Simple, Stupid"): Good Advice when Dealing with a Bad Lawn OR a Bad Back

Here's my backyard oasis today:

And here's the pathetic patch of lawn (?) that remains:

I've been struggling for years to make grass take hold here. It's a shady spot. The soil is poor and compacted. I tried a moss lawn for a couple years, but that didn't work. Then every spring and fall, I'd try seed starter, seed, fertilizing, aerating, watering... the works. Not much success. This fall, I planned to have it all dug up and reseeded, hoping that starting over might work.

September 24, 2012

The GI Bill: the Biggest-Ever Government Grant Program Transformed the Middle Class, the Economy, and Universities

With all the recent blathering about the role of the government in building a strong middle class, and about the 47 percent who are wards of the state, I'm surprised we've heard nothing about the biggest, most successful government aid program ever --the GI Bill. Enacted in 1944, that legislation provided assistance to returning WWII vets for college, businesses and home mortgages.

Suddenly, millions of servicemen were able to afford their own homes for the first time. As a result, residential construction jumped from 114,000 new homes in 1944 to 1.7 million in 1950.

Some 2.2 million vets attended college or graduate school, and 5.6 million prepared for vocations in auto mechanics, electrical wiring, and construction. They could attend any institution that admitted them, using benefits that covered even the costliest tuition and helped support spouses and children.

Before 1940, colleges were mostly for the privileged, but the GI Bill opened doors for rural people, offspring of first-generation immigrants, and veterans from working- and middle-class backgrounds. In so many cases, these vets were the first members of their families to attend college. This influx of vets transformed our colleges into the world-class institutions they are today.

Vocational training led to jobs with middle-class incomes and benefits. Millions took low-interest loans to start businesses.

Nearly three in ten veterans used low-interest mortgages to buy homes, farms or businesses. The economic impact was huge. In 1955, for example, the Veterans Administration backed close to a third of all housing starts.

September 21, 2012

Michael J. Fox to His Kids when They Complain: "A Lady Had a Baby in a Tree!"

I'm a big admirer of both Micheal J. Fox and Ellen DeGeneres, so I loved this video clip:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

I particularly liked his comments that reinforce my oft-repeated saying that "I have two diseases: Parkinson's disease and John Schappi's disease." (This is an adaptation of a comment I first heard from the moderator of my PD support group, who is a 25-year Parkinson's survivor.)

I think the same concept applies to everyone dealing with ailments. Yes, Parkinson's may be a bit more idiosyncratic than most diseases. But I don't believe there's any condition where "one size fits all." Drugs and rehabilitative therapies can create as many individual, specific results as there are people who use them. For that reason, it's vital we assume active roles in managing our own health care.

Getting back to Michael J. Fox....  He became famous -- and beloved -- playing Alan P. Keaton on the sitcom Family Ties. His other successes include the Back to the Future trilogy, and his award-winning lead role on Spin City, from which  he retired in 2000. That same year, he launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which has become one of the world's leading organizations in the search for a cure.

I highly recommend his memoir, the New York Times bestseller, Lucky Man.

Finally, here's what Michael said in a recent interview about coming to terms with the disease:
I don’t look at life as a battle or as a fight. I don’t think I’m scrappy. I’m accepting. I say "living with" or "working through" Parkinson’s. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. I look at it like I’m a fluid that’s finding the fissures and cracks and flowing through.

September 20, 2012

Parkinson's, Genealogy and Risk of Prostate Cancer and Melanoma

After a week of posting about our miserable political system, it's a relief to get back to the real world of dealing with Parkinson's and aging and an aching back. Tackling these issues isn't as depressing as our politics. (I'm only half joking.)

Here's a just released study that I found interesting:

A recent study from Archives of Neurology suggests that people with Parkinson's disease (PD) may carry a higher risk for both melanoma (a form of skin cancer) and prostate cancer. I guess I'm Exhibit A, since I have PD and prostate cancer. I've also been treated twice for melanoma.

According to the research paper, the risk runs both ways. Those with PD have an increased risk of prostate cancer and those with prostate cancer have an increased risk of PD. The study analyzed the Utah Population Database, which includes personal and family information for over two million individuals. Amazingly, some of those records provide family information for more than 15 generations.

Here's a summary of the findings:
  • An increased risk for PD was associated with an increased risk for both prostate cancer and melanoma.
  • Prostate cancer was diagnosed in 212 individuals who died with PD, compared with a normal expected risk of only 124.
  • There was elevated risk for prostate cancer among first-, second-, and third-degree relatives of people who died with Parkinson's disease.
  • There was significantly increased risk of death from PD among 22,147 men with a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
  • Melanoma and prostate cancer were the only cancers in significant excess among those with PD. Colorectal, lung, pancreas, and stomach cancers were observed at lower than expected rates.
Note: Statistical analyses like these only show an association and do not prove cause and effect.

September 18, 2012

How to Resolve Our Fiscal Crisis: Don't Let Anyone 60 or Older Vote in this Election

I originally planned to title this post "Our Entitlements Make Me Richer and My Children Poorer." But I changed it after reading Bob Laszewski's excellent analysis of both parties' Medicare reform proposals, which I summarized last week. Here's how he began his piece:
Let me start by saying something that will likely surprise you. If I could be king for a day, I would prohibit anyone over the age of 60 from voting in this election. This election is really about the future and the big decisions on the table are about the long-term government spending and entitlement issues that should be made by younger voters who will have to pay for them and will benefit or suffer from them.
We have turned people over 65 -- like me -- into a politically protected class. Because we vote at much higher rates than younger workers, politicians of both parties are afraid to touch our Social Security and Medicare benefits. Those programs must be revised to reflect the longer life expectancy and greater wealth of today's retirees. We must lighten the burden on our children and grandchildren, whose taxes support those programs, and who cannot save enough to fund their own retirements.

September 17, 2012

Memory: Two Updates

At 83, I count my blessings that I am
  • still living in my own house, 
  • managing quite well on my own, 
  • enjoying a pretty jam-packed retirement, 
  • coping well with my various afflictions, and 
  • feeling happy and contented most of the time
I've got two progressive diseases -- Parkinson's and prostate cancer -- but strangely enough I don't spend much time worrying about them. I worry more that the lousy short-term memory I've had most of my life is getting worse. Dementia – and its more acute cousin, Alzheimer’s – are my greatest fears.

Two articles about memory recently hit my inbox. One gave encouraging news about brain structure; the other focused on the role of genetics.

September 14, 2012

Let's Hope Joe Biden is Wrong about Social Security

I've been posting this week about the political debate over Medicare reform, a major issue in our search for ways to resolve our fiscal crisis. Fixing Social Security is also a crucial factor. An off-the-cuff remark by Joe Biden last week illustrated the tendency of Democratic pols to demagogue on this issue.

I love Joe Biden. He's a "Happy Warrior" who loves people and the rough-and-tumble of politics (unlike his boss). But he often wanders off the reservation boundaries established by Obama's re-election campaign strategists, who prefer ambiguous campaign remarks to clear position statements.

Joe did it again recently at a campaign stop in southern Virginia, where he encountered a coffee shop patron who said, "I'm glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security." Biden responded, "I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you."

Not good. Social Security is going broke. The trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund -- who include the President's cabinet secretaries at treasury, labor, and health and human services -- said in their annual report (delivered to Biden in April in his capacity as Senate President) that the disability portion of the trust fund "becomes exhausted in 2016, so legislative action is needed as soon as possible." The overall fund, combining retirement and disability, will "become exhausted and unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2033."

This leaves Congress with four choices, the trustees explained:

  • raise the payroll tax, 
  • reduce benefits, 
  • direct other revenues to Social Security, or
  • create some combination of the above. 
The report concluded: "With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations."

September 13, 2012

The Medicare Debate: An Expert's View

These days, it's tough to find links from unbiased experts when you're searching for political topics on Google. I thought I'd hit paydirt on one particular piece about Medicare reform, until I saw that two colorful -- and controversial -- celebrities had given the author their endorsements: C. Everett Koop, Reagan's Surgeon General, and John McLaughlin, the bombastic host of his own TV talk show, The McLaughlin Group. Hmmmm.

Nevertheless, the author of the promising link-- Robert Laszewski -- is regarded as a leading authority on health care reform. His analysis of the two parties' Medicare proposals is thought-provoking and balanced. See what you think.

But first, bear with me a moment.

A Personal Note and Plea: I've been getting some good comments and e-mails after saying I'm so fed up with politics today that I may not vote this year, and that I'm not donating any money. Believe it or not, I recognize that I've spent a lifetime careening back and forth on issues from one side of the road to the other, and it can take me a long time (or never) to find that ever-elusive middle of the road. One reason I'm writing this blog is that I need others to offer occasional course corrections. So, please keep the critical comments coming!

If you're tiring of my political commentary, ALERT: I've got a couple more I want to put up (and see if they get shot down). I promise we'll return to the real world next week.

The Medicare Expert
Bob Laszewski's blog --Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review -- struck me as clear and balanced. Speaking.com shows him among the top five speakers on health care reform. Here's their blurb:

September 12, 2012

How Ryan's Medicare Plan Would Affect My Almost-54-Year-Old Son and Everyone Younger

The debate about the Ryan Medicare plan has focused on the proposal to introduce a voucher program, with traditional Medicare as one of many options. That plan wouldn't take effect for 10 years. Everyone now 55 or older (not just those 65-plus) would be assured of continued coverage.

So far, there's not been much debate about that aspect of the plan. Let's take my son, who will turn 54 in December, as an example. In the unlikely event that Ryan's plan is enacted next year, my son -- and everyone his age and younger -- would have to continue paying taxes for the next ten years to subsidize Medicare. Then, when he's ready to retire, he'll be told, "Sorry, you are no longer automatically entitled to Medicare. It might be one of your choices. Then again, it might not."

Thus, under the Ryan plan, most Baby Boomers would be assured of Medicare coverage... EXCEPT those born in 1959 and later.

The 2010 Census shows about 77 million people 55 and older, about 25% of the 308 million total. Those same 77 million would be supported by only 158 WORKING-AGE fellow-Americans. In a nutshell, every 55-and-older's benefits would be supported by only TWO working people.

Strangely, recent polls show younger people more supportive of the Romney/Ryan plan than seniors. I guess younger generations assume that nothing like their father's Medicare will be available to them (they're right), and they like the fact that Romney/Ryan at lease promises them something. 

Do Obama and the Democrats Have Something Better to Offer My Son?
The short answer is no. Medicare needs to be restructured. It's one of the most important issues we face, and it must be addressed now, not in ten years. Obama's Affordable Care Act made a welcome start, but more needs to be done.

But both political parties avoid proposing necessary changes to Medicare for today's beneficiaries. The reason is simple: seniors vote in larger numbers than younger Americans, and the leading edge of the Baby Boom Generation (the pig in our political python) is retiring now. AARP threatens politicians with extinction if they even think about making major changes to "Medicare as we know it." That organization, as its numbers grow, will only become more powerful, rivaling the National Rife Association in its ability to prevent major reforms.

I've just come across an excellent analysis -- "Who's telling the truth about Medicare?" -- by one of the nation's leading health care experts. I'll take up that issue tomorrow.

September 11, 2012

Promised Post on Ryan's Medicare Plan -- Check this space tomorrow

In yesterday's post, I said  I'd be doing a post for today on Ryan's Medicare plan. I forgot that today was my senior bridge day and that my kids and I were going out tonight to celebrate my daughter's birthday. So I've declared a day's holiday from posting.

September 10, 2012

Pearlstein: Both Romney and Obama Lack Leadership IQ

I've been hesitant about polluting this blog with politics. A life-long political junkie, I'm fed up today. Extremists on both sides have taken over the stage, egged on by the media, which loves conflict and controversy. The rest of us have become a silent majority, watching the train wreck of our collapsing political system.

The conventions' deceptions and distortions from leaders of both parties on issues I care about made me change my mind about keeping this blog politics-free.

I had planned to publish a post today in response to a recent comment from my son. He said he'd been watching my blog to see if I'd have anything to say about Ryan's plan for Medicare. I do have something to say and my son, who will turn 54 in December, is a perfect example of what troubles me about Ryan's plan. I'll get to that tomorrow. Then the next day, I'll take up my concern about what Biden has said.

For now, I want to discuss Steven Pearlstein's column in today's Washington Post. I urge you to read it: Leadership IQ and the race for the White House.

September 7, 2012

A NYC Weekend at Age 83: Will I Manage as Well as I Did Last Year? Part 2


This update completes my recap, begun Wednesday (http://bit.ly/TXagmT) on my Labor Day weekend in New York City with my housemates Nimesh and Bhawana. It was Bhawana's first visit to NYC and my first trip since my car crash last August and the resulting lower back pain that flares up when I walk. 

I ended Wednesday's post by saying I'd finish it on Thursday. It was ready to go about midnight on Wednesday, when I hit a mysterious key and everything disappeared. [expletive deleted]

So... we thoroughly enjoyed the the Saturday matinee of the hit musical The Book of Mormon. Nimesh got a signed playbill and photo with one of the stars, and bought a t-shirt souvenir which he immediately donned as we headed to the subway for our next adventure. 

September 5, 2012

A NYC Weekend at Age 83: Will I Manage as Well as I Did Last Year? Part 1



Nimesh, Bhawana, and I spent the Labor Day weekend in New York City. For business and pleasure, I've visited NYC dozens of times over the years, far more often than any other place. So this trip provides a benchmark for me to see what's been happening as age and ailments take their toll.

This was also my first NYC trip since the onset a year ago of the lower back pain, the most disabling of my various ailments. My last NYC adventure was a similar three-day visit in June 2011, a few months before the August car crash that triggered the lower back pain. How would I handle travel now?

I'm writing this recap mostly to sort out my own thoughts. I've thrown in a few photos to perk up the post.

September 4, 2012

Tai Chi: For Me?


I’ve tried many things through the years in my quest for improved health and wellness. There’s been a veritable pharmacy of pills for many conditions. I've tried lots of supplements along the way, but that list is now reduced to three: the serotonin booster 5-HTP, the science-lauded curcumin, and the doctor-suggested Vitamin D. I meditate regularly and happily. My weekly Parkinson’s support group helps me feel connected and upbeat. I've experimented with hypnosis, brain wave music therapy, acupuncture, and reiki. Nowadays, I get physical therapy and make regular visits to the chiropractor.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a neophiliac: I love trying new things. So, why the heck haven’t I tried tai chi?

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