Oliver Sacks’ Perspective on the End of His Life

musicophilia-1-194x300The direction of every life can change in a moment. We learn this as we age and also as we support elder parents.

In his February 19, 2015, New York Times’ opinion piece, My Own Life, Dr. Oliver Sacks illustrates how fast things can change. If you missed his article, it’s a stirring description of what it’s like to feel good and robust at one moment and discover a metastasized cancer tumor at the next. There is nothing unique about this situation — it happens all the time. What is unusual is that a person takes the time to write about it and the ending of life with intimacy and clarity.

Dr. Sacks, a neurologist who has written many books about our brains and how they work — my personal  favorite is Musicicophilia — is in his eighties and a professor at New York University’s School of Medicine. The movie Awakenings, with Robin Williams portraying Dr. Sacks, was based on his book of the same name.  Continue reading

Watching Ourselves Age With the Brown Sisters

Visit the Museum of Modern Art to learn more about the exhibit.

Visit the Museum of Modern Art to learn more about the exhibit.

Those of us with elder parents spend a lot of time thinking about age and change. As adult children, we observe the aging of our parents, but not infrequently we wonder aloud how they got so old. At the same time we don’t always notice how we, too, are growing older.

In October 2014 the New York Times Magazine published a feature by Susan Minot, Forty Portraits in Forty Years, that described the remarkable photographs of the Brown sisters. The photos, shot with the four women in the same order and with somewhat similar poses over 40 years, demonstrate with singular clarity how we grow older. Photographer Nicholas Nixon took the pictures, which were recently displayed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.                       Continue reading

Watching Opera With Lots of Older People

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.29.27 PMThis weekend I went to the Metropolitan Opera to watch Renée Fleming, Sir Thomas Allen, Nathan Gunn, Kelli O’Hara, and a host of other polished singers offer amazing operatic performances. No, I was not in New York City, and I did not sit in the Met’s gigantic performance hall that holds as many as 3,800 people. I did not purchase one of those hugely expensive tickets (though someday I’d love to buy one), and I did not get all dressed up. But the opera was still superb.

On Saturday afternoon my husband and I went to a local movie theatre to watched Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow streamed live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera. Along with several hundred other, mostly gray-haired, people we watched with rapt attention as the performers sang and danced on a huge screen, streaming into our theatre while the plot unfolded in the hall at Lincoln Center. We even got to see the bows and curtain calls.

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Cyber Seniors Documentary: Well Done!

This afternoon at the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference in Washington, DC, I saw clips from a documentary, Cyber-Seniors, about teenage volunteers in Toronto who work with elders — people in their mid to late 80s and older — and the rich clarity of their interactions. Many of these people retired before computers appeared in any significant way into the workplace.

The movie, which travelled around film festivals, has already screened in more than 80 viewings around Canada and the United States — with more to come. It shares special moments, difficult moments, looks of wonder, moderate shock (usually at what grandparents see on their grandchildren’s pages), and the excitement we all feel when we learn something new. And yes, sometimes it’s funny. Cyber-Seniors has garnered lots of good press. (I do wish, however, that people in the media would stop calling elders “cute.” You media folks will grow older some day andhttp://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_26931356/magid-exclusive-amazon-fire-phones-fight-ebola-west-africa you WILL NOT appreciate being labeled as cute.)

Here’s a clip of a teenage mentor teaching a woman to take a selfie.

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Making Decisions: What to Do As One Ages

As I grow older and begin to think a bit about my retirement years, I sometimes ask myself whether I might do something — or stop doing it — once I retire. Usually this inner dialog focuses on the amount of money I am paying, leading me on to wonder whether I will even have the money for the activity once I retire.

At Virginia Mennonite Retirement, where my parents live, a wellness center offers exercise opportunities to residents and invites people from outside the VMRC community to join.

At Virginia Mennonite Retirement (VMRC), where my parents live, a wellness center/health club offers wide-ranging exercise opportunities to residents and also invites people of all ages  from outside the VMRC community to join.

A place that I visit regularly, sometimes as often as five or six times a week, is my health club, and this inner conversation occurs almost every time I sign in to exercise. Right now my employer shares the monthly cost of my time at the gym, and after more than twelve years I continue to take advantage of this benefit, exercising regularly.

When I do retire, I wonder, if I will be able to make up my employer’s contribution and continue working out at this club? Lately I’ve looked around the gym and noticed just how few older individuals are exercising — my club is a huge and well run metropolitan chain with many locations in my area. Now that I’ve read State of the Art Fitness: For Whom? — a recent post over at the Changing Aging blog — I am ruminating on the topic more and more.

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Nursing Home? Be Prepared to Learn

Medicare publishes this document to assist people in checking the details and quality of care at any long term care community.

Medicare publishes this document to assist people in checking the details and quality of care at any long-term care community.

No one ever wants to think about the possibility of a nursing home. Yet long-term care may figure prominently in many of our lives.

The New York Times recently published two articles by Jane Brody about how to choose a nursing home community carefully. In part one, Nursing Home Unthinkable? Be Prepared in Case It’s Inevitable, she interviews people who point out how the biggest problem for most families is the timing — the necessity of choosing a nursing community with little time for discovery or preparation.

The piece presents a veritable checklist to help a family go about making a choice when true nursing care is required.

Best Quote in Part I

Nursing homes generally have had a bad reputation as smelly, indifferent places where people go to die. But “there are some homes that are better than being at home,” Ms. Leefer said in an interview. “And there are many more good facilities than bad ones.”

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