Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

  • Aging Gracefully: 10 Ways to Age Like a Frenchwoman

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    First, we had Mireille Guiliano‘s humbling, but delectable, exposé French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, which has the indomitable French femmes moving from bread and chocolate to states of desire with barely a repressive nod.

    Then, Guiliano, ultra chic and, of course, skinny femme fatale that she is, tackled the boardroom in Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense and Sensibility, which captures the devoir of velvet gloves, words and handshakes amongst myriad other savvy and sophisticated workplace techniques.

    Now, as if these humbling how-to’s were not enough, Ann Morrison weighs in on the Mystique Francaise with her recent NY Times article: Aging Gracefully: the French [Woman’s] Way.

    Morrison’s ode to the femme fantastique, of a certain age, begins, “I OFTEN see an elderly woman in my Paris neighborhood waltzing down the street to her own imagined music, flashing a slightly demented smile at everyone she passes. Anywhere else, I would cross the street to avoid her. But she always wears a matching, if slightly kooky, outfit — like the red print skirt, loose cardigan and scarlet cloche hat she wore one day this spring — has great posture and is beautifully made up. She clearly loves being herself. And she makes me think that in France, women might forget everything else as they age — but never their sense of style.”

    “Looking attractive, at any age,” she continues, “is just what Frenchwomen do, especially the urban ones. For Parisiennes, maintaining their image is as natural as tying a perfect scarf or wearing stilettos on cobblestone streets. Beauty is a tradition handed down from generation to generation. …For Frenchwomen, aging seems to be a matter of mind over makeup. If women feel good about themselves, right down to their La Perla 100-euro panties, they look good, too. Françoise Sagan once wrote, ‘There is a certain age when a woman must be beautiful to be loved, and then there comes a time when she must be loved to be beautiful.’ And many Frenchwomen seem to be well loved as they get older — by their tight-knit families, their friends and, perhaps most importantly, themselves. Case in point: my loony neighbor — completely coordinated, perfectly made up, thoroughly French.”

    Before you throw up your hands and say peut-être in Paris but never in Pougkeepsie, read Morrison’s practical how-to: 10 Ways to Age Like a Frenchwoman.

    C’est la vie!

  • Aging: Pithy Perspectives from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Beyond

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    The Wizard of Oz's Glynda

    “Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese!” is the pungent observation from actress, Billie Burke, perhaps most famous for her role as Glynda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz.

    In their book by the same title, authors Kathryn and Ross Petras, have collected such provocative insights and more in what they call their “manual for living well to celebrate the wisdom and perspective that so often go hand in hand with experience.”

    Their nuggets come from 350 individuals who are: “1.Over sixty; and 2.Have something to say.” The list of luminaries included is impressive and diverse; it is well worth a read.

    A second great read is Roger Rosenblatt’s, Rules on Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life.

    Roger Rosenblatt, acclaimed essayist and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer regular contributor, boldly offers – not your standard How-to’s seven or even ten easy steps – but a “whopping 56 rules for wisely navigating life into your golden years.”

    Rosenblatt describes his brief treatise (a mere 140 pages) as a “little guide intended for people who wish to age successfully, or at all.” He adds that “growing older is as much an art as it is a science, and it requires fewer things to do than not to do.”

    His advice on everything from party etiquette to office politics (“Never work for anyone more insecure than yourself”) is valuable reading for any one at any age. In fact one reviewer commented: ” A person of any age can profit from it. Perhaps a better title would have been; ‘Rules That Give You a Fighting Chance to Reach Old Age Without Succumbing to Stress or Having Someone Kill You.'”

    Rule #31 is particularly pertinent in this regard: “Do not attempt to improve people, especially when you know it will help.” Rosenblatt, reflecting back to Rule #2  adds: “Nobody is thinking of you – unless you tell them about their faults. Then you may be sure that they are thinking about you. They are thinking of killing you.”

    This is a must read for anyone who has a tendency to take themselves too seriously!

  • “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)”

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    Illustration by Sarah Cline for Newsweek

    Jim Emerman, Executive Vice President, Civic Ventures, highlighted this fascinating Newsweek article, This Is Your Brain: Aging, on his recent web posting.

    I found these first words – “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)” by Sharon Begley, science writer for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, very encouraging. The rest of her article, I might add, is just as upbeat. That being said, I was predisposed to like it because I am a visual learner and I love the article’s accompanying art, which pictures six interconnected cog wheels chugging away in a spiffy looking brain.

    Begley points out how researcher, Timothy Salthouse, Director of the Salthouse Cognitive Aging Lab at the University of Virginia, was troubled by a paradox he identified in a graph he had created:

    “The graph shows two roller-coastering lines. One represents the proportion of people of each age who are in the top 25 percent on a standard lab test of reasoning ability—thinking. The other shows the proportion of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies of each age. Reasoning ability peaks at about age 28 and then plummets, tracing that well-known plunge that makes those older than 30 (OK, fine, 40) cringe: only 6 percent of top scorers are in their 50s, and only 4 percent are in their 60s. But the age distribution of CEOs is an almost perfect mirror image: it peaks just before age 60. About half are older than 55. And the number under 40 is about zero.”

    His deductions are: “First, in real life, rather than in psych labs, people rely on mental abilities that stand up very well to age and discover work-arounds for the mental skills that do fade. The second is that some mental abilities actually improve with age, and one of them may be the inchoate thing called wisdom, which is not a bad thing to have when running a company.”

    Begley says such insights: “are producing a dramatic, and hopeful, rethinking of what happens to the mind and brain as we age. Some of the earlier bad-news findings are being questioned as scientists discover that the differences between today’s 20-year-old brains and 80-year-old brains reflect something other than simple age, and instead have to do with how people live their lives. And a deeper understanding of normal cognitive aging is producing interventions that, because they target the cell-level brain changes that accompany aging, promise to be more effective than memory exercises and crossword puzzles.”

    Read the article in its entirety to learn more about recent brain research and about some of the successful “interventions” available to foster healthy aging. Begley includes free ones such as walking which is just as valuable for your brain as it is for your heart, lungs and waist line, and others, which she notes contain little or no value other than the revenues they will generate for those folks rushing in to take advantage of the anti-aging intervention market.

    Estrid Geersten, tandem parachute jumping at age 100. Courtesy, Guinness World Records

    Speaking of paradoxes, the article also contains a subset – a slide show by Tara Lewis of “Super Seniors,” achievers doing everything from skydiving to climbing Mt Everest.

    The paradox for me is that, other than Nola Ochs who graduated from college at age 95, are these “Super Seniors” really optimizing their cognitive reasoning skills in these wild escapades???

    Nola Ochs, Courtesy Charlie Riedel, AP

  • Neuroplasticity: Brain Boosting Lessons from Two Scientists and a London Taxi Driver!

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    Neuroplasticity has fascinated me for a long time, and two posts I found recently at SharpBrains.com provide not just fodder but hope for our and, of course, Hercule’s “little gray cells.”

    The first post, Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes Your Brain by Dr. Pascale Michelon defines neuroplasticity for the unititiated:

    “Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to CHANGE throughout life. The brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons).”

    “Neuroplasticity,” she elaborates, “occurs in the brain: 1. At the beginning of life: when the immature brain organizes itself; 2. In case of brain injury: to compensate for lost functions or maximize remaining functions; and 3. Through adulthood: whenever something new is learned and memorized”

    The good news is that as, Dr Michelon notes,  For a long time it was believed that as we aged, the connections in the brain became fixed. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops changing through learning. Plasticity IS the capacity of the brain to change with learning. Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of the connections between neurons. New connections can form and the internal structure of the existing synapses can change.”

    And, here’s where the London cabbie comes in…

    Dr.Michelon says, “when you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill grow. For example, London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus (in the posterior region) than London bus drivers (Maguire, Woollett, & Spiers, 2006)…. Why is that? It is because this region of the hippocampus is specialized in acquiring and using complex spatial information in order to navigate efficiently. Taxi drivers have to navigate around London whereas bus drivers follow a limited set of routes.”

    In the second, SharpBrains.com post, The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains, Alvaro Fernandez gives us 10 specific strategies for boosting brainpower.

    1. Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic understanding will serve you well to appreciate your brain’s beauty as a living and constantly-developing dense forest with billions of neurons and synapses.
    2. Take care of your nutrition. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients we intake? As a general rule, you don’t need expensive ultra-sophisticated nutritional supplements, just make sure you don’t stuff yourself with the “bad stuff”.
    3. Remember that the brain is part of the body. Things that exercise your body can also help sharpen your brain: physical exercise enhances neurogenesis.
    4. Practice positive, future-oriented thoughts until they become your default mindset and you look forward to every new day in a constructive way. Stress and anxiety, no matter whether induced by external events or by your own thoughts, actually kills neurons and prevent the creation of new ones. You can think of chronic stress as the opposite of exercise: it prevents the creation of new neurons.
    5. Thrive on Learning and Mental Challenges. The point of having a brain is precisely to learn and to adapt to challenging new environments. Once new neurons appear in your brain, where they stay in your brain and how long they survive depends on how you use them. “Use It or Lose It” does not mean “do crossword puzzle number 1,234,567″. It means, “challenge your brain often with fundamentally new activities”.
    6. We are (as far as we know) the only self-directed organisms in this planet. Aim high. Once you graduate from college, keep learning. The brain keeps developing, no matter your age, and it reflects what you do with it.
    7. Explore, travel. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment. Make new decisions, use your brain.
    8. Don’t Outsource Your Brain. Not to media personalities, not to politicians, not to your smart neighbour… Make your own decisions, and mistakes. And learn from them. That way, you are training your brain, not your neighbour’s.
    9. Develop and maintain stimulating friendships. We are “social animals”, and need social interaction. Which, by the way, is why ‘Baby Einstein’ has been shown not to be the panacea for children development.
    10. Laugh. Often. Especially to cognitively complex humor, full of twists and surprises.

    Illustration, Courtesy of Medi Belortaja

    You do not have to implement all ten strategies at once. You can begin with just one or two at a time and boost slowly. Speed does not always count; remember – slow and steady wins the race!

  • How Technology – Like This Recently Unearthed 5,500 Year-Old Pampootie – Can Be Tailored To Fit Seniors’ Needs

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    I love this NY Times article by Pam Belluck about the discovery of a 5,500 year-old shoe buried in a cave in Armenia.

    Boris Gasparian/Institute of Archaeology and Enthography

    It reveals that not all Armenians were as hungry as my grandmother thought. As a child, when I failed to eat every morsel on my plate, my grandmother’s most guilt-inducing admonition was, “How could you be so wasteful? Think of all the starving Armenians!” I never did understand the source of her compassion. We were not Armenians, we did not have any long lost relatives or even friends in Armenia and altruism was generally not one of her strengths.

    Then, I saw this ancient Armenian shoe and everything fell into place. My grandmother adored fanciful hats, gorgeous leather handbags and soft suede gloves. But – above all – she loved shoes and, like this Armenian’s, hers were hand made. The Devil might wear Prada, but my grandmother wore everything else.

    Though not much to look at (no doubt being buried in sheep dung for 5,500 years takes away some of the original luster), Belluck notes “the shoe, made of cowhide and tanned with oil from a plant or vegetable, is old, older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids… ”

    “While the shoe more closely resembles an L. L.Bean-type soft-soled walking shoe than anything by Jimmy Choo, ‘these were probably quite expensive shoes, made of leather, very high quality,’ said one of the lead scientists, Gregory Areshian, of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles.”

    Another scientist, Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Cork in Ireland, said the shoe “resembled old Irish pampooties, or rawhide slippers.”

    The tremendous importance of this discovery, Belluck adds, “is that the shoe, discovered by scientists excavating in a huge cave in Armenia, is part of a treasure trove of artifacts found that experts say provide unprecedented information about an important and sparsely documented era: the Chalcolithic period or Copper Age, when humans are believed to have invented the wheel, domesticated horses and produced other innovations.”

    Ahh, “innovations!” Finally we get to the technology I mentioned earlier.

    Philip Moeller’s US News article, 5 Ways to Join the Personal Technology Party, reveals the depressing statistic that: “Fewer than 40 percent of people aged 65 and older used the Internet last year. Adoption rates for more sophisticated communications tools are correspondingly smaller.”

    To address this need, “The Center for Technology and Aging, with funding from the SCAN Foundation, recently brought together a panel of technology experts. They discussed ways in which social media and other emerging communications tools might be used by seniors themselves to make sure their voices are heard on key public policy issues affecting them.”

    The challenge, Moeller notes, is to educate seniors about both the value of technology and how to use it.

    Moeller, then, describes “five things that communications providers and senior-service advocates should consider [tailor] to help older consumers take fuller advantage of powerful communications tools and devices.”

    1) KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid! To many younger technology users, there is no such thing as “too complicated” when it comes to the latest hand-held mobile device. Not so with older consumers, especially people who have never used online and wireless gadgets. It is daunting to confront something new when you don’t understand what it can do or why you might benefit from using its capabilities. Oh, and you don’t have a clue how to turn it on and use it. The iPad was cited in the panel’s report as an example of the kind of intuitive, easy-to-use tool that can be a real technology icebreaker for older consumers.

    2) Make It Personal. The “I get it” light bulb that seems embedded in younger technology users needs cultivating in people who like their clocks with hands and not read-outs. Bringing communications technology down to the personal level is essential to engage older consumers. All too often, that step is bypassed or covered up by the cloud of coolness that surrounds new technologies. Also, making it personal also needs to include product features designed with older users, older fingers, and older eyes in mind.

    3) Make It Relevant.
    Creating very practical pathways between a gizmo and a genuine benefit is a key to success. Technology is rarely an end in itself for older users but a means to achieving a desired goal. Explaining these linkages can spur more seniors to adopt new technologies.

    4) Enhance Independence and Control. The field of telemedicine is exploding. This includes health-monitoring devices that can literally be lifesavers. However, they need to be explained and marketed to seniors as tools to extend their independence and control over their surroundings. Too often, it can appear that monitoring devices are digital tethers that track movements and behaviors, and are designed more to help caregivers than the older consumer.

    5) Build a Team of Helpers.
    Caregivers, family members, social-service agencies, and other champions are needed to explain, reassure, and help older consumers.

    Certainly all of these ideas can help to bring more seniors to the “technology party” and my grandmother and her dancing shoes did love parties!

  • Senior Entrepreneurs: Innovative, Foolhardy or Desperate?

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    As more and more research details that older Americans are starting businesses at a higher-than-average rate, it’s important to study the why and how of this phenomena.

    Anita Campbell, Editor and Founder of Small Business Trends, LLC, posits the question, StartUps Are Graying, But Is It a Good Financial Move?

    Campbell writes, “The face of the typical startup entrepreneur these days is a bit wrinkly, sporting some gray hair, and having the wisdom that comes with age.”

    She refers to a Business Week article by Scott Shane where he says, “according to recent research, these days those 55 and over are more likely than young people to be starting businesses.” And Shane, in turn, cites research by Dane Stangler of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that showed in every year from 1996 to 2007, Americans aged 55 to 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20 to 34.

    In the name of realistic scrutiny, I just Tweeted an Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times, Entrepreneur or Unemployed?, by Robert B. Reich, former secretary of labor, now professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley,

    Reich captures the under-reported truth behind this entrepreneurial joy, saying, too often the catalyst for this entrepreneurial surge is, “In a word, unemployment. Booted off company payrolls, millions of Americans had no choice but to try selling themselves. Another term for ‘entrepreneur’ is ‘self-employed.'”

    Reich continues:

    “According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics by an outplacement firm, Challenger Gray & Christmas, the number of self-employed Americans rose to 8.9 million last December, up from 8.7 million a year earlier. Self-employment among those 55 to 64 rose to nearly two million, 5 percent higher than in 2008. Among people over 65, the ranks of the self-employed swelled 29 percent. Many older people who had expected to retire discovered their 401(k)’s had shrunk and their homes were worthless. So they became ‘entrepreneurs,’ too.

    Maybe this is a good thing. A deep recession can be the mother of invention. These Americans are now liberated from the bureaucratic straitjackets they thought they had to wear. They can now fulfill their creative dreams and find their inner entrepreneurs. All they needed was a good kick in the pants.

    But this upbeat interpretation doesn’t include lots of people who don’t particularly relish becoming their own employers, like an acquaintance whom I’ll call George. George was an associate partner at one of the world’s largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.

    But this upbeat interpretation doesn’t include lots of people who don’t particularly relish becoming their own employers, like an acquaintance whom I’ll call George. George was an associate partner at one of the world’s largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.

    Finally, his old firm got some new projects that required George’s skills. But it didn’t hire George back. Instead, it brought him back through a “contingent workforce company,” essentially a temp agency, that’s now contracting with George to do the work. In return, the agency is taking a chunk of George’s hourly rate.

    Technically, George is his own boss. But he’s doing exactly what he did before for less money, and he gets no benefits — no health care, no 401(k) match, no sick leave, no paid vacation. Worse still, his income and hours are unpredictable even though his monthly bills still arrive with frightening regularity.

    The nation’s official rate of unemployment does not include George, nor anyone in this new wave of involuntary entrepreneurship. Yet to think of them as the innovative owners of startup businesses misses one of the most significant changes to have occurred in the American work force in many decades.”

    In addition to more realistic depictions of this frequently “involuntary entrepreneurship,” I’d like to see more research on how seniors’ are underwriting their start-ups. Are they, for example,  throwing all their savings and what crumbs might remain in their 401-K retirement accounts into these ventures? Is this, as Anita Campbell pointed out, a wise move? Young entrepreneurs have many more years to recoup those funds should the new enterprise fail.

    In that regard, it would also be valuable to see some data on Senior “Entrepreneurs” success rates. How do Seniors compete with the more tech savvy, viral-marketing-driven young entrepreneurs? Robert Jones, asks in his SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs nugget, “Are older entrepreneurs at a competitive disadvantage in a world of social media and digital communication?”

    Jeff Wuorio, makes a start at answering some of these questions with his four tips in The Older Entrepreneur’s Guide to Success, but clearly – there are a lot more questions to be answered before we revel in the “Senior Entrepreneur” phenomena.

  • “Bold But Not Brash:” Still Working and Blogging Full Time At Seventy

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    This morning I found “The 70-Something Blog” by June Kugel – thanks to Paula Span’s post in the the New York Times, The New Old Age: “A Blog About the Road Ahead.”

    Span writes, “Ms. Kugel believes in recording and reflecting on big transitions. In her 59th year, she had kept a journal in a loose-leaf binder, which she still rereads on occasion. On her next milestone birthday, updating her technology, she launched “The 70-Something Blog” and committed to posting twice a week. ‘I’ll let you know my triumphs and my low points,’ she promised her readers.”

    “I don’t write the blog for a million people to read,” she told Span. “I write it for me, to document this particular decade.”

    June Kugel is associate dean of students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and she still bikes the two miles to and from her office everyday.

    Two of my favorite excerpts from her blog posts provide a flavor of her writing and her zest for her work and her life.

    This first is related to a bathroom refurbishing project she and her husband undertook:

    “We were efficient about choosing and ordering everything, and had the contractor all set. True, our project started four weeks later than scheduled, but that’s to be expected. Once the work started, it was just five days of disruption until the bathroom looked beautiful. A new shower curtain would be the final touch. That was a bit complicated, however, involving six visits to the Marimekko store. But on Thursday night we hung it and everything came together.

    When we went on our usual Saturday walk, Peter [her husband] and I commented on what a difference the shower curtain made, how it was worth all the trouble to get it. Peter called the shower curtain “bold (fearless and daring), but not brash (impudent or saucy).” I walked a few steps thinking about how he characterized the shower curtain and how I wished I could be described that way…. Maybe it’s not too late.”

    My second favorite is about her work at Harvard:

    “My new boss has been on board for eight weeks. I had mixed emotions about giving up ‘his’ position after being the interim boss even though, as I have written before, I did not want the job. I knew I could be helpful to him since I know the ropes, and I wanted him to succeed because I care deeply about the mission of our organization. But I could not predict how it would feel to have a boss who is the age of my children.

    “We’ve spent a lot of time together since he arrived. He’s smart. He gets it. He has a lot of good ideas. He is moving in measured steps, and he is very consultative with me (and others). He considers me a partner. We are developing trust for one another. All that is good.

    “But what is even better is that I feel like I have renewed energy, that it’s a whole new job, a whole new challenge. I’m seeing things through his eyes at the same time that I am giving him a lot of context and experience. I’m working as hard or harder than ever before, but I feel like I have a new purpose and a new challenge, even while staying at a place I’ve loved working at for almost thirty years.  Am I lucky or what?

    Yes she is lucky and so are we – her readers!

  • 10 Trends in Longevity: the Good, the Bad and the Cost of Staying Alive

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    “A new twist on recycling!” comes to mind as a great subtitle for this bright but cautionary tale by Philip Moeller about the US government’s “Health, 2009” report in US News and World Report’sBest of Life Series.”

    “The goals of improved health and financial security are to live longer and, presumably, more fulfilling lives. Increases in longevity have certainly been impressive. Not only has 60 become the new 40, but we’re well on our way to the day when 80 becomes the new 60. While the victors in the longevity race have many spoils to enjoy, they also have many aches, pains, and other unpleasant reminders of their continued existence. The government pulls together an impressive array of statistical snapshots in its current compendium, “Health, 2009,” a 550-page record of the state of the nation’s well-being. Here are some of its most compelling findings about the health of an aging America.”

    Moeller captures some of the very best nuggets from this report, including the “Power” of seniors as related to the vast and growing number of us, but he also flags some of the – too often unanticipated or blatantly ignored – problems related to living longer.

    A wake-up call! Read the nitty gritty details here

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