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Monday, August 20, 2012

Stepping Over the Medicare Line

Well, I’ve arrived. I’m officially “Mrs. Medicare,” as my son calls me—in retribution for me making a big deal over him turning 40. I’m now eligible for any senior citizen discount out there; and I’m not really sure how I feel about this.

I’m happy that I’m moving from onerous private insurance premiums to lower Medicare payments, but now I have to think about doctors. I have a competent internist, who continues with me into Medicare, but my trusted oncologist retired and my gynecologist doesn’t take Medicare. So I’m doing my homework to see what I need, helped by the advice of a geriatrician (gasp!) I interviewed. As far as health screenings go, my priorities should be a yearly mammogram (as a two-time breast cancer survivor), and an every-five-year colonoscopy (for the same reason.) If pap tests have been normal, she says those can be stopped at 65. Bone density, if low, should be done every couple years or so, but an internist can handle that, colonoscopies and mammograms.

If for some reason, I become a three-timer with the breast cancer, I will shop a couple of opinions for a new oncologist. Otherwise, life actually becomes simpler at this point. All of us seasoned citizens need a yearly vision exam to watch for cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma, and should keep our eyeglass prescription up to date. Dental visits for cleaning and check-ups should be twice a year, because if we have our teeth, we really need to keep them.

The geriatrician had a couple other practical suggestions:

If all my friends and family seem to all be mumbling and have the audacity to ask me to turn the TV volume down a notch or so, I should get my hearing checked. If there’s any appreciable loss, I should get hearing aids. Studies show the earlier we correct our hearing, the better we adapt to the aids and the more we stay in the flow with our surroundings. The newer technology makes them almost invisible, and nothing says aging like repeatedly saying: “Huh?”

But the most important determinant of health, she says, is staying very physically active. Walking errands and our Colorado mountains will help with that! And because I’ve always been a secret gym rat at heart, it’s really neat that my Medicare Advantage plan includes a free fitness center membership!

Monday, March 26, 2012

You Know How Old You Are When….

We were hosting some undergraduate students from our alma mater, University of Michigan, for dinner. They were in St. Louis doing service projects over Spring Break. I got talking to one student who mentioned that her mother also graduated from the School of Nursing. I asked her what year she graduated, thinking it likely her mom and I were contemporaries. Imagine my shock when she told me her mother graduated 20 years after I did. I should have asked about her grandmother! How did this happen?

On the way home, my husband, who had had a similar experience, started musing that you know how old you are by what you spend your time doing:

Age 10: Birthday parties

Age 20: Fraternity parties

Age 30: Weddings

Age 40: Baby Showers

Age 50: Financial planning seminars

Age 60: Retirement parties

Age 70: Doctors

Age 80: Funerals

Age 90: The bathroom

Age 100: What do you care? You’re still breathing!

Adding to his assessment, it seems to me that it’s what we choose to do with the rest of our time that determines our quality of life every step along the way.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Irretrievable Memories

Besides misplacing names and the car keys, we lose real friends and relatives as the clock ticks by. We mourn them and take comfort in the lives they've led and memories of experiences we've shared. Some of our friends and relatives have led fascinating lives. I like to feel that I’ve led a pretty exciting life, missteps and blundering aside. The difference between me and many others is I’m a writer and I have written this stuff down. Right now, our son and his family have zero interest in having that record. They are focused on their own lives. But I like to hope that someday, someone will find my chronicles positively riveting.

When I recently interviewed five long-lived seniors about what they feel is important give life meaning, one of them said that we should all do a memoir, write down the most interesting parts of our lives in simple language to give future generations a window into how we lived and the events and people who shaped us. Great idea. Too many people have told me: I wish I had done that with my mom. Now she’s gone or she has dementia and I’ll never hear those stories.

About a decade ago, my husband’s aunt and uncle, siblings of his father, sat down in front of a videotape run by one of their children to talk about growing up with their parents, the Great Depression, and life in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They laughed and cried about particular memories and we all have a copy of that tape. Both are gone now. His aunt died a week shy of her 100th birthday, his uncle, younger.

Don’t be hesitant to do this. One time I was doing a book reading at a retirement apartment building and I urged my audience to write down their life stories for future generations. They looked skeptical. Perhaps most of them thought their future generations, like my family right now, didn’t care. After the talk, a 90-year old woman came up to me and said she had had an interesting life. As a very young woman, she went out West by herself and became a frontier schoolteacher, with many adventures. Then she said, “I never wrote about it because I was afraid people would think I was putting on airs.”

I offered to ghost-write it for her—for free, but she never took me up on it. There is a certain mindset about talking about yourself and she took those stories to the grave. What a loss.

In a world where too many people get paid to write or Tweet about the nconsequential minutiae of their lives, real stories of real people trying to live and love in their given circumstances are being lost. These stories have value for both their window into eras of our history, and for lessons to be learned in our own lives. Write it down, write it down, write it down.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Now Where Was I?

A recent article in Reader’s Digest was reassuring for many of us losing our faculties (and we’re not talking higher education here). That is not to say that at some point in my life, I may not develop clinical
dementia, because the risk is high by age 85 (50%), but for now I'm making it.

I’m blessed with good genetics: my parents are in their late 80s and sharp as tacks, if you don’t count the fact that they are Republicans. My mom has some health issues, mostly related to years of smoking, but neither one has had diabetes or heart disease. So I figure if I take care of my health, I have half a chance of emulating their records and completing my 104-year plan. The trick, I believe, is being with it enough to enjoy it.

Some of the things the Reader’s Digest article brought out included:

Having certain words or phrases stuck in your head: In my case, it’s songs. My inner iPod turns
on at will and plagues me with a song until I mentally switch it to another one, which sticks in my head……

Their expert says this falls under the category of a compulsion, which is not abnormal by itself. The problem is our reaction. If we just go with the flow, we will either become more socially fascinating or at least learn something.

Trouble recalling names: I once drew a blank on my mother’s name when I was introducing her. The same with numbers, so when I’m working, I keep my address and phone number in front of me so I don’t appear to be a total space cadet on the phone. The solution may be to put all important information to music (see above) because I NEVER forget a song.

Apparently, this is normal for people over 50 (waaaay over 50). Estrogen has flown away never to return. Apparently, testosterone is involved as well, because my sweetie and I seem to send a lot of time trying to remind each other of what we’ve forgotten.

Then there are others I wish Reader’s Digest had explained:

Conflicting memories of an event: I can tell a story about someplace we went or something that
happened to a friend, only to have my “sweetie” correct me and say it didn’t happen that way at all. We were in New Jersey, not Oklahoma, and it was ten years ago, not five. Besides wanting to drop him on his head, I worry that something that seemed so clear was so wrong (if I believe his version).

According to Dr. Stuart Zola at Emory University School of Medicine, studies show that a process of memory distortion is at work. The longer the period of time between the event and its recall, the more likely it is that we will recall the event inaccurately or forget it entirely. My husband agrees and maintains that the reason he takes so many pictures is that if he didn’t, I’d never know I went anywhere. I live in hope that I will catch him doing the same thing, but he says that isn’t possible. HE remembers everything accurately.

Losing agility at multi-tasking: When I try to do too much simultaneously, I seem to forget most of them: to call a client for an interview, mail a card on time, keep the soup from burning. We seem to have to reduce the number of balls we have in the air at any one time. The comforting thing is that this type of problem starts being noticed in the 20s and 30s, so if it’s just getting to me now, I’m in great shape!

Other Causes of Memory Loss

Of all the things experts list as contributing to non-Alzheimer’s memory loss: stress, anxiety, depression, dugs, chronic disease, ADHD, alcoholism, infection, and vitamin B-12 deficiency, the only one that could conceivably apply is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. My sister Beth and I are pretty sure it applies to both of us. While not curable, like any chronic condition, it can be managed. So far I’ve managed to only irritate a few people. My goal is to continue to keep that to a damage control level.

An ophthalmologist I visited recently picked up some assymmetry in my optic nerves and has been doing research that sleep apnea (stopping breathing many times a night) is the leading reason for the visual changes and mental lapses like forgetting names and sequences. I jumped on that right away. If there is a physical cause of my memory problems and I can keep my vision, I'm all over it.

WebMD suggests some strategies that speak to my ADHD and memory lapses:

Focus attention on what’s happening now. We ADHD types miss a lot. After not-so-gentle reminders from my daughter-in-law (she was right), I never try and read or do other things when interacting with the family. The here and now is where life is happening. I wish I had cued in on that earlier.

Structure your environment. Like having my address and phone number in front of me when I’m on the phone, I also live and die by my to-do list, or lists: several strategically placed around the house help me keep on task.

Keep PIN and other numbers down to a manageable few variations and keep an accessible record of them. I’m amazed at all the stuff I need personal identification numbers and passwords for. They would be impossible to store in my memory—unless I put them to music, of course. # # #

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Resolution for the Kids

Notice I said resolution (singular). Of course, I always try to stay active and eat right, so that's a somewhat lame resolution. The ones we should be making are the ones that are a stretch, that put some pressure on it. What I haven’t done very well is clean out the chaff from my life. You know what I mean. It's all the stuff we've accummulated and that's crammed into any available bookshelf, closet, drawer or computer file. Our children, we’re sure, look at this when they visit and see that time in the future when it will become their problem, so let’s help them out a little.

As the oldest of four girls and still having my parents in my life, this does not concern me. My parents have moved so many times (30), they have very little chaff. It's either been thrown away or lost by the movers. My dad has few hobbies, so that also keeps it down. I aspire to their level of non-clutter. I’m still firmly on my 104-year plan, but just in case that doesn’t work out, I don’t want my only child to deal with things I will never use again in this life. So my resolution for 2012 is to clean it out. I imagine it will make me feel a little lighter and freer; and that may, in turn, make me walk/jog faster and smile even more. And I'm serving notice that I have nothing to do with my pack-rat husband's proclivities.

Making this a resoltion also requires a plan. I will not approach this willy-nilly or place undue stress on the garbage collector. So here it is. Feel free to adopt it and have your children send me a thank-you note.

1. Most of the papers I have accumulated in file cabinets and folders can go to the recycling bin. Sensitive ones will be shredded.

2. Some of the things I no longer use are gadgets and small appliances. Those can be donated to a thrift store—second pile.

3. Hair care products and make-up I have accumulated (that makes you squirm, doesn't it?) can be rinsed out and the containers recycled. Old medications will be adulterated and trashed. Too many medications are ending up in our water supply. Do not, I repeat, do not flush these unless specifically instructed to do so.

4. Family photos: we have a huge collection of those. Loose photos will be sorted into those to be scanned into computer files or trashed. Do I really need 5 variations of my son's third grade class photo?

5. Tote bags: We have hundreds and have recycled them to use for grocery and shopping bags. However, having gone to many health fairs and seminars, I have overstepped the limit to the number we can use. Extras can be donated or filled with cans of food and taken to a food pantry.

Right after the first of the year, I plan to get started on my grand clearing project, one room at a time, spread out so I have time for a life. Maybe it will inspire my husband, the consummate pack rat, to do the same. Come on, honey, do it for the Gipper (our poor beleaguered son, who has parents and in-laws, both with two homes, and his own collection of little girls and their stuff).