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Healthy Aging

A Little Toilet Talk

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As you may have figured out from our blogs, Sharon and I are now living in the “Age-Friendly” single story home we had built in the Twin Creeks Development in Central Point.  While neither of us have mobility issues at this time, we did want to plan for the future and what that may hold in terms of health.  Thus are new home is fully accessible and has been certified to the Lifelong Housing standard developed by AARP Oregon and the Rogue Valley Council of Governments.

Which brings me to the bathroom toilet.  In every room of the house we tried to incorporate not only the recommended fixtures that were considered “age-friendly” but also adoption of the newest technology.  In our guest bathroom we installed grab bars in the tub/shower, a pedestal sink to conserve space and grab bars adjacent to the toilet for those that might need a little help getting on and off.  In addition, we installed what is often referred to as a “comfort height” toilet with a seat that is at least 18 inches high (16 1/2 inches to the rim) instead of the standard height toilet.   This height is much more comfortable for adults of all ages and abilities and I would recommend it for anyone remodeling a bathroom.

In our master bathroom we installed another unique feature; a bidet toilet seat (called BioBidet) that does, well, what a bidet is supposed to do.  For older adults a bidet toilet may be the difference between independence and assistance.  The BioBidet is essentially a toilet seat with special features and requires a nearby electrical outlet.  It is as easy to install as a standard toilet seat and also functions as a nightlight.

I thought we had covered all the bases (so to speak) when we put in our toilets but technology is always pursuing better solutions to everyday problems.  Today I saw a headline that gave me pause….”Odor-eating toilet seat offers a breath of fresh air.”  Turns out Kohler has developed a deodorizing toilet seat that promises to eliminate bathroom odors and the need for candles, matches or sprays.  The device has a fan hidden in the battery-operated seat which moves air through a carbon filter.

I’m not sure if we will buy this new odor eating toilet seat but you never know.  I will keep my eye out for other innovations that will make life easier and age-friendly.  Any ideas?



Don’t Fall For This

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I have probably written about this before but it bears repeating.  Falling is a killer for older adults.  I would guess that if you were to ask 10 people over age 65 “Have you or a loved one experienced a debilitating fall?” the answer over 80 percent of the time would be “yes.”   According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the rate of severe falls has been increasing for Americans over the age of 65.  Researchers note that one reason for the increase in falls may be the link to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.  The CDC adds that in some cases, the medication to treat the disease can increase the risk of falling.

While Americans became frantic recently over one death from Ebola in this country you don’t hear much concern about the number of people over 65 who died after a fall.  Would you believe 24,000 in 2012?   That, according to the CDC is almost double the number reported 10 years earlier.  In addition, more than 2.4 million people over 65 were treated in emergency departments for injuries from falls in 2012 alone.  Falls, according to the CDC, are the leading cause of injury-related death for those over 65.

Now, one more scary statistic to make you take notice.  Currently 10,000 people turn 65 every day in this country and that trend will continue for the next 19 years!  Baby Boomers are not immune.  There is no vaccine for falls.

As most people who read the blogs Sharon and I have been posting know we designed and built an “age-friendly” home in Central Point that has been certified to the Rogue Valley Council of Governments “Lifelong Housing” standard.  This home has no step entry, wider doors and a host of other features…including some to help us avoid falls.

Lighting is critically important for older adults, not just for reading, but for navigating.  We have a a lot of light in our house and even in the dead of night it is possible to see our way to the bathroom without turning on a light.  Also, in the bathroom the light in the toilet has a motion sensor so it comes on automatically.  In our guest bathroom we have grab bars in the bathtub and around the toilet.  In our shower we also have a grab bar.  Some would say since we are healthy adults why do we need grab bars?  To me grab bars are like seat belts…..you don’t need them until you need them and then they are lifesavers.  Think about installing grab bars in your bathroom before it is too late.

Another simple step to preventing falls is to get ride of scatter rugs.  They may look attractive but can be lethal to slow moving folks that shuffle their feet when they walk.  Exercise can also improve one’s balance and I have been told (but haven’t verified) that Tai Chi can improve one’s stability.

While Sharon and I have been vigilant in trying to prevent falls in our home we have one hazard that remains.  Out new little puppy Lucy is often underfoot and Sharon has bought a lot of little toys for her that often get under foot.  If you come to visit watch your step.


Finding My Roots

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Today’s Mail Tribune had an article in the TV Tempo section that was promoting a PBS program called “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.”  Gates is the director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard and his show features high-profile guests finding their roots.   This article follows a series of features on CNN following various staff of that channel tracing their own ancestry.  In addition, as we are still unpacking from our recent move to Twin Creeks I was reminded of the boxes and boxes of genealogical materials I had accumulated about 30 years ago in pursuit of my own roots.

When I first began my ancestor tracking journey I had little information to go by.   There was no internet and research involved going to a local genealogical library to pour through endless reels of microfilm or writing to state offices for death certificates.  Slowly piece-by-pieces I was able to fill in many missing parts of my family history.
This blog is not so much about reaching a destination, such as finding a famous ancestor (none so far) or tracing your family back to the middle ages (I’m around 1623).   For me genealogy brings to life two passions I have had for all my adult life; notably travel and history.  I had always planned to take all the information I had gathered, documents, newspaper clippings, visits to cemeteries in five states and four countries and write the great family history after I retired.

Well, I have been “retired” for about two years and the history is still not written.   What I now realize is that the journey was the real story.  Standing on a steep hillside above a Norwegian fjord on the soil my great grandfather farmed or visiting a small village in the Rheingau area of Germany only to discover a distant relative who had heard the story of two brothers coming to America in the 1850’s.  Finding a handwritten will from my great grandfather in the basement of a courthouse in Wisconsin or taping my now departed grandmother singing a nursery rhyme in German.  One time I knocked on a farm house door in Western Minnesota and introduced to the family living there that my great grandfather had homesteaded the property.  They were thrilled to learn what I knew and had some stories to share with me about the homestead farm.  I left with square nails from the original barn my great grandfather John Johnson had built and I have a framed copy of his homestead patent dated 1890.

It’s never too late to begin a search for your roots but I would encourage anyone who can afford it to visit the places where their ancestors lived and loved, worked and died.   Try and put their life into the context of the time.  In many of us with European ancestors often as not wars played a major role in relocation or, as in the case of John Johnson, lack of farming opportunity because he was not the eldest son.   Or Franz Jahnke who was a shepherd in Prussia but wanted something better for his family.  Take the journey.

My New Best Selling Book

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I have this great idea for a new diet book.  The title is “How I lost 50 pounds in two years after turning 70.”   The sub-title will be “If I can do it so can you.”  Want to buy it?   There’s just one problem with my book; it’s a bit thin.  As a matter of fact my “secret” diet can be summed up thusly:  eat less, exercise more.  It really is that simple.

When I retired at the end of 2012 (having just turned 70) I was determined to shed weight.  For years I had travelled the world spending countless hours on international flights eating and drinking with abandon.  I was lucky enough to fly business class in many cases and who could resist the free wine and heated nuts.  To say nothing of the desert cart!

My “diet” regimen consisted of setting a daily calorie goal and then keeping a daily food and drink diary to track what (and how many calories) I was taking in.  The calorie goal was set so that if I did nothing else but stay at that caloric level I would gradually loose weight.  However, if I exercised (walking, cycling, etc.) I could increase my food intake accordingly.  I used a smartphone app called Fitbit but there are many such apps and programs out there.

After about three months I no longer kept the daily food diary as I knew what not to eat (little or no bread, cereal and pasta and no French fries).  I tried to exercise for about 40 minutes at least three or four days a week.   At first the weight loss seemed painfully slow but once my metabolism was moving in the right direction the weight came off and my waistline shrunk.

Recently I saw an article titled “Exercise helps aging brains” by Leah Cannon (http://leahcanscience.com).  The article reported on a recent study that compared healthy participants 60-85 years old who did 60 minutes of high intensity exercise train or low intensity exercises three times a week for eight weeks.  Both groups had the same improvement in working memory and cognitive ability in a test where they had to think up random numbers and say one number each second for 100 seconds.   Leah Cannon wrote “it was previously thought that aerobic exercise improves cognition by increasing oxygen uptake and potential energy in the body.  This study shows that it not the way that exercise improves cognition.  So more gentle exercise plans that target flexibility, balance and relaxation might offer similar brain benefits to high intensity exercise.”

See, I told you, eating less, exercise more….it’s a no-brainer.

I Love Lucy

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No, not the zany 50’s TV star Lucille Ball, but our new little 11 week Cavalier King Charles puppy Lucy.  For Sharon and I Lucy is a wonderful little companion.  She has arrived just as we have moved into our new “age-friendly” home in the Twin Creeks development in Central Point and befitting her regal status we had a dog door installed in our bedroom that opens into our compact fenced in backyard.  Lucy has already figured out how to use the door!  Awesome.

Lucy has many excellent features not the least of which are her desire to please, her quick learning and, most importantly, her love of laps, mine or Sharon’s.  Small dogs like Lucy are ideal companions for older adults.  They are less active than many breeds and thus don’t require extensive exercise (but a little walk is always welcome and our neighborhood is well suited for that).  Thus far she doesn’t seem to be a “barker” and sleeps about 12 hours a day (either in her custom crate or little bed).   During the day Lucy is perfectly comfortable being in our home office.

Small dogs still require maintenance including feeding, bathing and various preventive medications.  The cost can be a factor for some on fixed incomes but the health benefits for the owners may well offset the added expenses.   While we purchased Lucy from a well-regarded breeder in Washington State, the local Humane Society also has small dogs available most of the time.  When choosing a shelter dog it is wise to make certain the pet you select has the proper temperament for your style of living.

A web site I found, www.puppy-basics.com has a discussion regarding the benefits to older adults of small dog ownership.  The site references “studies” which, while not identified, sound reasonable.  They include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Encourage activity in older adults
  • Offer a sense of security and safety
  • Enhanced social activities
  • Offer affection and unconditional love
  • East the loss of a loved one
  • Offer fun and entertainment
  • Decrease feelings of isolation
  • Offer a sense of feeling needed and wanted

This Saturday Lucy will make her Age-Friendly Innovators debut this Saturday (October 4) at the first annual Jacksonville Health Fair on the Jacksonville Courthouse lawn from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  She will be demonstrating her soothing nature.

For the brain, there’s no such thing as over the hill

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Does this happen to you? You start a task and get distracted, and the task you intended to do totally escapes your consciousness. Yesterday I stood in the hallway for a full minute with a bottle of spray cleaner in my hand trying to remember what I intended to clean. And then realized I’d just cleaned a surface in the kitchen and was in the process of putting the bottle away.

Or maybe it happens this way. I’m trying to remember something — the title of a movie or the name of an old friend — and I just cannot do it. It’s frustrating and unsettling. I struggle, take a few deep breaths and it may eventually come to me. Or it may not.

An article on the American Psychological Association’s website was comforting. It said, “For the human brain, there’s no such thing as over the hill.” We all tend to forget more things as we age; it’s disconcerting, but it’s to be expected. Over-worrying it does not help.

In the aging brain, “episodic” memory, such as “What did I have for breakfast?” and “source” memory, such as “Where did I learn about that new car?” decline the most notably. “Semantic” memory, i.e. words, facts, concepts, are less likely to be problematic. And “procedural” memory, such as “knowing how to ride a bicycle,” shows even less decline. “Implicit” learning, which is learning without conscious effort, seems to be pretty much spared into old age. See — comforting.

Truth be told, I had a birthday recently and I forgot how old I was. A friend asked me, and I gave myself a year beyond my actual age — woke up in the middle of the following night realizing that — and felt foolish. And slightly amused. I think I smiled and went back to sleep. And that was a good thing; because getting enough rest is critical to older-adult memory. As is nutrient-dense eating (fruits, vegetables, seafood) and aerobic exercise.

In recent weeks, it’s been hectic in our household, and I have not been especially observant about how much sleep or exercise I get. And I’ve definitely been making more cookies than salads.

The folks at the American Psychological Association suggest “a few behavior changes can help people stay sharp” well into their later years. They recommend “booster” learning and prescribed mental workouts. I forget exactly what those involve — but there’s always Google.

And that brings me to my reason for writing about this topic in the first place. I almost forgot. An important comfort for the aging brain is memory aids. We probably all have our own versions. I have a structured “to-do” list I attach to a clipboard — it makes me feel more in control to have my clipboard at-the-ready. And the calendar on my iPad is a godsend. The iPad is mounted on an easy-to-see stand on the kitchen counter (that would be the sparkly, just-cleaned kitchen counter), which helps me remember what I forget. Usually.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

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Five years ago, my 92-year-old mother-in-law was in the hospital in a coma-like state with her entire family by her side. She had been there for several days. Death seemed inevitable. But then she opened her eyes and said, “Anyone know how those Mariners did last night?” Family members exploded with relieved laughter.

She did not die that night — in fact she lived for another year. And during that year she had dozens of baseball games and hundreds of happy family exchanges. Hers was a deep-throated laugh that erupted constantly even when she was bed-bound during that final year and almost totally deaf. She was an amazing woman. Remembering her raucous laugh makes me smile.

I’m not an intuitively funny person — I usually have to practice telling a joke several times and always worry I will “screw up” (my husband’s term for it) the punch line. My spouse’s family laughs at almost anything. They are a quick-witted bunch full of stories and good humor. Well … most of the time. They do have their moments.

We had a telephone chat with my sister-in-law last night, and her deep-throated laughter was constant and contagious. I cannot remember specifically what she found so funny about the rendition of our busy errand-filled day, but she did. And then, I did too. Note to self: hang around more with people who laugh a lot. Laughter is like aerobic exercise — it’s cleansing. It re-sets your life.

What’s the funniest story you’ve heard this week? When was the last time you allowed yourself a gut-wrenching belly laugh? Just pause for a moment and think about that. If you know any jokes — tell yourself one.

I’ll start that ball rolling. The scene is a funeral parlor, and the mortician says, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You may have noticed the other service going on down the hall. It’s for the man who invented the Hokey-Pokey. Actually he’s been a bit of a challenge. When we put him in his coffin, we put his left leg in. That’s when the trouble started.”

Not quite your style? Let me try again. I’m actually fairly good at telling “Why did the chicken…” jokes. So … here goes.

Question: “Why did the forgetful chicken cross the road?

Answer: “To get to the other side — er, no … to go shopping — no, not that either — darn it.

OK, here’s one more.

I know 10 facts about you. Fact 1: You are reading this. Fact 2: You cannot say the letter “m” without touching your lips. Fact 3: You just tried it. Fact 4: You’re smiling. Fact 6: You’re smiling or laughing again. Fact 7: You didn’t notice I missed fact 5. Fact 8: You just checked it. Fact 9: You’re smiling again. Fact 10: You either think this is worth sharing with someone who needs a lift — or you think it’s a little “lame.”

“Lame” you say? Just know, I did not invent that series of funny facts. It came from a slightly outrageous website (www.kickasshumor.com). Maybe you could go there; see what else it has to offer.

Laugh long and hard, if inclined. Or you could just smile loudly. You decide.

Should I Go or Should I Stay…

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Let me begin by acknowledging a later-in-life move is difficult. Less than 2% of people over age 70 are reportedly Question marke 2willing to move from a long-held residence.  When re-locations occur for the 70+ age group, it’s often a forced placement in a nursing care environment as the result of a fractured hip, or move-in-with-the kids when a spouse dies.  We chose to “down-size” or “right-size” while the choice was ours to make.

We are planners by nature and my spouse is better at it than I am; he designed all aspects of this move. It was stressful at times but went remarkably smoothly and we were able to accomplish it with neither of us getting too cranky or losing patience, although I did come close—twice.

The operative word is “cull.” Decide to be thoughtfully brutal. Our plan included culling through our many books and countless trips to the local library to donate them, cataloguing each box for tax purposes. The nice thing about library donations is you visit your books at a later date.

Right now I’m making my twelfth trip to Goodwill—I’ve spent so much time there lately, sometimes they wave and call me by name when I drive up.

We are doing things this week so that our children will not have to after we die. I was surprised when my daughter called me the morning of the move to acknowledge that. And to thank me for finding the pictures of her at exactly the same age as her one year old son. I also sent her a copy of  her grandmother’s calligraphy in the form of a Carl Sandburg poem about later-in-life joy.   She’s having it framed.  See how this works?

I have tested the words that best describe making the tough decision about “should I go or should I stay” and then all the little decisions about what to keep or save. Someone suggested the word was liberating.”  Not yet—I still have the kitchen to unpack.  (excerpted from Mail Tribune ‘Healthy Aging column of March 9, 2014)

Staying Power

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Did you know 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day?  We are a force. The “oldest-old” (people 85 years and beyond) are the fastest growing segment. Oh. My. Gosh.

Such staying power we have. That is also the name of a book I’m reading by a Canadian author (Rachel Adelson). She advocates for “taking a new look at an old story” and chastises older adults (you, me and our age peers) who succumb to what she calls the “ick factor.” I had not heard that term used to refer to how one feels about their own aging before. Actually, I found it off-putting.

But then, I realized even when I say “I fully embrace aging.” I don’t always. There are some things about aging I don’t like at all.

Achy knees are no fun. Trying to have a dinner conversation in a noisy restaurant– with a husband who is unwilling to wear his hearing aids–no fun.  My inability to read the small print on a label to determine if the product contains the sodium that I’m not supposed to have too much of—again, no fun.

“How do those predicaments make you feel about aging?” is what the author of “Staying Power” asks.

Maybe getting your arms around this starts at home—after all those are the environments in which we have a long history of “control.” And those are the places we may first notice “lost independence.”

“Aging in place” is the term used more often of late to denote staying power in your own home. We can practice dealing with our changing abilities in the privacy of our own bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens. I think we should grab control there—and really become a force in the world.

I have a host of ideas.  Start by walking around your home and looking critically at what you see. Decide to take control; “age-proof” your home.

I have said it before but it bears repeating. All those scatter rugs– get rid of them before you slip and fall on one. Just do it. Don’t you feel better already? Been putting off getting those grab bars in the bathroom your son-in-law suggests. Make arrangements to do that today. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in people over age 65.

Here’s a personal example that speaks loudly. Opening cans and jars has become very difficult for me of late. Arthritis in my thumbs and one wrist is the reason…I think.  My frustration level mounts every time I try. I know this may sound a little strange, but purchasing an easy-use can opener in fire-engine red has been my salvation. That colorful ergonomically-correct apparatus makes me feel better.

Sometimes I just lay it out on the counter in case I might need it while I’m cooking; having it nearby makes me feel more in control—more independent. I do not even use it that much. I just like knowing I can. You are probably rolling your eyes at that last statement—but it’s true.

My visiting daughter laughed at me when I told her my can opener story—and then she hugged me.

Blood Pressure on your iphone!!

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Blood Pressure Readings– on your iphone?

High blood pressure (BP) has always been associated with a greater likelihood of stroke and heart attack. We know that—right?  But now a European study suggests untreated high blood pressure or blood pressure that fluctuates is associated with memory and thinking difficulties in older adults. This was a large carefully done study; it deserves our attention. The three-year study, published in the British Medical Journal in 2012 involved more than 5,000 seniors, average age 75.

The research team found that people whose blood pressure varied from visit to visit performed with much more difficulty on memory and recall tests than those with stable readings.

We have all had the experience, the doctor or nurse slides the blood pressure cuff onto our arm and it pumps up and eventually the health professional says something like ‘Way too high.” And we go away for six months or a year and come back for another examination and the health professional says “WAY too high.”  Or maybe we opt to take our own BP and do it ourselves at one of those free-standing machines in grocery stores or health clubs. Those machines are typically not well calibrated and often give a blood pressure reading that’s inaccurate. Maybe it indicates BP that’s high—and you see that reading and it causes your blood pressure to jump even higher. Or maybe the machine suggests you don’t even have high blood pressure—and you really do.

Now you can be in complete charge of blood pressure monitoring using innovative technology—easily, simply and accurately in your own home.  A French healthcare firm has put blood pressure monitoring on mobile devises like iphones or ipads. There is even app for this—. You can measure your blood pressure, have an automatic recording of the results and share them with your health care provider if you choose. Lots of possibilities here, and it puts you us in the driver’s seat in managing your own health care– and avoids costly trips to the doctor’s office.

Just one more way in-home technology can make aging easier.  Remember this.