October 31, 2014

My Goblins -- Alzheimer's and Dementia -- Stay with Me Year Round

Alzheimer's afflicts about one third of all Americans over 85. Becoming part of that group is probably my greatest fear.

Several developments this past week have given me more cause for concern:
  • After writing the post about our recent Nepali Tihar holiday celebration, I discovered I'd described another Tihar celebration two years ago. As if that weren't bad enough, I couldn't remember anything about that event at all. 
  • A major surge of fear accompanied my discovery that orthostatic hypotension -- a frequent issue for me these days -- is an especially strong predictor of Parkinson's dementia. 
  • Keyboarding and blog formatting are becoming more difficult and time-consuming. I met with my collaborator Stanley yesterday to discuss strategies for dealing with these issues. 
  • Regularly using the Dragonfly voice recognition software would be a big help, but my learning curve these days resembles a flat line. 
I know... simple aging might explain these developments. But my gut tells me I'm in the early stages of Alzheimer's or dementia.

October 30, 2014

Progress on the Ups and Downs of My NOH Blood Pressure

I thought I'd settled my decades-long problem with high blood pressure (BP) when I got my doctor's approval to quit the meds. Many authorities now say that people 80+ with no history of cardiac issues probably don't need BP pills. I gleefully reported this development in an April post.

I kept checking my numbers at home with my wrist monitor, because my favorite pill -- 5-HTP -- can cause a sudden increase in BP if I take too much of it. I was pleased to see that my normal readings did not exceed the adjusted 150/90 guideline for people 60 and older.

My recent medical history has resembled the whack-a-mole game -- I resolve one problem and a new one pops up. Here's latest example.

Sudden Drops In Blood Pressure
For several years, I've experienced occasional sinking spells -- feeling lightheaded and close to fainting. These incidents initially happened only on hot summer days when I was outside. I soon discovered that big drops in my systolic BP -- sometimes below 90 -- accompanied these incidents. 

In the past six months, these episodes have occurred much more frequently and at unpredictable times. One of my PD support group members recently talked about his fears of falling when he had similar sinking spells. His neurologist recommended eating salted pretzels to counteract those BP drops.

October 29, 2014

Half of All Seniors Receive -- or Need -- Assistance

About half of all seniors have care needs, according to a recent article in Medical News Today. That analysis was published in the September 2014 issue of the "Milbank Quarterly."

Here's how the research team framed the context of their study:
The cost of late-life dependency is projected to grow rapidly as the number of older adults in the United States increases in the coming decades. To provide a context for framing relevant policy discussions, we investigated activity limitations and assistance, care resources, and unmet need for a national sample of older adults. 
Using Medicare enrollment data from the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study -- a national sample of 8,246 older adults -- researchers from the University of Michigan and the Urban Institute determined that nearly 50 percent older Americans – 18 million people – have trouble, or receive assistance, with daily activities.

I’m already part of that half receiving help. A neighbor has been driving me to the grocery store – and on other errands -- for the past few months. With the progress of age, my Parkinson’s disease, and my increasing forgetfulness (more on that soon), I’ll need more and more assistance. 

As it is, I feel fortunate that – at 85, with PD and prostate cancer – I’m still as independent as I am.

Here’s how Vicki Freeman – UM researcher and, with the Urban Institute's Brenda Spillman, co-author of the report – broke down the numbers: "Although 51 percent reported having no difficulty in the previous month, 29 percent reported receiving help with taking care of themselves or their households or getting around. And another 20 percent said they had difficulty carrying out these activities on their own.”

The article in Medical News Today outlines other findings:

October 28, 2014

Electronic Gizmo Detects Depression Remotely

In recent months, I’ve highlighted a variety of new developments that are allowing seniors to remain in their own homes. “Aging in place” is what the majority of older people want to do; they don’t want to leave their familiar environments for the strangeness of a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Now, there’s a new twist in this “aging in place” saga: family members, doctors, and caregivers – all in different places – can now tell if their special senior might be experiencing depression.

Gerontologists know that people aged 70+ tend to follow fairly regular routines at predictable times – sleeping, watching TV, eating, washing, etc. When seniors vary from those normal patterns, something may be wrong.

Soon, seniors will be able to wear a small device on their forearm that records movement. Developed by researchers at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) of Mexico, the new gizmo – when hooked up to high-tech software and working in tandem with webcams – can give loved ones anywhere on earth a pretty clear picture of what’s going on with the monitored senior.

Looking for Irregularities
If there’s an anomaly in a senior’s activity course -- or in the time when they are positioned at a certain location -- the system issues an on-line alert to the computer or smartphone of any relative, physician, or caregiver.

Edwin Almeida Calderón -- Industrial Design researcher at UAM and project leader – said, "The sensor is connected to a modem using radio frequency systems. The processed information from the elder's movement pattern may include factors such as temperature, heart rate and deviations in the usual activity path."

October 27, 2014

Dashain and Tihar at Home in Washington

During the years when I traveled regularly to Nepal, I usually went in the fall. Those trips often coincided with at least one of the two biggest festivals of the year -- Dashain and Tihar. I always enjoyed them.

If I was at home -- not abroad -- I often celebrated these festivals at the homes of my local Nepali friends. Now I get to enjoy the celebrations in my own home, since the Nepalis outnumber me two to one in our household.

This year, the holidays were especially enjoyable because Bhawana's parents stayed with us during part of their U.S. visit. The photo above shows Bhawana with her parents as we did Dashain tika on the back porch a few weeks ago.

Here's a brief background on the two holidays:

October 23, 2014

Paralyzed Man Walks after Nose Cell Implantation: the "Miracle" and the Cautions

Darek Fidyka walks (photo courtesy of BBC)

The recent news -- a paralyzed Bulgarian man is walking again after cells from his nasal cavity were transplanted into his severed spine – has understandably made a big splash around the world.

Dr. Geoffrey Raisman, a professor at the Spinal Repair Unit at UCL Institute of Neurology in London, was a partner in the surgery. He said, “We believe that this procedure is the breakthrough which -- as it is further developed -- will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury.”

The surgery, done in Poland, has been touted with great hyperbole: as a major leap forward for humanity, more important for the future of our race than the moon landing.

The Usual Concerns
Other medical experts have been quick to sound the alarm: not so fast.

As reported in an article onWebMD.com on October 21,  Dr. Simone Di Giovanni, chair in Restorative Neuroscience for Imperial College London, said that this single case "cannot represent any solid scientific evidence to elaborate upon. In fact, there is no evidence that the transplant is responsible for the reported neurological improvement.”

She continued:
The use of these cells for spinal cord injury repair have been implemented for 30 years now with very controversial results in rodents, non-human primates, and patients. Extreme caution should be used when communicating these findings to the public in order not to elicit false expectations on people who already suffer because of their highly invalidating medical condition.

We’ve heard the caution about creating false hope before. I’ve repeatedly taken Dr. Mary Newport to task for giving false hope to the millions of Alzheimer’s sufferers – and their families and caregivers – by touting coconut oil as a miracle cure based on the unique, positive, temporary experience of her husband Steve. Many whose spirits were immeasurably lifted by Newport's report -- and who then tried coconut oil without any results -- must have found the hyped remedy an unconscionable cruelty. 

October 22, 2014

Hibiscus Tea for Blood Pressure Issues

Once again, blood pressure (BP) concerns have taken center stage. For most of my adult life, the issue was finding a medication that would treat my high BP without causing troublesome side effects. None of the many drugs I tried was completely satisfactory.

Freedom at Last
Six months ago, I thought I had finally won my freedom from those medications. I kept seeing medical authorities suggesting that people age 80+ could stop taking BP meds if they showed no other signs of coronary trouble. My BP specialist said he "wouldn't lose any sleep" if I stopped popping the pills. So I did.

Since then, my numbers have usually stayed within the new guidelines (150/90) for people 65+. But now I'm dealing with neurogenic orthostatic hypotension (NOH), which causes my systolic number to tumble, sometimes below 90. There's also a danger from aggressive treatment of NOH, which can lead to an opposite problem -- supine hypertension. Naturally, I'm likely to overdo it on aggressive treatment.

All of this means I'm again searching for something that might prove helpful in dealing with my BP issues.

I recalled using hibiscus teas in the past for their alleged BP benefits. I've just checked several references about that product, including a link to one of my favorite sites for nutrition information: NutritionFacts.org.

On that site, Dr. Greger provides an update on hibiscus tea:

October 21, 2014

How Old are YOU? A New Way to Measure Age.

“You’re only as old as you feel."

“Sixty is the new forty.”

Those are just two examples we use to indicate that measuring age is a blurry business.

I might say “I’m 85 years old,” which is true. OK, it means I was born in 1929. But what does that fact really say about my health and my prospects for the future? A lot more than actuarial tables might suggest, according to a new study.

I’ve learned that every person with Parkinson’s has his or her own individual disease… and experiences its symptoms and medications uniquely. In an interesting post last month in one of my favorite blogs, “The New Old Age” in The New York Times, writer Judith Graham shows how measuring age – like the Parkinson’s example -- depends very much on the individual. Like never before in our history – as healthcare improves and longevity increases -- measuring age involves a lot more than counting the passing years.

In her article -- "On New Measurements of Aging" -- Graham recaps a Q&A with a professor of social and behavioral sciences. In that conversation, the teacher describes an easy, and – to me – completely novel way to determine when “old age” begins.

Here’s that brief exchange:

October 20, 2014

A Personal Log to Track Blood Pressure and Medications

I've been struggling to manage the timing and dosages of the many pills I take. Last Friday, I described the challenge in this post.

A thoughtful reader offered a helpful suggestion in this email:

<> <> <> <> <> <> <>
Save the attached file to your iPad and use it to track your medication and blood pressure (BP) records. Just put X in each of the meds columns to mark when you took meds (or # of pills taken if levodopa doses vary), then type in your BP readings. In the next column, enter anything you attempted other than meds -- wearing abdominal binder, drinking cold water, eating salt, etc.

Those columns are the only part you need to send your doctors. I included a final column where you can record your personal comments – digestion, sleep, dizziness, etc. You can delete that column before sending to your docs, unless they indicate otherwise. They probably won’t want it.

Open the blank table and “Save as New” every day to create a new record. Or you can copy/paste a new blank table into last page of a Word document to keep a week’s record in one file. Using an Excel spreadsheet to document a full week -- with days shown side-by-side -- would be even better, but I suspect you’re more adept with Word than Excel.

I think this type of table will give you and your docs a much clear picture of any pattern that emerges.

<>  <>  <>  <>  <>  <>  <>

Thanks for this great idea!

Here's what that attached document looked like.

October 17, 2014

Managing My Meds: Practically a Full-time Job

The Overview
Every night before I go to bed, I make this arrangement on my bathroom sink:  

What are all those things? We'll start from the lower left corner and continue around the sink:

My Carbidopa/Levodopa

This is my main Parkinson's med. I take two pills eight times a day. That's 16 pills! The photo shows the supplies for only three of those eight cycles.

After I take the 9:30 pill, I'll cross out the 9:30 and write 12:30. I take these pills at three-hour intervals. My body knows the schedule better than my memory. It will wake me up during the night when another three-hour cycle is up.

October 16, 2014

"Combination Therapy" REVERSES Memory Loss

A UCLA study, reported in the October 12 edition of "Alzheimer's & Dementia Weekly," showed that a combination of different therapies actually helped reverse memory loss. Yes, that’s right: REVERSE memory loss.

It was a very small study -- only 10 participants – and it did not include other elements, like control groups, necessary to render its results “scientific evidence.” Still, the results are worth considering.

Of those ten participants, nine displayed both subjective and objective memory improvement beginning within three to six months of the program’s start. “Subjective” improvements are those reported informally by the subject. “Objective” results are based on testing.

Before they became part of the 25 Step Memory Program (called “MEND” for Metabolic Enhancement for NeuroDegeneration), six of the ten had actually stopped working -- or were having trouble at work -- because of memory issues. In time, after participating in the study’s “combination therapy,” all six returned to work, or stayed on the job with improved performance.

All ten were patients with memory loss either from Alzheimer’s (AD), amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), or subjective cognitive impairment (SCI), a condition where patients make their own assessments based on personal experience. That tenth participant – the one whose memory showed no improvement – was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s.

What’s more, improvements for the other nine people have been generally sustained, with the longest patient follow-up coming two and a half years from initial treatment.

October 15, 2014

Deep Brain Stimulation: Remain Asleep and Don't Stop the Meds

New state-of-the-art imaging technology now allows Parkinson’s patients undergoing deep brain stimulation (DBS) to reman asleep during the procedure.

I don’t know about you, but if someone was planning to drill a hole in my skull and insert a wire through that hole and into my brain, I’d just as soon not be awake through any of it.

DBS results have been so compelling that the Food and Drug Administration approved the procedure for treatment of essential tremor (in 1997), Parkinson’s (2002), and dystonia (2003).

Over 100,000 people worldwide have undergone the procedure to alleviate motor symptoms -- tremor, rigidity of limbs, and movement problems -- that medications did not effectively address. Until now, these DBS patients would have to awakened to let their surgeons know when the electric probe had hit the key spot in the brain causing the problem.

For instance, doctors might ask their wakened patients with tremor draw spirals on a whiteboard. Before the correct area of the brain was hit with the probe, the spirals were erratic and jagged. When the probe hit just the right spot – no bigger than a pea – the patient’s spirals would become much more even, steady, rounded. That’s where the surgeon would plant the wire.

From Eight to Four Hours
New MRI imagery gives surgeons very precise, real-time pictures of their patients’ brains at work… while those patients sleep comfortably. The new procedure also shortens the surgery time -- from about eight to four hours. When the right spot is located, a battery pack is then implanted under the skin near the collarbone to keep the signals coming.

Dr. Hooman Azmi -- director of the division of movement disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey -- said, “Surgery is safer because it’s shorter; the patient is more comfortable, and we can see the wires going in. If there’s any bleeding we could see it."

October 14, 2014

Is Levodopa the Cause of My Episodic Low Blood Pressure?

I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD) in September, 2009. The five years since then have been -- for the most part -- a "Parkinson's honeymoon." But as you'd expect, the storm clouds looming on the horizon are beginning to move in.

The End of My Parkinson's Honeymoon
The past month has been the most discouraging and depressing time since my diagnosis. I've had to deal with upward blood pressure (BP) spikes that generate systolic readings close to 200.  At the same time, I'm experiencing sudden BP drops with systolic readings in the 80s. In a single day, my numbers can vary by 100 points.

I soon identified the cause of the upward spikes. I keep a log of my BP readings, and a clear pattern began to emerge. These elevated readings came during the "off" periods in each three-hour pill cycle, when the old pill stopped working and the new pill had yet to kick in.

When I have BP issues, I consult a nephrologist (kidney specialist) recommended by my former internist, who described this doctor as "the most knowledgeable guy in town when it comes to blood pressure."

I described my current problem and he recommended some remedial actions I could try and gave me a prescription for nifedipine. My neurologist is exploring ways we might get more bang for the levodopa buck. I'm not happy with this situation, but at least I know what is causing it and we are developing a game plan for dealing with it

I was more concerned with the low BP problem, which was more threatening. But no one had a clear explanation for its cause. People kept mentioning "orthostatic hypotension" (OH). Many people, particularly the elderly, experience this lightheaded, dizziness that occurs when one moves from a seated to a standing position.

October 10, 2014

Videos for a Healthier You

Perhaps because I spent so many years in school, fall is my time of year for new resolutions and projects. One of my long-term goals is to apply my "less is more" mantra to my physical surroundings by getting rid of the junk I've accumulated over the years, the clothes I never wear, the books I'll never read. I'm using the extra energy I feel on these beautiful fall days to work on the down-sizing project.

I'm extending this clean-up campaign to my computer. I've got many files of saved emails and web links that are now obsolete. All the clutter slows me down when I'm searching for things.

During this process, I found several links to health-related videos. The light bulb went on: I could clear out four of these saved videos by turning them into one blog post.

I saved them because I found them helpful. I hope you will, too.

"The Best Five-Minute Workout"
I came across that claim, clicked on the link, liked what I saw, and (sort of) followed along. See what you think:

Deepak Chopra Interviews Rudy Tanzi on the Benefits of Meditation

October 9, 2014

Five Lessons for Us from Winston Churchill's Life

In a prior post, I talked about how much I was enjoying Paul Johnson’s biography of Churchill. I agree with Johnson’s opening sentence:
Of all the towering figures of the 20th century, both good and evil, Winston Churchill was the most valuable to humanity and also the most likable.
Winston Churchill led a full life, and few people are ever likely to equal it. But Taylor suggests we all can learn from it. He offers five lessons from Churchill’s life.

I was going to summarize the five lessons Taylor provides. But the idea of substituting my words for Taylor’s made absolutely no sense.  I know most of you would prefer shorter posts, but this isn’t all that long and it is well worth reading . . . and re-reading, which I have done and will continue to do.

October 8, 2014

Nobel Prize for Medicine: Promising Brain / Alzheimer's Discoveries

British-American researcher John O'Keefe – with Norwegian husband and wife collaborators May-Britt and Edvard Moser – won the Nobel Prize for medicine on Monday, October 6, for demonstrating how the brain enables us to move from one location to another.

The team determined that the brain’s hippocampus acts like a kind of internal GPS (global positioning system), which helps us to navigate from place to place.

Nobelprize.org – the official website for the Nobel Prize – put it this way in the press release it issued:
How do we know where we are? How can we find the way from one place to another? And how can we store this information in such a way that we can immediately find the way the next time we trace the same path? This year´s Nobel Laureates have discovered a positioning system, an “inner GPS” in the brain that makes it possible to orient ourselves in space, demonstrating a cellular basis for higher cognitive function. 
In 1971, John O´Keefe discovered the first component of this positioning system. He found that a type of nerve cell in an area of the brain called the hippocampus that was always activated when a rat was at a certain place in a room. Other nerve cells were activated when the rat was at other places. O´Keefe concluded that these “place cells” formed a map of the room.
More than three decades later, in 2005, May-Britt and Edvard Moser discovered another key component of the brain’s positioning system. They identified another type of nerve cell, which they called “grid cells”, that generate a coordinate system and allow for precise positioning and pathfinding. Their subsequent research showed how place and grid cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate. 
The discoveries of John O´Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries – how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?
Enter Alzheimer’s disease
So, how does this new information help us better understand Alzheimer’s?

October 7, 2014

Exit Life at Age 75? Should This 85-Year-Old Have Done That?

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel argues that the quality of human life begins to drop off by age 75... enough, he says, that he will opt out of medical treatments and let nature run its course. The article has generated a firestorm of comment in the media, particularly since it was written by a leading oncologist from a prominent family.

Dr. Emanuel is chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and a former Obama administration policy adviser. He is also older brother to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel.

At 75, Dr. Emanuel plans to issue new instructions to his doctors. No life-prolonging measures. No screenings, like colonoscopies or cardiac stress tests; no treatments like chemotherapy or heart bypass. Not even flu shots or antibiotics -- nothing but palliative care to alleviate pain.

The link above directs to Emanuel's article. Judy Woodruff of the the PBS NewsHour interviewed Emanuel last week. That video, with transcript, is here.

I've lived for a decade after age 75 and I'm glad I didn't follow Dr. Emanuel's plan. From the critical response to his article, others agree that his idea is wrong. Still, I find myself in accord with much of what he says. It's made me pause to consider my post-75 decade, and to re-evaluate how I'll handle the years ahead.

In this post, I'll review some of what's made the past decade the happiest time of my life. Later, I'll write about about mortality and how we spend our final years -- thoughts prompted by Emanuel's article.

What follows is mostly a photo montage. I'll comment on Emanuel's article later.

October 6, 2014

Yoga, Meditation Train Brains to Control Computers

If you meditate – as I do, in my own fashion – or do yoga regularly, the benefits may be greater than you thought.

A study published in the new journal TECHNOLOGY showed that people who often practice one of those two disciplines can condition their brains in ways that enable them to control a computer with their minds better and faster than people who have little experience with either.

Why does that matter?

As technology speeds forward, there are more systems that allow physically disabled people to control life-enhancing devices – like wheelchairs and artificial limbs – with their minds. Their bodies may not be able to manipulate those devices, but their brains are just fine.

Beneficiaries of new mind-computer technologies include people who are paralyzed; have lost hands, arms, or legs; or who suffer from physically debilitating diseases like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), cerebral palsy, and neurodegenerative diseases -- like Parkinson's.

Now we learn that any of these people who meditated or did yoga regularly are significantly more successful operating devices with only their minds.

How the Study Worked
In a study -- funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine -- biomedical engineers at the University of Minnesota recruited 36 people -- admittedly a very small sample – and put them into one of two groups.

October 3, 2014

Memory and Statins and Me

A few days ago, I was introduced to a stranger, or so I thought. Within a minute, he reminded me that we had met 11 years ago in an interaction a normal person would have remembered. But when it comes to memory, I'm not a "normal person."

You might assume I'm Alzheimer's-bound in light of my age (85) and my Parkinson's disease (people with PD have higher AD risk). I worry about Alzheimer’s, but most of the evidence from my life – like researching and writing this blog – reassures me that I’m OK.

I've been embarrassed before by incidents like this week's. Throughout my adult life, when friends mentioned details from a play or movie we'd recently seen, I’d often draw a blank. Same with books. I’d be stymied to name my 15 most favorite books – a question that’s been making the rounds on social media for a while. I might have trouble simply listing any 15 books I've read.

After the incident this week, I half jokingly told a friend I needed to find a study that showed you can lose your memory without losing your mind. Then I remembered (!) a bit of information I’d encountered during my research about statins, a medication I’d been taking for a long time to help keep my cholesterol in check. I discovered that memory loss was just one of the drug’s side effects, and I decided to finally ditch the pills. See Bye-Bye to My Statins.

I've done some additional research, and here's what I found:

The FDA Mandates Risk Warning on Labels
Since 2012, the FDA has required that statin labels include a warning that some people have developed memory loss or confusion while taking statins – a conclusion based on various databases of bad reactions to drugs, and also statin clinical trials that included assessments of cognitive function.

October 2, 2014

NIH Announces $46M BRAIN Initiative Grants

With news outlets – and their consumers – focused on ISIL, ebola, and the White House gate jumper, a press release issued on Tuesday, September 30 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) didn't garner much attention. But the news it announced will probably mean a lot more to people 50 years from now than those other issues.

Here’s how that release began:
The National Institutes of Health announced today its first wave of investments totaling $46 million in fiscal year 14 funds to support the goals of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. More than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries will work to develop new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action. These new tools and this deeper understanding will ultimately catalyze new treatments and cures for devastating brain disorders and diseases that are estimated by the World Health Organization to affect more than one billion people worldwide.
As you might imagine, NIH’s director Dr. Francis Collins was pretty excited about the news. On his September 30 blog post, Collins compared the efforts to more fully understand the human brain to the 1969 moonshot -- plans that President Kennedy announced to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961.

Many observers thought the president was crazy and his plan way too ambitious. But just eight years later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon. Collins and his NIH team hope for similar successes, though surely not so fast in coming.

In his posting, Collins restated the goal of the BRAIN Initiative:
To produce the first dynamic view of the human brain in action, revealing how its roughly 86 billion neurons and its trillions of connections interact in real time. This new view will revolutionize our understanding of how we think, feel, learn, remember, and move, transforming efforts to help the more than 1 billion people worldwide who suffer from autism, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other devastating brain disorders.
When President Obama introduced the BRAIN Initiative to some fanfare last year, he explained that NIH was one of four federal agencies involved in the enterprising project. The other three are the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

October 1, 2014

How Three Roosevelts Handled Their Final Years: Eleanor Wins

My TV viewing is very limited -- the PBS NewsHour, the Redskins (excuse the dirty word) football, and a local morning show for the weather report. I didn't even watch Downton Abbey!

But I was mesmerized by Ken Burns's documentary, The Roosevelts.

I was especially interested to see how TR, FDR, and Eleanor handled their final years. Eleanor came off looking much better than the boys. Here's my take.

Theodore Roosevelt
For some reason, TR never interested me very much. In an effort to learn more, a year ago I started reading David McCullough's National Book Award winner Mornings on Horseback. The biography explains how the young Theodore Roosevelt transformed himself from a sickly boy into the vigorous man who would become a war hero and ultimately president of the United States.

McCullough is a terrific historian and writer, but his books are too long for my limited attention span these days. The first several hundred pages of the TR biography describe his early years of incredible affluence. I got so turned off that I stopped reading.

My regard for TR would have been higher if I'd kept reading to learn how this wealthy patrician became a crusader for progressive reforms, radical for the times. His conservation efforts resulted in the creation of several National Parks, a few of which I visited during a 2011 auto tour of California and the Pacific Northwest.

I didn't like TR's apparent self-aggrandizement, and the way he constructed his heroic image. In his quest for personal glory, he often endangered the lives of others. The charge up Cuba's San Juan Hill is just one well-known example. I would add his trip up the Amazon River with his son Kermit towards the end of his life.

As I watched the show, it seemed that TR's later years were dominated by his search for a heroic ending to his life.