Yesterday I stopped in at the post office in Driftwood. It’s a tiny building with a steel roof and apparently one employee. It has great ambiance and it’s fun to just visit there. Driftwood is a small town between my home and Austin. It has a Methodist church, defunct general store/gas station and a post office. There are wineries, restaurants and small subdivisions nearby as one goes towards Austin but Driftwood itself is as small and rural as it gets. But, as I posited in last week’s post, will it remain rural?

This thought reminded me of a post done two years ago that discussed dying small towns. I present it below with some minor edits.

We made a movie about older people in East Texas and one of the subjects was Lois Dyes. She was 93 at the time of this interview and was the oldest person we interviewed. She tells a wonderful story and it all centers on the little town of Melrose, Texas.

In addition to her story, I was intrigued by the little town too. It is a dying town. All the stores are closed. Only the two churches (with tiny congregations) and a catfish restaurant are still open. The Dyes family owns the restaurant. Mrs. Dyes taught at the school in Melrose and its closed also.

Small towns struggle in the U.S. Many small, rural towns seem to exist on a delicate balance. Just a few stores run by aging owners, no jobs with a career, and maybe a post office. For these little towns just one change in the local equation could cause a major economic shift.

For example, Keen (2008) discusses how some small towns actually do not have electricity and depend on generators for electric power. Rising prices for diesel fuel could drive people out of business. She give an example of a general store in rural California where the refrigerators, freezers, lights and ice machines are powered by diesel generators. The store owner says, “I’m scared to death of rising fuel prices.” (Note: in early 2015, with gas prices quite low, these people must be feeling some relief.)

Another example. The U.S.P.S. proposed to close thousands of post offices, most in small, rural communities where Internet services are limited and people depend on the post office (Podkul & Stephenson, 2012).

People fear that the loss of their local post office would cause the whole town to go (Vogel, 2011).

The town of Gabbs, Nevada is shrinking like Melrose. Vogel’s article says, “The town looks like a place where time stopped in the 1950s. Three-fourths of Gabbs’ residents are older than 60. It’s a place where many people are living on Social Security and food stamps. They depend on the Postal Service to deliver not only their mail, but also life-saving medications. Almost everyone moves away after high school because there are no jobs. If the U.S. Postal Service closes the post office in this 300-person community, they will face 80-mile rides to Fallon or 60-mile trips to Hawthorne to transact business.”

One resident of Gabbs said of losing the post office, “It will kill the town.”

Well, the U.S.P.S. has backed off on closing these small post offices (Liberto, 2012). Communities will have a choice of closing them, having shorter hours or having them privatized and run as “village post offices.” Still, the point remains that small, rural towns are hanging by a thread and their aging residents are running short on options.

It’s not just about services for the elderly either. Rural life offers a quality of life that is closer to nature, where people are friendly, and the air is clean. Qualities not to be lost.


  1. Keen, J. High gas prices threaten to shut down rural towns. USA Today, July 2, 2008 (
  2. Liberto, J. Ax won’t fall on rural post offices. NNMoney, May 9, 2012 (
  3. Podkul, C & Stephenson, E. Towns go dark with post office closings. Reuters, Feb 24, 2012 (
  4. Vogel, E. Residents say closing post office would kill small Nevada town. Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oct. 24, 2011 (

Based on the post from week 59 – Lives Lived in East Texas, Part 3 – Old People, Old Towns.

Join us for a live discussion about this post on Friday at noon. Link to the meeting room in the virtual world of Second Life: Also, see Discussion and SL tabs above for details.

I live at the edge of the city limits of Wimberley where my neighbors are out of sight and the nearest store is a couple of miles away. The four chickens who live in the chicken coop down the hill are cranking out so many eggs that my spouse and I are supplying all the neighbors with free eggs. We feel live we live in a rural community with all the benefits of quiet surroundings, wildlife with four legs,  and friendly neighbors sharing a modicum of frontier spirit.256px-Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project

However are we really in a rural area? Austin is 45 minutes to the North East and San Marcos (20 miles East) may be re-classified as a “small urbanized area” and that would disqualify them from funds set aside for rural transportation, like the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) buses.

Might we become a “small urbanized area” too?

How to know?

There is an on-line resource center for rural programs for the elderly. It’s called the Rural Assistance Center.  It’s not a new operation nor probably unknown to the majority of our regular readers.

To digress for a moment, this is what the center does. “A product of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Rural Initiative, the Rural Assistance Center (RAC) was established in December 2002 as a rural health and human services ‘information portal.’ RAC helps rural communities and other rural stakeholders access the full range of available programs, funding, and research that can enable them to provide quality health and human services to rural residents.” (From the RAC About page)

Now back to the fun and relevant feature of the web site. Ever wonder if you actually live in a rural area? Well, if like me you do, then you can check your address at the Am I Rural feature of the RAC. Enter your address and it will check a bunch of Federal databases and tell you under which Federal classifications your one acre falls.

I put in my address and after much whirling of gears and clacking of electrons I learned that I’m rural in every category and a Medically Underserved Area as well.

Join us for a real-time discussion about questions raised by this essay on Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room:

Today’s image is of American Gothic a classic painting of rural Americana by Grant Wood. This image of the painting is in the Public Domain.

One half of this weekly publication is the blog you are reading now. The other half is an interactive discussion based on the blog and held in a virtual world.

The University of Texas Medical Branch has an island in Second Life®. There we have created/built a representation of the UTMB campus on Galveston Island. The discussion is held here, every Friday at noon (10 am SLT).virtual world

Participation in the discussion has varied from a high of seven to a low of zero. Even I have missed on occasion. While there are many, many reasons why people may not participate in this discussion, one that comes up often is the strangeness of appearing in a virtual world as an avatar. The older one is and the less one has engaged in first-person shooter games or massively, multiplayer on-line games, the stranger this behavior seems.

Actually, it is quite comfortable to create and use a virtual avatar. I’ve schlepped around Second Life for (quickly checking my “rezz date”) for 2668 days or for over seven years. In that time I’ve visited a number of places, built some spaces, and taught some classes. Overall, it has been a rewarding experience. And I’m not the odd man out either.

Some recent research has shown that one’s avatar expresses the personality of the person behind it (See refs 1 and 2 below). In Second Life one gets to design his/her avatar to look however one wishes. It can be very realistic or very fanciful. As it turns out, from the aforementioned research study, we reflect ourselves in whatever we select and others can gauge some aspects of our personality by how we look and comport ourselves. Avatars then are reflections of the people who are represented therein. So, in a virtual world I see the human in you and you see the human in me. Thus, virtual worlds are more personal that it might seem.

Each week we gather for a discussion on aging on the UTMB campus in Second Life. Consider joining us. It will be fun and quite human.


  1. Alison Bruzek. Your Online Avatar May Reveal More About You Than You’d Think. January 12, 2015.
  2. Katrina Fong & Raymond A. Mar. What Does My Avatar Say About Me? Inferring Personality From Avatars. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, February 2015,   vol. 41,  no. 2. pp 237-249.

Join us for a real-time discussion about questions raised by this essay on Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room:

Image Source:  An imaginary virtual world from

Each year, the company that hosts this blog, prepares summary statistics on the blog’s activity. The most basic number is how many people viewed the posts each day/month/year. The table below is a summary of blog views from 2011 through 2014.

Summary of Blog Views by Month and Year

Summary of Blog Views by Month and Year

The blog began in July 201. We have written 177 blogs and those blogs have been viewed at total of 11,507 times. I have written the majority of the blogs but a huge number of guest bloggers have been involved too. This year there were 18 guest bloggers. Listed in no particular order, they were: Rebecca Galloway, Amanda Scarbrough, Tony DiNuzzo, Linda Rounds, Meredith Masel, Tom Knight, Adele Herzfeld, Rachel Little, Bronia Michejenko, Karen Brown, Mark Scott, Shontel Minor, Barbara Orantes, Leah Jacobs, Danielle Rohr, Krista Dunn, Paula Crawford and Leslie Hargrove. I am very grateful for each person’s time and intellectual contribution.

Referring to the table above, the most views ever happened in May 2013 and 2013 was the year with the highest overall, total views. But if you look at the monthly totals you can see viewership has grown since 2011 and then held fairly steady until dropping off in the Fall 2014. I’ve had the feeling that the project overall has been winding down somewhat and maybe the blog is reflecting this trend. Overall, the blog has reached quite a few people.

People can add comments to each post. There were not many posted comments in 2014. Most were from me (42), second highest was from a non-UTMB aging professional (12), with a few posts from Tony DiNuzzo and Mary Wainwright. There were more comments, but not vastly more, posted on the Facebook page but Facebook does not provide summaries of that information. Overall, response to the blogs has been more readership than discussion.

Summaries exist for all years except 2011. You can look at various statistics from each year by clicking on the links below:

We also did a panel discussion on aging in March 2014. This was held at the UTMB island campus in Second Life® and the presenters were: Tony DiNuzzo, Rebecca Galloway, Bronia Michejenko and Rodger Marion. The video recording of this discussion, Hometown Science Presentation (3/15/2014) – Aging and Wellness: Ways Science Can Help, is below.


While we still use Facebook, mainly for its ability to insert updates onto the main ETGEC web page, we were disappointed in using Facebook as a social communication medium. People just were not going there to dialog. Using LinkedIn was suggested as people thought it might be more professionally acceptable. Many people like to reserve Facebook for personal communications. So we have been using a LinkedIn group with every blog posted there as a new discussion. Initially 15 people joined the group and four liked the first post. We have posted 26 blogs to LinkedIn. Activity has been quiet since that first posting. So, neither Facebook or LinkedIn have served the ETGEC/C as a communications tool.

The Weekly Discussion on Aging will resume next week but on a new day. It will be held on Fridays 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. UTMB is hosting Science Fridays at 1 p.m. Perhaps these two activities will dovetail nicely. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details.

Join us on Friday, January 9 at noon in Second Life. In order t0 stay consistent with the policy of using the blog as the basis for discussion, blogs will be published on Wednesdays, beginning on January 14.

Rodger Marion prepared this annual summary.

When does aging begin? There’s an interesting question. We have always assumed for this column that aging has to do with old people. Actually, in a sense aging begins immediately after birth. Every day cells in our body die. I assume they die of “old age.” They are of course replaced with new cells and the process goes on. Habits fixed at 20, can have a causative effect on health at 80. We are always changing and each change is a step towards that moment when the whole organism, that is me and you, dies. Death is the final step in aging and birth the logical first bottle

I looked around for others with this viewpoint that aging is a process that begins at birth and found an interesting web site dealing with the notion of  “transgenerational design.” This is the notion of designing products and services that pay simultaneous attention to the needs and desires of different age groups. It has a number of useful categories and the overview of the aging process was especially valuable and the design of a transgenerational house was quite clever (1).

Then, there are those who would define aging as a process of decay. Thus, humans would not begin to age until after they stopped growing and had reached maturity. Also, there is the viewpoint that aging, being a degenerative process, can be stopped or slowed down (2). The anti-aging movement has a very good point and there are many things we can do to improve our odds at having long, healthy and productive lives.

I think though aging as a term can be used in a number of contexts.

So as aging vs. anti-aging we have value judgments based on wellness and function. For example: good diet and exercise can maintain function and thus reduce the effects of aging.

In another sense, we have aging as a simple chronological fact. After every day we are older. Every day we age.

I’m going for something more philosophical. Let’s think of aging as the process a fine wine goes through. We get better as we age.


  1. Transgenerational Design Matters.
  2. Anti-Aging Today.

Some Housekeeping for the Blog and Discussion

The blog will take a holiday break for the last two Fridays of December, with publication renewing on Friday, January 2, 2015. Happy New Year! Also, the discussion will go on holiday as well.

I’m thinking of moving the Weekly Discussion on Aging over to Friday at noon. The discussion is held on the UTMB Island in Second Life and attendance has been sporadic. We are going to be hosting a gathering to listen to the NPR program, Science Friday, at 1 pm (Texas time) on the SL UTMB island, so maybe the discussion would be more popular as a prelude. If the discussion moves to Fridays, then I’ll probably move the blog posting back to Wednesday.

Stay tuned for the final plan.





I have a friend who lives on a farm in Minnesota. Her father, who is around 90 and still actively farming, has a condition that makes his hands shake quite a lot. He is very patient and careful but eating is a frustrating experience due to his severe tremor.spoonNow he has a new computer controlled spoon that vastly reduces the shaking and makes eating much more enjoyable (1, 2).

This product is the Liftware spoon and it is described on the Liftware web site as “Liftware is a stabilizing handle and a selection of attachments that include a soup spoon, everyday spoon, and fork. Liftware is specially designed to improve the lives of those with Essential Tremor, Parkinson’s Disease, or other motion disorders” (3, 4). This is a very cool product and appears to be the first such product on the market (5).

A few years ago, my friend’s father and I played golf on a day that was over 90 degrees and even with his tremors he was hitting some pretty good shots that day. A computer controlled putter however might cut a few strokes off his game. Heck, it would probably improve mine.


  1. A Spoon That Shakes To Counteract Hand Tremors. All Things Considered, NPR program, May 13, 2014. Audio recording found at:
  2. Anupam Pathak, John A. Redmond, Michael Allen, Kelvin L. Chou. A noninvasive handheld assistive device to accommodate essential tremor: A pilot study. Movement Disorders, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/mds.25796
  3. LiftLabs (owned by Google) web site found at:
  4. Lifeware demonstration and promotional videos. Found at: and
  5. International Essential Tremor Foundation. Describes a number of devices to help those with tremors to do ADL activities easier. Found on the Assistive Devices page:

Join us for a real-time discussion about questions 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:

You may have heard of food desert and wondered just what does that mean?  The term food desert was coined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and refers to urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.  Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.  In terms of distance, if you live in an urban community and have to travel at least one mile to get to a grocery store you are in a food desert.  For rural towns, where the population is more sparely distributed, it means needing to travel at least 10 miles for groceries.  If you have a car and can drive, that doesn’t sound like a great distance.  However, if you require a bus, taxi or special transportation to get to the grocery store, 10 miles can be a huge barrier.  In terms of health, the lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. food truck

The elderly are at increased risk of malnutrition due to many reasons including poor dentition, decrease in taste buds and appetite, difficulty cooking and preparing health food.  Health conditions common among the elderly, such as dementia, arthritis, and diabetes combined with financial constraints and fixed income, all contribute to increased risk of malnutrition.  But what about the impact of poor access to good, healthy food on health?  Just how widespread is the issue of food deserts and what is being done about it?

According to the USDA Economic Research Service and its High Priority Performance Goals approximately 23.5 million people live in food deserts. More than half of those people (13.5 million) are low-income.  It is extremely difficult to come up with a fair and accurate estimate of the number of elderly, 65+ years of age, who live in food deserts.  Estimates among elderly living in food deserts have ranged anywhere from 10% in urban communities to 25% in rural areas.   According to Eric de Place (2009), residents with lack of access to grocery stores end up over-spending, or buying food with limited nutritional value, or both. Fresh fruits and vegetables—so important for a healthy diet—are in short supply, if they exist at all.   Finding local or organically grown food is even more remote.  So food deserts can result in poor health, tight budgets for those who can least afford it, or long cumbersome bus trips to other neighborhoods. He acknowledges that the problem is most severe for the elderly, single parents, and the disabled.  It’s not just an urban land use issue: it’s a problem with profound social justice implications.

Many agree that solutions to food deserts are few and mostly inadequate.  Legislation has been proposed, such as developing a revolving fund to offer loans to small grocers that can operate in food deserts.  But somehow throwing money at the problem never seems to work well, especially in politics.  Others suggest community involvement, such as volunteering at your local food bank, offer a ride to your elderly neighbor who is having difficulty accessing grocery stores.  Large food conglomerates, such as Wal-Mart, have a double-edged sword.  While many blame large food chains for putting smaller, local grocery stores out of business due to feasibility of competing with offering lower prices.  Yet many bus lines have large stores, including Wal-Mart, on their stop routes.  Another ‘solution’ may be to for private taxi companies to offer a lower, standard rate for elderly traveling to the grocery store.  De Place warns that assuming vulnerable low-income populations can just buy laptops, get high-speed Wi-Fi, order healthy groceries on-line and have them delivered, is obviously not a solution. Even if the tools of the Internet Age were widely available and affordable—and they’re not yet — they wouldn’t be of much use to the elderly, immigrants with limited English, or folks who don’t have a credit card or bank account.   Some grocery stores offer delivery service.  But then affordability for the service becomes a barrier.  Local community farmers markets are becoming more popular.  But if you’ve ever been to one, the majority of visitors are young and full of resources, such as money, energy and bright eyes.

Is it possible that more health providers, especially social workers and community health workers, can become more involved in identifying at risk elderly, who may be having issues accessing good, healthy food?

So, as I consume my huge Thanksgiving dinner and try not to feel guilty, I can hope that maybe increased awareness, empathy and community involvement can work in tandem to possibly increase access to food among older populations in our communities.  Anyone have any other ideas?


  1. Eric de Place (@Eric_deP), March 5, 2009. Deliver Us from Food Deserts. Economy & Jobs, Food & Sustainable Living, Land Use & Transportation
  2. Associated Press, 2012. Residents do Without in America’s Food Deserts.
  3. Morton, L.W. and Blanchard, T.C. Staved for Access: Life in Rural America’s Food Deserts.  Rural Realities, Vol. 1 (4), 2007.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Tony DiNuzzo, Ph.D., Director, East Texas Geriatric Education Center/Consortium, UTMB.

Join us for a real-time discussion about questions 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:


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