December 30, 2011

"Auld Lang Syne" 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 29, 2011

Compressibility: Why We Like the Music We Do

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

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

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

December 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

December 23, 2011

A Christmas Poem Written in 1983 Resonates Even More Today

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

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

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

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

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

December 22, 2011

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

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



Happy Holidays!

December 21, 2011

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

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

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



Here's Leon:

December 20, 2011

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


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


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

And – apparently – nothing else.

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

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

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

See the full report at Beware the evil stocking stuffer.

December 19, 2011

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

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

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

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

December 16, 2011

Parkinson's: May I Please Have this Dance?

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

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

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

December 14, 2011

Gesundheit: Avoid Germs!

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

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

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

December 13, 2011

Health Update & Reflections on Aging and Living

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

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

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

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


December 12, 2011

Avoid Falls: Balance Exercises for Seniors

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

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

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

There are some great exercise suggestions on these videos:

December 9, 2011

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

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

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


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

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

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

Hats off to you both!

December 8, 2011

Gifts: Ask Specifically What Your People Want!


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

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

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

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

Good luck with your holiday gift-giving!

December 7, 2011

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

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


RELUCTANCE

-- Robert Frost

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

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

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

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

Here's the line I particularly identify with:


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

December 6, 2011

A Delightful Surprise on the "Road Less Traveled"

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

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


And the fun was just beginning....

December 5, 2011

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

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

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

Outcomes Linked to Falls

The Center for Disease Control reports these common aftermaths:

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

December 2, 2011

Confession: I Flunked The Telomeres Aging Test

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

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

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

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

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

December 1, 2011

Versatile Stem Cells in Breast Milk. No Embryos Destroyed!

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

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

November 30, 2011

Guest Post: "A Creative Use For Depression and Loneliness and Fears"

In my campaign to get rid of clutter, I came across a forgotten folder labelled "Worth Re-Reading." In it, I found the sermon below by John Harper, who served as rector of St. John's Church ("the Church of Presidents") on Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, from 1963 to 1993. John delivered this sermon on November 18, 1990.

One of my most cherished friends, John died in 2002. I asked his widow, Barbie -- who remains a dear friend -- for her OK to publish the sermon here. I was right when I designated it "Worth Re-reading."

Our Old Friend The Dark

November 29, 2011

Make a Joyful Noise: Singing and Parkinson's

Over the weekend, I got my first overdose of holiday music, 2011. OK, Thanksgiving has come and gone, so I shouldn’t be surprised to hear “Jingle Bells” wherever I go for the next few weeks.

I know how listening to music not only stimulates my brain but also helps me relax. Sadly, choir membership isn't in the cards for me, since I'm tone deaf and totally without musical gifts. In junior high school, the music teacher told me (in front of the entire class) that I couldn't carry a tune in a truck. That's an opinion I'm sure is shared by those unfortunate souls within earshot at Washington's St. John's Church on Christmas Eve, when the spirit moves me to belt out Hark, The Herald Angels Sing. At the end of that service, when the electric lights go down and the congregation quietly sings Silent Night by candlelight, I'm usually so choked up I couldn't sing even if I sounded like Andrea Bocelli.

November 28, 2011

Checking Out Your Meds: A Few Tips

Last week, I talked about the surprising things I learned about the standard Parkinson's med Azilect, after some belated research. This prescription drug, which costs nearly $4000 a year, comes with a long list of medicines, supplements and foods to avoid or use with caution. Who knew? Perhaps the information appears in the tiny-print notice inside the box... info I'd bet most users can't -- or won't -- read. And I certainly can't expect my neurologist or pharmacist to warn me about the potentially harmful combinations that my research uncovered.

My experience with Azilect wasn't unique; I checked my other meds and found similar cautions I hadn't known about.

All of us -- especially seniors and  people with serious chronic illnesses -- should learn more about the drugs we take. Chances are we're using a variety of drugs, which increases the likelihood of adverse reactions.

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving --- Then and Now


If I remember correctly (always doubtful these days), that's Norman Rockwell peeking out at us from the bottom right of his famous painting. 

Here's one of my favorite Thanksgiving quotes:

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land. --Jon Stewart
Don't get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday because it's focused on family and friends without the over-the-top commercialism of Christmas. And, unlike Christmas and Easter, it's a holiday everybody can celebrate.

November 23, 2011

Why It's Essential to Research Your Meds!


Researching yesterday's post on my high-cost Azilect, I encountered sites warning of possible adverse consequences of taking Azilect with certain foods or other meds. Some of those foods appear regularly on my menu, and I've taken some of those meds, too.

How do you find this "cautionary" info? By reading the fine-print document enclosed in the box from the manufacturer? I don't have the patience -- or the eyesight -- to seek helpful nuggets buried in the tiny, dense verbiage.

We're told to consult our doctor or pharmacist. I wonder -- would mine have cautioned me about mixing Azilect with the pickled herring I frequently enjoy at lunch? That favorite snack is just one of many foods shown on the "watch-out" list for people taking Azilect.

November 22, 2011

Bad News on $4,000-a-year Azilect: No Generic Until 2017


I reported earlier this month that a generic for Lipitor (the pricey drug designed to lower cholesterol levels) would be available this month, and that the patent on the even more expensive Azilect (commonly prescribed for Parkinson's) was due to expire next February. See http://bit.ly/tk3S3b.

While the plans for a generic Lipitor are now confirmed, we've learned that the Azilect patent, held by Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva, has been extended for five years and will now expire in February, 2017.

That's bad news for those of us who use Azilect, whose high tariff -- in combination with Lipitor's -- pushed me into Medicare's "donut hole" last year. Now, Lipitor won't be the problem it was, but Azilect alone will drive me in the dreaded donut hole next year.

The donut hole opens in 2012 when my total drug cost (what I pay plus what my plan pays) hits $2,930. A 90-day supply of the 1.0 mg Azilect (my prescription) costs $938. Three refills of that 90-day prescription would just about reach my threshold. Add in the cost of the other meds I take, and I'll probably fall into the hole in mid-summer.

Once in the hole, those of us covered by Medicare must pick up the full tab until the total cost-of-meds hits $4,700. Luckily, we get a break because last year's Health Reform Law requires pharmaceutical companies to offer brand name drugs at half price.

November 21, 2011

Stem Cells, the Vatican, Politics: A Strange Brew

On September 28, I wrote on a study about creating dopamine-producing brain cells from embryonic stem cells. The story carried big implications for possible PD therapy. (http://bit.ly/mROIHr)

On October 21, I wrote about the Vatican’s signing a deal to collaborate with an American non-profit on adult stem cell education and research. (http://bit.ly/pNAXrA)

A November 7 article from FierceBiotech Research reported that Sloan-Ketting Institute for Cancer Research in New York identified a third ingredient that enables successful transformation of embryonic stem cells into dopamine-producing brain cells in both rodent and monkey models. (It's the absence of dopamine that creates the tremors and control issues so often identified with Parkinson’s.)

On November 7, we learned that the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) hailed this new study. At the same time, the NPF’s National Medical Director, Dr. Michael Okun, cautioned:
The dopamine system is but one of many neural systems affected in Parkinson’s, and in people with the disease, we still need to address progression. We hope that this success translates into relief for patients, and that it inspires future success in treating the symptoms of later-stage disease and addressing the underlying pathology

November 18, 2011

3am: Meditation. 11am: Contemplation. 2pm: "The Way." Near Perfect Day!

All my life I've experienced spontaneous moments when I find myself thinking "God, I love my life!" They don't occur while I'm gazing at the Taj Mahal or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but when I'm quietly savoring some unexpected, simple joy. I remember such a feeling years ago, arriving home from a bike ride on a perfect autumn day.

I had another one of those experiences today, driving home from a late afternoon movie, reliving the simple pleasures of the day:

November 17, 2011

Whitman and the Astronomer: Advice for Us All


On Tuesday, in my ramble about “Lessons Learned,” I mentioned “nature deficit disorder.” That phrase describes the negative effect that prolonged removal from the natural world – the great outdoors – has on us. I learned, over these past months of confinement indoors, that I am susceptible. Enough with the tyranny of the morning newspaper. Turn off the TV with all those yammering talking heads. Go outside, look, listen, and be quiet!

My friend Larry replied, and gave me “something to think about while on my porch.” I had never encountered this poem by the great Walt Whitman (pictured above in communion with a butterfly), and liked it so much I wanted to share it here. Thank you, Larry.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer


When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Re-reading this poem, I smiled... recalling the personal pledge I made when I retired -- to NEVER AGAIN get involved in anything that required attending business meetings. (But I love going to the author talks at Politics & Prose, Washington's treasured independently-owned bookstore. I've yet to hear a talk by a "learn'd astronomer," however.)

November 16, 2011

Back on the Treadmill. Go, Derek!

I can't deny it: I like comments from readers. There are times -- we've all had them -- when I feel like I'm "going it alone." So, it made my day (an unusually warm mid-Novermber day, at that) when I received this email from Derek while relaxing on my back porch. It needs no further introduction.

Many thanks for the email, Derek. Good luck, and keep me posted. Thanks for letting me share this note today; I'll be happy to provide updates on your success if it's OK with you. Bravo!

November 15, 2011

Reflections on My Summer Setback: Lessons Learned

So far, I've been blessed with good health and few ailments. Sure, I've been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer. But the PD was only diagnosed a couple of years ago, and so far the symptoms are pretty easy to deal with. As for the cancer, my prostate was removed in January, 1995, the month after I retired. Post-operative PSA readings indicated that some cancer cells remained, but in the 16 years since then, the semi-annual checkups have shown a slow rise to 4.0 up to this spring. I'd almost forgotten about this cancer until my PSA jumped to 9 in September.

The compressed fracture of the vertebrae from the August car crash was my first experience with extended pain. Finally, just last week, I stopped using pain killers and wearing the back brace. Progress!

Still, this issue was a minor setback compared to what I've seen others deal with, particularly when I recall the deaths from AIDS of so many close friends, and the more recent courageous fights that several of my contemporaries now wage against life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

With my PD and prostate cancer, I know more setbacks lie ahead. Now that I feel I'm moving forward again after the crash, I've been reflecting on what I've learned from this experience, and how those lessons might help me down the road.

November 14, 2011

Quiz: What Is Used To Control The Behavior of the Deer in My Backyard, Many of My Dear Friends, and Me?

We've had a run of some pretty serious stuff over the past few weeks -- death and dying, death panels and regulating healthcare tests and procedures, our debt crisis, and the future of Social Security and Medicare.
So, let's take a break for a silly interlude. See if you can come up with an answer to the question above.

Background Clues
Even though we live in the city, our Palisades neighborhood has deer in abundance. I've seen as many as five together in my backyard. It's always a lovely surprise. But it's not so lovely when the hostas get eaten up, and my young serviceberry tree trunk gets mauled from male deer rubbing their antlers against it.

My backyard ends with a hill that goes down to my neighbors' fenced-off swimming pool. The deer like to sleep in the protected patch at the bottom of the hillside. When they wake, they head up the hill and into my backyard for food and frolic:

After snacking on hostas, she takes a rest. This picture was taken in June. A month later, the hostas are bare stalks.

November 11, 2011

AN EMAIL I RECEIVED: Meeting at the Corner of Health and Money! What's Your Reaction?

On Wednesday, I received an email in response to something I'd posted. I asked the sender if I could "publish" it, with her name. She declined to be identified -- I respect that wish -- but she gave me permission to post her thought-provoking note anonymously. And I thought that this would be a good time to remind you that you, too, can send me an email at the address I publicize here: jschappi@gmail. If you'd prefer to correspond via email -- as this person did -- that's great! I'd love to hear from you.

Of course, you are always welcome to leave comments right here on the blog where others will automatically see them. Remember, you can post comments without disclosing your identity, if you prefer. What matters to me is this, and this only: I love getting responses and opinions, however they arrive, and whatever they say. If you disagree with something I've written... even better. Just let me know!

I admit: I soft-pedal my strong views on political issues on this blog, and I despise the slash-and-burn attacks we see too often on TV. IMHO, much of our current political paralysis results from excessive attention given to the crazies at both ends of our political spectrum.

We need to hear more thoughts from sensible people somewhere in the middle, like the author of this email who reminds us that -- healthcare reform politics aside -- we're dealing with human beings struggling with end-of-life choices that make real sense -- personally and financially.

Hope to hear from more of you in the "silent majority." 


 HERE'S THE EMAIL I RECEIVED:
John,

You've generated several conversations lately in one of the scariest parts of town: the intersection of Health and Money. We pause there – under the shade of the Discomfort Tree – throw around some quick ideas, and usually get the hell out of there as quickly as we can.
We need to linger. Honestly, I know of no other place where we need to spend more time -- if we care about our children’s and grandchildren’s futures… and our country’s frightening deficit.

November 10, 2011

Fresh Hope That Lipitor and Azilect Won't Push Me Into the "Donut Hole" In 2012

I  recently paid about $500 for a 90-day supply of Azilect, the prescription drug used by most people with Parkinson's. Because I had fallen into Medicare's so-called "donut hole" earlier this year, I wondered what I might do to avoid -- or at least delay -- falling into that same hole next year.

The Donut Hole for 2012
Most Medicare prescription drug plans have a dollar limit on what they cover for prescription drugs. Once you and your drug plan have spent a certain amount of money for covered drugs, you have to pay all out-of-pocket costs up to a yearly limit, after which Medicare's catastrophic coverage kicks in. This coverage gap is the dreaded, infamous "donut hole." But you needn't pay all the costs while you're in the hole. Your plan will cover at least 7% of generic  drug costs. You also receive a 50% discount on covered name brand drugs, while the manufacturer covers the other 50%.

The entry point for the donut hole varies from plan to plan, but this year it was $2840. In 2012, it will increase to $2930. Last year, the donut hole ended and Medicare's catastrophic coverage took over at $455O in annual drug costs. Next year it will be $4700. So, the donut hole for 2012 will run from $2930 to $4700.

Azilect and Lipitor: My High-Cost Drugs
Last year, two drugs were primarily responsible for pushing me into the donut hole:

November 9, 2011

AARP Is as Crazy as the Tea Party and More Dangerous... and I'm a Member!

Lucky for my blood pressure that I don't watch much TV. I get furious every time I see one of AARP's ads warning Congress that every senior will go to the polls and vote OUT any legislator who dares to reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits.

Here's the latest -- and most offensive -- in the series:


November 8, 2011

Relief for Insomnia: Try Meditation, Not Pills

Last Sunday's New York Times carried a feature on the upsurge in sleeping pill use by women, particularly working mothers. Here's some of what the Times had to say:

Mother’s little helper of the new millennium may in fact be the sleeping pill — a prescription not likely to inspire a jaunty pop song anytime soon. Nearly 3 in 10 American women fess up to using some kind of sleep aid at least a few nights a week, according to “Women and Sleep,” a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit research group.
In the study, 80 percent of women reported being just too stressed or worried to drift happily into dreamland. Sleep clinics report that three in four insomnia patients are women.

A contributing factor to this epidemic of sleeplessness, sleep specialists say, may well be the persistent creep of technology into the evening hours, a time that formerly was spent relaxing and winding down.

Dr. Nancy Collop, director of the Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta, says: "There's always the worry another e-mail has come in. Just the light from the electronic book or the iPad screen is stimulating."

It's hard to resist the temptation to take one last look at Facebook or your e-mail before going to bed. For many, that makes falling asleep in the first place a problem.

November 7, 2011

Coffee: Good or Bad for Us? The Verdict is IN.

For most of us, the potential benefits of coffee far outweigh the risks. Over the last few years, a surprising number of research studies have buttressed that verdict. Why this reversal, in light of the earlier warnings about coffee?

Earlier studies didn't always take into account that health risk behaviors -- like smoking and lack of exercise -- tended to be more common among heavy coffee drinkers. So, current studies have generally found no connection between coffee drinking and an increased risk of cancer or heart disease.

But current research still finds some risks. High consumption of unfiltered coffee is associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels. Another study found that two or more cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific -- and fairly common  -- genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body. So, how quickly you metabolize coffee may affect your health risk. Too much coffee can result in jitters and stomach upset. One study found an increased risk of miscarriage when a woman is a heavy coffe-drinker.

That's the downside. We coffee lovers -- who can't start the day without our java fix -- are well aware of the energy-boosting effect of caffeine. But look at this array of studies finding other possible health benefits from coffee consumption:

November 4, 2011

Watch Out For This Nursing Home Scam!

One fifth of Medicare nursing home patients with advanced Alzheimer's or dementia were sent to hospitals for questionable reasons in their final months, often enduring tube feeding and intensive care.

Researchers suspect that it's not a coincidence, since Medicare pays a nursing home about three times the normal daily rate when it takes patients back after brief hospitalizations. A group of researchers from Brown University, Harvard University and Dartmouth Medical School studied about 475,000 nursing home patients who had been transferred to hospitals. Among them, 19 percent were moved for questionable reasons.

November 3, 2011

The Best Way to Die

"SHE LIVED -- AND DIED -- JUST THE WAY SHE WANTED"

The more I read, the longer I live, the more I understand how important it is to prepare for death.

Thanks to the conversations I've had -- first and most importantly with myself and then with my kids and doctors,  I’m as ready  as I can be (the unexpected, however, seems to happen more often than the expected) as are the people I love. My primary doctors have a good sense of  the choices about care that I'd prefer. If you've visited this blog before, you've probably heard me say that it’s the QUALITY -- not length -- of life that matters to me. I've said that so often, my kids no doubt say to themselves "There he goes again."

Many, understandably are reluctant to initiate conversations on death and dying.. They’re difficult discussions, and we’re probably more worried about making our families uncomfortable than we are about our own discomfort with the topic. But NOT having those talks – with our families and with our doctors – can end up causing infinitely more distress for the people we love and needless uncertainty among our caregivers.

November 2, 2011

Seniors and Social Media

In December, 2010, Pew Internet published a report about internet use. One general conclusion – no surprise – was that certain online activities have become popular across all age groups. These activities include:
  • Email
  • Search engine use
  • Seeking health information
  • Getting news
  • Buying products
  • Making travel reservations or purchases
  • Doing online banking
  • Looking for religious information
  • Rating products, services, or people
  • Making online charitable donations
  • Downloading podcasts
Another conclusion in the report was more interesting to me: while it’s true that younger internet explorers are still most likely to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the fastest growth in this area has come from users 74 and older. Since 2008, the percentage of senior internet users who visit social networking sites has quadrupled, from 4% to 16%.

November 1, 2011

Halloween on Sherier Place: It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This!

I love my city (Washington, DC -- I know, but I'm not talking about the government) and my neighborhood (The Palisades). I wrote a couple months ago about what I think is the prettiest street in the Palisades. See
http://bit.ly/rAPNni

But, for me, the nicest street is Sherier Place, partly because 5030 Sherier was our first house in the Palisades, where we spent the early years, during our kids' childhoods. Mainly, it reminds me of the small town neighborhood street in Ithaca, NY, where I grew up.

So, on Halloween Eve -- a glorious fall Sunday -- I got out my camera and headed for Sherier Place, knowing it would be Halloween Central for decorated houses. Here's what I found in just a 3-4 block stroll.

For starters:

October 31, 2011

What A Difference A Day Makes . . .

. . .  24 Little Hours

My backyard at 4 p.m. Saturday October 29:


My backyard at 4 p.m. Sunday October 30, 2011;


I was going to finish this post with some philosophical crap about how I need to remember when I'm having a bad day tomorrow will be better. (I know, YUCK!). Actually I like both photos and enjoyed both days. Maybe there's a philosophical maxim there, but I'll leave that to you.

October 28, 2011

TGIF: A Light Touch for an Important Issue

We've talked about some heady issues these past few days. Today's post addresses another important issue -- breast cancer -- but in an unexpected "Chippendales" sort of way. Hey, if this approach can help women remember their self-examinations, so much the better! And I know a few men who will enjoy this as well.

October 27, 2011

Part 1: When Making Health Care Decisions, Should We Switch the Default from "Just Do It!" to "Watchful Waiting"?

PART ONE
On Monday, we reviewed the federal task force recommendation against routine PSA screening for men, regardless of age, since the test tended to lead to other treatments that didn't prolong life and even impaired quality of life.

In Tuesday's post, we considered other common tests and procedures that researchers have challenged for similar reasons.

This research made me think about how I've tended to make my own health care decisions. My decision on how to deal with the finding in 1994 that I had prostate cancer is a good example. As I said, consultation with my urologist, and my own research, narrowed the options for me:
  • Surgical removal of the cancerous prostate, with the known risks of erectile dysfunction and/or incontinence.
  • "Watchful waiting" -- we take no immediate action, but carefully monitor developments.
It was an easy decision for me, given my tendency to favor doing something when the options are "act" and "do not act." I had the surgery.

Looking back on that 1994 decision, and on what's happened since, I wonder if the quality of my life might have been better if I'd opted for watchful waiting instead of surgery.

Part 2: Even With Good Info and the Best of Intentions, Doctors, Patients, and Families Will Still Opt for Useless -- Maybe Harmful -- Tests and Procedures

PART TWO
If patients become better informed and play more active roles with their doctors to manage their health care, some reduction in overtreatment might result, but it wouldn't have a major impact because of the way doctors, patients, and family members interact in today's health care system.

Role of Doctors
In a recent survey reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, nearly half of the more than 600 primary care doctors who responded believed that their patients received too much care. Almost a third of them acknowledged that they were partly responsible for this surfeit of care.

The doctors surveyed attributed the pressure to overtreat patients primarily to three factors:
  • Almost half believed that inadequate time allotted to patients led doctors to order more tests or refer them to specialists.
  • More than three quarters believed that the fear of malpractice suits or of being perceived as not doing enough put undue pressure on them to order more treatment.
  • More than half believed that the quality measures and clinical guidelines endorsed by health care experts and insurers as a way of reining in health care costs were in fact having the opposite effect. Ironically, most of these guidelines -- which insurers increasing link to reimbursement -- are based on more testing and treatments.
  • Some accuse doctors of prescribing unnecessary care for financial gain. But only 4 percent of the doctors surveyed believed that was a factor. (A brave 4%!)

October 26, 2011

A Walk in Roscoe Village, Ohio and into the Surrounding Woods


It's a great Halloween house, although the 30-40 steps up to the door might discourage sugar-addled trick-or-treaters from making the ascent. Come to think of it, does this beautiful old house resemble -- just a little -- the Bates Motel from Psycho? I love the multi-colored leaf-strewn lawn.

Before my friends enjoyed their sunny day at the Coshocton-Ohio County fair two weeks ago, they had a few rambles through surrounding parks and small towns on a cloudy day. Here are just a few of the photographs they took.

October 25, 2011

Other Healthcare Tests and Procedures Under Scrutiny. What Should YOU Do?

Yesterday, I discussed the uproar over -- and my own uncertainty about -- the federal task force recommendation that men not get the PSA test for prostate cancer. I had my cancerous prostate removed in 1995, and have been having PSA tests twice a year since then.

Should this new recommendation simply serve as the start of a conversation between doctor and patient, leaving the decision for action -- if any -- up to them? Or should Medicare and private insurance companies just stop reimbursing for the test?

I'm similarly unsure what to think about other tests and procedures now being challenged. Do they help? Do they save lives? Do they cause harm? Do they add unbearable cost to our health care system? Do we check "all of the above"?

October 24, 2011

Uproar Over PSA Testing: Would I Have Been Better Served If I'd NOT Had the Test OR the Operation?

I've been following with interest the fallout from a federal task force conclusion that most men should not routinely get the PSA blood test for evidence of prostate cancer. I got the test back in 1994 and had my prostate surgically removed in 1995. A post-operative PSA test showed that cancer cells remained, and I've had the test every six months since then.

Now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has concluded that the exam does not save lives and may even lead to harm for 20-30% of men. (These PSA recommendations are proposed and still have to go through a comment and review procedure.)

The task force stirred up similar controversy in 2009 when it recommended against routine mammograms for women under 50, and suggested screening at two-year intervals after that age. When a firestorm of protest erupted, the recommendation was withdrawn.

The 16-member task force -- which reports to the Department of Health and Human Services -- was established to perform an evidence-based assessment of preventive medical care. Its recommendations could affect what services Medicare and private insurers will cover. And under last year's health care reform law, their findings carry additional weight.

The PSA issue is part of a bigger, growing debate about our overuse of tests, drugs and procedures. Does this trend toward excess (which seems part of our culture) needlessly drive up health care costs and expose patients to risks? Does it help explain why U.S. healthcare is the world's most expensive, but hardly the best?

October 21, 2011

Stem Cells: Two Updates

It seems every time I review the latest medical developments online, there's something new about stem cells. Here are two of the most recent items; each carries its own surprise. Did the Vatican really fund stem cell research?

October 20, 2011

Jefferson and Monticello: A Bit of History

Last Saturday's visit to Monticello (see the photo post below) re-ignited my fascination with Thomas Jefferson, no doubt the most brilliant and multi-talented of our Founding Fathers (who all stood head-and-shoulders above our current crop of politicians!). I remember Jack Kennedy's quip at a dinner for Nobel Prize winners:
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
Jefferson As Statesman
Here's the chronology:

October 19, 2011

Monticello Glistens on a Glorious Fall Afternoon

Last Saturday I woke to a beautiful fall day. For the first time since the car crash two months ago, I felt like getting out and doing something. We decided to check out Charlottesville and the University of Virginia campus, designed by Thomas Jefferson.

A few miles out of Washington in bumper-to-bumper traffic, we wondered if we'd made a good decision. Then I remembered that the road to Charlottesville was also a route to the Skyline Drive in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where the fall foliage was approaching its colorful peak. So we took a different, longer route.

When we finally arrived in Charlottesville, we discovered another unfortunate coincidence: it was homecoming weekend at UVA, featuring a football game with Georgia Tech. Lots of traffic. An army of pedestrians. But -- as these pictures show -- what a beautiful day!

October 18, 2011

Tony Bennett's Duet with Lady Gaga: Love It!

The power of music! The power of unexpected friendship. The power of keeping your mind open to All Things New. Oh, by the way, Tony Bennett is EIGHTY FIVE years old. Talk about "young at heart"!

Click, watch, enjoy, feel your blood pressure go down, and your spirits soar. Go, Tony! Go, Gaga!

Now, check out the kudosTony gives Gaga. WOW!

The Legend giving major props ("bigger than Elvis"!) to a fellow performer who is SIXTY years younger than he is. Fabulous!

October 17, 2011

Family Get-Together and Cookout at Son Todd's House

I've often mentioned the role luck has played in my life. Here's an especially happy example: my two children, three grandchildren and two great granddaughters all live in the Baltimore-Washington area. Yesterday (Sunday, October 16), son Todd invited all of us for a cook-out at his house in the hills near Thurmont, Maryland.

It was a perfect day (except for the Redskins' sabotaging their previous good showings with an interception-plagued loss to the Philadelphia Eagles).

Here's our host and cook Todd:

Todd prefers to live either in the heart of the city or way outside the suburban developments. I wouldn't want the troublesome commute, but Todd loves living here, and these pictures show why:

October 14, 2011

A Farewell Tribute to Employee-Owned BNA

Let me make it clear from the outset: with its sale to Bloomberg, BNA will not just survive; it will thrive. BNA's employees will have more security and opportunity with Bloomberg... surely more that they would have enjoyed had one of BNA’s existing competitors purchased the company instead. Hats off to BNA's top management and board of directors for pulling off this result!

Nonetheless, I'm still a little sad to see BNA's tenure as the nation's oldest 100% employee-owned organization come to an end. So, in a fond farewell, here’s a brief recap of the company’s early years.

October 13, 2011

Connecting the Dots That Led to My 40-Year Career at BNA, the Nation's Oldest 100% Employee-Owned Company... But No More

In my October 7 post (see below), I reviewed the three stories Steve Jobs told in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. First, he “connected the dots” that led him to his work at Apple. “You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life,” he said.

While I hesitate to compare myself in any way with such a visionary pioneer, I've had similar thoughts about my own unplanned path toward a career that was damn near perfect for me. I’ve always just called it serendipity. Here’s how I connect my own dots:

October 12, 2011

"To Autumn" by John Keats

I've written recently about my fondness for October. I've written, too, about the power of music, and the effect it has on our health. I have friends who'd say that poetry has powers similar to those of music. The short work below offers poetry, music, and a beautiful appreciation for this magical time of year.

John Keats was only 23 years old when he wrote this poem. About 17 months later, he died. I wonder what he might have created if he'd lived a longer life.

The sketch above of the handsome young poet was completed by Charles Brown in August, 1819 -- just a month before Keats wrote the glorious ode that follows.

October 11, 2011

The Coshocton-Ohio County Fair. Memories of MY Tompkins-New York County Fair Many Moons Ago


Ah, October! There's so much to like about this month: a happy goodbye to the summer heat and humidity of Washington, DC... those amazing, rich colors of the fall... the cool, snappy mornings and the warm, sunny afternoons.... It's a favorite time of the year for me. I feel the same way about April, six months away on the other side of the calendar.

I was reminded of my fondness for October this past weekend, when a friend emailed me some pictures he took on a recent trip with a friend to Coshocton, Ohio. Their visit there with Steve's wonderful, active, 94-year-old, piano-playing mother happily coincided with the run of this year's Coshocton County Fair. It's a big event in this east central Ohio county, and this year it celebrated its 160th anniversary. And what's not to love about the merry-go-round, above? The very first painted pony I ever rode -- at the Tompkins County Fair in upstate New York -- looked pretty much like these.

The pictures that follow below brought back memories of my own happy childhood experiences at the Tompkins County Fair. I'll bet you a roast beef sundae that something here looks very familiar to YOU.

October 7, 2011

Reflections on Steve Jobs and His 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford

Learning of Steve Jobs' death, I went back to his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, which is mentioned in many "appreciations" and obits. I'd seen the address video several times in the past. But this time I printed it out. (I'm of the older generation that gets more out of reading an address than viewing it.)

He begins by noting: "I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation." He introduces his address by saying he has just three stories to tell.

October 5, 2011

Bettye LaVette Proves What Recent Research Only Suggests -- Music Is Therapeutic!

In my last post (just below this one), I reviewed a report on recent studies suggesting that music can be good for both your physical and mental health. I now have proof positive.

After the September doldrums that resulted from my totaling a new car in late August, October got off to a great start by accepting an invitation from my son and his girlfriend to join them at a Bettye LaVette concert this past Saturday night.

I had probably read about her in connection with her appearances at Obama's pre-inaugural concert and the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors (the annual event honoring five leaders in the performing arts). Otherwise I knew nothing about her, and had never seen her perform. Was I in for a surprise!

October 4, 2011

The Healing Powers of Music Confirmed in Recent Studies

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.   --Oliver Wendell Holmes

Without music, life would be a mistake.  --Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Few of us would disagree with these sentiments. But now recent studies show that music also has major positive effects on many aspects of health -- ranging from memory and mood to cardiovascular function and athletic performance. These studies were reviewed in the July issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. Here are some of the studies and findings:

October 3, 2011

Reflections on My September Setback

Back in January on this blog, I explained why 2010 had been -- in many ways -- the best year of my life. This year was in the running for at least a silver medal, and may even have challenged 2010 for the gold.....

Until I totaled my new Honda Fit in late August (right after a three-week tour of the Pacific Northwest, probably my best-ever trip in a life full of travels). As a result, September may have been one of my worst months ever.

There will be other difficult times down the road as I get older. But, reflecting on this past month, I've learned some lessons that will surely help me weather future set-backs.

First, a brief recap of what happened:


September 30, 2011

The Lion Whisperer: Fantastic Video of a Life's Passion

This morning, I looked at a brief video emailed to me by an animal-crazy friend. I was amazed, and had to view it a second time. It’s about South African animal behaviorist Kevin Richardson, who lives with lions and hyenas and has found a way to completely gain their trust. Here's the video:

September 29, 2011

Will You Live to Be 90 Years Old? Maybe Even 100?

I’ve got a handful of friends who share the same birthyear: 1918. Now into their 94th years, they first had to survive the scary flu epidemic that ravaged our country at the end of World War I, when they were newborns. They’ve lived through all the years since – so many changes in the world! – and continue to enjoy active and interesting lives. I’m inspired by their spunk and engagement with life.

Ever wonder if YOU’LL make it to 90? A Swedish study may help provide a few clues. Researchers followed the lives of a group of men born in 1913, evaluated their health in middle age, and then waited to see what happened… and who survived. Interestingly, the study’s results don’t point to genetic attributes. The men who survived into their tenth decade shared these characteristics:

September 28, 2011

From Stem Cells to Dopamine-Producing Brain Cells?

Stem Cell Awareness Day is right around the corner: October 5. With an early nod to that date, I wanted to share some recent news about stem cells and Parkinson’s.

A team led by Dr. Stuart Lipton, director of Sanford-Burnham’s Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research Center, converted human embryonic stem cells into neural progenitor cells (which become brain cells). Then, applying a particular protein (MEF2C), they coaxed those cells to become neurons that actually produce dopamine. It’s the loss of the chemical dopamine that compromises the brain’s ability to send messages that control muscle function – the problem which leads to the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Current therapies treat those symptoms by adding dopamine with medication. This new study suggests it may be possible to enable the brain to produce that key substance on its own.

September 26, 2011

Earthquake Atop the Washington Monument: the Video

On Tuesday afternoon, August 23, as I lay in my bed at George Washington Hospital in Washington, DC, thinking happy thoughts and recovering from my car crash the day before, a 5.9 earthquake centered in nearby Virginia rumbled through our region. My hospital bed shook, I heard some rattling, and I knew it was an earthquake. As long as the building doesn’t collapse, I thought, I was in a pretty good place.

I was lucky. Less than a mile away, tourists were enjoying the glorious eagle’s view from the top of the 555-foot-high Washington Monument on a perfect late summer afternoon. Their experience of the quake, as you can see in this recently released security tape, was a lot scarier than mine. From the top, the shaking was obviously severe, and surely frightened the daylights out of the trapped, vulnerable tourists. Here’s a taste of how they experienced it.

To Drive or Not to Drive? Decision: Drive, but Cut Way Back and Follow Tips for Senior Drivers

That's my decision... for now. The Department of Motor Vehicles may have a different decision when I appear for a hearing on whether to suspend my license as a result of the car crash.

The crash was a definite warning signal that I should cut back on my driving. First of all, I need to pay attention to the tips for older drivers from the American Automobile Association (AAA). They appear at the end of this post.

But I have a checklist of my own:

September 22, 2011

How To Lower Blood Pressure Without Pills -- Tea and Chocolate Sound Good?

I was watching The Today Show this morning while fixing breakfast when they announced an upcoming segment about natural ways to lower blood pressure. With all the trauma of the past month, my blood pressure readings on my home monitor have been jumping all around. So I decided to hang around for that segment. Turned out to be interesting.

They opened by noting that high blood pressure is a factor in 15% of the deaths in the U.S. Then they went on to give a list of things that we can do on our own to lower our blood pressure:

September 21, 2011

This Aging Knee-Jerk Liberal Has Decided That Romney Is The Best Choice for President in 2012

"Aging and demented," many of my good liberal friends will understandably respond.

I've tried to steer clear of politics in the blog. But when I surprised myself by coming to this conclusion after once again depressing myself by reading the Sunday Washington Post and New York Times, I decided that since this was a somewhat bi-partisan decision, I'd use the blog to explain why.

I found out later on Sunday that the Post's liberal op-ed columnist had a "Democrats for Romney?" piece.
His argument was that democrats should stop beating up on Romney because there's an increasingly good chance that the Republican nominee will be elected in 2012, and  Romney would be a hell of a lot better than Perry. For more see:http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/democrats-for-romney/2011/09/16/gIQAdLmQXK_story.html

My rationale is a bit different.

September 19, 2011

Reflections: The Sad Contrast Between My Lucky Generation and Today's Unlucky Generations

In my September 15 post (below), I reflected on the good luck that favored my generation as we entered the work force at the start of the economic boom following World War II. The wartime expansion of our manufacturing industries ended the Great Depression of the 1930s, and their successful transition to peacetime made us, far and away, the world's No.1 economic powerhouse.

Given the lousy state of our economy today, the last month has seen a rash of op-ed pieces that have explored not only where we are today, but also our economy's long decline since the "Golden Age" ended in the late 1970s.

September 16, 2011

Alternative / Complementary Medicine and Exercise: Two New Studies

On September 14, while I was perusing the latest medical developments online, two items caught my attention on WorldHealth.net, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine’s online journal:
  • A study that focuses on the popularity of complementary / alternative medicine (CAM) with healthcare workers, and
  • Another new study reporting that 15 minutes of moderate exercise daily may add three years to your life.
That first study supports what I’ve recently found from personal experience: alternative therapies have helped me occasionally when more traditional approaches did not. That second study reconfirms everything we know intuitively – and have read in countless studies – about the benefits of exercise (a common theme on this blog). And it certainly makes me feel good about my early morning walks and afternoons in the garden.

September 15, 2011

Reflections: My Unnamed Generation Should Be Called the Lucky Generation Which Gives Us a Special Obligation To Help Others

With all that's happened in the past month or so -- the "best trip ever," the car crash, hospitalization, earthquake, hurricane, sale of my company, and hints that I may not be immortal -- I've decided it's time to reflect on where I've been and on plans for the future. This first reflection is on my growing up in "The Lucky Generation."

I was born in 1929, so I'm somewhere between these two well-known generations:

  • The Greatest Generation: This is the term coined by Tom Brokaw to describe the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight World War II. It's usually defined as those born between 1901 and 1925, although those born in the earlier years grew up in the 1920s (the core years of the "Lost Generation") and are more closely associated with the values of that generation. The core of the GG is generally viewed as those born between 1914 and l924. The depression and World War II usually are cited as the defining events for the GG. I would add the passage of the GI Bill of Rights. By the time it ended in 1966, 7.8 million vets had used it for college education or vocational training, and another 2.4 million had taken out home loans backed by the Veterans Administration. No other single piece of legislation comes close to having the impact that the GI Bill had on transforming the middle class and bolstering the economy.
  • The Baby Boom Generation:  The core of this generation consists of those born during the post-war baby boom years of 1945 to 1964. They grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of great affluence in North America and Europe. The years from 1947 to 1977 are viewed by many as the Golden Years for the U.S. economy. Those born in those years, as a group, were the healthiest and wealthiest generation up to that time. For most of our history, each generation grew up expecting progress to continue so that they would end up surpassing their parents in well-being. This optimism was particularly true for those in the BB generation. Unfortunately, it looks now that they may have been the last generation to ride that wave.

September 14, 2011

Be Your Own Best Advocate: Become Informed and Trust Your Instincts

I dreamed last night that I was in London and needed to get to Heathrow airport in record time. I was pretty sure I knew the fastest route from past experience, but a policeman suggested a different way. I took his advice, got hopelessly lost, missed my flight, and regretted not trusting my own instinct.

Now, I wonder if the dream was a shadowy recollection of an experience I had three weeks ago, when I had to drive to an unfamiliar part of Washington, DC to recover some personal items from my totaled Honda Fit. I checked a map, and saw what looked like the best plan to get from here to there. Pretty simple, really. Then I did a MapQuest search, which provided a different, more complicated set of directions. Thinking that the computer program knew something I didn’t, I followed the MapQuest suggestions. About one hour after leaving home, I finally arrived at the lot, frazzled from getting completely lost – and in torrential rain the entire time. Had I done it my way, the trip would have taken fifteen minutes.

These experiences – one imagined, one real – underscore my belief in the importance of being well-informed, and then in trusting one’s own point of view.

September 13, 2011

"Best Trip Ever" Part II -- Seattle to San Francisco

The first post (below) covered the trip heading north from Yosemite to Seattle. Now we'll take a look at the trip heading back to San Francisco.

But first -- an aside prompted by a piece in Sunday's New York Times by Nicholas Kristof about his family's backpacking this summer along the Pacific Crest Trail. Kristof says he's concerned "that Americans love their national parks, but they sometimes love video games more." The National Park Service reports that the number of recreational visits to our national parks was lower last year than a decade earlier. In 1979, the parks had 35% more backpacking campers than in 2010.

The Outdoor Foundation says that fewer youths are heading outdoors each year, adding that "the American childhood has rapidly moved indoors leading to epidemic levels of child obesity and inactivity."


Adults, as well as children,  need nature, Kristof says, "as a tonic, as a balancing force, as therapy," 
adding:
The wilderness trims our bravado and puts us in our place. Particularly in traumatic times like these, nature challenges us, revitalizes us, humbles us, exhilarates us and restores our souls.
I couldn't agree more. At age 82, I'm unfortunately not up to backpacking up and down mountain trails. But nevertheless the three weeks we spent driving through the Pacific Northwest was revitalizing.

September 12, 2011

Recalling "The Best Trip Ever" To Revive My Spirits

Two weeks after the car crash and hospitalization, I need to move on and revive my normally upbeat outlook. So for starters, I'm going to do two posts on highlights of "my best trip ever" -- the August tour of the Pacific Northwest. This one will cover the first half of the trip going north from Yosemite and ending in Seattle.
We flew into San Francisco and immediately headed out in our rental car for Yosemite National Park on the other side of the state.

September 9, 2011

What Do 5-HTP and Vodka Have in Common?

They both enhanced my mood and helped me sleep but then turned on me when this addiction-prone guy overdosed on them.

I gave up on the vodka 33 years ago when I finally accepted the fact that I'm an alcoholic. I was 16 when I started drinking (and had an alcoholic blackout the first time I drank) and I stopped at age 49. So this year at age 82, I will finally have logged more years sober than drunk.

Given that background, you'd think I'd be cautious about over-using other drugs. I'm embarrassed to admit I went through the same pattern of denying I was having a problem using 5-HTP. At least this time it only took a year to confront the denial.

September 8, 2011

If I End Up Buying a New Car, Here's What It Probably Will Be

Drum Roll Please:

The Hyundai Elantra!

Check out the posting yesterday for the reason why buying a new car is an "if."

For at least 30 years, my cars have been Honda Civics. I'm not a car person. All I care about is a reliable, uncomplicated car that's small enough to easily navigate the narrow streets of DC and squeeze into tight parking spaces.

The Honda Civic satisfied those requirements and the hatchback has the added advantage of enabling me to transport bulky items like garden plants and bags of mulch, top soil, and bird seed. As an example of my disinterest in cars, when I made one of my infrequent visits to a car dealership to replace an aging Honda, I just went to the showroom of a nearby dealer and came away with a new car in less than an hour. Only when I brought it home did I notice that it wasn't a hatchback. Fortunately the dealer let me bring it back and exchange it for a hatchback.

This time, however, I decided to explore other options. One of my pals who is also a city dweller recently bought a Hyundai Elantra after extensive research. He will have to wait several weeks for delivery since demand for this model is so high.

I checked it out by going to http://www.consumerreports.org/. As a long-time CR subscriber, I'm able to get the full text of their research reports free of charge. They list the Elantra as their No. 1 choice for small sedans.

Here's their summary:
Following its 2011 redesign the Elantra sedan emerged as our top-rated small car. It combines nimble handling with a comfortable, well-controlled ride and a neatly laid-out, well-equipped interior. The 148-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission deliver solid performance and a very good mpg overall. A six-speed manual also is available. The interior is nice and has decent rear-seat room. Our two major gripes are the low-mounted dash vents and pronounced road noise. The wagon version, the Elantra Touring, remains unchanged. We expect reliability of the sedan to mirror the above-average record of the previous Elantra.
Too bad I can't order it with one-click at http://www.amazon.com/, my favorite way to shop. I'm indifferent to cars, but I actively dislike store shopping.
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