Update on Aging

It’s curious when one becomes the subject of one’s academic endeavors. I became involved with the Center on Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch when it was first created in the late 1980’s and did an internship experience in 1990. I was then in my 40’s and felt quite distant from the population I was studying.

Now, in my 70’s I have joined Pogo who said, “He is us.”

Aging does bring changes. Short term memory becomes an issue. Passing thoughts that used to stick in my mind, now slip away easily. It is necessary to focus on passing thoughts to attach them in my mind and I find the calendar and notepad apps on my phone to be essential tools. Strength and balance are other issues. My horse riding activities pointed up how long it took me to develop the strength and balance necessary to participate in dressage competitions.

I recently was asked to contribute an article for the Summer Horse Show Series Supplement in the Dripping Springs Century-News. In the article (click on the link below) I go deeper into the challenges presented by the passage of time.

Riding in Competition (May 2018)


Humor in America, The Morphology of a Humorous Phrase: “We have met the enemy and he is us”

Texas Oncology has been exploring how their patients with cancer have kept life positive and growing.  They have produced a series of short films that focus on “… stories of the fighters, believers, and survivors who’ve inspired us with their determination and hopeful spirit.” Recently, yours truly was the subject of one of these stories.

Rodger (on right) and Dakota

I have been a patient at Texas Oncology for over 3 years and two years ago I took up horse riding. My physician, James Uyeki, thought my equestrian endeavors would ft into this series of short films. He was right.

The film is now part of the Texas Oncology website and has been featured in an ad in the January 2018 issue of San Antonio Magazine. Watch the film at Texas Oncology.

My riding began as a lark and over time I grew to find it both an intellectual and physical challenge. Dakota and I can trot and canter. We can jump small fences with a single bound. Currently, I am focusing on dressage. Dressage calls for an almost transparent bond between horse and rider and achieving that level of control and communication is a most difficult challenge. Riding has helped be to be stronger and more balanced and my bond with Dakota is quite amazing.

The film was shot at Bel Canto Farms on a hot August morning. There was quite a crew there and a behind the scenes pic is below.


The people in the photo are: Amanda Cowherd (junior copywriter), Sarah Green (Texas Oncology client), Michele Evans (art director), Jim Webb (videographer), Michelle Wells (Texas Oncology client),  and James Hamilton (writer). Kim Bissell (Account Supervisor) took the photo. The film was made by HCB Health of Austin, Texas for Texas Oncology.

Texas Oncology gave me permission to include the film here as well.



Finally, a pic of the two camera shoot set-up.


More Behind-the-Scenes

Hay bales banner UTMB logo

The occurrence of multiple, chronic health problems is often a pattern as we grow older. These debilitating conditions may make one want to re-read the Book of Job to try to get some perspective.

My UTMB colleagues and I taught a graduate course between 2006 and 2012 that was titled, Suffering: Cultural and Spiritual Perspectives. It was developed and taught by Kay Sandor, Ph.D., RN, Harold Vanderpool, Ph.D., Th.M., and myself.

One of the topics we visited was why does God allow bad things to happen. As the texts, we used two classic books by Frankle and Kushner (see below). The academic discipline of  Theodicy was also relevant to this topic. Theodicy is an area of philosophy that attempts to answer the question: Why does God permit the manifestation of evil? One of the faculty, Vanderpool, is an expert on Theodicy and his section on this topic was brilliant.

In 2008, he needed to leave the course. To enable his ideas to still influence the course, we made a short movie (22 minutes) in which he condensed his views on Theodicy and it was a part of the course until 2012 when we stopped teaching it.

The movie is below.

Further, between takes the camera captured Dr. Vanderpool musing on karma and cheap grace. This is included as a bonus.

As an aside: Dr. Vanderpool has a new book out: Palliative Care: The 400-Year Quest for a Good Death, Harold Y. Vanderpool, McFarland Press.


  • Book of Job, New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 726 Hebrew Bible.
  • Frankel, V. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Kushner, H. S. (1981). When Bad Things Happen to Good People. New York: Avon Books.

The two movies are copyright © 2008 by Harold Vanderpool and used here with his permission

I have two parallel thoughts for today. I want to talk about each and then try to pull them together.

Thought Number One

When I was a kid, my parents allowed me to wander the streets of Oakland, California on foot and by bus. Things were pretty safe and I never thought twice about being and going anywhere. There was a local clothing store on East 14th Street. It was part of a shopping area that once was its own little suburb. Before World War Two, my father had been the manager of the Western Auto Store along that street and he knew all the shop keepers; the barber, the watchmaker, the guy who ran the war surplus store, the insurance salesman, the skating rink owner, and on and on. He also knew the people at the clothing store (its name lost in the mists of time). My parents had a charge account at the store and as a teen I got to charge stuff on their account. No credit cards yet. The salesman knew who I was and put it on the account.

My father and his two Sisters in Oakland around 1922

My father and his two Sisters in Oakland around 1922

Those were simpler and safer times. As Oakland changed over the years all those people died and the stores closed. New people and new stores are there along East 14th street. It’s not so safe as it was, stores have big steel bars on the windows and probably the credit cards are scrutinized carefully to insure they are not stolen.

I think that living in a rural community is one way those of us of a certain age return to those simpler times of a more trusting society where everyone knew your name.

Thought Number Two

My usual source for ideas, the Austin American Statesman, presented me with this article by Michael Young (Young, 2015) dealing with how rural communities are losing population and floundering to stay in business. In the article, Young points to whole counties in Texas that are losing population. Now Texas is a big place and growing rapidly in the major urban areas. On the other end of the scale, there are 14 counties (whole counties) that have fewer than 1,500 people living in them. If there were major businesses in these counties and towns – be they railroads, oil, coal, cattle, farming or manufacturing – now they have all moved on. Young said, “People don’t move to Foard County to find a good paying job.”

So why would someone move to Foard County, Texas?

Young suggests this: people move there because… “they live beneath a sky so filled with stars they seem uncountable. They know their neighbors. Their kids can be good friends with everyone in their class and maybe everyone in their school. And they remain what most of Texas once was.”

Merger of Thoughts

Rural places in Texas that are currently losing population preserve much of what made life good a half century ago in urban areas that now are growing rapidly and may no longer offer those values. A future exists for these empty communities as folks like me and my family return to rural areas to seek that quieter, friendlier life. We can do this because we do not need those steam-age industries that in earlier times were the sole sources of an income. I work on-line at my own work as do many others here (here being Wimberley, Texas). Still others work in service businesses (restaurants, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc.) where we take our trade. Small communities can continue to exist using new models for income but keeping that more trusting society where everyone knows your name.


As a side note: Not everything about rural life is nostalgic. I just watched the film “The Homesman” and it dealt with the awful privations and stresses that faced early settlers on America’s Great Plains in the 1850’s. In all things there is a perspective to keep.


  1. The Homesman (2014), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2398231
  2. Young, M. E. The other Texas the boom forgot: Rural counties struggle to stay afloat. Dallas News, July 17, 2015.
    Story: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/state/headlines/20150717-2.ece
    Photos: http://www.dallasnews.com/photos/20150714-trip-to-foard-county-is-a-step-back-in-time.ece

August 1, 2015

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month — an opportunity to join the global conversation about the brain, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Did you know that everyone who has a brain is at risk to develop Alzheimer’s… a fatal disease that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed? During the month of June, the Alzheimer’s Association® asks people around the world to take the Purple Pledge and use their brains to fight Alzheimer’s disease.Print

Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death and kills more people each year than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.  The Alzheimer’s Association offers 10 Ways to Love Your Brain, tips that may reduce the risk of cognitive decline:

  1. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
  2. Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online
  3. Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
  4. Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke – obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
  5. Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
  6. Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
  7. Catch some Zzz’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
  8. Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
  9. Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community – if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter.
  10. Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Krista Bohn, MPH, Galveston/Bay Area Regional Outreach Coordinator, Alzheimer’s Association® – Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter

A Suggestion from Rodger: There is a movie that deals with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Still Alice, and that raises some of the questions and issues inherent with this condition. A brief review of the issues illustrated by the film is found in the Daily Beast.


June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month and “everyone with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s”(1).

Alois Alzheimer

Alois Alzheimer

Of the 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease, 5.1 million are older adults (> 65 years of life experience) (1).  This video illustrates the pathological process of this disease:  http://www.alzheimers.org/rmedia/adanimation.htm.

Clinically, Alzheimer dementia presents as a gradual decline in cognition over months to years with impaired memory and dysfunction in one or more other cognitive domains (ex. language, visuospatial presentation, executive function) (2).

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and effective treatment remains a research goal (3).  Studies of physical activity effects on biomarkers and cognitive function indicate potential for neuroprotection to reduce the slope of decline (3).

As a physical therapist, I appreciate opportunities to work with patients who have dementia.  Increasing physical activity is an important goal, one that requires astute interaction with patients, caregivers, and families.  Although it is difficult to see and hear about struggles and challenges they face along with their loved ones, it is also a privilege to learn their life stories.  In fact, I find it is usually essential to figure out what their life was like before cognitive decline in order to adapt therapeutic activities to meet their needs.basketball hoop
For example, if the patient is a retired basketball coach, then I can work on standing balance and endurance by simulating basketball maneuvers. Familiarity of this activity is more likely to engage the patient’s interest and attention than unfamiliar, standard balance exercises.  The needs of every patient are different, and responses to treatment sometimes change; this variability makes creative thinking even more important.


What physical activity do you think you will perpetually enjoy in the context of altered cognitive health?

Our Guest Blogger this week is: Rebecca Galloway, PT, PhD, GCS, CEEAA, Assistant Professor & Director of Clinical Education, Bridge PTA to DPT Program and Fellow of the Sealy Center on Aging.


  1. Alzheimer’s Association. 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp. Accessed 6/15/2015.
  2. Guy M. McKhann et al. “The diagnosis of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease: Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging – Alzheimer’s Association workgroups on diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 2011; 7(3): 263 – 269.
  3. Phillips C, Akif Baktir M, Das D, et al. The link between physical activity and cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer disease. Phys Ther. 2015;95: http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/early/2015/04/01/ptj.20140212.


  1. Alois Alzheimer. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://ihm.nlm.nih.gov/images/B30091.  Accessed 6/15/2015.
  2. Basketball-Goals.jpg; Image Source: Microsoft Office

A friend of mine was at a party on Sunday evening of May 25th. She met a woman in her 80’s who was enjoying the party and they fell into conversation.

My friend learned that this woman and her husband spent the previous night on the roof of their house waiting to be rescued from the rapidly rising waters of the Blanco River. Not the sort of activity one expects from a couple in their 80’s.

This news astonished my friend and she further wondered how the woman and her husband managed to climb up onto the roof of their house. The woman said that was rather easy as they just hung onto things until the rising water lifted them to the roof. Then, they simply waited for rescue.

The recent floods along the Blanco River in Hays County, Texas produced many stories of horror, tragedy, bravery, survival, and resilience. Many of the people affected were elderly and saw homes they had lived in for 30, 40 years flooded or washed away.

This one story, touched on a most admirable quality. This elderly couple found themselves in a difficult and dangerous situation where they stayed calm, literally rode with the tide, and were able to enjoy a party that evening.

blanco 5-25-2015

This is the 200th article written for the Weekly Update on Aging. There have been many guest bloggers and I’ve written a few myself. The ETGEC grant is ending on June 30, 2015. This blog will continue, but may become less frequent and the Weekly Discussion on Aging will not be held in the future.

Image from video taken by Stephen Ramirez, Birds Eye Video, and shown on the San Marcos Corridor News website. The picture shows RR12 as it crosses the Blanco River and looking towards the square in Wimberley.

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