halleys cometHalley’s Comet swings by our part of the solar system every 76 years or so. People have observed it since about 240 BCE. Sometimes when it returns the comet is the brightest thing in the sky and people have often associated it with prophecy or saw it as an omen of import.

So, here’s my story. Mark Twain was born when Halley’s comet was in the sky**.  Twain also died when the comet returned in 1910.  My Dad was born in 1910. The comet was due to return in 1986 and somehow I was convinced that my Father was going to die when Halley’s comet was again visible, just like Mark Twain.

I have no idea where this idea came from but I did worry as February 1986 came around. It was for naught. My Dad was in the best of health in 1986 and carried on until he died in 2003.

These days we make much of the power of thought. People have always felt that the religious practice of prayer can bring about change. Popular books examine the influence of thoughts on what happens to us. See for example The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, Wishes Fulfilled by Wayne Dyer or Expect Miracles by Joe Vitale. Attitudes (which is what you are thinking after all) influence your wellbeing. I don’t think anyone would argue that one can worry into illness (probably from stress) and smile into happiness.

Here’s my quandary. Do negative thoughts (not stress causing thoughts, but cosmic, life-changing thoughts) bring about negative consequences even if you don’t really want the negative consequences to happen. I mean, if I worry about getting diabetes, will I create diabetes in myself? I don’t want diabetes but if I think about it, do I make it become so?

I want to think that positive thoughts are taken seriously by the universe but when I’m scaring myself, well I’d like to think the universe knows better and those things won’t just happen because I thought them.

Or is my assumption wrong?  What do y’all think?

I still might get diabetes (or another annoying condition) but not because I thought I might. In another essay, we’ll look at why bad stuff happens, but that’s a different issue.

Two handy quotes to finish:

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
― Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods, 1854.

“Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden, 1911.


* The title is my mis-interpretation of “I think, therefore I am” (from René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, 1644). My interpretation here is “If I think, shall I be?”

** The comet was brightest during November 1835 and Twain (S. L. Clemens) was born on November 30, 1835. He died on April 21, 1910 when the comet was back in April 1910.

Join us for a real-time discussion about this essay, or another post that’s more relevant to aging, on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.


chainsawOver 40 years ago, when we were in the Air Force and had two little boys, we lived in an apartment complex in San Antonio, Texas. My wife, Dianne, and I look upon those Air Force years as a shared period of our lives. Anyhow, that apartment complex had a handyman. He did everything and anything that needed fixing or doing at the apartments. He was a treasure.

I’ll come back to that handyman in a moment, but first here’s what happened to me today. I discovered one of the toilet bowls had a flow valve that was about to fail. So, I ran off to the hardware store, got a new valve and in an hour had it installed and not leaking. I thought about that fairly simple task. If I were older and less mechanically adept, I might not have gotten that fixed so easily or cheaply.

One of the handicaps of getting old is losing the ability to fix stuff. Many skills and abilities go into a simple plumbing repair: being able to drive to go to the hardware store, knowing what to buy, having the right tools, being able to crawl about under the toilet, feeling empowered to take on the task, etc.

This interaction between age and need brings me to my point about handymen.

Here in Wimberley, there are many retired, semi-retired, underemployed, free thinking artists and old hippies. Sometimes I think this population divides itself into two groups: handymen and people who need a handyman. There are handywomen too, but fewer. These folks, like our handyman from years ago, will fix anything for you. They go get parts, come to your home, fix whatever and charge a reasonable fee.

They even provide another benefit. They become part of your social support system. Since they too are a resident in a small town, they not only fix your stuff, they stop to chat with you and are not adverse to a bit of lunch or cup of coffee.  And this is the interesting thing.  We have this network of handypeople. It’s not a church program or something social services thought up. It’s pure enterprise and social interaction all in one.

My son, when he first moved back to Texas from California, was an assistant to a well established handyman. His boss would chat with the customers while my son did all the work. This was a very successful strategy.

Join us for a real-time discussion about this essay, or another post that’s more relevant to aging, on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.


SignersOn the Fourth of July one does think about the men who signed the Declaration of Independance back in 1776. When I think of them I imagine those paintings of guys in white wigs standing around in heavy clothes on a hot, sweltering day in Philidalphia. I assume those images are of old people. They all have white hair, so they are old, right? Wrong.

Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independance, seven were 60 or over and five were 30 or less. The average age was 44. A few familiar names (and ages) are: Thomas Jefferson (33), John Hancock (39), John Adams (40), and the oldest, Benjamin Franklin (70).

So revolution is a young man’s game. There were women engaged in the revolution too but they did not get to sign stuff. Just think in 1776, Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, two guys I really respect, were 21 and 18 respectively.

I’m not sure if there is a lesson about aging here.

Well, at least here’s three cheers for Ben Franklin, who contributed to the development of the United States well into his 80′s.

References and Further Reading

Join us for a real-time discussion about this essay, or another post that’s more relevant to aging, on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.

ConfusedHave you ever had to make a decision for someone you love that will impact the remainder of their life?  If not, chances are good that you will be asked to do so at some point.  To make things more interesting, this task often occurs during an already stressful period.  Wondering what I am talking about?  Let me provide you with an example.

You have an elderly parent who has lived in their childhood home for over 80 years.  They have lived alone for many years and value their independence.  As an only child, your parent has made you their power of attorney for both legal and medical issues.  On your last visit you noticed that they have begun acting out of character and becoming more and more forgetful.  Recently, they fell in their home and had to be hospitalized for almost a month.   The diagnosis is a mild stroke with signs of dementia.  The hospital calls to inform you that they will be releasing your parent in three days but they can no longer live alone.   Of course, your parent is adamant that they can take care of themselves.  They just want to go home.

Here is where the decision comes into play.  The first step is to determine your options.  The number of options you have depends on many factors such as family preference, geographic location, insurance and most often, financial resources.   In rural areas, the number of options available is often limited.   There are few assisted living or long term care facilities in rural areas and locating someone to stay with your loved one can sometimes be difficult.  Adding to the stress is the fact that either option can be financially challenging. You worry about making a choice that is not only safe but comfortable for your parent.    Families often find themselves at a loss when looking for information, support and/or advice.

Healthcare providers can sometimes overlook how difficult making these decisions can be for both the patients and their families.  They make the pronouncement that they cannot go home in the same manner or they order a test or prescribe medicine without offering decision making support.  Providing resources, support and encouragement during this stressful period can truly impact the entire experience.  There are many resources available to help people locate and evaluate assisted living options.  The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services provide some valuable resources and the contact information for local centers.  Eldercare.gov is another valuable resource.   In my personal experience, a reassuring word that I am not alone in making this decision, and as much lead time as possible, goes a long way to making these decisions less stressful.  Providers should always remember that they too will be asked to make these hard decisions at some point in their own lives.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Leslie Hargrove, Executive Director, Texas AHEC East Coastal Region.

Join us for a real-time discussion about the complex issues raised by this essay on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.

info hwyWhen I’m trying to think of a topic for my blog, I start researching by perusing the AARP website at http://www.aarp.org.  Generally, this is not one of my top sites. I am more of a yahoo news, LinkedIn, weather.com and occasional Facebook surfer (OK and Amazon too).

At AARP, I saw topics that I expected: health, work and retirement, caregiving, social security and Medicare.  These topics were generally informational with articles such as: Social Security Calculator: When Should You Claim Your Benefits; Sign Up for Medicare During Your Own Enrollment Period; and How to Retire the Cheapskate Way.

However, what intrigued me was all the other stuff on the website: the unexpected information. There were sections on food (with recipes), travel (including affordable getaways and a virtual travel agent), games (both fun and brain games) and tools for job searching.

This got me to thinking about the vastness of the information available on the web and how as a daughter and daughter-in-law, I could help my family members find the information that they needed making sure that it is the most reliable information. So I did some research and here are the suggestions that I will be passing along to my family on how to check the credibility if the information.

  1. What is the purpose of the page? Why is this information being posted–as information, as a public service, as a news source, as a research tool for academics, as a personal ax to grind, or as a way to gain attention?
  2. Are there obvious reasons for bias? If the page is presented by a tobacco company consortium, you should be suspicious of its reports on the addictiveness of nicotine. Is there any advertising? If the page is sponsored by Acme Track Shoes, you should be suspicious of its claims for Acme track shoes’ performance.
  3. Observe the URL. What is the site’s domain? Think of this as “decoding” the URL, or Internet address.The origination of the site canprovide indications of the site’s mission or purpose. The most common domains are:
    • .org – An advocacy web site, such as a not-for-profit organization.
    • .com – A business or commercial site.
    • .net – A site from a network organization or an Internet service provider.;
    • .edu – A site affiliated with a higher education institution.
    • .gov – A federal government site.
    • .il.us -  A state government site, this may also include public schools and community colleges.
    • .uk (United Kingdom) – A site originating in another country (as indicated by the 2 letter code).
    • ~  – The tilde usually indicates a personal page.
  4. Is the page current? This is both an indicator of the timeliness of the information and whether or not the page is actively maintained.
    • Is the information provided current?
    • When was the page created?
    • Are dates included for the last update or modification of the page?
    • Are the links current and functional?
  5. Be skeptical. Things that sound too good to be true often are. You want current, unbiased information

Our Guest Blogger this week is Amanda W. Scarbrough, PhD, MHSA, Manager, Operational Planning and Projects, Texas AHEC East, Office of the Provost, University of Texas Medical Branch.

Join us for a real-time discussion about the rather grave question raised by this essay on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.


We so often overlook our geriatric population – almost see right through them.  And unfortunately, usually all we see is an elderly person.  We should  all remember that even the eldest of our population still probably see themselves as a younger version of themselves.  I know I do, and that’s due to the fact that I am now in the geriatric category myself

I want to blog about my Mother, Pauline, who just turned 93 in May.  Think of the things that she has seen and done.  She has lost a husband, two sons, three brothers and her parents.  Can you imagine?  Through it all, she is always about attitude.  She is of the thought you can be happy with people or you can be sad and alone.  No matter her circumstances, she has chosen happy.

cervasa anyoneAfter my Father died, she was 51 years old and had to literally start a new life.  She had been the proverbial housewife and did not participate in any of the finances, decision making, insurance, bills, etc.  She had not worked outside of the home since a brief stent at 18 as a beautician.  She hesitantly re-joined the workforce and was completely out of her comfort zone.  But lo and behold, she thrived and was very successful in sales for many years.  She loved her job and had a wonderful social life.  During that time, I think she actually went out on the town more than I did and that was saying quite a lot at the time.

To this day, everywhere we go, someone remembers her from working at Leon’s and they all tell her she looks exactly the same.  Through it all she remains one of the most positive and adaptable people I have ever come across and I believe that is the secret to her longevity.  She is a very quiet and reserved person, yet she manages to always do things that are out of her comfort zone.  I thought this picture is a good example.  We were having lunch at a local Mexican food restaurant and I saw the cardboard Corona mariachi players and asked her if we could go pose in it.  Naturally, she said “no way” but after a little persuasion, she was game to do it.  She would really want to fuss at me if she knew I was using this picture.  I just thought it was a good example of her great spunk and spirit. We should all strive to be like Pauline.  I am truly blessed.

This article from WebMD (See link below), I think also makes my point.  Thanks for reading.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Paula Crawford, CHW. She is the Program Coordinator at the Texas AHEC East – Victoria Region, Division of Allied Health, Victoria College.

Link for Further Reading

Live Long and Prosper, The Secrets of Aging Well, Aging Well, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/secrets-of-aging-well.

Join us for a real-time discussion about the rather grave question raised by this essay on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.

earSomeone very close to us has lived in a worsening state of dementia for more than 10 years. She is still able to live independently, a blessing in itself, but the question in everyone’s mind is, “how long until constant care will be needed?” Recently, we addressed a major issue. The result has halted, and at times, seemed to have reversed the state of her dementia. It’s been such a miracle that I want to share it with you.

Until recently, our loved one refused to wear her hearing aids. We could write a book from all the reasons given for not wearing them… “I don’t need them, I can hear just fine, they buzz when I use the phone, they’re uncomfortable.” The list goes on.

We pointed out many times, most often repeating our advice because she couldn’t hear it the first or second time, that hearing aids would not only help her hearing, but her memory problems as well.

It all changed during a visit to her neurologist for a routine checkup. During the examination, Dr. Ravindran found himself constantly repeating questions. He finally stopped, put his clipboard down, looked our loved one right in the eye and said, “Why aren’t you wearing your hearing aids today? I think you would want to hear what the doctor has to say?” Our loved one rattled off her laundry list of reasons, and Dr. Ravindran nodded each time. Then he said the words that made a difference, “Your hearing is absolutely critical to the function of your brain. If you are not going to wear your hearing aids, you might as well not take your medications for dementia. “

The way he said it seemed to have an effect. Our loved one looked at her hands a long time then said, very quietly, “Okay, I will. I’ll start wearing them.” Dr. Ravindran pointed out he was not giving a medical opinion. He invited us to look at numerous studies that show the relationship between hearing loss and deterioration of the brain.

Just as Dr. Ravindran promised, I found numerous articles. The brain shrinks as it ages. It’s a natural part of the aging process. But, most studies show the effects are more pronounced than the simple adage “use it or lose it.” At least one study showed brain shrinkage is accelerated in older adults with hearing loss.

This study pointed out that the auditory cortex does not work in isolation. It is an integral part of brain function, especially those carried out by the middle and inferior temporal gyri, major contributors in memory and sensory integration, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. The study concluded that hearing loss must not be passed off as part of the aging process.

While surfing other subjects on hearing loss and dementia, I found another study discussing the negative impact hearing loss has on social engagement. A 2005 report by the Honolulu-Asia Study found that those whose level of social engagement declined from midlife to late life have the highest risk of dementia.

So, we began to address our loved one’s hearing loss. We made her wear her hearing aids every day from morning until bedtime. Soon this practice became a habit and a flow chart began to emerge:

  • Wearing hearing aids = increased use of the brain’s auditory cortex
  • Increased use of the brain = better cognition of people, events, and surroundings
  • Better cognitive skills = better social skills
  • Better social skills = better and deeper relationships
  • Deeper relationships = more memories

Those who know our loved one are in awe of the differences in her personality these past few months. Her face and her speech are livelier. She remembers much more than she used to. She has made new relationships with other residents at her retirement community and best of all, found a new zest for life. Turning back time began with addressing her hearing loss, and a few choice words from a neurologist.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Tom Knight, Center Director, Texas AHEC East – North Central Region.

Join us for a real-time discussion about the topics explored in this essay on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.


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