Sunday, August 31, 2014

Exercise Enlightens

Photo by Raja Sambaslvan.
Going to the gym gives me a good workout--body, mind and soul. If I get myself to the gym, I improve my physical fitness, my cognition, and my peace of mind.

It took me a while to recognize that the gym at time offers me spiritual enlightenment. It's not just the endorphins talking.  The gym offers some insights about life when I take the time to notice.

Photo by Bob Cotter.
1. We are all equal at the gym.  All people are equal when faced with fundamental tasks such as walking on a treadmill.

It doesn't matter how old we are, where we live, how much education we have, or what we do for a living.  The only question is this: can I move my feet to keep pace?

From time to time, I look around at all the people on the cardio machines or all the people in the exercise class and feel great unity with them. We are all united in our quest for greater physical fitness.

I sometimes want to break out in song.  But that would spoil the moment, so I just note the swelling in my heart and smile.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Objects that Mark Time

Photo by Tim Ellis. 
I'm often so consumed by my day-to-day tasks that I fail to note the passing of time. But there are moments that make me very aware.

Yes, clocks and calendars help me mark time.

But I also see a few objects around me that help me realize that time is leaving its mark on various objects--including me!

I experienced a keen awareness of time earlier this week when I visited my centenarian friend Gladys Bever, b. 1910.

Gladys & one of her mother's paintings
Her son Harold Bever had come to visit the same day. Harold carried with him a painting that his maternal grandmother had painted.

Glady's mother is Harriet "Hattie" Amy Leet Beilby Oakley. Here is a link to her grave marker.

Harriet was married twice, having been widowed when Ralph Wright Beilby (b. 1871) died in 1904.

Gladys is Harriet's child from her second marriage, which was to Amasa George Oakley (b. 1874, d. 1932).

Here is a link to the 1920 census record for Glady's family when she was 9 years old.

What struck me most that day was realizing that Glady's mother was born in 1873.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Multiple Causes for Insomnia

Photo by Eric.
I figure if I'm having regular trouble sleeping, I might as well start a series of blog posts (one per month) on insomnia.

As a midlife woman, I can expect to have a little trouble sleeping. However, I don't want to resign myself to lack of sleep without trying to understand it better and address it.

And not all sleeping problems are due to age-related causes including menopause. People of both genders and all ages experience trouble sleeping from time to time.

So instead of just counting sheep, I'm going to read broadly about the topic and share my findings with others here on my blog.

At first glance, I have learned that there can be a variety of causes of insomnia. I could never list them all, but a quick sort tells me that the cause might stem from one or more of the following areas:
I will post information about a few of these causes. By the end of this series, I hope to have fewer sleepless nights. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Three Films on Aging Parents

Photo by Spreng Ben.
I recently viewed Cherry Blossoms (2008), a German-language film with aging themes.  It distinguished itself in its depiction of a German couple and their adult children trying to adjust to the parents' changing needs as they age.

Nevertheless, Cherry Blossoms alluded strongly to the 1953 Japanese-language film Tokyo Story.  In turn, Tokyo Story draws on the English-language film Make Way for Tomorrow (1937).

I found them all thought provoking.  The recurrence of the theme moving from 1937 to 1953 to 2008 makes a strong case for recommending all of them.  But start with just one.

All three films take a good, hard look at how adult children respond to their parents' aging process. And it's not a pretty scene.

I was mesmerized by Cherry Blossoms (2008).  As with all three films, it's an ensemble cast of characters portraying aging parents and their children.  This most contemporary version is paced faster than Tokyo Story and is much less preachy than Make Way for Tomorrow.

Here is a trailer for the fairly contemporary film Cherry Blossoms (2008):

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Eat Your Vegetables

Photo by David Saddler.
I am the parent of teens, and I find myself asking them daily, "Eat your vegetables."

When did I become so matronly?

I better understand the value of produce now that I've reached midlife. I have read enough evidenced-based research to see the science backing up produce as a vital element of one's diet. And I continue to read emerging research.

I also visit several skilled nursing homes in my city where I see people suffering the affects of diseases that are correlated to lifestyle choices in some (but not all) cases: heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

And I have a very clear memory of a moment spent in the produce section of my local grocery store.

About five years ago, I was rushing in to get items for dinner when I crossed paths with a man near the root vegetables. He dressed in the clothes of a laborer. He was on the younger side of midlife, thin, and weather worn. He was by himself, looking sad and lost.

He turned to me--probably because I was looking matronly that day--and asked, "How do I cook and eat these vegetables?"

I picked up a sweet potato and described its benefits and how it can be cooked and eaten in a couple of fairly simple ways.  He stopped me mid-sentence and told me,
"I have cancer. My doctor told me that I need to eat better. But I don't know how to eat vegetables. I've been eating fast foods and frozen meals my whole adult life. I'm totally lost."
I wanted to adopt him, take him home, and teach him basic principles of good nutrition and basics about cooking vegetables.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Responding to Robin Williams' Death

Photo by Charles Haynes.
I am supposed to be working on a syllabus for a class on psychology of aging.  However, I have been processing my thoughts and feelings about Robin Williams instead.

There is a correlation between the psychology of aging and Williams' death. Even if he was technically too young to be considered an older adult, I do want to point out that older adults are often at risk for suicide because their rates of depression can be high.

I encourage readers to go over to this page, hosted by the Administration on Aging and learn more about preventing suicide among older adults. AOA collaborated with SAMHA (Subtance Abuse and Mental Health Administration).

Much of the information is applicable to other age groups.

My children, ages 13 and 16 learned about Williams' death while at dinner with their father. I was attending a yoga class. My children love this actor for his talent as a comedic actor. To them, they lost a genie, a zany nanny, and a modern Peter Pan.

My son wants to make movies when he grows up, "I was hoping to meet him when I move to California in my twenties."  He spent last night watching Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire.

Yes, I will miss Robin Williams as an actor. I loved him in his dramatic roles: Awakenings, Patch Adams and two films that portray suicide: Dead Poet's Society and What Dreams May Come.  We won't see any new movies featuring his talent.

But his death isn't just about losing him as an artist.  It invokes sorrow for many others who struggle with mental illness and addiction, which increases their risk of death by suicide. 

(Edited to add: After writing this post, the media released information about Robin Williams' diagnosis of ALS. I knew a women in Wichita who lived with ALS for years and was much loved by many. There is hope for rebuilding one's life after a diagnosis of a serious medical condition. For more information about ALS, see this page maintained by that ALS Association. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Basic Brain Books

Photo of 19 C. brain maps photographed by Jhayne
Because I am a gerontologist, I'm primarily interested in research about how people can improve their brain health in response to age-related health problems such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson's disease. I am even interested in normal age-related changes to the brain such as tip-of-the-tongue syndrome and slowing reaction time.

Before reading scholarly articles about cutting-edge research, I want to read some of the major books on brain health, especially those that focus on neuroplasticity.  I need a foundation of what's already been established and what is common knowledge among lay readers (non-experts).
Here is a list of titles they recommended to me (with most recent publications listed first and with one of my own additions, Ackerman).

Diane Ackerman (2011). A Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage and the Language of Healing. My Review

Ackerman creates a customized occupational therapy regime for her author husband that helps him recover from his stroke-induced aphasia.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Social Engagement through the Life Span

Karen at 52 and Gladys at 104.  Twice my age! 
Last week I had the good fortune of attending a birthday party for my friend Gladys Bever. She turned 104 years old.

She is very kind to accept visits from me each Monday.  She talks about growing up near Marysville, California where her father had an orchard.  She helped at home, painted, played the piano and was a good student.

I enjoy seeing the world through her eyes. Not only does she have decades of experience, she's positive, dedicated to her faith and intelligent. She has great eyesight still and reads about three books a week.