Tag Archive for: mental health

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.

It is Hard to Be Soft by Rommie Oshrieh Neese, Guest Blog in the Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese for True North Counseling

It is Hard to Be Soft | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E25

This is a guest blog written by Rommie Oshrieh Neese. Consider it to be an extension to Season 9 of the Healthy Aging Series.

This is a reflection onThe Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor’ by Eddie Jaku

Are you happy? How many times have you been asked that question? How many times have you asked yourself? How many times have you said, “Yes, I am happy?”

I am happy.

Real Happiness

Eddie Jaku’s memoir “The Happiest Man on Earth, The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor” is what I have been searching for. It is a book about a young man’s experience in the worst concentration camp, if it is even possible to discern one from the other. It is a book about the impact it had on Eddie’s life, before, during, and after the nightmare.

In the face of starvation, immense and unimaginable pain, anger, grief, defeat, degradation, Eddie found happiness. It is possible. No matter a person’s circumstances, it is possible. Eddie shares his miracle with the world that happiness is within us. Eddie’s memoir captures how human beings can find happiness in the dark, and I mean the dark.

I remember the lights going out in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. You can see nothing. Your eyes do not adjust. Imagine dying that way. Imagine the fear and despondence of knowing that is your fate, as it has been for your parents, your children. Even your beloved pets were accused of being “Jewish” then stabbed to death. Yet, Eddie found happiness? How? Written on his first page, he endeavors to show us how. There are many things Eddie’s readers can take away from his story. I am not here to retell the Holocaust. That has been successfully done by those who survived it.

My take away is quietly knowing that softness can lead to survival. That softness leads to happiness. It does for me. Eddie found happiness in the dark, through the softness of his being. That is strong. That is survival. It is proof enough for me that I can live my life happily through my own nature. My softness. 

Real Softness

I want to believe that softness solves problems. I want to believe that softness prevents problems to begin with. That softness does not mean weakness. Softness can be achieved through practice. This in and of itself signifies that it is hard to be soft. It can be done though, with practice. As much as we do that requires practice, imagine what practicing softness could do. Imagine a problem you have being approached through softness. How might it change the outcome? I am by no means suggesting that softness means to resolve one’s self of assertion or to suppress feeling. I am suggesting that softness is an option. An alternative to violence, physical or emotional. Softness is an underutilized tool that we do not value enough to try. Try. Give it a chance.

Faux Strength

Violence is an act of weakness, out of a stumbling and shameful fear. There is nothing mysterious about that. Eddie is my teacher and advocate…for softness. I am not placing him on a pedestal. I imagine he would object to it. And I will not, by any means, attempt to recapture his life…but I will pass it onward in a mutual effort to change the world, softly. He knows how. I believe him. Day after day, night after night, years immersed in violence, Eddie suffered physical and emotional torture most people only see in the most grotesque of Hollywood films. Some of those films seek to capture the truth…the truth of what evil is a capable of, of inhumanity, absurdity, and senselessness. The weakness of people. Where is the softness?

Eddie managed to keep a soft heart in a hard, brutal, humiliating prison of grief and torture. He remembered his family. He remembered his life. He remembered himself.

He managed to stay true to who he was–a decent, smart, strong, hopeful, and soft-hearted man. Do those films appeal to your soft side? If so, that is good. If they make you angry, that too is good. Just remember that Anne Frank still believed that “in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Remember that Fred Nietzsche warned that “Anyone who fights with monsters should make sure that he does not become a monster.” Remember that Confucius believed that “Only when a mosquito lands on your testicles, you will truly learn that there is always a way to solve problems without using anger or violence.”

Real Strength

I am lucky. I feel it in my gratitude. I am empathetic, and believe me when I tell you, there is a cost for it. It costs me my peace, at times. It is my values, my morals that keep me civil. Like Eddie. Empathy helps, but it can drive anger, my anger–a deep, writhing fury within for the unspeakable physical and emotional torture and suffering–joyfully inflicted by people onto each other.

If I give in to the anger, much like our friend, Luke Skywalker, was able to resist (yes, Star Wars offers wisdom to the young and impressionable as well as to the aging, who are still looking for it), I will become the monster (not heeding Nietzsche’s warning), and the cycle of suffering continues–through me.

No. I will not succumb to the weakness of evil, the weakness of harming others, the weakness of hate, the weakness of violence. I am soft. I notice how anger affects my softness. It is okay to feel anger. It is not okay to harm others as a result of it. As you can see, millions of people, same as you and me, suffered an agonizing, dehumanizing death by angry, weak, primitive, ignorant, violent “dividers” of people.

Eddie lived through it. And he is soft. Is there anything about his survival that is weak? 

It is hard to be soft.

It is my experience and observation that it is far more challenging to be soft in the face of adversity. It is a mark of intelligence, of evolution, to be soft, to be empathetic towards others.

A hero knows they can beat the oppressor; they can “win”. But, instead, they take pity, leaving them where they stand, with a choice–changing the world one “peace” at a time, offering the “bad guy” an opportunity to not be what they are. It is how Christopher Reeve was inspired to portray “Superman”. Eddie is a Superman. He asked, “Why?” Eddie asked the SS Nazi, caught like a rabid zombie, why? Why would you do this? He was weak and could not answer Eddie’s fair question.

I have made mistakes. I am not always soft. I am certain Eddie has made mistakes, too. We are human. Softness does not have to be reduced to feminine or masculine. It is human. Softness is necessary for survival. There are times when my softness makes me feel exploited and walked on, bullied…then I get angry!

My whole life, I have been told, taught, that my softness is weak, a shortcoming. I will remember Eddie in those moments when lashing out would be easy. I will remember that softness is strong. That softness can be my answer. And I will be happy. I will be happy because I made a choice to be. I will remember that it is hard to be soft, but I can choose to be who I am. To be soft. Thank you, Eddie. Yes, we are friends. Most certainly, we are friends.

~Rommie Oshrieh Neese

2-26-2024, In memory of my mother on her birthday

ROMMIE’S THOUGHTS ON ECKHART TOLLE’S THE POWER OF NOW

Rommie’s Thoughts on Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now

Where is your mind? Right now. In this moment. What is on your mind?

Imagine picking up whatever is on your mind and setting it outside the door. It will be fine sitting there. Now, look up. What do you see? What do you hear? Notice I did not ask what you feel.

I’m outside. I hear a soft rustle of leaves. A robin’s song. A buzz. The subtleties of a distant jet.  This is the Now. There are no problems in the Now. Life just is. This is the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle (ET), author of The Power of Now. Every moment of every day is what it is, as if we had chosen it that way, good or bad—and even “good” or “bad” are just concepts of the mind. The things we judge. The things we react to. The things that we empower to literally suck the life energy out of us as if the problem shouldn’t be what it is.  As if we shouldn’t accept life as it is just now. As if we shouldn’t accept, that in large portion, we have likely created whatever “problem” we are reacting to. If we accept the “problem”, what will happen?  We will become conscious. ET’s philosophy is to become aware, conscious, awake to what is. Accept what is as if you had chosen it. Then observe the transformation. The evolution of consciousness, of acceptance, of peace.

Our egos love to react.

Our egos love to argue, to fuss, complain, and demand that life be “better” as if the ebb and flow of life should be something other than what it is. 

I’m here to challenge you to give the “Now” a chance.

It takes practice to live, speak, and enjoy the Now, which is really all anyone has.  Becoming conscious of one’s self, one’s ego, one’s identification with mind is the first step towards acceptance, towards peace. ET teaches to observe your thoughts but don’t believe them. Think about when you quarreled with someone last. If you’re honest about your role in the non-peace, it likely comes from a place of fear. A fear of being wrong. A fear of “losing”. Losing what? And even if you “lose”, what does that mean about you, if anything? Can you accept the circumstances without judging them?

Which brings me to resistance. Can you accept the circumstances without resistance?

ET teaches that suffering does not come from the circumstances but our resistance to them. Again, whatever the circumstances are, this is the way it’s supposed to be. Our response, not reactivity, is to embrace whatever “is”. Whatever the circumstances are is the way the circumstances are supposed to be…or they wouldn’t be that way.  It is our reaction or response that determine whether or not we suffer.

Surrender to what is.

ET teaches that “surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to what is rather than opposing the flow of life.” When you stop resisting what is, when you surrender, the past and future cease to have power. 

But what if someone wrongs me? Does acceptance and surrender mean I allow others to mistreat me?  Does surrender mean give up? Give in? Enable disrespect?  What if I have disrespected another person?  Do I accept that, do I surrender to that? ET teaches that “resentment and pain arise from the false sense of self we’ve created for ourselves and others.”  That our grievances are reactions to the artificial egos of others. He teaches how to bring non judgment and equanimity when others overstep our boundaries. He also teaches how to forgive our past selves and what to do when the pain of memories hijack our emotions. Holding on to old wounds is one of the surest signs that we are caught in the egotistic thinking of the false self. However, ET shows us the way to let go and embrace the liberation that living in the present moment, the Now, brings us.

Make the present moment the primary focus of your life.

Rommie OshriehRommie Oshrieh is Co-Founder/Owner of Sage Support Services and True North Counseling.

She serves as Executive Director of Sage and has served as a Case Manager/Supervisor for individuals with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities for the past 15 years. 

racial profiling

Racial Profiling and Our Youth

Time to Wake Up! Protecting our Black Youth from Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.” –ACLU

I grieve for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Few of us can imagine the horror that they experienced in those last moments as they were murdered by the people who took an oath to serve and protect them. I grieve and I am disgusted. I want to do something!

As a Social Worker and owner of an agency that focuses on serving and protecting our black youth, I believe that I have been sleepwalking. Most of us have. I hear stories and read accounts of young black men being stopped and handcuffed for bogus traffic stops simply because they were black. Our young black men in our community do not feel safe! They live in constant fear of being stopped by the police. Imagine, if you can, how oppressive that is. It is emotional abuse! The young black men that I work with suffer from this oppressive fear. They feel it every day as that they walk into or drive into the community.

The fear of racial profiling is traumatizing our black youth, and we must wake up and reignite the passion that will end it once and forever.

Here’s an important name: Tae-Ahn Lea. Tae-Ahn was the teenager that was stopped in June of 2019 (a year ago) and detained in handcuffs while his car was searched for 1 ½ hours for drugs. He is suing the Police Department. Here is part of that document:

“Tae-Ahn Lea is an honors graduate from Central High School. He was the homecoming king, has no criminal history and upon graduation became employed with a well-respected local car dealership. Tae-Ahn, however, also happens to be black, live in a low-income neighborhood, and drive his mother’s fairly new vehicle. He was thus the perfect target for members of the Ninth Mobile Division of the Louisville Metro Police Department who, throughout the past two years in Louisville, have employed a discriminatory, prejudicial, and illegal stop and frisk practice in which “violent crimes” units use traffic stops as a pretext for pulling over young black men driving nice cars, handcuffing them and subjecting them to abusive, racist, and intrusive searches without consent, good cause, or reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity.”

Time to wake up! Time to do something! Young black men in our community need our help! They need my help. As an agency, we will be investing time, work, and money to stop this illegal practice! We cannot do everything, but we can do something! It’s time to be a change agent! It’s time to end racial profiling!

Join us!

out of the darkness

Out of the Darkness

Hank Buckwalter, his wife, Chelsea, and Rommie and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk this past weekend at Waterfront Park.

It can be emotionally overwhelming to be in a gathering of people that are celebrating the lives and passing of their loved ones. I listened as the “Honor Beads” were given to the family members and friends of those who had taken their lives. They celebrated these beautiful humans that saw only one solution to the pain they were experiencing.

I lost a friend of 47 years this year to suicide. He was in a lot of pain. At his memorial service, an acquaintance commented, “I can’t believe Jeff took his own life.” I forgive him for his insensitivity. As much as I miss Jeff, our laughs, our High School pranks, our wonderful conversations on his deck near Hikes Point, I understand why he took his own life. He was in pain.

I struggle with the legality and morality of suicide.  Having said that, I will do everything in my clinical and personal power to prevent others from taking their own lives.

People need hope and when they lose hope

 they see very few solutions to their problems.

I wrote a blog a year ago about hope. Here is what I said:

People come to therapy because they have feelings of hopelessness. As a young therapist, I was inspired by Moltmann’s admonition, to be an instrument of hope. At the very heart of therapy is the goal of helping people find hope, because without it they cannot live. I believe that hopeful people inspire hopefulness in others. A hopeful therapist has many tools and strategies for helping people, but most important they inspire hopefulness. I believe they infect people with their hopefulness. They engage in a Therapy of Hope.

If you have thoughts of suicide, even fleeting thoughts, contact a therapist. We have included the suicide hotline number on our website. Call it and make an appointment. In Kentucky, all therapists are required to take a workshop every three years on suicide prevention. Make the call.

After the walk this past Saturday, Hank and Chelsea, and Rommie and I went to First Watch and had breakfast together. We reverently celebrated life.