Tag Archive for: book reviews

How to Leave Footprints When You’re Gone, Healthy Aging Series S10 E9

How to Leave Footprints When You’re Gone | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E9

I recently read Betty White’s book, “If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t).”

It’s not a memoir. It’s more like a series of Hallmark Cards, very short chapters with a photo of Betty, and a pet or a friend, each chapter with a pithy answer to a question that we were all dying to ask but didn’t. 

What did I learn? 

Betty White didn’t own a computer or have email. 

She had wonderful friendships that brought her joy. 

She watched her weight every day and if she put on a pound, she would eat less the next day. She laughed a lot with others and at herself. 

She worked hard and memorized her lines even as she grew older. 

She took risks despite her anxiety. 

She had a passion and writes, “If you live without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.”

Her book is a good read and a fast read. She reminded me a lot of my mom, Betty Neese, “My Betty White.”
Both of them were from the same generation, and both left huge footprints behind.

My Own Betty White

My mother never touched a computer keyboard. She shared a cell phone with my father. She had a nice flatscreen TV. I am told that she had driven a car when she was younger, but I never remember seeing her drive a car. 

My only vivid car-memory of her was helping her into my Nissan Xterra the way you would see people hoisted onto a horse. She pulled and I pushed. It’s a great memory! 

She lived a simple life. Can you imagine a life without email? There was no Amazon Prime. There were no streaming channels. Each morning, she would amble down the street to the Hardee’s on the corner and drink coffee with her friends. 

She complained that she hated watching all of her friends die. 

And then it was her turn.

Since I was a Baptist Minister in a previous life, I asked to deliver her eulogy. It wasn’t difficult to find good words about Betty Neese, My Betty White. I want to share with you my message. The good words that I shared that day at the Unity Church in Evansville, Indiana, November 1, 2015.

We are here to celebrate Mom’s life, and of course it’s no accident that today is All Saints Day.

If we were mom’s Angels, then she was our Saint. She learned lots of lessons during her almost 87 years. I want to share a few of those lessons with you.

  1. Mom learned to adjust to the things that would not adjust to her.
    This was demonstrated by accepting her husband, her children, and her grandchildren for who they were, and not attempting to change them, or fashion them into someone else. She wasn’t perfect and maybe she might’ve been a little judgy. But did anyone feel in any way that  Mom and Dad didn’t fully love and accept you for who you were? I’m not sure we realize how fortunate that we were to be able to bask in that sun. There is no medicine, no psychology, no politics, and no religion that is more potent than love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Mom and dad were two of the most accepting people I’ve known. They wanted us to be strong and independent. They knew better than to attempt to change us into their versions of us. Mom adjusted to the things that would not adjust to her.
  2. Despite her losses and tragedies, she learned to see the sunshine. Life has a way of challenging our beliefs. Mom lost three of her children when they were infants, and she lost her husband. Despite the clouds, she made it sunny for herself and for us. She kept living to the very end. I love the quote from Shawshank Redemption where Red says that, “We’ve got to get busy living or get busy dying.” Mom spent her life living. Mom lived her life with curiosity, wonder, and openness. One of her favorite words was serendipity, which I interpret as happy accidents. It meant accepting life on life‘s terms, and being receptive to the little moments, and the surprises that come your way. That was Mom‘s sunshine. The simple things. Mom lived a very simple life and was happy with that simple life. She lived in her little apartment with almost no money, no success, no fame, unless you count her celebrity appearance on the O’Reilly Factor.

We were Mom’s sunshine. We created those serendipitous moments for her through our phone calls, books, visits, pictures, and our visits with her to Hardee’s during her coffee time. The secret that I believe Mom practiced was to not expect those happy accidents. She let them come to her, recognized them, and enjoyed them. Sometimes we have to wait for the sunshine.

3. There was an additional lesson that Mom learned: Major on the Majors. Most of us know what happened in the 1960s with Grandma Louise. She stopped seeing us for five years. And for what reason? Religion??? I loved Grandma and Mom loved her too, but shame on Grandma Louise. Grandma was majoring in the minors. Both of my Grandmothers did, and Mom would agree, it was over stupid shit!

Mom learned the pain and misery that comes from majoring on the minors. She saw how stupid shit separated parents from children, siblings from each other,  grandparents from their grandchildren, and friends from friends. Shame on us if we let stupid shit like religion, politics, mistakes in the past, money, mis-spoken words, who you live with or are in love with, who you sleep with or bring home separate us from others. None of it is worth separating you from family.


Betty Neese witnessed the isolation, separation, and pain that came from majoring on the minors. If Betty and Jerry Neese have a legacy, it is that they raised tolerant, forgiving, and accepting children, who have raised tolerant, forgiving, and accepting children. 

A lot more could be said about Mom. 

She had what seemed like an insatiable hunger for learning new things. I loved bringing her books, and she cherished them. She loved her friends. And she was a very good friend. She loved talking about religion. My only regret is that I didn’t spend more time answering her questions about religion. She was a talker.

By your fruit you will know them. Betty and Jerry Neese planted a lot of seed and we are the fruit. We will miss them and feel a little bit lost at times, but we will see them in each other when we come together. We will see them as we accept each other, recognize the happy accidents, and major on the majors, not on the stupid shit. Amen.

Betty White chose to not have children. She helped raise three daughters that her husband brought to the marriage.

Betty Neese had 12 children. Raised nine. She left many footprints.

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

The Art of Exuberant Aging, Healthy Aging Series S10 E8

The Art of Exuberant Aging | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E8

“The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly,” by Margareta Magnusson

I’m sitting at Muhammad Ali international airport, drinking a fancy drink from Starbucks, as I head to Colorado to visit my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters.

After a five-day visit with my family, I’ll meet my wife at the Denver Airport, and then we’ll fly to Phoenix and eventually end up at Grand Canyon National Park.

My Feats of Strength

I’ve been training for a Rim to River to Rim hike in one day. That means 18 miles, and 10,000+/- feet of elevation. It should take about 10 hours. I’ll start at 4:30 AM and hopefully finish at 2:30 PM. When I’m done, I get a kiss from my wife. A high five, and then lots of food, a nap, and a beer. Repeat next year.

I’ve been training. I have a 45-pound backpack in my jeep, and I’ve been doing hill repeats for the past six weeks. I’ve spent lots of time in the Jefferson Memorial Forests and lots of miles on trails. I stopped my weight loss diet and I focused on fueling my body. You shouldn’t train for this type of endurance feat and try to lose weight at the same time.

I’m ready. I’ll maybe hike the Manitou Incline this Sunday as a prep hike. It’s a 1-mile trail that gains 2000 feet of elevation. It’s up the side of a mountain. I should be able to get to the top in about 75 minutes. Mind you, that’s what it takes me to quickly walk 5 miles.

Exuberant Aging

Is this exuberant aging? Maybe. I’m 67 years old. Some would say I’m aging exuberantly. I recently read, “The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly,” by Margareta Magnusson. It’s her follow up to “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” which I wrote about last year in this very blog. So, what’s her take on exuberant aging?

First, Margareta is Swedish and in her mid-80s. She’s not out doing a Rim to River to Rim Grand Canyon Hikes. She’s not cycling 50 to 100 miles on the weekend. Her definition of exuberance is a little different from mine. I would’ve suggested getting a personal trainer when she was in her 60s to help her with her stability and mobility. That might have prevented the fall and hospitalization and rehab that follow a fall. But despite her physical vulnerabilities (a serious fall in her 80’s), I loved her spirit and attitude about life, and after all, exuberant living is not just about running half marathons and 5K‘s. Exuberant Aging is the ability to maintain a youthful spirit despite the loss of youthfulness. It is a physical thing, but mostly, it’s a refusal to mentally give in to the aging process.

So, here are my takeaways about exuberant aging:

1. “Never give up never surrender!” Dr. Lazarus from Galaxy Quest. I think this is what Magnusson would say. Margareta lived exuberantly by not throwing in the towel, and by keeping her head in the game.

First, a few things about my aging process:

I see myself slowing down, and I mean that literally. My times are getting slower doing the same distance. My recovery time is getting longer. Whereas, it might’ve just taken one day of recovery from a six- or 10-mile hike, I now need to take sometimes three days to recover. My energy levels are dropping, ergo, I’ve focused more on energy conservation. I can’t handle the same volume levels in weight training that I did 10 or 20 years ago. I do less sets and reps and never heavy weights. Magnusson writes, “I don’t have as much energy now, but I help seniors learn how to maintain and use the Internet.” Magnusson isn’t doing any half marathons, but she does her best to stay as active as she possibly can. “Right now, spring is around the corner,“ she writes. “I look out the window and long to get started with my gardening. When you are my age, it is important to fill your mind and days with stuff to do; planning, helping, thinking, and moving around as much as you can.” “Some of that time,” she concludes, “should be spent laughing.” “It is never too late to do anything,” she writes, “unless it really is too late, and you are dead.” I love it.

It is my plan to keep doing the Canyon until I can’t, to keep hiking those 10-to-12-mile hikes in the Jefferson Forest until I’m not able to, to keep learning, and to never give up, to never surrender.

2. Magnusson is aging exuberantly by embracing the negatives in aging. “There seems to be no choice,“ she suggests “then to see each and every burden, every nuisance, every pain, as something that is also dear, something that I must find a way to cherish.“

What do we embrace?

We embrace the loss of memory, loss of vision, and hearing, and the loss of friends, family, and sometimes partners.

We embrace the annoyances of aging like being treated as if we’re invisible and of needing to repeat ourselves all the time.

We embrace the problem of waking up at 2, 3, or 4 AM.

We embrace getting lab work that reflects a decline in our kidney function, or high potassium levels, or rising PSA.

We embrace the lower back pain, or hip pain, or knee pain.

We “step into” our fears, into our losses, and into our pain.

3. Magnuson practices, reflecting or “airing out memories,” to live or age exuberantly. Reflecting can energize us.

“Memory helps us retrieve events with people,” she writes, “people we want to remember. But my closest ones are always within and next to me, and I don’t need to think about things we did or said. Some people just become part of you and that feels comforting.” Much of Magnusson’s book is reflecting about her husband, her children, and her moves around the world. Remembering and reflecting seemed to give her energy to keep living and aging exuberantly. Throughout our lives we do, in non-clinical terms, something we call stuffing. It has been called compartmentalizing as well, and it can suck the energy from our lives. We need to air out everything, because if we don’t air that stuff out, we do what depth therapists call compensation. It’s the energy that we use to keep unpleasant thoughts and memories in our shadow. This is not good, so airing out and reflecting, is very helpful and beneficial toward aging exuberantly.

4. Another way that Magnusson energizes herself and helps her age exuberantly is by giving back. Magnussen suggests that we have two options as we get older:

Giving up or Giving Back

The symbol of giving up is the rocking chair. “The rocking chair is our most dangerous invention,” she warns. “More people die from unhealthy conditions that are exacerbated by sitting too much than anything else.” Giving back is the remedy for the rocking chair.

Magnusson began volunteering at a children’s library, and it energized her. She surrounded herself with younger people. “Happiness,” she explains, “is being surrounded by the young. My father knew it. I know it. And if you’re 80 years old, even a 70-year-old is younger than you.”

If you believe that you have learned anything in the aging process, if you have something that young people would benefit from hearing about or seeing, if you have learned how to navigate life and have learned how to become your authentic self, then infecting others with this wisdom will benefit them and energize you.

I don’t purposely seek out younger people, but I have several in my life. Maybe they’re drawn to a person that wants to give back.

My Version of Aging Exuberantly

These are a few of the things that energized Magnusson and lead to her exuberant aging. There are more in her book. I suggest reading it.

Now, I’ll share a few things that energize me. Keep in mind I am 20 years younger than Magnusson.

First, setting fitness goals energizes me. I don’t run marathons or cycle across states anymore, but I schedule challenging hikes and climbs throughout my year. Then, in the months leading up to the challenge, I do as much as I can to prepare for that challenge. I shared earlier my upcoming hike into the Grand Canyon. There will come a day that I am not able to do the Canyon or climb Fourteeners in Colorado, but I will hopefully still be able to hike in the Jefferson Memorial Forest, or cycle through the Parklands, and that will energize me as well.

Second, solitude energizes me. I love hiking by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love the times that I’m with hiking and backpacking partners. Being in the forest with others adds a good dimension to the hike, but going solo allows me to be in my head in a good way, and I feel energized when I am done. In the hiking world, there is something called “hiker dissociation.” It happens when you’re on a one- or two-hour hike and then you stop thinking, or purposely thinking. You turn off your ego and allow thoughts, feelings, memories, or ideas to come to consciousness. Some people describe it as meditation. I don’t. It’s more like shadow work or active imagination as suggested by Carl Jung.

Sometimes I invite shadow figures to hike with me like my mom and dad, but mostly I let happen what happens. And I feel energized.

Third, art energizes me! More specifically, I mean being creative energizes me, and even more specifically, writing energizes me. I’ve been writing blogs for the past four years. I’ve been on again off again, and I can tell you that my psychic energy is up when I am “on again.” This summer I’m going to focus on personal essays. I’m getting excited about the process.

I love 70s music. I have reacquainted myself with Edgar Winter. While I was building a 70s playlist for an upcoming hike, I stumbled onto a song written by him in 1971 called, “Dying to Live.“ I’m writing a blog on it as we speak. Again, I am energized by music.

Fourth, people energize me! I am by nature an introvert. Yep, I see some of you shaking your head, but it’s true. Having said that, I love spending time with my wife, my sons, and my extended family. They energize me. Being a therapist energizes me.

What Energizes You?

Exuberant aging is a personal thing. It changes as we age. Our past determines what energizes us, as well as our culture. I think Magnusson has mapped out several timeless practices that can help anyone, anywhere, and at any age live exuberantly.

The rest is up to you.

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

Mark Neese Healthy Aging Series S10 E7

Your Brain on the MIND Diet | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E7

This is Your Brain on The MIND Diet

If you think you’ve got it bad, try being your pet!

I’m sitting in our sunroom on this beautiful May morning. Hansel, our male kitty, has joined me. He loves the sunroom light in the mornings. I can hear him purring from across the room. He follows the sun throughout the day in our house. First is the sunroom where the sun is coming up in the morning. Then our bedroom facing the south and finally he spreads out on the floor on a rug in our dining room, which faces the west. He’s sleeping now. Content. Happy. Handsome. 

Also, he’s very predictable because, the moment I get up and head anywhere close to the laundry room, he’s up and follows me with the hopes of getting fed. I mostly ignore him, but the fact that he is two- or 3-pounds overweight means that I am a sucker for his ploy. He has the sweetest little meow. And I love those nose kisses. So, I give in and give him a little snack. He has a special diet cat food, the $120 bag kind of diet. We mostly control what he eats, mostly.

I read somewhere that Oprah has a trainer that controls what she eats. Tom Brady, too.

I wonder what it would be like to have someone, besides me, deciding what, how much, and when I eat. It might last a month or two, and then I say, “F*@k it! I’m sick of this!” They call this pattern of eating a “yo-yo diet.” On again, off again. Lose weight. Put it back on again. Repeat. But I’m not completely convinced it’s all that bad because it sounds a lot like the feast and famine cycles that our ancestors experienced.

Why is it so difficult to manage our weight?

The reason most of us have a difficult time eating right, which means eating the right amount and the right kind of food is because:

First, easy access to food. Food is everywhere. Grocery stores are always within driving distance. I grew up 15 miles from the X-market. We always had food in our cabinets! Convenience stores. Dollar General Stores. Fast Food stores. Restaurants. Casual and fine dining restaurants. Movie theaters. Donut Shops. I could go and on. Food is everywhere. OK I get it, there are countries and inner-city families that have limited access to grocery stores. We need to work on that!!

Second, processed food is engineered to taste good. I love the taste of fast food. Salt. Fat. Sugar. I question peoples honesty when they tell me, they don’t like sweets. Scientist, who know what humans want and need have spent years designing food that we will love and we will gorge on. I remember working at a place called “Blue Ribbon Food Service” in Portland, Oregon, while I went to college. They would add soy protein to the hamburger until  a few people complained that it wasn’t 100% beef. They removed the soy and people quit buying the frozen patties because it didn’t taste the same, and so, you guessed it, they added back the soy protein.

There is an abundance of food, and it tastes great, that’s our dilemma. 

I’ve been writing about the aging brain, and more specifically, how to take care of your brain. I’ve suggested that the MIND diet was a way of eating that provided a protective factor against cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. And since you’re not likely to be able to afford a personal trainer that will follow you around like Oprah and Tom Brady, rationing your food, and since you’re not likely enough to be my sweet kitty Hansel, you need a simple approach to eating that protects your brain. If you have time to read a book, read this: The MIND Diet: A Scientific Approach to Enhancing Brain Function, and Helping Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia. If you don’t have time to read the book, here is a simple chart for what you need to eat and not eat in the mind diet.Your brain on the MIND diet Healthy Aging Series S10 E7Question About the Mind Diet

What are whole grains? Geez. Rice, wheat, barley, buckwheat, Bolger, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, blah blah blah.
Amazon has every one of these. Directions are on the package. Millet is my favorite. We do not eat enough whole grains!

What about vegetables? What should I be eating?
Spend lots of time in the produce department at the grocery store. Eat lots of leafy-green stuff. Your plate should have lots of colors on it when you eat! Potatoes? Yes! 

What about fruit? Try to have some kind of fruit on your plate every meal. Have a bowl of blueberries, or raspberries, or blackberries, or melons, or strawberries in the fridge, and graze on them throughout the day.

What about beans and legumes?
Your microbiome will thank you! Legumes are good for you. They are pre-biotics and feed the probiotics that you’re taking (hopefully you’re taking probiotics) . You can buy uncooked beans and let them simmer on your stove for couple hours, or you can buy beans in the can. I prefer beans in the can because they’re easy to open up and just eat. They’re good for you. We’re talking about great northern beans, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, and lima beans.

What should I be eating? Eat lots of nuts. Eat chicken, fish, and lean beef. Eat lots of berries! We need fruit and vegetables. Fill up with fruits and vegetables! Your brain will thank you when you’re 80.

The MIND diet is so simple. As Michael stated: Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much. I recently read an article in the New York Times, I know, :-) “The link between highly processed Food and Brain Health.” 

Conclusion: A high percentage of daily energy consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with cognitive decline among adults of an ethnically diverse sample.

Take away: Eat real food. 

Now, the hard part what not to eat:

First minimize sweets. Notice I didn’t say no sweets. It’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate sweets.

Second, avoid processed foods. Boo!!! I’m talking about snack food!

Third, limit alcohol. No biggie, I simply quit drinking alcohol altogether.

Fourth, I like red meat, but limit it to 2 to 3 times weekly.
And then there is portion control, I think half portions.

That’s it! Simple, and of course,  do I need to say “Stay away from fast food?”

The MIND diet is doable! You don’t need a personal trainer. You don’t need a pet guardian. Eat all the fruits and vegetables you want. Eat more beans, fish, and berries. Eat less sugar, or no “added sugar.”

After reading all this information about the MIND Diet, I evaluated my own diet and think I am 80% there. I don’t eat a lot of legumes, but I have tried to add fruit and vegetables to my diet. So over the next 3 to 6 months, I’m going to be adding more legumes and making sure  I’m getting plenty of fruits and vegetables in my daily intake.

Pick up a book on the Mediterranean diet, which is in essence The MIND Diet, and start taking care of your brain and your body!

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 6

The Dance with Alzheimer’s | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E6

Reflecting on: “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s,“ by B. Smith, and Don Gasby.  

I spent a week this past year helping my older son move.

I am almost 68, but a rather fit 68. All of us have helped someone move. Four days of grueling, backbreaking work. Everyone helped. Really, it was a wonderful experience.  And I recovered rather well. I had a few more sore tendons in my shoulder. Not bad.

The last evening there, we were eating at a Mexican Restaurant in Woodland Park, relishing our feat. During our conversations, I told my younger son that I had mentioned something to his older brother but referred to his older brother as his father. He looked up at me and asked “who?”
I stopped, not knowing what I had said wrong. There was a brief pause, and then it occurred to me that I was his father. We all laughed. I chalked up the verbal faux pas to four days of near physical exhaustion. Your brain doesn’t work as well when your body is exhausted.

With Alzheimer’s, You Disappear

Misremembering, absentmindedness, forgetting the name of a celebrity, misplacing your keys, or momentarily forgetting which exit to take can be frustrating, but experiencing one or more of these annoyances over the course of a few months is nothing, nothing like full-blown dementia. You don’t just forget where you left your keys; you forget how to use a knife and fork, you forget where you live, you forget every person you know, you forget the trips to the Caribbean; you forget what a car key is and does. You disappear, and sadly, you aren’t aware that you’ve disappeared.

It’s All About the Engine

We’ve been on a journey this season exploring the aging brain. Since the beginning of the season,  I’ve shared about traumatic brain injuries, Crystalized and Fluid Intelligence, how to exercise your brain, how to feed it, and we’ve looked at Captain James T. Kirk. 

Now, I want to share a story about one of the big land mines we all potentially face. This is a story about Alzheimer’s.  I read, “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s,“ by B. Smith, and Don Gasby.  This is a story about the Smith’s experience with Alzheimer’s during the early and middle stages of the disease and it describes the ways B. and her husband, Dan, coped with the disease. It was heart wrenching, and I’m glad I read it.


Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that robs you of everything you are and everything that you have been. You suffer until you don’t realize that you’ve forgotten who you are. The grieving process begins at the early stages for family and caregivers. They continue to grieve even though their loved one is no longer aware that they are the person that is being grieved.

The Dance with Alzheimer’s

The book is about B. and Dan’s love, their honesty, and their fearlessness throughout this disease.
Dan continued to love what would become B’s new self as he grieved over the loss of her old self. This was a dance, not with each other, but with the disease of Alzheimer. I first want to share the dance by sharing B’s and Dan’s words, alternating dance steps.

B
I’ll tell you the biggest problem for me: trying to remember things Dan tells me. In the beginning, I felt like there were things happening, and I needed to write them down to remember them, so I did. I have a little book for that. Dan can tell me something and I might not remember it 10 minutes later. Because who wants to forget what you’re supposed to remember.

Dan
This job of caregiver, which I hadn’t signed up for, hadn’t bargained on, never anticipated, I was doing my best. But my best wasn’t good enough, not if I flared at the wife, I loved who couldn’t help herself. So that made me feel even worse: not just frazzled and tired, and very depressed, but guilty.

B
One thing I’m having trouble with these days is my handbag. I keep misplacing it. I’ll put it down in my closet somewhere, and then the next day I can’t remember where I left it. Or I go down to the basement to get something, and somehow get it down there, and Dan gets exasperated with me. I get exasperated too! But what am I supposed to do? I think I’m going to remember where it is, and then I just don’t.

Dan
Every morning, B. goes out to her little Mercedes-Benz two-seater. It’s a car I bought her some years ago as a present. Some hesitation or fear, or maybe confusion, keeps her from putting the bags in the car. Instead, she gets in and sits there, keys in hand, not quite up to starting the engine. And there remains, until I come out and tell her it’s time for dinner.

B
I don’t feel different, but I know that I am. The slightest thought makes me cry. I never cried a lot before, not much in the movies, not in real life, either. Now I cry if I hear noise and Dan’s voice, or if he tells me I’ve had another sugary midnight snack. I can’t remember. Sometimes I cry when I’m alone, for no particular reason. They say crying makes you feel better. Not with me. It just makes me feel sad all over again.

Dan
Here’s the stone cold truth: you can never truly, fully appreciate how much you love your partner until you feel you might have just lost her forever.

B
I don’t remember the doctor’s visit or Dan putting me on the bus. I don’t remember why I got off and started wandering. I do remember it was the evening, so it didn’t seem out of place. And I remember I felt good. I wasn’t scared or worried. I felt free! I was taking care of myself, having an adventure. I know that’s not a really good thing now. I know everyone was horrified and thought I was dead. I didn’t mean for everyone to worry! But sometimes you just need to be on your own.

Dan
Damn that disease. I’m no scientist; no politician either. I can’t invent a new drug nor a cure. But I can see how desperately one is needed, and maybe in my own way, I can help raise awareness, help put pressure on public and private sectors to steer more money to research and get the job done. Just keep B. happy during the time she has left, and that’s what I’m aiming for now.

B
There are rules Dan has put on me. Like no driving. No more driving! That’s hard. I’ve been driving since I was a teenager, and that white Mercedes Sports coupe in the driveway was a gift to me. “You can’t drive anymore,” says Dan. No driving for me. I get angry, but I know he’s right. I’m not going to fight that one. I’m not crazy! Just a little here and there.

Dan
The moments of dislocation and dysfunction are increasing, the ability to follow what’s said, and to do tasks that take multiple steps, all this points to the obvious, the inevitable. When those changes do occur, I hope that I’ll be able to do what I’m hoping you can do, to not lose sight of the soul within. Studies have shown that patients with this stage of Alzheimer’s hear, think, and feel, even if they seem to have vanished from the ruined bodies, they inhabit. I know I’ll be there, holding the hand of the woman I love. I guess that spirituality, too. Good luck to us all.


A Primer on Alzheimer’s

What did I learn about Alzheimer’s Dementia from this book. “Before I Forget” is a love story and it’s also a Primer on Alzheimer’s. Here are some of the lessons.

Lesson One: I learned that Alzheimer’s affects millions of people, and we need to do something about it now. Consider the numbers.

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is growing — and growing fast. Nearly 7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s.

  • An estimated 6.9 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in 2024. Seventy-three percent are age 75 or older.
  • About 1 in 9 people age 65 and older (10.9%) has Alzheimer’s.
  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Older Black Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older Whites.
  • Older Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older Whites.


As the size of the U.S. population age 65 and older continues to grow, so too will the number and proportion of Americans with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s may grow to a projected 12.7 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease.


Lesson Two: I learned that you will slowly lose the last 10 years of your life.
Alzheimer’s comes in three stages: Early, Middle, and Late

  • Early Stage: You lose your short-term episodic memory, especially to recent conversations and events, your hand-eye coordination becomes somewhat impaired, making it difficult to use eating utensils. These symptoms may bring on mood swings and depression. This stage can last from one to four years.
  • Middle Stage: long-term memory loss becomes evident. Childhood recollections may fade, difficulty recognizing family members. You become unaware of current events and confused about time. You develop sleeplessness, or too much sleep, and have difficulties with hygiene and toileting. This stage can last from 2 to 10 years.
  • Late Stage: There is profound memory loss and the loss of ability to communicate, and comprehend others. The need for round-the-clock help for all personal hygiene issues.  You develop the inability to swallow, and you become incontinent. Delusions are common. You become immobile and unresponsive. This stage typically last from 1 to 3 years. The most common cause of death is pneumonia.

Lesson Three: I learned that as difficult and frustrating as it is to lose the last 10 years of your life, it is equally difficult for family members and loved ones to watch as their loved one slowly fades and disappears. Caregivers suffer through this 10+ year process. It is a family burden to be the primary caregivers. When, not if, you need home care it will likely cost up to $1000 a week. Insurance is not going to cover all of the home-care expenses. He/she will be there, but not be there. He/she will be a burden to you and also to your grown children.

Lesson Four: I learned that no one survives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. There are medications that claim to slow down the process.

Lesson Five: As of yet, they do not know what causes it.

Lesson Six: There may, and I emphasize may, be things you can do to lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Dementia. In a study in 2020, researchers, looked at diet and lifestyle, and how they increased or decreased risk for Alzheimer’s. One study looked at 1845 adults that were 73 and older, and the other study looked at 920 adults that were 81+, all free from Alzheimer’s. They followed them for six years. Here is what lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s was:

  1. Non-smoking.
  2. Engaged in consistent, moderate, or intense exercise.
  3. Limited alcohol consumption to light to moderate.
  4. Followed the Mediterranean Diet.
  5. Stayed engaged in cognitive-challenging activities.

There are no promises in life. My good friend Sam sees life as walking through a minefield. You walk through life, and you step on a mine (Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, fill in the blank). The real question isn’t “will you step on a mine,” but “will you recover?” 

I’ve written two blogs on Resiliency in a previous season. That explains how you can prepare yourself to bounce back when you do hit one of these land mines. Is there anything that you can do to decrease your risk or prevent the devastating effect of these mines

And the answer is maybe! I’m writing about the aging brain in this season of my Healthy Aging Blog. I’ve asserted that you can’t get along in life without a brain, and it’s important to keep your brain healthy, because every part of your body depends on your brain. So, here are my suggestions:

  • Exercise every day.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Work out your brain by studying, writing, learning new skills that involve hand coordination.
  • If you smoke, stop smoking.
  • If you drink, limit  your intake to light or moderate drinking, mostly red wine.

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 5

Your Brain on Food | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E5

Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 5A Real Man?

It was a cartoon. Really, it was an advertisement for Joe Weider Protein Powder that was circulating when I was a high school junior. It might’ve been on the back cover of the Boys Life Magazine. The advertisement picture was of a young man and woman at the beach under an umbrella. There was another man who was muscular, kicking sand in their faces. When the man under the umbrella asked him to stop, the muscular man says, and I quote, “Shut up, you skinny runt.”
The “skinny runt” is an early version of the real Joe Weider and he spends the next weeks and months working out, building muscle and then confronts the bully on the beach. Mind you, I don’t advocate this way of dealing with bullies! And, I don’t want to suggest that muscular men are real men and non-muscular men are not real men. Having said that, Joe Weider confronts him and says, “Here’s something I owe you,” as he punches the bully in the face. “Oh, Joe,” his female companion says, “you are a real man after all.”

First, there are so many things wrong about this cartoon. It’s a horrible way to deal with bullies. And, “might does not make right.” Plus, real men are more than superficial muscle-bound gym rats.

A Stronger You

Having said that, growing muscle and being physically strong and fit are very important, especially as you age. When I was in my late 50s, I was using a Personal Trainer to help me prepare for my 60s. He asked what my goal was for when I would be 60. As I racked the 35-pound dumbbells after finishing the bicep curls, I said confidently, “I want to be a badass.” Here’s what I meant: I want to be able to hike and backpack into and out of the Grand Canyon. I want to be able to summit Mount Sterling in the Smoky Mountains with a 35-pound backpack. I want to look and feel good and stand tall. I want to be able to haul 50 or 60 bags of mulch in and out of my jeep for landscaping the front lawn. Being a badass, for me, is more of an attitude. It’s the “get busy living or get busy dying” way of life. It’s the difference between “dying to live and living to die.” It’s the opposite of living a life of quiet desperation. It’s refusing to throw in the towel or tapping out during hardships. It’s the “never give up, never surrender” philosophy of life. I’m talking about mental badassery. Mental badassery means being mentally sharp and mentally fit until the end, and to be mentally fit, you have to have healthy brain. 

Taking care of your brain is what I’m calling BrainCare and in a previous episode we looked at “your brain on exercise.” Now we’ll look at your brain on food.

Let’s look at nutrition and its effect on having a healthy brain. I want to share the results of several studies without boring you about all the details, so stay with me as I look at what it means to eat a good, healthy brain diet.

First was the Seven Countries Study that took place during the 1950s and studied 10,000 men in Seven Countries.
Conclusion: Those men eating Mediterranean-type diets lived longer and suffered the least cognitive decline and disease. After the 10,000 men were studied and their diets reverted back to pre-study patterns, and became more like traditional diets of the United States, they became less physically active and their risk of heart disease increased.

Second was the Epic Study, which was a collaboration between 10 European countries, the National Institute of Health, and AARP. This study took place in the 1960s.
Conclusion: People who ate a Mediterranean-style diet, lived longer, healthier lives. Also, this type of diet was associated with less cardiovascular disease and cancer. They also found that the Mediterranean diet, “potentially prevented cancer initiation in progress.”

Third was the Lyons Diet Heart Study (1998). This study took 300 heart attack victims and randomly assigned them to eat the Mediterranean diet and 300 to eat the Standard Western diet. The study was supposed to last five years, but was stopped after 27 months because the control group rate of dying significantly increased, and they felt like it was unethical to continue the study.
Conclusion: the Mediterranean Diet decreased the risk of mortality.

Fourth, the PREDIMED Study (NIH). This study followed 7000 people on three different diets, one of which was the Mediterranean Diet.
Conclusion: Five years after initiating this study the Mediterranean diet-group members were doing significantly better than the control groups.

Fifth, the Dash Diet: This is a diet that was developed to address the issues of hypertension. It involves eating lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. It decreased the intake of red meats, sweets, and sugary drinks. 

Conclusion: Recently, researchers used a new brain diet called the Mind Diet, which is a hybrid between the Mediterranean Diet and the Dash Diet, and the study demonstrated that participants were 50% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disorder. That’s a big claim, and it will be interesting to follow future studies on this particular diet.

In preparation for upcoming blogs, I have been reading a lot about strokes, Alzheimer’s, and ALS. Without exception, every book, every podcast, and every textbook highlights the importance of good nutrition as a part of preventive measures. This goes back to what I have talked about throughout this season which is, “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.” 

If you want to have a healthy brain, you’ve got to provide it the nutrition that will feed it and you have to avoid those things that promote inflammation and micronutrient deficits.

True North Diet

Here is my simple, easy to follow diet for a healthy brain:

1. Watch your portion size. People in Europe typically eat half the portion sizes that we eat here in the United States

2. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. How difficult is that? Add fruit and vegetables to every meal. There are vegetable supplements that you can add to drinks and smoothies. I buy baby-food squeeze packs (fruit and veggies and protein) and that’s my lunch. It’s one way I get my micronutrients.

3. Eat lean protein. Eat as much as you want. Eat eggs.

4. Stay away from processed foods. Eat real food. Stay out of the center section of the grocery store. Especially, stay out of most of the freezer section. 

5. Stay away from sugar, and avoid eating any foods, or processed foods with added sugar.

6. Limit your dairy. I don’t consider eggs dairy, even though they’re in the dairy section. I’m not afraid of eating eggs. Eggs are good for you.

7. According to the Mediterranean diet you can drink red wine on a daily basis, 1-2 drinks. I stopped drinking months ago. I feel better, sleep better, and was able to drop 10 lbs. with little effort. I have an upcoming episode on your brain on alcohol.

I’m going to be presenting an entire episode on the Mediterranean\Dash Diet, which has been called the Mind Diet.

Stewardship of Your Brain
I’ve been focusing a lot these past months on being a good steward of my body. That means taking care of it and keeping it well maintained. Maybe, the idea of being a good steward of your body will help you focus on a diet that promotes a healthy brain.

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 4

Your Brain on Star Trek | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E4

Elberfeld

When I was eight years old, my father moved us to a 20-acre horse farm. He started raising horses a few years earlier and had gotten the idea he could make money boarding horses and providing riding lessons. Years later, he confessed that it was a bad idea

When I was nine, I was trampled by one of our horses and hospitalized overnight. The horse’s name was Valentine. I survived. I wanted to wear the bandages around my head to school the next day, but the doctor said I didn’t need them, and I had nothing to show for the trauma I experienced, except a few stitches. That’s all. 

Star Trek

We lived across the street from a laundromat. I guess having a laundromat across the street and a shitty damp basement factored into Mom and Dad not getting a washer and dryer. I’m not sure why I was chosen, but I had laundromat-duty every week, and during the wash and spin cycles, I would go next-door and play army with Tommy. Tommy’s family had a color TV, and I remember waiting at the front door for him to come out. I could feel the air conditioner as his mom opened the door, and I stole a glance at the big  Xenith Color Television console.  And for a few moments, I feasted on Star Trek. The color version. 

My mom was always mindful of serendipities, those pleasant surprises that come our way, and I wondered whether or not it was one of those serendipities, or whether Tommy invited me in to watch Star Trek because he felt sorry for me after my near death experience.  I didn’t care why.

It wasn’t life-changing, but it was the very first complete color TV episode of anything that I had ever watched. They were all there: Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Chekhov, and of course, Captain Kirk, all wearing those red and yellow and blue and green uniforms.

James T. Kirk

William Shatner is 92 years old as I write this blog. He starred in 97 episodes of Star Trek and the first seven Star Trek movies. He also played a veteran police sergeant, TJ Hooker. He has hosted reality base TV shows, was in rescue 911, and is doing voice overs for numerous educational TV shows. I loved his character, “Big Giant Head,“ in Third Rock from the Sun. He was an attorney in Boston Legal. And he’s had several other acting gigs throughout his lifetime. In 2021, he flew into space aboard The Blue Virgin suborbital capsule.  

Shatner has been married four times and has three children. He found his third wife lying lifeless at the bottom of their backyard swimming pool. It was ruled an accidental drowning, due to the fact that the autopsy revealed both alcohol and diazepam in her blood. Shatner and his fourth wife divorced in January 2020 but reconciled a year later. When Leonard Nimoy died in 2015, Shatner wrote, “I loved him like a brother,” but they hadn’t spoken in person for five years. William Shatner was human. Many of his former colleague saw him as a “cantankerous, old fossil,” as George Takei, Mr. Sulu complained. But a year later, William Shatner and his former Star Trek costars made amends.


Shatner loves horses and owns a 360-acre farm in Kentucky. He has co-written several books. I picked up “Live long and…What I Might Have Written Along the Way,” written in 2018. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about successful aging. I’ve asked myself, am I aging successfully? What does that even mean to age successfully? I’m sure researchers have considered the question and come up with the definition. I won’t bore you with any definition today, but does it really matter if someone looks at you and says, “Yeah they’re aging successfully,” or possibly unsuccessfully? I think not.


I think what matters is whether you think you’re aging successfully or not. If you read William Shatner‘s book with this question in mind: Does HE think he’s aging successfully? Then, the answer is yes. Honestly, who cares what his ex-wives or ex-costars, or even what his children think. What does William Shatner think? By the way, his three daughters are very quick to point out that he was and is a very good father.

Successful Aging According to James T. Kirk

  1. Shatner would say, “I’m happy and love my life”
    Shatner was a guy drawn to shiny objects, which is maybe a hazard of the acting profession. But he has had several constants in his life or threads as he calls them. These threads include, and not in any order of importance,: his daughters, his horses and dogs, his work, his ex-wives.
    I think Shatner would say that, despite all of the distractions from shiny objects, these things have helped contribute to my happiness and  love of life.

      2. Shatner would say, “I’m able to do most of what I want to do.”
           He walks his dog’s almost every day.
           He rides his horses 3 to 5 times weekly.
          He wakes up and works.

He hasn’t had to work for many years, but continues to work.

“I was happy, I realized, because I love what I do. I don’t love it every minute, I don’t love every aspect of it, I don’t love getting up at 5 AM. I don’t love the distractions and the issues, but I have found enormous pleasure in my work.” He concludes, “The thought of retiring has never occurred to me.”

Doing what he wants to do requires good health, and “Good health,” he writes, “is not an accident.”
Shatner continues to lift 25 pound weights several times a week and walks as much as he can.
Here’s what Shatner has learned: “There are steps we can all be taking to maintain our health. There are no secret formulas or magic potions. Balance matters. Don’t smoke. Stay active. Eat sensibly. Remind yourself how good you feel. And get as much sleep as you need. For me at least so far so good.“

  1. Shatner says, “I’m surrounded by my family, my friends, my dogs, my children, and my grandchildren.
    Shatner reported that he had managed to maintain a loving relationship with his daughters. “Even better,“ he proudly says, “having finally learned how to open myself up, at least partially to relationships, I have established loving relationships with my grandchildren. I’m now convinced that the most wonderful thing a grandparent can do is hold his grandchild tightly, then hand the child back to his parents, and tell them, here, it’s yours. Then go to the movie“

    There are other topics in the book that support the idea that Captain James T Kirk believes he is aging successfully. How about you? Where are you at in the aging process? In your 40s, 50s, 60s like me or older? Are you happy? Are you able to do the things you want to do? Are you surrounded by people or pets who you love and who love you? 

Forget the money and the fame or the shiny objects. What matters to you? These are the things that will determine if you are aging successfully.

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 3

It’s All About the Engine, Part 3 | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E3

I attended college in Portland Oregon. I lived in the upstairs of a house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Peters. 2705 Brooklyn St. Rent was  $75 a month. It was 1980. I remember Mr. Peters was in his late 80s. He was sharp as a tack, always reading the Bible, always listening to Christian radio programs. I would come home from work and school in the evenings and his radio was blaring Dr. J. Vernon MCGee’s “Through the Bible Hour.” He could barely hear, and he would forget to turn down the radio. He was a retired painter and had invented an attachment for ladders to help maintain stability while leaning against the house. Mrs. Peters was a gem as well.

Mr. Peters had been active most of his life as a painter. He had a strong support system through his church and family and was seemingly free from any neurological disease. He exercised his brain every day via Bible studies even in his late 80s. Maybe Mr. Peters is lucky too. I don’t remember him talking about any of the brain landmines, mines like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. His brain seemed mostly intact, free from neurological disease. And I’m making assumptions about things like his diet. I would see him work or piddle around the yard or in his garage. For a man his age (I almost always hate to hear that phrase), he appeared to be aging well, which included a healthy brain.

This, of course, begs the questions: How do you take care of your brain? What can you do to ensure that our brains remain as healthy as possible as we age?

Here are three assertions I want to make about your brain, your body, and your health:

If you want a healthy mind, you need a healthy brain.

If you want a healthy brain, you need a healthy body.

There are things that you can do to have a healthy body.

You cannot disconnect your brain from your body!

Well, that’s four assertions!

So let’s look at what it takes to care for your brain. I’m separating “BrainCare” into several parts.

Part One will explore exercising your body, having positive, social interactions, and learning how-to-do-good brain gymnastics

Let’s get started!

The most important thing you can do for your brain is to exercise your body. I exercise 8 to 12 hours a week, mostly walking and hiking and resistance training. I love Jefferson Memorial Forest and The Parklands. In a recent New York Times article, it asserted that whatever health problems you have they can probably be solved by walking. Google and read it! I walked 350,000 steps in March. More in April. Some of that included 35,000 steps a day I hiked out to Plateau Point in the Grand Canyon. Besides walking, I cycle during the summer, 15 to 20 miles a week, through sections of Broad Run Park, my park. They are all my parks. I lift weights three times a week. I stretch 1 to 2 times a week. I’m not going to bore you with studies in details, but here are the results of several longitudinal studies: 

People who regularly exercise were less likely to experience cognitive impairment as they age. Google, “exercise and the brain.”

FYI: I’m working on an episode for this season entitled, “BDNF, your BFF!” BDNF stands for Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF helps the brain to develop new connections, repair failing brain cells and protect healthy brain cells. BDNF helps your brain grow stronger and there are things you can do to increase your BDNF levels. Guess what one of those things are? You guessed it…exercise. I can’t wait to post it!

Next, you have to work out your brain the same way you work out your body. The bad news is, as you age, you lose white and gray matter. The good news is, because of neuroplasticity, you can grow your brain by working it out. 

You can have a bigger brain by exercising your brain!

Two Types of Workouts for Brain:

First, study! I study. I don’t just read, I study. And then I write. I learn new things. I’m studying people’s lives and currently studying and reading about the brain. Anytime you read about neuroplasticity you hear about the study of the cab drivers in London. They were required to memorize 25,000 streets over the period of 2 to 3 years. Their brains got bigger. Do you want a stronger brain? Spend your life learning new things.

Second, work on improving your processing speed. A new study shows that spending time throughout the week playing…(wait for it) Mario Kart, or games like Mario Kart can improve your memory processing speed. As I shared in an earlier episode, your brains processing speed is one of the things that declines as we get older. Here’s a way to fix that problem! Forget about the sudoku or crossword puzzles. Don’t quit doing them; Just realize they provide a minimum amount of exercise for the brain when it comes to processing speed. But anything you do is going to help you! Crossword puzzles, sudoku, brain teasers, or anything else that gets you to think is going to help you improve your brain. I’ve played the guitar many years of my life but have not been able to do it much in the past five years. I’ve set up my guitar in my office, and I’m going to start learning how to play new songs, because any time you learn new things, study new things, practice brain skills, you are getting a stronger brain. FYI: I purchased a Switch and a Mario Kart game to test the theory. I’ll let you know the results in an upcoming blog.

So, here is part one of how to have a healthy brain blog. We looked at exercise, developing a positive, social support network, and brain gymnastics.

Having a healthy brain is a no-brainer!

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

The Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 2

It’s All About the Engine, Part 2 | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E2

So, You Can’t Find Your Keys? Forget About it!

It was 1978. I was a sergeant in the Air Force, stationed at Osan, Airbase Korea. I was a dog handler, which means I was assigned a patrol dog, a German Shepherd named Static. Periodically, we engage in joint training exercises with the Republic of Korea military. This involved working 12 hours on and 12 hours off for 10 days. I would work, get off and relax for four hours, sleep for eight hours, and get up and work 12 more hours. Then repeat that for 10 days. It’s a little exhausting. On the ninth day, I arrived at the kennel and was approached by one of my team members, Sergeant Gray, and he asked, “Where’s Static?“
“What do you mean?” I responded. “He’s not in his kennel,” he replied. And, like a punch in the gut, I realize that I had forgotten and left him for 12 hours at the armory, in a kennel crate without water and without food. Due to my physical and mental exhaustion, I had forgotten to take him back to the main kennel. I had a complete mental block. I was 22 years old.

Static was fine. I got a letter of reprimand. Fair enough. But it goes to show, your brain can let you down from time to time, even when you’re 22.

Fast-forward 45 Years

That was then. Now, 45 years later, things are a little different.

For instance, I can’t recall people’s names as quickly. Not the names of my friends and family, but actors and celebrities. Not the big ones like Biden, Trump, John Wayne, Bill Murray, and so on. Usually, if I wait a minute or two, they pop out of my long-term memory. I notice people younger than me that struggle with word and name recall. I also struggle with remembering what I’m supposed to get at the grocery store. I have a mental list, and literally five minutes later I’ve forgotten something.

This blog is about healthy aging, and this season is focusing on your aging brain. There is good news and some bad news about the aging brain,  but I want to focus primarily on the good news.

Potential Land Mines as You Age

First, I want to give a note of clarification. There are potential land mines that will affect your aging brain. I’m going to write about Dementia, and more particularly, about Alzheimer’s Disorder. It will rob you and your family of the last 10 or 12 years of your life. They don’t know what causes it, and it is incurable. Ditto to most other forms of dementia. Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the aging population. I’ll be writing about it towards the end of this season. It can be devastating as well, but there are preventive measures that you can take now to avoid its devastating effect. Vascular Dementia is devastating as well, but guess what? It’s 80% preventable. Brain injuries due to falls are another cause for alarm as we age. I am writing  episodes on aging and alcohol use, and there’s no question that using alcohol when you are frail or unstable creates risk factors for falls, and therefore, the risk of brain injury. There are other neurological disorders that affect our brain and if you experience one of these disorders or the ones I’ve just mentioned, they are going to affect the health of your brain.

If you’re fortunate to avoid one of these land mines, then there is good news for your aging brain.

First, I want to give you the most important take away from this blog: Despite the fact that you are losing gray and white matter (Sorry, I forgot to tell you that your brain is getting smaller as you age), this loss will have very little impact on your ability to become smarter and wiser as you age. Research points out that we have two types of intelligence: Crystallized and Fluid. I’ll talk about Fluid Intelligence a little later.

The Good News

Crystallized intelligence is the stored knowledge that you have accumulated throughout your lifetime. It’s the information you’ve gathered through your experiences and through learning skills, trades, reading, professional journals, memorizing, podcast, blogs like this, and to the many, many ways we take in information. All of this information, or at least most of it is going to be at your disposal, to use, to grow, and become wise and skilled at living. Crystallized intelligence usually peaks at about 70 years of age but consider the fact that Fluid Intelligence (I’ll tell you about is in a sec) usually peaks at 35 or 40 years old. You are becoming and will continue to be a storehouse of knowledge and wisdom for yourself, your family, and your friends. Because you are aging, you are becoming more, not less, valuable to the world and the community. Think of it! 

Getting older will make you smarter and wiser.

Getting older will help you avoid the mistakes of your youth.

Getting older will make relationships easier and more meaningful.

Getting older will make life more meaningful.

Getting older will help you be happier.

All of this because Crystallized Intelligence remains mostly intact! What are you going to do with all of that information, knowledge, and experience that you’ve acquired in your lifetime?  Share. Teach. Mentor. Write. Create. Work. Dance. Explore. Grow. Make peace. Love. 

You can be an expert at ______________(fill in the blank).

I’m an expert hiker and backpacker. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years. I know all the gear. I have maps, lots of maps. I can orienteer, which means getting from point A to point B with a map and a compass. I teach new backpackers to begin making a mental list of all of the things that you should’ve brought with you and all the things you should’ve left home during your backpack trips. In five years, you’ll be an expert.

I’m an expert in fitness and nutrition. In my 50s, I was tired of listening to what others said I should be eating and how I should be training. So, I earned several certifications in fitness and nutrition. I know what to eat to be fit. I know how to train for my backpacking trips. Lots of hill-repeats with 45 pounds on my back. 

I would like to think I’m an expert psychotherapist. I’ve spent 30 years improving my skills and I’ve spent the past five years studying the writings of Dr. Carl Jung and consider myself a Depth Psychotherapist. I spend my professional time guiding the two agencies that I co-own with my wife, and helping clients figure out why they are the way they are, and how to grow. And I’m not finished learning and growing myself. I have a treasure house to share! That’s the good news!

The Bad News-Fluid Intelligence

The bad news, and it’s not awful news and not even troubling news, it’s mostly just irritating news. Your Fluid Intelligence is declining. Fluid Intelligence has to do with reasoning, solving novel problems, processing speed, and executive functioning, which involves organizing, planning, focusing, and all those frontal lobe tasks. As you age, you’re going to have problems with short-term memory and recall, mostly abstract words, and names. Honestly that’s it. You’ll start to look a little bit like you’ve got ADHD, and you’ll need to make a list for the grocery store.
There are some simple techniques for improving your memory that I will share in a later episode this season. There are fitness and nutritional things you can do, which I will also share in upcoming episodes. I’ve shared the simple statement, “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”

But for now, relax. If you’re able to escape the disease-land mines, then you’re going to be fine as you grow old. I’m smarter and wiser than I was at 46 and I’ll be smarter at 76 and 86. There’s so much adventure to look forward to.

Recent Studies on Aging and Memory

I want to share some studies that have been done that show the difference in memory with older adults and young people. Those studies have been scrutinized a little bit because they do not take into consideration the circadian rhythms of older adults and younger adults. Younger adults tend to do better on cognitive activities in the afternoon, whereas older adults tend to do poorly in the afternoon. Again, this is due to circadian rhythms. Those studies that take into consideration the time of day the studies are performed on people’s cognitive abilities, reflect a much less diminished cognitive ability as you age. Yes, there are declines in accessing your memory, especially short-term memory as you age, but it is not nearly as serious as what was first considered a serious disparity.

Our Own Ageism

We don’t need studies to tell us that our brains aren’t as fast as they were when we were younger. But think about all of the resources you have as you age, based on all of the learning you’ve done throughout your lifetime. I think it’s a wonderful thought that as you age and maybe retire, you can still use your skill set and your experiences to help people.  I’m going to be sharing a few episodes and upcoming seasons about ageism.

Ageism is alive and well in most cultures in this world, but I think it is most prevalent within the aging population. I think we suffer from a form of ageism when we begin to see ourselves as useless and see ourselves as not valuable to our friends, our family, and our community.

Fight the urge to see life as over when you turn 65!

TO READ MORE ENTRIES IN THE HEALTHY AGING SERIES, CLICK HERE.

The Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 1

It’s All About the Engine, Part 1 | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E1

If I Only Had A Brain

I could while away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consulting with the rain;
And my head I’d be a scratchin’
While my thoughts are busy hatchin’
If I only had a brain.

I’d unravel ev’ry riddle, 

for my individdle
In trouble or in pain
With the thoughts that you’ll be thinkin’
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain.

Oh, I, could tell you why
The oceans near the shore
I could think of things I’d never
Thunk before,
And then I’d sit down and think some more.

I would not be just a muffin’,
My head all full of stuffin’,
My heart all full of pain;
And perhaps I’d deserve you and be
Even worthy even you
If I only had a brain.

Scarecrow – Wizard of Oz

Ya gotta have a brain. I think we all get this. It pretty much ensures that everything in your body gets done. When it doesn’t work, things don’t get done or things don’t get done well.

Mountain Biking

A number of years ago, a younger version of me took up mountain biking. I took a handlebar to the ribs and stopped mountain biking for the more relaxing sport of road cycling. During that mountain-biking phase, I had a discussion with my Personal Trainer about bicycles, about the best frames (aluminum vs carbon fiber), about shifters, about wheels (27.5 inches vs 29 inches), and really, about gear. Gear. That’s what sports enthusiasts talk about, gear. 

After 30 minutes of talking about gear, my Trainer looked at me and said, “Forget about all that stuff, all that gear. It’s not about the bike, or the wheels, or the shifters. It’s all about the engine!”

Of course, he was talking about the body. He was talking about your cardio fitness. He was talking about your core and leg strength. It’s all about the body!

As I prepared for this season, I thought about the importance of the brain. Isn’t IT the real engine that runs the body. With that in mind, I’ve entitled this season: It’s all About the Engine!

This season is about having a healthy engine. But first, I want to share what happens when the engine is injured. It’s not good.

Broken Engines

During my time as a therapist, I’ve worked with many individuals with brain injuries. To help you understand the tragic nature of these injuries, I’ll share a few stories. I’ve changed names, and anything that could identify them, and really these stories are a compilation of several fellow strugglers I have worked with.

Matthew

Matthew was 18 years old and had a very conflicted relationship with his mother. One afternoon, they were traveling on a busy street. They began to have a very heated argument and it became so heated that, as they came to a stop at an intersection, Matthew jumped out of the car.

Relieved to see the fight end, his mother left him to cool down, but she was unaware that, after pulling away, he was struck by a car while crossing the road and thrown 50 feet. It changed his life forever. He was in a coma for several months. Rehab for a year. Matthew was approved for a program for persons with traumatic brain injuries. It became apparent there were serious problems related to his brain injury. The hypersexuality, along with his impulsivity contributed to his frequent masturbating in public. He developed a compulsion to ask every barista, every staff member, and any woman that would smile at him, for their phone number. Despite all the clinical and behavioral interventions, these behaviors continued to make it difficult for Matthew to live in the community and eventually he was prescribed an anti-libidinal medication, which helped with his hypersexuality.

Luke

Luke was in his late 20s. He had been drinking and driving five years earlier and was the only occupant of his car when he slammed into an oak tree. He survived the accident due to the heroic efforts of the EMTs and ER staff. At the time of the accident, he was married with a newborn baby girl. Now, at 26, he was living with his parents. He was non-ambulatory, meaning he was wheelchair-bound. He could not talk. He had very limited use of his arms. He was on a special puréed diet that ensured he wouldn’t choke on his food. During his rehabilitation, his father had a heart attack, which I’m sure was partly due to the stress of the past five years.

Luke’s wife, though she didn’t divorce him, refused to see him, or allow his daughter to see him or visit him. I suspect the pain was unbearable for her.

John

John was a man in his 50s. His traumatic brain injury was a result of driving under the influence of drugs. 15 years later, he was living in a group home. He had serious memory issues. I worked with him for two years and had to remind him regularly who I was. John was unable to manage or maintain any personal relationships. The only relationships he had were with his professional staff and various therapists. He continued to see his elderly mother. He received a monthly check but had very little disposable income after paying rent and groceries. The team that supported him was constantly on the alert because John would buy money orders and send them to scammers that would ask for help paying their bills, help buying an airline ticket to get back into their home country or help making funeral arrangements for a lost child. He would send money to sweepstakes offers, believing that he had millions of dollars. This was his life.

I share these stories with you to make a point. If you experience a traumatic brain injury, it will dramatically change your life forever. It can change the way you think, the way you act, and it can change your personality. It will change you because everything you do, think, and feel is the product of your brain. 

Thankfully, most of us will not experience a Traumatic Brain Injury! But nevertheless, we are getting older, and so is our brain!

Our Aging Brain

How does aging affect our brains? All of us know someone who appears to have dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s. As we age,  most of us will have difficulty recalling names of actors or famous people. And we will have difficulty remembering where we put things, not to mention the changes in sleep patterns that result from an aging brain, If all of this isn’t a little alarming, what about the prevalence of anxiety and depression that many aging adults experience? Does this have anything to do with your aging brain? 

Here is the most important question I think to ask about the aging brain: 

Is there anything we can do that will ensure that our engine stays fine tuned as we age?

Of course, the answer is yes

I’m reading a lot about the aging brain. I’ll share five or six episodes that will put brain health in very simple terms. As an example, this is what I’ve learned: “What’s good for the heart, is good for the brain.“ 

The Swedish Art of Living Exuberantly, by Margaretta Magnuson

I’m going to reflect on the follow-up to “The Swedish Art of Death Cleaning” with “The Swedish Art of Living Life Exuberantly.”

This is Your Brain on __________________

We will have several episodes on things that affect your engine. Some of these include exercise, nutrition, stress, music, meditation, books, love, and sleep, just to name a few. We will look at studies that look at the affects  that playing video games can improve our Fluid Intelligence (I’ll share about Fluid and Crystalized Intelligence in a later episode). We will look at the use of supplements and alcohol and their effects on your engine. We will also look at the MIND Diet. 

Successful Agers

I’ll share memoirs by Betty White and Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise

Unfortunately, we also must look at some serious disorders of the brain. 

Dementia Memoirs

Last season, I shared several Obesity Memoirs. This season we will look at Dementia Memoirs and the impact that dementia has on people and their caregivers. I will share the lives of Glen Campbell, B. Smith, and Elaine Schreiber. I’ll have at least two episodes for Caregivers

Stroke Memoirs

I’ll share three memoirs from stroke survivors. These stories are inspirational. 

A Fairy Tale, Backpacking, and Desert Therapy

Throughout this upcoming season, I’ll share a couple Interlude’s. One is a fairytale that I wrote called “The Magic Necklace.” In the other interlude, we will look at my favorite hobby and how it has, in some sense, saved my life. I’m speaking about backpacking and hiking. I’ll share some of my experiences out on the trail, in the desert, and in the forest.

“On the Shortness of Life”

I’m going to reflect on the small book by Seneca, about getting the most out of the short life that we all have.

I think about those that I have served with brain injuries and how sudden the change came to their lives after their injury. 

The aging process is dramatically different in that it’s a slow and almost imperceptible process that happens. You must take care of your engine! 

I’m going to give you some very, very clear and simple ways of doing that! 

I hope you enjoy this season of my blog about healthy aging and the aging brain. 

It’s all About the Engine!

Protecting Your Brain

I would be an irresponsible clinician if I didn’t mention some practical ways of protecting your brain. I’m sharing a link for BIAK (Brain Injury Association of Kentucky). Donate if you can. They are a wonderful agency that provides free helmets for cycling!

Here are my practical recommendations:

  1. Wear a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle.
  2. Make sure your children wear helmets when they are riding bicycles or scooters. 
  3. Wear your seat belt.
  4. Do not drink and drive.

Here is the BIAK link:  https://biak.us/

Healthy Aging Series Season 10

Healthy Aging Series: Season 10 Teaser!

It’s All About The Engine

First, it was our sump pump, then a leaky showerhead. Then, we lost shingles on our roof due to a windstorm and had to have our whole roof replaced. And now we have some doors that won’t shut completely.

OK, you can tell me to stop my whining.

It’s still a wonderful house and home. We took a chance with a young builder, and he did a great job. Over the next 20- or 30-years things are going to break, stop working, or need replaced.

I have used the saying, “The older, the house, the more the maintenance ,”and I’ve applied it to our bodies. As you age things simply break down and quit working.

I’m in very good  to excellent health. I stay away from fast food and sugar. I watch my weight. I exercise 8 to 10 hours a week. And yet, my 68-year-old body is slowly breaking down. It started with my blood pressure, then hypothyroidism, then hyperuricemia, and now bursitis. None of it is serious. More a nusance. And the question isn’t “Is that it?” but, “What’s next?”

Not to be maudlin, but I guess eventually everything will fail.

But the one part of you that you want to last until the very, very, very end is your brain. OK, and your heart, too!

In the upcoming Season 10 of my blog, I write about the aging brain. I’ve titled this season, “It’s all about the engine.” I explained the title in episode one. I want this season to be positive and inspirational. I want to help you have a healthy brain. Why? Because everything you do, think, feel, depends on your brain. Everything.

I’m at the midway airport waiting for a flight to Colorado Springs, to visit my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters. It was recently Sophie‘s 16th birthday and I bought her a book entitled “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. ” She’s a climber and inside the book I wrote:

Eat. Read. Climb. Repeat.

All of that is possible because of a healthy brain. My son and I are headed to Utah in the morning to do a four-day backpacking trip through Canyonlands National Park. All of it: driving, lugging around 55 pounds, 18 to 20 miles, putting up our tents up, reading the directions for our freeze-dried meals, all of it, our conversations, our enjoyment of the beauty and fellowship, all of it depends on a brain.

I also have some tragic things to talk about as well. The big one is dementia, which, believe it or not, is mostly preventable. It is.

I will be sharing several memoirs, which I ‘ve called Dementia Memoirs. The last 10+ episodes are a variation of “This is your brain on_____.” (fill in the blank with things like exercise and diet and music).  If you want to age well, you will need to continue or start taking care of your brain.

It’s all about the engine! Stay tuned.