yoga class
My wife gets this yoga magazine each month. The people pictured in it are not only bending in ways I never could and, this is the interesting part, they demonstrate great strength as well.

Recently, I have gotten back into doing my yoga routine. I learned  to do Bikram’s yoga style about 20 years ago and come back to doing it from time to time. As I approach 70 (next month), I find that not only am I less limber now, I have less core strength.

This need for core strength is something I did not pay attention to before. Bikram’s routine begins with five poses that require balance. Balance requires strength. I always worked at the balance poses as a matter of focusing and being mindful of balance and then my body followed along. It did that when my natural core strength was greater, but now I find I need to build up my strength in order to be able to balance.

So yoga 3 or 4 times a week now.

We have discussed exercise among the older population before. I refer you to two earlier columns:


Choudhury, Bikram. Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, NY, 1978.

Photo Credit:  Still frame from the movie, Nudged. Actors pictured are, from left to right, Bill Bender, Dorothy Knight, Tiffany Patch and Jan Gauvain.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:

Telescope in the eyeThe good old Austin American Statesman comes through again with a great story on aging. This week it’s teeny, tiny telescopes implanted in eyes affected* with Macular Degeneration.

As the eye ages, the light-sensing cells in the center of the eye can begin to stop working and one cannot see anything in the middle of the field of view or up close. Only peripheral vision is left and that makes life tricky.

Telescope real version in the eyeThis little telescope redirects the light to parts of the eye that still work and one can see again. It takes a lot of rehabilitation and practice to learn to see using another part of the eye, but it is possible. The Statesman article tells about a 93 year old man who did it. Now he can sees much better, moves safer and can care for his animals.Telescope in eye really

The second and third photos show the device on a finger tip and how it looks embedded in the eye.  Click on the photos to see them bigger. The first photo is a bit bogus.

* or is that effected? I can never figure that usage out. What do you think? See if this web site helps: Diffen


  1. Roser, MA. Telescopic eye implant shows promise for patients losing their sight.
    Austin American Statesman, April 17, 2015.
  2. Telescopic implant restores vision in patient with advanced macular degeneration. University of California Davis Newsroom, September 11, 2012.

Image Source: I don’t know the original source for the first photo. I found it on  The other photos are from the UC Davis article.

Yesterday’s Austin American Statesman featured an editorial by Roy Smythe. The article discusses the limits that the Texas Medical Board wishes to place on the practice of medicine by remote and virtual methods. This is usually called telemedicine and it has a number of possible formats.

diagnosis by radioSmythe works for a company that is involved in the health services area, so I’d say while he is an advocate for telemedicine providers in his article that his points are well taken. He was previously associated with Scott & White and the Texas A&M University College of Medicine. I refer you to his complete article below.

I have long been an advocate for telemedicine in any form for rural and remote areas. For the elderly and home bound, telemedicine is a useful option if the physician is down the block. Barriers to access take many forms and there are many solutions. I refer you to an earlier post in this series from week 124, Medicine at a Distance.


Smythe, R. Why Texas telemedicine rules restrict access to health care. Austin American-Statesman, April 14, 2015.

Image Source:

Novak, M. Telemedicine Predicted in 1925., March 14, 2012

Chris in the morningIn the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska, the local radio station, KBHR, keeps the scattered residents informed of local events and emergencies. The morning host, Chris Stevens, mixes classical philosophy and erudite quotes with local news, and everyone in town pays close attention via their radios.

Radio is a unique medium. It was the first mass communication channel in the world that could offer live information and news. Newspapers reached millions of people and in their heyday had four or five editions a day in big cities. Newspapers are however “old news” compared to the instant interactivity of radio. Even Television, which supplanted radio as an entertainment medium, does not offer the immediate “live” connection of radio.

So, why not just do “radio” over the Internet? In many ways the Internet is an ideal alternative to the radio waves. In fact, almost all radio stations stream their content over the Internet. However, when your power goes out in a storm, your battery operated radio will work. Also, radio is a very simple technology to use. And it’s always free.

To serve local communities the FCC licenses low power FM radio stations. Wimberley, where I live, has had several groups of people interested in starting a new local, radio station. One group has recently gotten the go ahead from the FCC to build a station and if all goes well soon there will be local programming on the public air waves. For now, they stream a full schedule on the Internet, but real radio is the shining goal.

In anticipation of going “on air” soon, the station is seeking local people to develop and host programs. The light bulb goes on… What about a program on aging? How valuable would it be to have a local program focusing on the issues and needs of the elderly? Sounds good to me. Does it sound like something your community needs?

References and Links

  1. Chunovic, Louis. Chris-In-The-Morning: Love, Life, and the Whole Karmic Enchilada
    Contemporary Books (April 1993)
  2. Northern Exposure. TV program created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey. It ran 1990-1995.
  3. Wimberley Valley Radio, Susan Raybuck, board president and acting station manager
    Live Internet stream from Wimberley Valley Radio –

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:

Ren fair
Another day at the Renaissance Faire and I am again struck by an interesting observation. While Renaissance Faires are usually thought of as fun for children who like dragons and younger adults who like wearing costumes and drinking ale, I have noticed a number of people at the faire in wheelchairs and motorized scooters.
Thomas ren fair
A case in point is Mr. Thomas Williamson, who was at the faire both in costume and using his scooter to get around. There was an older couple, in full Tudor-period costume, and the husband was guiding his lady who was using her scooter. One wonderful lady had created a dragon costume for her scooter and she looked like she was riding the dragon as she sailed through the faire.

I was delighted to see people out and enjoying themselves in spite of mobility issues. At one time, mobility issues kept people at home and they even would feel embarrassed at trying to join in at such celebrations. It is a sign of the generation that spawned these re-enactment events that we get out there and enjoy. It is also a sign that no one took exception to the wheeled visitors and everyone simply merged into the process.

This is not an isolated case. Across the country there is a new mobility.  There is even a magazine, New Mobility, that discusses the ins and outs of getting out and profiles neat places to go.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:


tombstonesMy wife has been a student of genealogy for many years. Originally she learned how to find government archives and write off to them for copies of records and spent days in the special genecology library in Houston. After much work she discovered that she had an ancestor who was at the battle of San Jacinto and found his name engraved on the monument at the battlefield site. She has drug me to far flung meadows at the end of dirt roads where live ancient graveyards where she found a relative’s name chiseled on a weather worn stone. The activity combines scholarly research with detective work.

Then, one day she got a computer program, Family Tree Maker, that helped to organize the information into family trees. This was a big, digital step forward.

Now, has made genealogy research a social media extravaganza. Via the Internet she can now search 1000’s of government databases for family records and reach out to the world to find other people with similar names who may be distant relatives with valuable bits of family lore.

The end result of this process is a huge archive of family information, trees of descendants, photos, digital documents and links to resources.

A question comes to mind: What happens to this trove of specialized information when we die?

Digital assets has become a complicated issue. Linshi (1) says, “Several state legislatures have debated the question of whether families can access someone’s digital assets after they die. Most large Internet companies, citing federal privacy laws, will not allow your family to access your account after death. Though some states — including Delaware and Virginia — allow parents or guardians to manage their deceased children’s accounts, in most areas, families must seek a court order to obtain the rights, which can take months or years.”

Similar questions arise about social media sites, like Flicker or Facebook, and what about the “cloud?” What happens to all those songs, books and photos I’ve uploaded to the iCloud? What about Google Drive or Drop Box?

A pretty good and recent (given that this stuff changes all the time) article that looks at all these areas is by Stewart & Cross (2). It was written by a lawyer and since it appeared in a Texas magazine considers Texas laws.


  1. Linshi, J. Here’s What Happens to Your Facebook Account After You Die. Time Magazine, Feb. 12, 2015.
  2. Stewart, C & Cross, B. What Happens to Your Digital Assets When You Die? Amarillo Magazine, Feb. 20, 2015.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:

This week’s column will be devoted to an upcoming workshop about virtual learning environments. Each week there is a discussion, based on the weekly aging column, in UTMB’s virtual campus. This workshop will give you an introduction to that virtual world if you have never explored it.

Virtual Learning Committee Meeting in Old Red

Virtual Learning Committee Meeting in Old Red

It is an interactive workshop dealing with virtual learning environments in general and specifically with the advantages of using the UTMB virtual campus in Second Life for small group meetings with distance students or colleagues. The virtual tour of the campus will show the 3D graphical environment and demonstrate current activities. The discussion will focus on possible uses for virtual learning environments.


Participants will have the opportunity to:

  1. tour the virtual UTMB campus in Second Life.
  2. observe the ways in which a virtual world has been used in education.
  3. discuss ways to incorporate virtual world experiences in their educational activities.
  4. contract with the presenter to develop a pilot educational experience of their own.

The workshop will be conducted twice and in virtual space as the facilitator is in Wimberley.

  • Thursday, March 19, 2015, noon to 1 pm CDT
  • Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 4 to 5 pm CDT

The technology requirements have been kept as simple as possible. We will connect by phone via a conference call.

So that the participants can see what UTMB’s virtual campus looks like, the facilitator will share his computer screen via a simple, video streaming method, called LiveStream. Participants will need to register with LiveStream but this is free and only takes a few steps.

If you have a Second Life account, join the workshop in-world as opposed to using LiveStream. The SLURL is under the Discussion tab above.

Teaching Skills Workshops are sponsored by the UTMB Academy of Master Teachers and the Office of Educational Development.

On Saturday, my two sons and I are going to a Renaissance Faire (the antiquated spelling for fair is part of the shtick). Faires are a loosely interpreted form of historical reenactment popular in the US , England, and probably other places as well. This particular faire is called the Sherwood Forest Faire and is somewhat based on the legends of Robin Hood.  The two big faires in Texas, the Texas Renaissance Festival and Scarborough Faire, are based on the reign of Henry VIII at the end of the Renaissance, hence the generic name for all such faires.

Faires are fun and festive. We all wear period costumes (sort of, my costume is more 18th century than 16th but it’s all in the spirit of play not historical accuracy). The day is spent in watching the actors play out the storyline of the Faire, listening to music from flutes and dulcimers, drinking good English ale, eating, and watching knights on horseback jousting.

lit by fireWhat does this have to do with aging? It all ties back to a remarkable book by William Manchester called A World Lit Only By Fire (1).  Manchester’s book has been criticized (quite rightly, I might add) for numerous errors of fact and interpretation (2, 3), however he draws a compelling portrait between human periods of ignorance and enlightenment. The value of this book lies in this overall point: Western civilization has moved from periods of immobility to periods of mobility (and probably back to immobility and so on in an endless cycle).

The Renaissance is characterized as a time when new ideas were encouraged and new practices were allowed to flourish. Those two conditions, in the 15th and 16th centuries, resulted in the Reformation, exploration of the “New World,” acceptance of new notions of physics and natural history, advances in technology and commerce, etc.

The echoes of the Renaissance persist today. One area where this “new birth” has been slow to mature has been in the perceived roles of the various ways people can be grouped: men, women, children, adults, elders, not to mention stereotypes due to race, religion and culture.

Over the last few decades there has been a shift in the perception of the elderly. People in their 70s are now actively engaged in the world not as the exception but as the rule. I felt sad to learn that Harrison Ford had engine failure and had to crash land his airplane on a golf course. That he is 74 and still flying never occurred to me as unusual.

Much of this altered perception is due to improvements in public health and medical care. People live longer, are healthier and are lots more active. Back in the Renaissance times, living to 60 was remarkable. Now we are shocked when illness takes one so young.

Finally, our expectations for older people have shifted. We do not automatically assume that everyone over 65 is retired and playing golf. In reality their 401K accounts ran out and they need to work. Regardless, the elderly are part of the mainstream of our society not a group on the periphery waiting for the next bus to paradise.


  1. Manchester, W.  A World Lit Only by Fire. The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age.  Little, Brown and Company, 1993.
  2. A World Lit Only by Fire. In Wikipedia:
  3. Adams, Jeremy duQuesnay (January 1995). “Review of William Manchester, A World Lit Only By Fire”. Speculum 70 (1): 173–74.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:

Where I live we don’t have cable or DSL. Our Internet connection comes via an antenna on the roof that gets a signal from a line-of-sight transmission from the next hill. Our Internet provider is a sort of homebrew  company that was founded by a guy at my church. It’s all a local effort.barbed wire telephone

When people ask me about the speed of my Internet, I usually say, jokingly, that we get it via the barbed wire fences that run between all the houses.

Well, at one time using the fence wire was how rural people communicated (Trew, 2003; Wheeler, 2014; Zhang, 2014). Stop here and go read one or more of these links. If you just read one, make it Wheeler.

I meant to use the barbed wire telephone story almost a year ago, but somehow it fell between the cracks. What struck me about this story was how people did this themselves. They figured out new technology and made it work where no business or corporate entity would. This sort of creativity, that overlaid the latest technology on mundane everyday things, seems lost today.

I wonder if health care has any niches that would profit from this sort of frontier innovation? I don’t have an already selected answer for this question.  I think though that more problems need to be solved at a grass roots level than by a bunch of specialists in some exotic corporate structure.

Maybe the rural environment is more conducive to practical innovation. Sort of a skonk works* for real.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:

* Skonk Works – a small, independent group charged with a highly innovative task and characterized by reduced corporate interference. Term originally came from Al Capp’s newspaper comic strip, Li’l Abner, and was adopted by Lockheed Martin for its development facility. In the latter usage as Skunk Works® it is registered by Lockheed Martin.


  1. Trew, D. Barbed Wire Telephone Lines Brought Gossip and News to Farm and Ranch. Farm Collector, September 2003.
  2. Wheeler, C. Wired for Sound. Texas Co-op Power, May 2014.
  3. Zhang, S. Barbed Wire Fences Were An Early DIY Telephone Network. Gizmodo, January, 2014.

Next week will be March and Spring will be blossoming in Texas. This week however it’s still Winter and the water in my birdbath is frozen solid. I am again pondering my lack of motivation for exercise, especially over the Winter months. In the Winter about all I manage is a daily hike up and down the hill to the mailbox and chopping wood for the fireplace.

Spring will bring new resolutions. I was reminded of an earlier column where I found a compromise, or perhaps false hope, in the exercise continuum.

 And so, without further adieu, a recycling of a post from week 41 titled Springtime in Texas.


I tend cycle my level of exercise with the seasons. Winter in Texas does not qualify as more than a cool Fall day in Northern climes, but the trees do lose their leaves and I do a mild form of hibernation. With Spring comes the growth that stirs me to action. Some of the trees I hoped the drought did not kill, are dead and need taking out. The meadow is being taken over by thistle. Dianne wants a new meditation spot below the house. So, I’m out doing all that physical labor I put off in Winter and feeling more fit and muscular as a result.

I do feel however a change in strength and coordination as I age and it seems an area to be mindful about. Now loss of muscle mass as a function of age is pretty well documented (Doherty, 2001; Newman et al., 2003; Janssen & Ross , 2005; ). This age-related reduction in skeletal muscle even has a name, sarcopenia (Abellan van Kan, 2009: Visser, 2009). It seems to become more prevalent as we move through the 70s and 80s and to be associated with a variety of factors. However, one consensus is consistent, as we age we get weaker.

Now it seems obvious that a good diet and exercise is about the best thing one can do to prevent or at least slow down this situation. (Fielding, 1995). What sort of exercise is optimal is difficult to proscribe and probably varies with the individual. See Onambélé-Pearson, Breen & Stewart (2010) and Zak, Swine & Grodzicki (2009) for studies of the benefits of various exercise intensities and nutritional approaches.

Science aside, I think there is a functional component to eating, working and living. Carefully regulated diet plans and finely delineated exercise regimens have their place in maintaining wellness, but I feel there is a natural flow of heath that can be tapped by listening to the land, working it as needed and feeding the body as a result of those labors. This model has a champion in my wife’s hero, Tasha Tudor. Her approach to a long life is worth considering (Tudor & Brown, 1992).

I may stick with Winter hibernation and long Summer days of work. That’s a form of cross-training, right?

Image copyright Tasha Tudor and Family Inc.References

  1. Abellan van Kan G. Epidemiology and consequences of sarcopenia. J Nutr Health Aging, Oct 2009, 13(8), 708-12.
  2. Doherty TJ. The influence of aging and sex on skeletal muscle mass and strength. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, Nov 2001, 4(6), 503-8.
  3. Fielding RA. The role of progressive resistance training and nutrition in the preservation of lean body mass in the elderly. J Am Coll Nutr, Dec 1995, 14(6), 587-94.
  4. Janssen I & Ross R. Linking age-related changes in skeletal muscle mass and composition with metabolism and disease. J Nutr Health Aging, Nov-Dec 2005, 9(6), 408-19.
  5. Newman AB et al. Strength and muscle quality in a well-functioning cohort of older adults: the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study. J Am Geriatr Soc, Mar 2003, 51(3), 323-30.
  6. Onambélé-Pearson GL, Breen L &Stewart CE. Influence of exercise intensity in older persons with unchanged habitual nutritional intake: skeletal muscle and endocrine adaptations. Age (Dordr), Jun 2010, 32(2), 139-53. Epub 2010 Apr 21.
  7. Tudor, T & Brown R. The Private World of Tasha Tudor. Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1992.
  8. Visser M. Towards a definition of sarcopenia–results from epidemiologic studies. J Nutr Health Aging, Oct 2009, 13(8), 713-6.
  9. Zak M, Swine C & Grodzicki T. Combined effects of functionally-oriented exercise regimens and nutritional supplementation on both the institutionalised and free-living frail elderly (double-blind, randomised clinical trial). BMC Public Health, Jan 2009, 28, 9, 39.


It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you [1]

Those are the beginning words to the song “It’s My party” written and performed by Lesley Gore back in 1963. I was a freshman in college then and the advent of the song was not one of the milestones that I recall, but the tune does stay with one and the notice of her death the other day brought back that tune again and again [2].

Some characters from fiction, like Sherlock Homes and Dr. Watson, have an immortal existence. They stay the same age and live in the same place forever. This is also true for actors who play these fictional characters. We will always hear Clark Gable tell Vivian Leigh that he doesn’t give a damn in a dimension where the old South still lives.

It is curious that these entertainment figures, who are so remote and removed from my daily life, actually live in the same time stream and world as I do. They have lives and they die. Why aren’t they like Bogey and Bacall who are always young and smoking (when that was OK) on some far away Caribbean island?

I recalled that about three years ago I did a column about aging singers and thought this would be a good time to bring back a “Golden Oldie”  [3].


Funny this column is about rock and roll and when I was thinking about old rockers, my offhand guess was that Jerry Lee Lewis might be about the oldest available. In fact his web site says, “… of all the great musicians who created rock & roll in Memphis Tennessee at Sun Records in the 1950’s, The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis would be the last man standing” (

Not trusting the veracity of Killer’s web site, I looked him up. He was born in 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana. Now I knew that because my wife has family in Ferriday and they were all familiar with the Lewis family. There are no coincidences but my wife’s Ferriday aunt passed away this week at the age of 90. She was a wonderful woman and had lived in Ferriday since the 1940’s. The photo is of the Ferriday post office from about 1995.

The thing about musicians who now are in their 70’s and up is the amazing preservation (in many cases) of their singing voices. PBS does specials with old musical groups (like The Osmonds – 50th Anniversary Reunion and Magic Moments: The Best of 50s Pop) and while the singers were grayer and wider than I recall from my youth, their voices still sounded sweet. Even those guys who sang in falsetto (like in Big Girls Don’t Cry by the Four Seasons) could still hit the high notes after 50 years.

So, I wondered if this was just luck or if singers take an active role in maintaining their voices. The Texas Voice Center (in Houston) offers analysis and therapy to keep the professional singer’s voice up to snuff. “… our bodies change as we age and subsequently, so can our voices. The voice can begin to sound weak, hoarse or even raspy” ( This is apparently due to a loss of fatty tissue in the vocal folds and injecting one’s own tummy fat into them can correct the raspiness   (

Finally then I ran across the notion of “The Elder’s Voice” which has nothing to do with singing but seemed relevant never-the-less. Try out this web site for another aspect of raising one’s voice in the latter years –


Guess What? You can still see Jerry Lee Lewis performing with Chubby Checker (of all people) at the  NYCB Theatre in Westbury, NY on April 10, 2015. Rock ‘n Roll forever!


  1. Lyrics for “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore.
  2. Bacle, A. ‘It’s My Party’ singer Lesley Gore dies at 68. Entertainment Weekly, Feb. 16, 2015.
  3. The original post is from week 30, Jerry Lee Lewis is Old and Still Rockin’.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:

roll barLast week I spent a significant portion of four days installing a roll bar in my Miata. Such a simple looking thing… two steel hoops, one behind each seat. I had to take half the car apart to bolt that thing in. It was worth it. Now my aging bean is really protected should the Miata ever roll over and the chassis is somewhat stiffer. The stiffness improves the handling, converting it from a roller-skate to a roller-skate on steroids.  My car adventure reminded me of an earlier blog Tony wrote in 2013. So today we reprise Tony’s examination of driving while elderly.


Remember when the ultimate sign of freedom was being able to jump in your car and just drive? No one was telling where to go or what time to you had to get there.  Just drive!  The only thing you loved more than your car was probably your mom and her apple pie!

Lately there have been a slew of news articles examining current trends in driving habits – number of people with driver’s licenses, monthly average number of miles being driven, who are buying new cars, etc…  Almost all indicators suggest a decline in driving, especially among young adults and teenagers.  According to economists Don Pickrell and David Pace, driving habits peaked in 2007 and they suggest several reasons for the decline since.

Mostly reasons seem to be economical – high gas prices, recession, and high cost of new cars.  But there are other possible reasons.  Maybe there is less fascination with the cars themselves – driving a ‘computer car’ just doesn’t compare to driving a classic pink Cadillac, an old Chevy Coupe or a ‘Hot Rod Lincoln.’  We have become more sensitive to environmental pollution due to gas emissions and the dependence on foreign oil.

But the groups being most affected seem to be younger.  The older driver seems to be hanging in there with their driving habits, especially older men.  The paradox here is that economically you would think the older driver would be less inclined to drive.  Elderly on fixed incomes may be more negatively affected by high gas prices and the outrageous cost of a new car (average price $31,000).  Yet, older folks seem to be driving as much as ever or even more.

I’m not sure why, but I have some theories.

First, driving equates to independence.  Older drivers seem to be more likely to hold on to that old feeling of freedom and driving.  Giving up their driver’s license is like a death sentence and the first major indicator of losing one’s independence.

Second, older drivers drive more for purpose than pleasure.  I think they drive more often for a specific reason – to get to the store, the doctors, to socialize.  The art of joy riding doesn’t fascinate them as much as it might a younger person who is looking for kicks in a fast car and wanting to be noticed.

Also, older drivers may have advantages in driving habits compared to younger drivers. It’s been said that older drivers are the safest drivers on the road – as long as they are healthy.  Insurance is cheaper for them and maybe an ‘old-timer’ is more likely to hold on to that old car longer, have it paid off and drives only when absolutely necessary.  No need to trade it in for something they can’t afford.

As I get older I find myself holding on tighter to my 2002 Camaro and not being so in love with newer cars.  I can hear the sound of my car’s engine, especially when I start it.  I can feel and ‘hug the road’ with my wide tires.  Deep down I know if I wanted to I can blow the doors off most cars on the highway.  And when I close the door, it sounds like a car, not a tin can.  I still want to know how to do basic maintenance on my own car.  And, if needed, I have a trusted mechanic who is a good friend of mine and understands my car, as well as me. So I am probably on my way to being one of those folks who will probably hold on to that car forever and that feeling of freedom while driving.

How do you feel about driving in today’s world?  Sitting in traffic as your expensive gas is used up.  Is it still fun?  Can you still remember the first time you got in your own car after getting your driver’s license and you could go anywhere you wanted?  I do!

2002 camaro

Our Guest Blogger this week is Tony DiNuzzo, PhD, Director, East Texas Geriatric Education Center-Consortium.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas 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:


Lowy, J. Americans Driving Less as Car Culture Wanes. ABC News, Aug. 29, 2013.

Original Posting from Week 111 – Goodbye Yellowbrick Road –


This week’s Time magazine has a cover story about the new entrepreneurial economy typified by such businesses as Uber (the ride sharing business) and Home Away (the house sharing business). The author, Joel Stein, wonders about the value of these emerging businesses. Stein asserts that the corporations are taking advantage of workers by allowing them to participate in these businesses as independent contractors and then ignoring benefits, like health insurance, or any other sign of corporate responsibility. He’s probably right and these new practices have a high technology, urban flavor that seems foreign to those of us who live somewhat apart from the urban world.barter2

I’m talking about rural living of course and here independent contractor and sharing are the rule, not the new exception. Living in a small, rural community engenders a lot of non-corporate businesses and just plain old barter for services and goods. The I.R.S. hates rural entrepreneurs because they often don’t pay enough taxes or jump over all the regulatory hurdles.

Regardless, rural life depends on the handyman, the friend next door, and the mom & pop stores in town for daily existence.

This is of course changing somewhat. Large firms based in cities have expanded their service areas to include rural towns. I can ask my friend, the handyman, to fix my stove or I can call Sears and get a technician to stop by. Which is better?  As a recent rural inhabitant with a long history of urban living, I tend to want the security of Sears but really the local guy is the better moral choice.

As we all get older and find that age has cut our mobility and strength options, a local person who can fix things and who is also a friend looks better and better. My son, when he first moved from San Francisco to Wimberley, worked with one of our venerable handymen. It usually ended up with my son doing all the work while the handyman chatted with the customer. It turns out that human contact is as important as fixing the toilet. My son wondered how the handyman ever got any work done before he had him as the assistant.

We don’t really “live-off-the-grid” here but a bit of that old Texas grit and independence of sprit is alive and well in rural communities.


Joel Stein. On-Demand Economy. Time, February 9, 2015, 185, 4, 32-40.

Image Source

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.

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: