September 30, 2013

Michael J. Fox: Sad To Say, His Interview Is More Fun To Watch Than His New TV Show

I don't watch TV, except for the PBS NewsHour and Redskins football. But I made a special effort to check out the first episode of the sitcom series that stars Michael J. Fox portraying what he is -- a nice family man with Parkinson's. I turned it off after 15 minutes, and it seems my reaction was typical.

I went online to see what the TV critics had to say. I thought Time Magazine had the best review. The headline and subhead summed it up nicely:
Michael J. Fox Is Better Than "The Michael J. Fox Show."
An extraordinary star returns in a very ordinary sitcom.
Critics not only watched the pilot with the rest of us; they received tapes of the show's next two installments. Time's critic was kinder than I was, saying that while not hilarious, the pilot "was very promising."
This doesn’t need to be a sitcom all about living with Parkinson’s per se; it’s a sitcom about a man re-changing his life. Is he the same guy after years home with his kids? Does he want to be? Does he still have what it takes at work? Will it be weird? That’s a fertile conflict; those are stakes. It’s something that can fuel story and character and, let’s hope, laughs.
Unfortunately, he says, that idea just disappears in the next two episodes and what we're left with "is what worked least well in the pilot, a mundane, dated-feeling family comedy that feels like it's missing its laugh track."

September 27, 2013

Parkinson's Disease Symptoms: Getting an Early Diagnosis

I'll be in Montreal, Canada next week, attending the World Parkinson Congress . . . and, I hope, finding some time to enjoy that great city. I'll visit Ithaca, New York -- where I grew up -- on the trip north. Then, after a slow ride south on country roads through Adirondack lake country and glorious fall colors, I'll visit Hudson, New York, where I was born.

This gathering in Canada reminds me that it was my own diagnosis with Parkinson's disease four years ago that launched this blog. It was a diagnosis that took some time in coming.

Before my PD was on anybody's radar, I was aware of several new physical developments:
  • My right arm wasn’t swinging normally, freely, when I walked. 
  • My balance seemed less steady.
  • My sense of smell had practically disappeared.
I had shared these observations with my doctor, who didn’t connect the dots. All three symptoms are early indicators of Parkinson’s. Several months later, a different healthcare professional raised the PD red flag.

My experience underlines the importance of being informed, and acting as one’s own wellness CEO. If I had known then what I do now, well . . . I could have made the diagnosis myself. But I didn’t know; most new PD patients don’t. Why should we?

September 26, 2013

Landmark Settlement Helps Us Get Medicare Coverage for Physical Therapy and Other Skilled Care

A settlement of a nationwide class-action lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will make it easier for patients with chronic illnesses like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, MS, or stroke to receive skilled care services at a nursing home, rehabilitation hospital, or at home.

Although not specifically stated in the Medicare law, the federal government for decades had adopted a "stability presumption" under which skilled care was automatically denied patients whose conditions were "stable" or deteriorating during the coverage period. Under that interpretation of the law, skilled services were covered by Medicare only if it could be shown that they would result in medical or functional improvement. Many patients, like me with Parkinson's, have long-term or debilitating conditions for which improvement isn't possible, although skilled care might prevent further deterioration or at least slow it down.

Six individuals and seven organizations (including the Parkinson's Action Network) filed a lawsuit challenging this informal policy guideline in the federal district court in Vermont. Last October, the parties filed a settlement agreement with the court, and on January 24, 2013, the court approved the settlement agreement.

September 25, 2013

OK, Boomers -- Look in the Mirror and Listen Up!

My favorite senior blogger Ronnie Bennett wrote a post last week about accepting our senior bodies. She included some great quotes from geriatrician Bill Thomas that led me to an article -- "Eldertopia'" -- he wrote a few years ago in AARP's The Journal. 

The Boomer Generation Needs to Look in the Mirror
Most of his article is directed at Baby Boomers, the 78 million children born after World War II, a generation he describes as having "a tumultuous beginning, a quiet middle, and an ending that is yet to be written." As a member of that generation, he sees Boomers just beginning to accept aging:
The postwar generation's dim but growing awareness of aging is beginning to generate intensely private concerns that people are reluctant to discuss openly. The shame-based approach to aging is heavily reinforced by an American mediascape that loudly and insistently proclaims: "You are young, Young is always better than old. Adulthood can last forever if you want it to." In public, we tell each other, "You are as young as you feel!" but in our most private moments we can feel the truth. We are aging . . . .
Admitting to the truth of aging is painful and difficult, but the admission must be made before we can begin the journey out of adulthood. The best place to start such an exercise in truth-telling is in front of a mirror . . . .
You must have an intensely personal and private conversation with your own true, aging, self. The time has come to look into the mirror and, finally, make peace with the changes you see on your face and feel in your mind and body, You are not the person you were 20 years ago. The fact is that those people vanished a long time ago.

September 24, 2013

How to Choose "Best Carbohydrate Quality"? The 10-to-1 Rule

A recent Harvard study offers a nifty way to decide whether or not a product meets a real “whole grain” standard: the 10-to-1 rule. As shown on the product’s nutrition facts panel, the ratio of TOTAL CARBOHYDRATES to FIBER should be LESS THAN ten to one.

Here’s the easiest way to do the math: multiply the grams of fiber by ten. That total should be GREATER THAN the carb grams.

Why 10-to-1? That’s the ratio of carbs to fiber in whole wheat flour.

It’s a good sign if an item on your grocery store shelf is labeled “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.” Also look for the voluntary “Whole Grain Stamp” issued by the Whole Grains Council (which the Berkeley Wellness article rightly indicates is supported by dues from industry members). That stamp guarantess at least eight grams of fiber per serving. Here are two examples of those stamps from the WGC:

September 23, 2013

Is There Hope for the Middle Class while the Monkeys are Running the Zoo?


25 Years of Going NowhereDan Wasserman, September 19, 2013.
On Saturday, the Washington Post ran the cartoon shown above (by the Boston Globe's Dan Wasserman). On Friday, the Post carried a story by Jim Tankersley titled "Jobless recoveries are here to stay, economists say, but it’s a mystery why." The author made these points:
  • The U.S. is stuck in its third consecutive "jobless recovery" stretching back to the 1990 recession.
  • Economists concluded that this pattern might well become the new American model for recessions and recoveries.
  • After an exhaustive series of tests, economists couldn't explain what's gone wrong.
Here's One Thing That's Gone Wrong

September 20, 2013

Views from my Meditation Chairs in Europe

“The meaning of life is having a spectacular view.”

Earlier this week, I explained how meditation enhances my well-being. Today, I want to share a final thought -- and a few photos -- about my treasured early-morning "joy of quiet."

I could meditate anywhere -- in the kitchen, the bathroom, the garage. All I need is a straight-backed chair and a pillow for my arm rest.. Silence helps.

So does a pleasant view. At home, when weather permits, I sit on the porch and take in my backyard garden and pond. The birds chirping as the dawn breaks -- and the little waterfall in the pond -- add a calming soundtrack.

I could never have survived my five weeks touring Europe this summer if I hadn't been sleeping well. And I slept well through that adventure, in part, because I meditated every day. Here are some of the things I observed during my "joy of quiet" time on the road.

September 19, 2013

#3 of My Big Three: Sleep "Prescriptions"

It's 11:30pm, and I'll post these thoughts in the morning. But now, I'll go to bed, and I will fall asleep without any trouble whatsoever, without popping any pills, and without any anxiety about being able to fall into a deep, refreshing sleep.

It has not always been like this. In the past, I've struggled with several severe, prolonged bouts of insomnia. Each had a different scenerio, and each a different solution.

My Battles with Insomnia
Booze. During my alcoholic years, my wife and I would drink two or three martinis before dinner and several glasses of vermouth before bedtime. So I usually had no trouble falling to sleep. But I'd wake in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. My solution? Slurping down another glass of vermouth, placed strategically the night before under the bed where my wife wouldn't see it!

September 18, 2013

#2 of My Big Three: Meditation

I've been an avid reader of self-help books since 1978, when I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and discovered M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. That book about the paths to spiritual growth became a New York Times best-seller only five years later . . . and stayed on the list for the next 13 years.

The book became a bible for me -- and many others in my AA meetings -- long before it became a national sensation. We learned about it early, thanks to the Washington Post's Phyllis Theroux, who had discovered an advance copy in book review editor's office. She took it home, returned two days later, and demanded to review it. She later said she spent two weeks writing a piece "that would force people to buy the book."

After becoming a popular lecturer, Peck would ask his audiences if they'd been in therapy . . . in a twelve-step program or with a trained therapist. Most of his listeners -- like me -- raised their hands.

The Road Less Traveled was just the beginning. I still have an entire shelf of self-help books here, and many others I bought ended up in used book stores all around Washington. 

September 17, 2013

#1 of My Big Three: Exercise

Bouncing around Europe for five weeks this summer, I relied on the same Big Three I use at home to help with the challenges presented by my Parkinson's and my age:
  1. Exercise
  2. Meditation
  3. Sleep "prescriptions"
These routines make a huge difference in the quality of my life, so I've had no trouble "sticking with them" at home and on the road. "Diet" should really make it a "Big Four" (I'm good at home), but this summer's travel temptations got the better of me.I've taken off half of the nearly 10 pounds I gained.  Today, we'll start with #1:


September 16, 2013

Traveling with Parkinson's: Part 3 ("Show and Tell")

Mesh Bags Are Great
I use mesh bags every time I pack for a trip. They keep me organized when packing and they make it easy to stay organized in hotel rooms or ship cabins. Here are the bags I used on this summer's European tour:

I got the Lenovo Ultrabook just before the trip. I'd used a Mac in Alaska, but it was heavier and bulkier and -- worst of all -- it proved to be too much of a new trick for this old Windows dog. The Lenovo was a better choice for me . . . once FedEx delivered the cord I'd forgotten to our Paris apartment.

September 13, 2013

Traveling with Parkinson's: Part 2

This is the second installment of my report on traveling with Parkinson's.

On The Way
It helps to print out boarding passes in advance: one less line to deal with at the airport. (I'm not as hip as my younger friends who get their boarding passes on their iPhones.) At the gate, pre-boarding gives me some extra time to stow my carry-on baggage and get settled in my seat.

The standard recommendation while aloft is to stand up and stretch every hour or so. Drinking lots of water really helps me avoid jet lag . . . and forces me to do some extra walking to and from the bathroom. I also walk the length of the plane several times. 

Whether seated in a plane, train, or car, I try to remember to do simple exercises, like toe taps and shoulder shrugs.

I used to pop Tylenol PM on long flights to help me sleep, but I never got the timing right. I'd take a pill and half an hour later -- just when I'd hoped to be drifting off -- the flight attendant would serve dinner. Now that I'm flying in roomier business class, it's easier to sleep pill-free on the plane.

September 12, 2013

Traveling with Parkinson's: Part 1

After my PD diagnosis four years ago, I wondered if I could continue experiencing the joy of travel. I hated to give up biking, and worried that travel would be the next casualty.

I've been reassured by an easy week in June on a cruise to Alaska and five fun weeks in July and August bouncing around Europe. But I recognize I'll need to adapt as time goes by.

I'm looking forward to another trip at the end of this month when a friend and I will drive to Montreal, Canada, to attend the World Parkinson's Congress. The programs should be interesting, and I'll meet many others who are living with PD. But the real selling feature was Montreal, a favorite city. The drives to and from should also be fun, especially through the Adirondacks, where fall foliage will be at its peak.

The Congress sponsors sent registrants a helpful article on traveling with Parkinson's. What follow is based on that article and my own experience.

September 11, 2013

Alzheimer's and . . . Gratitude? Two Views

I encountered two surprising reactions to Alzheimer’s last week: one from a man dealing with the disease, the other from a woman whose father is slipping away. The common element in their responses was something I haven’t really seen before in the consideration of this difficult illness: gratitude.

Gratitude from a Man with Alzheimer’s
The following comments graced David Hilfiker’s remarkable blog, “Watching the Lights Go Out: A Memoir from Inside Alzheimer’s Disease.” David is 68, a retired doctor, lives here in Washington, and shares his thoughts here:

Here’s what David wrote on September 3:

Weeping in Church

September 10, 2013

Home Sweet Home: Beauty Inside and Out

The "Grand Tour" of Europe with four generations of Schappis was terrific. But five weeks away is a long time. I love my house, garden, and home family. I'm surrounded by beauty inside and out, as you'll see from these photos.

The Backyard Garden
Here's the oasis I see from the rocking chair on my back porch:

Nimesh and Bhawana kept the fish well fed in my absence:

The New Butterfly Garden
The violent derecho that blew through our region on June 29, 2012 took down a large magnolia and a cherry tree in my side yard. I've spent the past year transforming the former shade garden into a sunny butterfly garden.

September 9, 2013

Monday Night TV Conflict: Redskins and RGIII vs Eagles... or Ping-Pong World Championship for Over-80 Division

I haven't watched TV for several months. Now, wouldn't you know it, there are two shows I really want to watch tonight.

Football is the only sport I enjoy watching. I've been a dedicated fan of the Washington Redskins for decades. After years of mediocrity, the Redskins became an exciting team to watch last year with their acquisition of quarterback Robert Griffin, III. He was Rookie of the Year last season but tore two ligaments in his knee in January's playoff game against Seattle and had major surgery a few days later. So his return to the field in tonight's opening game against the Philadelphia Eagles was guaranteed to have me glued to the TV set. 

Over-80 Ping Pong Tournament vs Redskins/Eagles Football
Then I heard about a PBS program that premieres tonight: the British documentary Ping Pong. The show follows contestants from around the world who travel to China's Inner Mongolia for the over-80 division competition in the World Veterans Table Tennis Championships.

September 6, 2013

Dr. Offit Says NO! to Supplements and Mega-Vitamins

On Monday, July 22, the case for taking supplements and mega-vitamins received yet another blow.

During his appearance in Washington, DC to promote his book Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, Dr. Paul Offit said, "If you take large quantities of vitamin A, vitamin E, beta carotene [or] selenium, you increase your risk of cancer, risk of heart disease, and you could shorten your life."

That warning was pretty blunt.

A researcher at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Offit is perhaps best known for his public debate with actress Jenny McCarthy about possible links between childhood vaccines and autism. McCarthy sounded the alarm; Offit has defended the vaccines.

In arguing his case, Offit assailed the 1994 law that exempts supplements from the same scrutiny the Food and Drug Administration applies to all other medicines. Simply because supplements are “natural” or “botanical,” Offit says, manufacturers shouldn’t be permitted to tout their products’ effectiveness without scientific proof.

September 5, 2013

GOOD Side Effects from Medications?

I wrote yesterday about the dangers of adverse drug interactions. I’m taking as few meds – prescribed and OTC – as possible. I’m cutting pills in half . . . with doctor’s approval, of course. I keep telling myself that diet and exercise are the wisest, surest path to wellness.

Yes, unexpected side effects from drugs can be dangerous . . . but not always. Check out this information from an article by Jessica Girdwain in AARP’s June/July magazine titled “Surprising Good Side Effects of Your Meds”:

September 4, 2013

Are My Meds Killing Me?

That hyperbolic question is borrowed from the title of geriatric pharmacist Armon Neel's book, Are Your Prescriptions Killing You? The award-winning writer questions why so many Americans, especially older ones like me, take so many pills without considering their potential for harmful interactions.

I've had some issues these past few months, and I now suspect they're mostly side effects of meds I take.. My dilemmas are nothing compared to the problems of others, like people I know who are receiving chemo for cancer. Still, I want to recap what's been going on.

September 3, 2013

Err in the Direction of Kindness

Reflecting on our Grand Tour of Europe, my son, his gal and I remembered an event that stands out in our memories. We had flown into Zurich on a Saturday afternoon and rented a car for the five-hour drive to Mürren, Switzerland (our favorite stop on the Tour). Around 7pm, an hour from our destination, and in the middle of nowhere, we had a flat tire. The wrench in the rental car didn't work. We called the rental car office in Zurich, and got placed on endless hold.

I tried to flag down a passing car. I wasn't having much success  but after a while, one stopped: two middle-aged women returning home to Zurich after a local rock concert. They spent about 40 minutes with us, trying different options, making calls we couldn't, trying tools from their own car. Finally, they were able to translate the car's owner's manual -- in German of course -- and found the solution.