Mini Me

I have always thought of myself as medium-tall(ish). At 5’6,” that’s almost 2 ½” taller than the average woman who was born in the U.S. Although I have a lot of female friends who are taller than I am, I have enough friends of shorter stature to make me feel relatively vertically endowed. I’m always pleased to help when someone asks me to pluck an item from a top store shelf for them.

My drivers license says that I am 5’6,” medical documents say I’m 5’6,” my passport and global entry records say I’m 5’6.” Anywhere I’ve been asked to indicate my height information, I’ve written 5’6.”

Apparently, I am no longer 5’6.”

At a recent doctor appointment, a nurse not only asked me to stand on a scale (they never take our word for it, do they?), but to take off my shoes and have my height measured with a stadiometer. No problem… until I asked her how tall I was.

Big surprise.

I am aware that people generally shrink as they get older. Research indicates that women lose an average of 2 inches between the ages of 30 and 70 (and just over 3 inches by age 80). Men don’t lose quite as much on average – 1 inch by 70, and 2 inches by age 80. There is a huge variability in the amount lost and at what age, but just about all of us will shrink.

I just wasn’t aware that it had happened to me.

Normal age-related shrinkage is often due to the dehydration and compression of the discs between the vertebrae in the spine. In addition, our aging spines can become more curved and we lose bone density. Even the flattening of our arches can cause us to be shorter.

Shrinkage can also indicate other health issues, including an increased risk of bone fractures. Several studies have found that people over 65 who lost at least 2 inches in the past 15 to 20 years were at significantly higher risk for hip fracture than those who shrank less. That’s why it’s important to get measured at least once a year (don’t just fill in a box with how tall you think you are).

Most of the causes of shrinkage – including genetics – are out of our control, but we can take steps to protect our bones and muscles now. Weight-bearing exercise, ensuring adequate levels of calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-healthy nutrients, not drinking alcohol to excess, and not smoking, can all help mitigate the downward progression.

So now I am trying to come to terms with not being 5’6” and I’m not very happy about it. I am no longer tall(ish)… I’m closer to average. And, if I don’t want to become an even mini-er me, I’d better do what I can to stop the shrinkage now.

GratiTuesday: My health

On each of the four Tuesdays in December, I am highlighting what I am most grateful for in 2017.

As I look back on 2017, I am very grateful to have enjoyed good health throughout the year. I may have had a cold or two, but no health challenges and nothing that slowed me down significantly.

Before I left the work-world, I read a lot of books, articles, and blogs about making the most of retirement. Emphasized over and over was the importance of maintaining one’s health. Eat a healthy diet and maintain a good weight. Get plenty of exercise and avoid being too sedentary. Minimize stress and negativity. I think I have been able to do these things for the most part, but I know I can do better.

I am lucky to be a generally healthy person. Over the years, I have experienced a few bumps in the road, but they are now in my rear-view mirror. I don’t have any chronic conditions or ongoing issues that require regular medical attention. I know that isn’t true for everyone, especially as we get older and our natural defenses are reduced. So far, anyway, I’ve reaped the benefits of inheriting healthy DNA.

Now, I look in the mirror and see the gray hairs starting to appear, wrinkles lining my face, and I notice that my body is shifting and softening, and settling in different areas. What I can’t see is what is happening inside, but I know things are changing there too. No matter how much I’d like to deny the inevitable, the inevitable is just that… inevitable. I want to ensure that I’m giving my body the tools that it needs to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

As I focus on maintaining – and improving – my health so I can continue to age well, I am grateful that I have access to healthy food and safe places to exercise. I am grateful that I am healthy now and look forward to an even healthier 2018.

Neighborhood Watch

I started to notice the changes about a year ago when I talked to her at neighborhood get-togethers or chatted with her when she was out walking her dog. Because I have a partial hearing loss, I first thought it was me. I must have misunderstood her words, or maybe they were muffled so I lost the context of what she was saying.

After a while, though, I started to realize that it wasn’t me. I may not have heard every word she said, but I knew that her sentences often didn’t make sense. She’d start talking about one subject and end up on another one altogether. She would forget a word and substitute another with a similar – but not equal – meaning (“big” for expensive, “little” for cheap). Every now and then she forgot the names of neighbors she had known for a long time.

Lately, other neighbors have started to talk about the changes they’ve observed. At first, we approached each other carefully because we didn’t want to set off any false alarms: “Have you noticed…?” “I’m not sure it means anything, but….” She is a well-loved neighbor; smart, funny, generous in spirit, and it breaks our hearts to see her struggling. Although an official diagnosis has yet to be made, we are pretty sure she isn’t going to get better.

Before Nancy retired, she had a high-powered job running the Special Ed program for a local school district. Although she loved her job, it was stressful, so she retired as soon as she was eligible for a pension. Not one to sit around, she filled her days with family, friends, and volunteer work. When her son and his wife had their daughter, Nancy embraced her new role as a grandmother. She happily looks after the baby several days each week and tells anyone within earshot how much she loves her granddaughter and relishes being her part-time caregiver.

Her son and daughter-in-law live fairly close and have witnessed the changes too. Although she doesn’t want to discuss it when her son tries to broach the subject, she apparently has willingly given up control of paying her bills. Her good friend and across-the-street-neighbor looks in on her regularly and helps her with once simple tasks that confuse her, like sending emails with attachments.

Her son wants her to be able to stay in her home for as long as she can. She is happy and, so far, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for a change. Fortunately, she lives in a neighborhood where everyone knows – and looks out for – each other.

So, we, the neighbors, worry and we watch. Worry for her and for her family; watch as someone we care for goes through a decline… one we are terrified to see in ourselves.

Life’s a Beech

This post, with a few tweaks and updates, first appeared on my blog in 2014.

Like many people our age have done, my husband and I drafted our living trust, wills, durable powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. Over the last few years, we have witnessed the rapid deterioration in the health of some family members and friends, so we wanted to get this done while we are both in good physical and mental health. We do what we can to stay healthy but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking it can’t happen to us. Even if we live to 90 or beyond, these documents will be necessary to assure that our wishes are carried out.

Creating these documents was serious and time-consuming. There were a lot of details to think about and financial decisions to be made. I found the most enjoyable part of the process was determining where our assets will go once we were both gone. Since we have no children, we happily specified a few charities that are near and dear to our hearts. One decision that I had difficulty with was deciding what I want done with my remains. Although cremation is a given, where do I want my ashes to go?

When my mother passed away in 2000, I was relieved to discover that she and my father had made funeral arrangements many years previously. Because of this, my brothers and I weren’t faced with the burden of trying to guess what she would have wanted. It was a generous and loving act that we appreciated again when my father died several years later. Their ashes now lay side-by-side in a columbarium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After doing some research, I found the answer to my dilemma: tree urns. Planting commemorative trees is a practice that has been around for a while, but I discovered that there is a way I can actually become part of a tree once I am gone.

There are several companies that sell these urns, which contain all the items necessary for the process (“just add ashes!”): Bios Urns, EterniTrees, Spirit Trees, Peotrees, are a few that I found. The prices vary, but the concept is pretty much the same: one’s ashes are mixed with planting soil, nutrients, and a tree seed. Since ashes contain phosphorous, they contribute to the healthy growth of the tree. How great is that?! I have always considered myself a tree-hugger, but now I can actually nourish the tree. Rather than becoming post-consumer (as in me, the consumer) waste, I can contribute healthy Co2 to the atmosphere for many years to come.

Most of the companies that sell tree urns offer a choice of seeds. Beech, maple, and oak are a few of the options listed on one website. Living – and most likely dying – in Southern California, I’d probably choose a tree that’s drought resistant. Or, maybe a citrus. A lime tree, perhaps, so my tree’s fruit could be blended into pitchers of margaritas or muddled to make a mojito.

Since we are pretty sure we can’t take it with us, my husband and I intend to spend most of our assets having fun in our retirement (sorry, designated charities), leaving just enough for a heck of a Celebration of Life party for our friends. Although I’d like to think we will leave the world a better place, most likely our names won’t be remembered by generations far into the future, nor will they be engraved on a plaque or noted in a text.

Maybe my ashes could be used to propagate a tree planted in our back yard. Becoming a tree – a symbol of eternal life in many cultures – will allow me to live on, providing some beauty, a little shade, and perhaps adding a refreshing zest to the drinks of future homeowners. I hope they will raise a toast to my memory.

GratiTuesday: It’s the little things (and some big things too)

One step at a time.
One step at a time.

Gardening, making meals, climbing stairs, grocery shopping… just getting from Point A to Point B without assistance. It’s the little things that we don’t think much about until we lose our ability to do them.

It’s been almost exactly two months since I executed a rather inelegant dismount from a ladder and fractured my hip on our concrete patio. Some of you have asked how I am doing and I’m please to say that I’m doing much, much better. About three weeks after my surgery, I graduated from a walker to a cane and for the last two weeks or so I have been walking completely under my own power. Although I still have a bit of a limp, it gets better every day. I’m not back power-walking or dancing yet, but I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time.

Today, I am grateful for many things, including modern surgical procedures and the remarkable healing ability of the human body. It amazes me that two months after having my broken bone screwed back together, I am almost completely mobile and pain-free.

I am grateful for patient people: those who were behind me as I limped forward with my cane and didn’t angrily push their way around me. My balance wasn’t always great and I found myself close to being tripped several times as some people brushed by me to get ahead. I appreciated those who understood my limitations and didn’t try to shave off a few seconds by zipping around and risk toppling me over. I hope that lesson stays with me when I’m the one who needs to be patient.

I am grateful that I can again putter in the yard, drive myself where I want, walk up and down stairs, and pretty much do all the little things I took for granted before my accident. My accident gave me a brief glimpse of what it could be like when I’m much older. Maintaining my health and taking good care of my body is even more important to me now.

Finally, I am grateful to my husband for taking such good care of me, encouraging my progress, and keeping my spirits up when I was struggling. “For better” is the easy part, “For worse” is what matters.

Opening our minds to skepticism

I am rerunning a few of my earlier posts over the next few weeks. This one, about critical thinking skills, was from February, 2014. I thought it was especially relevant during the current U.S. election cycle.

All too often, we read stories about people who are duped by scammers. Sadly, the victim is often elderly and, tragically, large sums of money – money that they can’t afford to lose – are frequently involved.

As my late father’s physical and mental health started to decline, I worried about him falling for the various come-ons he received in the mail and on the phone. He had a good, analytical mind when he was younger, but I could tell that his aging brain was becoming less and less able to discern fact from fiction. Fortunately, I was able to protect his bank accounts and credit card before anything happened so he and his finances were safe.

Scams_ComputerScammers continue to devise more sophisticated and devious ways to separate people from their money, but there are still plenty of victims responding to notices of large lottery wins, promised riches from Nigerian princes, and a variety of phony phishing emails. My innate skepticism will help protect me from falling for these scams now, but I worry that when I am much older, will I still be able to avoid being taken advantage of?

The same critical thinking skills that make me disregard offers that are “too good to be true” lead me to question much of what I read on the Internet and in social media. I can always count on a handful of “friends” posting items on Facebook or forwarding me emails (along with protestations of outrage) with a story sent to them by some equally outraged person. Most don’t pass my “smell test” and, after a quick search on various fact-checking sites, the stories turn out to be just that, stories.

I don’t think these people are stupid or especially gullible but when they read something that fits very neatly into their political or ideological mindset, they tend not to question its authenticity. This is how hate, lies, and rumors are spread; one unquestioned falsehood at a time.

We live in a society of people who self-select their news. If one source’s slant doesn’t lean in the right direction, simply choose another that does. We also tend to socialize, and even live in communities, with like-minded people. That way we don’t have to question our beliefs or, god forbid, alter them in any way. I guess this makes us feel  comfortable in our convictions, but does it make us better citizens? Does listening to only one side of a story before deciding on its merits support our intellectual integrity? I think most would agree that it does not (although we still do it because, really, it’s others who need to open their minds, not us… right?).

Non-critical thinking makes us more vulnerable to scammers. If we trust a source so completely that we never question its accuracy, why would we question the authenticity of an “exclusive offer” from the same source (or one of its advertisers)? Even better if the offer is also couched in language that supports our biases. If we are distrustful of something or someone, are we not more likely to respond to something that reinforces our  suspicion?

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”  - Mark Twain
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” – Mark Twain

Less incendiary, but maybe in some ways worse, are the “innocent” but untrue items that are re-posted virally. If the poster had done some quick research or applied simple logic, they would have realized that the story doesn’t make any sense. In this category are those emails/posts that promise riches/good luck if you continue the chain (and usually include dire warnings if you don’t), and urban legends like entering your ATM PIN backwards will summon help. Although new myths are being created all the time, many have been around for years and are repackaged and posted over and over again.

When we get in the habit of using magical thinking in place of critical thinking, we make ourselves more vulnerable to hoaxes and fraud. Best case, we just irritate our friends and end up looking stupid, but worst case, we open ourselves up to scammers and thieves.

Recent studies have shown that changes in the brain as we age make the elderly more trusting. The negative “gut feelings” a younger person might experience aren’t felt as strongly by an older person. For this reason, we must be alert when caring for an older adult to protect them from unscrupulous individuals and businesses.

Fortunately, there are things we can do as we age so we aren’t as likely to become victims. We can actually practice our critical thinking skills, learn to be more analytical, and train our brains to question when something just doesn’t ring true.

The enemy of scammers and hoaxers is common sense, questioning, and research.

Be their barricade, not their bridge.

Shared memories… or not

memories

Yesterday marked the 26th anniversary of my husband’s and my first date. I probably wouldn’t remember that specific day if it hadn’t occurred on Cinco de Mayo. My husband? He wouldn’t remember it at all if I didn’t remind him.

After 26 years together, we have mountains of shared experiences. We’ve been on numerous trips, attended countless events, and celebrated many, many milestones. We’ve also remodeled two houses together, dealt with several family tragedies, and supported and cheered each other through life’s ups and downs.

We’ve been through a lot together over the years; what I find fascinating is what each of us remembers… or not.

I guess there is only so much we can cram into our cranial cavities before some of it leaks out. What sticks tends to be what, for whatever reason, resonates with us; what doesn’t stick becomes jetsam that our brains jettison to lighten the load.

In addition to the date of the first time we went out, I remember other bits and pieces of relatively useless information that has long-abandoned my husband’s brain. I have a fairly vivid memory of the layout of most of the houses we looked at before we decided to purchase our home. I remember restaurants where we ate years ago, and often what each of us ordered. More useful, I have a much better memory of all of our vacations, where and when we went, what we did, and who we met.

My husband has almost no retention for the dates of past events and his memory of the homes we visited is almost nonexistent. If we are sitting in a restaurant we’ve dined at before, he will often have no recollection of having been there. When I tell him what he ordered, his usual response is, “did I like it?” Often, when I mention a shared experience from many years ago, he will look at me blankly.

My husband, on the other hand, has a much better memory for specifics of presentations we’ve attended, conversation we’ve had or been party to, and movies we’ve seen. When he recites snippets of a presentation or a conversation, I desperately try – often unsuccessfully – to rummage around in my temporal lobes for the same memory. He’ll harken back to a movie we saw months ago, recalling the plot and, often, reciting the dialog. I’m lucky if I can remember the name of the movie we saw the prior evening.

As far as we know, neither of us is experiencing age-related memory loss… it’s always been this way. Each of us is just better with different types of memories. I find that my memories tend to be more emotional and visual, his are more verbal. One’s not better than the other—both tend to be filled equally with useful and useless tidbits of information—they are just different.

After 26 years together, I think that it is safe to say that we’ve forgotten more bits and pieces than we can remember. Fortunately, it really doesn’t matter if he forgets the details of our first date or I can’t remember a movie we saw two months ago. What is really important is that we continue to make memories together. That and maybe we both should take notes.