The New York Times

World-wide epidemic on your doorstep

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A May 15, 2014 New York Times article, Alzheimer’s, a Neglected Epidemic by Ginia Bellafante, provides a keen look at a fatal disease that many still assume is one that only other people get.  Maybe my coworker a few cubicles away from me or the neighbors down the street will have to deal with some sort of dementia, but not our household – right?  You wish.  Alzheimer’s is a world-wide epidemic and it’s knocking on your front door.

In 2010, Alzheimer’s was the underlying cause in 500,000 deaths in the United States.

Let’s look at another epidemic with horrific fatality totals.  Remember the AIDS crisis?  As of the year 2010, in thirty years’ time, AIDS was responsible for 636,000 deaths in the U.S.   And yet Alzheimer’s – a very unpopular disease that is erroneously characterized as just an old person’s disease – racked up almost that many deaths in just one year.

Alzheimer’s isn’t just for geezers any more.

That’s the title of one of the chapters in my manuscript – a work of fiction that centers on the lives – patients and their family caregivers – affected by Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  A couple of my characters are in their 80s but there are three characters ranging in age from early 40s to mid 60s whose disease journey began when they were no longer considered young – but definitely not considered old.

What will it take to push people out of denial and into activism?

In the New York Times article linked above, AIDS activist, Peter Staley, is quoted as saying, “The hidden blessing of H.I.V was that it hit a community, my community, a community of mostly gay men.  We had a base of organizing that came out of Stonewall.”  [1969 demonstrations by members of the gay community in response to a police raid at Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village.]  And then he goes on to say, “Alzheimer’s hits old people.  There is no real organized community beyond AARP.”

I’m not happy with Mr. Staley’s characterization of Alzheimer’s as an old person’s disease because it perpetuates a myth that is simply not entirely true.  But I fully back his advice to all of us:

How does a large, affected community get the country to care?  It means playing a strong inside game: These family members need to organize effectively; they need to find their allies in Congress; they need to show up with sick people in front of key members of health communities.

Right on.

Alzheimer’s struck my dad in his mid-80s and my sister-in-law in her early 60s – both now deceased.

Who’s next?  Me?  My daughter?DSCF0511

You?  Are you doing your part to shine a spotlight on the hideousness of this fatal disease?  At the very least, have you made a monetary donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in your country – a donation from which you will personally benefit?  United Kingdom; Alzheimer’s Prevention; Alzheimer’s Society of Canada; Fight Dementia – Australia – to list a few.

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Aging successfully: “think fast!” vs reflective contemplation

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The New York Times article The Science of Older and Wiser by Phyllis Korkki, provides a scientific, yet personal, foray into the location of where wisdom resides.

The article also addresses levels of importance between the speed with which information is retrieved from one’s mind versus a life filled with meaning, contentment and acceptance.  Speedy retrieval of information appears to belong to those who are younger than Baby Boomers while those who take longer to tap into a data-filled mind are us Baby Boomers or older for whom information retrieval falls second.  Once that information is retrieved, however, it is used to gain insights and perspectives that form the basis for wise behavior and decisions.

Must everything in our lives function at breakneck speed?  Consider these synonyms for fast, or quick:

  • speedy
  • swift
  • express
  • high-speed
  • immediate
  • expeditious
  • brisk
  • hasty (haste makes waste!)
from "The Colors and Letters of Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert" (Seattle)
from “The Colors and Letters of Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert” (Seattle-based artists)

We live in such a fast-paced world that we find ourselves snapping our fingers at how long it takes to make a cup of K-Cup (pod) coffee.  We want it now!  Now, I tell you!  What’s taking so long?  We will even pay extra when traveling by plane in order to use TSA’s faster Pre-Check security lane, and we’ll pay an annual subscription to Amazon.com to get free 2-day shipping for the plethora of things we purchase there.

But is faster always better than reflective contemplation?

Consider some definitions of wisdom provided in the above-attached article:

  • “True wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it.” (Ursula M. Staudinger, The Berlin Wisdom Project);
  • Wisdom is characterized by a “reduction in self-centeredness.” (Monika Ardelt, associate sociology professor, Univ. of Florida, Gainseville);
  • If you are wise, “You’re not focusing so much on what you need and deserve, but on what you can contribute.” (Laura L. Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, California); and
  • An important sign of wisdom is generativity, which means “giving back without needing anything in return.” (Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus and Emotional Intelligence, psychologist, science journalist.)

Given the descriptions for the word “fast” and the characterizations for the quality known as “wisdom”, what will your life’s main focus be as you graduate through the various stages of aging?  Unless your later years involve being the fastest on the ski slopes, or the quickest person to complete the NY Times crossword puzzle, consider this element of successful aging: “(M)ost psychologists agree that if you define wisdom as maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges, it is one of the most important qualities one can possess to age successfully.”  (Phyllis Korkki, New York Times)