Fear and Loathing

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Am I afraid of getting old?  Hell yes! You might ask why it is, then, that I spend time working with the elderly and their caregivers and focusing on aging by writing many articles that deal with aging.    I work with the elderly because I want to try and change the dire landscape that exists today for the elderly.  What might that landscape be?  One where the “old” person is left to vegetate in a corner, where derogatory comments are made about getting old, where services are constantly being cut and tax monies are used for the young, in spite of the fact that the young make up a smaller percentage than the ever-growing older population.

As boomers, we really do not want to focus on the fact that we are aging, that we are moving into a period in our lives when we will be more vulnerable and needing to depend on others for our care (if death does not find us before then).  We were the generation that grew up with the Peter Pan song: “I won’t grow up.”  We could just as well sing it, “I won’t grow old.”  We do not want to confront our aging process and so we don’t.  By not acknowledging it, we believe it will go away.  We insist that by acknowledging it, we will somehow help it, affirm it in its manifestation.

Two years ago, I had a friend who truly believed that aging was an attitude.  This past year, she is noting changes in her capabilities and attributing it to age.  Yes, folks, it does happen.  The hardware does start to wear down, break, fall apart.

The reason I am afraid of getting old in this society is that we are not humane towards our elderly.  This might have something to do with the fact that we live in a mobile, youth oriented society that does not respect its elderly population.  Also, I happen to fit into the statistic of being a single, certain-aged female with no children or grandchildren.  I have to admit that the idea of finding myself in a nursing home being taken care of or ignored by poorly paid staff scares me.

We live in times where the technological developments of hospitals and the advancements in medication allow us to live longer.  But what has been overlooked is the quality of life our living longer affords us.  Is it really a great thing to live to be 90 years old but have no mind to speak of?  Or have only the choice of living in a potential hell hole wherein one lives a semi-comatose existence in some dark hallway by being fed psychotropic drugs to keep us quiet?

I would rather depart from this life in my ’70′s, when I still have some life in me than be kept alive with absolutely no life to speak of.  (A friend of mine who is in her ’70′s has told me that when I reach that age, I will probably have a different outlook.  I don’t doubt her wisdom on the matter, but I am also a firm believer that life should be lived fully and since we are all going to go at some point…..what is it the comedians say, “Leave them laughing”)  I also do not doubt that I will probably have what I call a “clutch” to life as I confront the fact that I will be departing it.  Ironically, part of what sustains the medical establishment’s focus on keeping individuals alive is something that I believe is a natural part of dying: the clutch to life.

Now maybe this topic seems morbid to those of you reading it, but the fact of the matter is, if we do not confront our aging process and our eventual demise, we will do nothing to change what happens to us as we age and we might find ourselves far outliving our usefulness in a state that we would never wish on anyone let alone ourselves.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

 

 

Changing One’s Living Situation

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When it was clear that my father could no longer live alone, I found myself, by virtue of being the child who lived closest to him, in the position of having to  encourage him to consider living in a retirement facility.  At first he was resistant.  He did not want to live with a bunch of strangers, eating in an institutional dining room.  The way I talked him into considering it was to compare it to living in a college dorm. “Dad, you did this when you were attending college.  It is the same concept.”

Just recently, I read an article about a new trend among aging single women.  Four or five ban together à la Golden Girls in a group house.  More than any previous generation, boomers are single, either because they never married, they are divorced, they are part of the LGBT grouping, or they are widowed.  A larger number of aging people are women (57 percent make up the grouping 65 and older and 67 percent make up the group of 85 and older).

I know several women who share a home.  It is not always as easy as it may seem.  My friends told me that when they first moved in together, they all went about their own business.  They did not even sit down to dinner together.  But then one of the women needed to take care of her father and the household opted to allow him to move in with her.  This decision made their house become a home, as they all found themselves pitching in to help.  Although the father has since passed away, the pattern of doing things together within the household has remained.  And the women are very happy about this.

One structure that makes a marriage a marriage and a family a family is sharing meals.  Another structure is that everyone in the household pitches in to maintain the home.  Having and/or developing mutual interests also makes up a structure of a family.  These factors would seem important in the formation of a group home.

I like the idea.  I sit here in a house that has become too large for me — too empty.  I like the socialization that comes with sitting around a dinner table.  I always enjoyed doing things with my husband.  Presently, upkeep of home keeps me fairly busy.  It would be nice to share those tasks with someone else. Although I keep busy with many different projects and have an active social life,  coming home to someone has a very different feel.

Of course, one does have to consider that illness may settle on one or two or maybe even three of the housemates and then what happens?  Another thing to reflect on is that different people have different approaches to or definitions of cleanliness.  When in college, one’s sense of cleanliness may have been a little less stringent.  One might be a little more impatient with someone else’s habits when in their ’50′s or ’60′s than they were at eighteen or twenty-one.

However,  I do like the creative way that boomers are looking at the question of housing and how they want to spend their older years and I look forward to reading more about these innovative approaches towards aging.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

Boomers, The Plastic Fantastic Generation

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As a boomer, I am part of the generation that implemented the “turn on, tune in, drop out” approach to life.  There seemed to be a major rejection of what existed before.  In fact, there was a social revolution of sorts, and not just in the United States, but on a global level.  We believed we were a turning point in the way things were done.  We were the future and the future was not going to look anything like the past.  Yet it turns out that most of us did not end up changing anything at all, at least in one area that we had purported to reject: consumerism.  In fact, our generation has done more to increase the strength of the consumer society than any previous generation before us.

Ironically,

….baby boomers are the wealthiest generation in U.S. history, both earning and consuming more than any other age group.12• Baby boomers have amassed $3.7 trillion in total earnings, as compared to the $1.6 trillion generated by the preceding generation.

How can that be?  Weren’t we the ones who recognized that materialism could not give us the true nourishment of spiritual and emotional needs?  Yet, our generation has been the most workaholic generation ever.  We have seen more wars fought during our existence than there ever have been fought before.  We have watched as the use of automobiles and the means by which they operate, fossil fuels, have increased to an amount unimaginable forty years ago.  It has been during our lifetime that the concept of time has narrowed into practical non-existence.  And, although our energy levels seem higher than those of previous generations, our health may not necessarily be better.  In the end, it has been during our lifetime that materialism has become so ensconced that we take for granted running to a store to purchase something we need, two or three times a day, having electricity at the click of a switch, and pretty much anything we want secured through paper money or a plastic card.

Now I am not advocating that our childish approach to rejecting the previous generation’s world was to be commended.  But there were some good things that did come out of “the movement.”  And since there are always two sides to a coin, let’s look at those.  The advancements that have occurred in this period of time have catapulted us into a world our great-grandparents would not be able to recognize.  Social sensitivities and environmental sensitivities increased.  Discrimination decreased.  But again because there are two sides to the coin of life, it seems as though the tolls that our advancements have taken on the environment are unprecedented.  Communication abilities are at a level we could not have imagined twenty years ago and our ties around the world make cultures that once were considered foreign, our neighbors.  Advancements in Science continue apace.  We are re-defining the aging process, or at least pushing it back by a good dozen years.  And hopefully, we will come up with a way to maintain our earth and all her gifts to us before we destroy her and thereby ourselves.

But with regard to consumerism, I still don’t understand how we ended up taking a left turn instead of the right turn we thought we were taking…..

 

Transitions

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Really, when you think about it, life is a series of transitions.  They can be regular transitions, like seasons, in which we can expect certain things to occur.  For example, when Spring begins, certain activities that I don’t normally undertake, ie, gardening, (cleaning up vegetable and flower beds, planting, planting, planting,  more active interactions with the honey bees, splitting hives, etc. of a sudden take front and center stage in the hours that I will call my uncommitted hours.  I use the term loosely because I should consider my blog a commitment and it has certainly suffered since those demands of Spring have come about.)

On a larger scale, I am in a life transition.  It has been slightly over a year since my husband died.  I have learned that it takes at least a year to get back on one’s feet.   In my case, several other occurrences clearly demonstrated the turning of a page into a new chapter.  A part of me feels that I am being disloyal to my husband by thinking in this way.  A new chapter that does not include him?  He was such a wonderful addition to my life.   I can’t, for example,  imagine creating a life with somebody else, even though people keep asking me whether I am considering this.  I suppose many widows and widowers go through the same dilemma.

But I do need to make decisions and move into a direction that creates a clear path for me.  This is something I have never, ever been good at, ever!  And here I am, of a certain age.  It is not as if the years rolling out in front of me will be nearly as long as the years that have rolled up behind me.  And I do have to confront the realities of diminished stamina and physical strength as I begin to move into my elder years.

My sister keeps reminding me that I have to make decisions.  Actually, everyone is gently suggesting that I make some decisions.  Everyone seems to be saying that I need to move out of the home I shared with my husband.  Instead, I end up planting another vegetable garden.  And this house was only supposed to be a weekend getaway and/or temporary until we built our “dream” house.  Instead, we ended up making this our dream house or as close as a temporary home can be to being one’s dream house.  I suppose at some point, though, I will need to face moving out of it to something more my size

Yet my life feels very full and satisfying to me.  I am the sort of person who is always busy.  Even if I wake up without a fixed schedule, I will immediately find things to fill the day.

But I still have to make some decisions about my tomorrows.  I watch Spring unfold, as it always does, each year a little bit differently, but always clearly waking up to a new tomorrow that moves it ever forward into the cycle that is its nature.  The question that I have to contemplate is whether nature is the example I need to reflect on and recognize as the example to follow or whether, because we have been given consciousness, it is contingent on me to take active responsibility and seek a direction?  I have a whole world in front of me.  How ever the next stage of my journey unfolds, I pray that I do not waste this precious opportunity.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

 

Anorexia Hits Older Women

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A title to a news article caught my eye the other day.  It stated: Rise in Middle-aged Women with Eating Disorders.  Having known women with eating disorders while in my teens and early ’20′s, I wanted to learn more about the fact that it seemed that eating disorders were not just found in those years when women feel very self-conscious about what they look like: Their teen years and early ’20′s, but in older women as well.

…. a smattering of data from around the world suggests the behaviors associated with bulimia and anorexia may be more common in mid-life than previously believed.

The most recent evidence comes from a survey of 1,849 women age 50 and up, the results of which were published last week in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

With our society’s focus on Thin being In, it may not be surprising that anorexia and bulimia would be found across the spectrum of age.  But according to these studies, stress is a key contributor.

Experts say that major transitions in the lives of middle-aged women across America – including failed marriages, job loss, children and financial difficulties – can rekindle eating disorders that begun years before or even bring them on for the first time, though this is a rarity.

Douglas Bunnell, vice president and director of out-patient clinical services at The Renfrew Center, told MSNBC: ‘It’s rare that an eating disorder shows up completely out of the blue in mid-life. The more common scenario is the resurgence of a life-long problem’

As to how prevalent eating disorders are among older women, that is a hard question to gauge because it is not a topic easily admitted by those caught in the cycle of eating and purging or starving themselves.

Despite the growing attention, experts say the problem is likely underreported, partly because adult women disguise behaviors such as purging, and partly because eating disorders typically aren’t on the radar screen of doctors who care for this age group.

“Eating disorders are still in the closet to a large extent, especially for adult women,” says Margo Maine, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut, who specializes in treating the disorders. “Adult women have such shame about admitting it.”

Body image looms large in most women’s lives.  It may not be surprising that with the onset of menopause and the weight gain that is associated with that period of time, women start to feel less secure about how they project to the larger society.

According to Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D, Director of the eating disorder program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,

The changes associated with menopause are perfectly natural, but they aren’t always easy to reconcile with catchphrases like “30 is the new 50″ or the day-to-day demands of modern life.

Many middle-aged women are juggling child rearing and work responsibilities, or caring for aging parents. That can leave little time for planning healthy meals or exercising, at a stage of life when the amount of exercise needed to maintain one’s weight — let alone drop a few pounds — goes up.

“As a culture, we live in a very, very stressful time, and for women this is even more so, because our roles have changed so dramatically,” says Maine, coauthor of “The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect.

This is also a period of time when a divorce can be devastating and a woman in her ’50′s may not feel as good about the way she looks as she did in her ’20′s.  Her belief in finding a new mate may be eroded merely by her age.  Or the stress of losing her partner to death may undermine her sense of her place in life and, in turn, her sense of self-esteem.  It may be that the woman was never satisfied with the way she looked and wants to and always has wanted to just disappear.  Whatever may be the cause, eating disorders are still a problem.

The standard treatment for disordered eating typically includes psychotherapy, as well as counseling about nutrition and eating habits. Women need to be proactive about seeking care, Maine says, since doctors — and especially primary care physicians — often overlook problematic eating behaviors in older women.

And although it was totally acceptable among the wealthy class of Ancient Rome to purge one’s food after a major food binge,  we are not Ancient Rome and our lifestyles are nothing like that of Ancient Rome.  Maybe these are the warning signs to re-think how we choose to spend our time and what is acceptable as a lifestyle.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

 

 

 

Life Expectancy: Going Up? Going Down?

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Last week I read an article that stated that women’s life expectancy in the United States was going down.  According to  Journal Sentinel Online,

Female death rates before age 75 actually rose in 43% of U.S. counties – including a forested swath of west-central and northern Wisconsin – between 1992 and 2006, according to a UW-Madison Population Health Institute study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs.

Apparently

Which part of the country you live in may matter, too. For women, living in counties in the South and West was associated with a 6% higher mortality rate than living in the Northeast, according to the study.

The article continues:

Meanwhile, death rates among men declined in every Wisconsin county, and throughout much of the country

However, Yesterday, I read another article that is claiming that life expectancy is going up at least in certain socio-economic circles.  It turns out that

those gains have accrued overwhelmingly to society’s higher socioeconomic status individuals. Working class life expectancy has largely stagnated

According to the article, access to good healthcare, which can be expensive, becomes inaccessible for individuals who don’t make a certain amount of money.  Another reason for the disparity between life expectancy among the rich and the poor is that the poorer citizen may be exposed to “negative environmental health risks” in far greater numbers than their richer counterparts.  Where they might find housing they can afford may expose them to more pollutants, for example.  Also, the food one eats certainly has an influence and fast foods or foods in the grocery stores that are cheap do not have the same nutritional values than, let’s say, an organic vegetable from Whole Foods which costs $5 a pound.

So now we have two articles. The first says that women’s health is causing an increase in mortality.  The second says that socio economic levels influence mortality.  Then today I saw an AARPBulletin article that claimed that

“Americans are in poorer health and are dying sooner than the rest of the industrialized world….A 2011 study of 17 industrialized countries…found that American men, whose life expectancy is 75.6 years, ranked last, and U.S. women, at 80.7 years, ranked 16th.”

These findings were based on a study ordered by the National Institute of Health which clearly showed

what they called “a pervasive pattern of shorter lives and poor health” crossing all (author’s emphasis) socioeconomic lines.

In the meanwhile, those folks on Capitol Hill continue to insist that the baby boomers are going to live longer and deplete the Medicare/Social Security bank.  So rather than raise taxes, we should cut back on these two “entitlements”   Hunh?  The logic these “lawmakers” spew makes less and less sense as each day goes by.  Oops I guess I am getting off track here.

And there was in fact an article in the Washington Post, albeit last year, that stated that findings from reviews of death certificates in the 50 states and the District of Columbia found that death rates were down and life expectancy was up.  It was probably this article that our “lawmakers” saw and, to be fair, there is a real possibility, given the numbers that make up the baby boomers, that mortality and/or chronic health issues are more likely to be on the increase.

According to a study done for the Gerontological Society of America

It is surprising that, given the socioeconomic, medical, and public health advantages of Baby Boomers throughout their lives, they are not doing considerably better on all counts.

And, one would have to concur with this logical conclusion:

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine on the future of disability in America (Field & Jette, 2007) suggests that despite these improvements, the numbers of adults with disabilities will likely swell in the coming years as the large Baby Boom generation—those born during the years 1946–1964—reaches the ages associated with the highest rates of morbidity and disability. Undoubtedly, such a trend would have important implications for the provision of medical and social services, for the ability of future older adults to participate fully in society, including the workplace, and more generally for their quality of life. However, although the number of adults reaching older ages and thus experiencing elevated risks for debilitating conditions will certainly grow, there is debate about whether the Baby Boom cohort will enter later life with better or worse age-specific rates of morbidity and disability than earlier cohorts.

And, if one googles health and the baby boomer, pages of studies come up citing that baby boomers are less healthy than their parents or grandparents were.

In the end, there seem to be as many studies and opinions about mortality among the aging in the U.S. as there are publications willing to write about the topic.  As for me, well, I live by the belief system that “Until my time comes, nothing can harm me.  When my time comes, nothing can protect me.”

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

 

 

 

Oil: Can’t Live With It; Can’t Live Without It

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As I was driving into town, I noticed how much more expensive gasoline was this week than it had been last week.  At least 25c more per gallon (at places like Sam’s Club — more at private stations).  In fact, the ups and downs in prices on gasoline seem to be mimicking the ups and downs we have been experiencing with our weather of late.  Anyway, I was wondering why the gas prices were once again on the rise.

I guess I have become quite cynical in my old age because it finally dawned on me that this past weekend, there had been a large gathering of people in Washington to protest any further drilling for oil on our lands.  According to a friend of mine who attended, there were around 40,000 people who braved very frigid weather  to protest the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to U.S. And so  I concluded that the oil companies were raising the prices at the gas stations so that people would “buy into” the idea that drilling on our own lands would provide cheaper gasoline.  What better way to make the point than in people’s wallets.

According to U.S. News and World Report:

There’s no business on the planet that gushes forth more profit than selling oil — nothing even close.

In 2007, Exxon beat its own one-year old record of the biggest corporate profits ever by 3 percent.  If Exxon were a country, it would exceed the gross domestic product of nearly two thirds of the 183 nations in the World Bank’s economic rankings.

The article further asserts that at that time, Exxon’s profits were 80% higher than General Electric, once considered one of the most successful companies in the United States.

The most recent quarterly earnings (ie December 2012) for ExxonMobil shows a revenue of $449.89 billion with a profit margin of 9.98% or $41 billion in profits.  Astoundingly enough, even with these kinds of numbers, Exxon gets tax breaks.  Not only that, but they have the arrogance to gripe about the fact that President Obama is making noises of taking those tax breaks away.

In an article written by Katarzyna Klimasinska and Jim Snyder for Bloomberg News,

Chief Executive Officer Rex. W. Tillerson and four counterparts defended the $21 billion in U.S. tax breaks that Democrats are seeking to recapture to reduce the federal deficit.

The Democrats’ proposal would raise about $13 billion by blocking the five largest oil and gas companies from receiving a domestic-manufacturing deduction for exploration and extraction in the U.S……[and] generate $6.5 billion by curtailing the oil companies’ ability to claim tax credits for royalty payments made to foreign governments.

Royalty payments to foreign governments?  I could go into the rampant use of euphemisms by those in power, but I better remain focussed on the topic at hand.  Royalty payments to foreign governments.   Oh, that’s right.  We mostly drill in other countries.  Unfortunately, and this is probably for another article, much of the drilling that goes on by these huge corporations are in impoverished parts of the world like Angola or Nigeria.  As we pump Shell, Exxon, or BP into our cars, we remain blissfully unaware of what goes on “over there.”  Because there are no stringent regulations in place with regard to environmental soundness, ecological areas are destroyed by the drilling that these companies do.   It is not our backyard.  It’s not even in the State next door.  In fact, the destruction of those environments are so removed from our immediate realities, that we can’t even conceptualize thousands upon thousands of acres that are left to fester in the waste product of the extraction process.

Furthermore, people in these parts of the world are displaced from their homes if their homes happen to be sitting on a site that may produce crude oil.  Some people are even killed and the villages destroyed.  Now I am not saying that BP or Shell are behind these destructive means of acquiring land.  At least not directly.  Nevertheless, these are terrible realities that exist in other countries to allow us our freedom to come and go as we please.

So here we have huge oil conglomerates who receive incredible tax breaks and make more money than God, pushing to extract oil in the United States.  Of course we have tasted some of the repercussions of oil spills over the years destroying the ecology of our coastlines.  We all cry out in horror and shame, scramble to do some clean up, and then go to the gas pumps to fill ‘er up again.

We would have to so radically change our lifestyle to stop being so dependent on oil.  I am not sure that we have it in us to proactively do this.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

 

Social Security, Let’s Take a Look

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I decided that since there has been so much hooplah, and do I dare suggest, misinformation about social security, that I would focus on the history of social security and move forward to the present as I had done with the healthcare question last month.  As it turned out, the author of one of my favorite blogs, “Time Goes By” found a great little video on YouTube explaining Social Security.  Since I certainly cannot do it any better, I thought I would pass it along.  However, I am still interested in writing about the history of Social Security (in particular when it was started in the ’40′s and when it was first reviewed in the ’80′sand why it keeps being put on the table as an area that needs to be adjusted.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy this video explanation.

I am placing this in the boomer blog because clearly, Social Security is the next big thing facing boomers.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

 

 

 

 

Scams Everywhere

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Over the past few years, it seems that every time you turn around, you are reading about how the elderly are being taken advantage of or, at the very least, how the elderly should be aware that they could be taken advantage of.  I tend to get annoyed by all the trumpeting about scam artists and how the elderly need to protect themselves against these predators.  I have, in the past, looked on this as a bit of fear mongering and making the elderly feel more vulnerable.

However, just recently, I found myself the victim of a situation that could have been avoided and in which I was taken advantage, thus helping me to recognize that scamming can happen to anyone at any time.  This is what happened to me.

I needed to have some trees cut: they were too tall and too close to the house and winds have started to become much stronger in our area.

I looked at the newspaper and called a couple of numbers.  One person answered.  He came over to give me an estimate.  He had his nephew with him and he seemed like an okay guy, so we agreed that he would do the work.

The day he came over, he came with another individual, his brother, he told me.  This man had a wild look in his eyes.  He also brought a different kid.  So it was the two men and a kid.  As I recount this story, I am aware that the outcome is just as much my fault as anything they may have done.  But the element that allowed the outcome was that I felt intimidated by their numbers and by the wild look in the “brother’s” eyes.

They cut down some trees — did not cut down the tree that had originally been the reason to call a tree cutter.  But, and again, this is on me, when we had originally talked about that tree, we had spoken about cutting it down.  On reflection, what with the fact that it was a hardwood tree and actually acted as a block should any of the pine trees behind it be blown down, I decided that I only wanted to top it off.  They claimed that they did not have the equipment to do that.  The main fellow offered to bring me real firewood when they came back to finish the job and then charged me an exorbitant price for the work done.  I really do not know why I did not negotiate, but in part it was because this kid was in our faces and the the wild “brother” standing a few feet away.  Oh, and the fact that they would ask questions like: “So do you live here all alone?” and had spent ALL day hanging around the house doing their “work.”  All of that added up to my writing a check for an amount that I did not feel I should be paying for the work done.

They claimed they would come back the following week to finish the job, but, of course, I have not seen hide nor tail of them.  And, I just gave them the money.  I have called every single day, leaving various messages of anger, guilt-riding, threats, but to no avail.  I will give their names to the Better Business Bureau.

What did I learn from this?  Yes, one can be taken advantage of if one is feeling vulnerable.  What can be done to avoid this?

1) Do not call someone cold turkey.  Get a reference from a friend or a neighbor.

2) When you call, tell them they were referred by the person who referred them.

3) if  possible, ask someone else to be there when the person comes to give an estimate and when you are ready to pay for the work.

At least this is what I learned from my very expensive lesson.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013

 

 

An Interesting Perspective

I was looking up healthcare videos and came across this video which I found interesting.  Other than the mis-pronounciation of President Obama’s name, some of the arguments being put forth are food for thought.  Watch and tell me what you think: