Ending Isolation By Forming a Group

Have you heard of the Caring Cooperatives? These are groups of women who live alone and have no family nearby and are banding together to help one another with doctor visits, errands and other necessities. The movement was started in New York City in 2008 by a group of professional women near retirement who had been part of a national nonprofit called The Transition Network. The New York Times ran an article on Friday, September 16, about the Caring Collaborative: "Coming Together to Make Aging a Little Easier". It is well worth reading.

I've heard of other cooperatives like this, where retired people help each other with medical appointments and hospital stays. Members even act as medical advocates for each other. I have a friend in California who has had training in how to do this and has accompanied a neighbor to the hospital, making sure she was not neglected and that she understood the directions doctors and nurses were giving her.  My friend also brought her neighbor home.

The church I belong to (The First Congregational Church of Darien) started a Caring Committee many years ago that provided rides to medical appointments, home-cooked meals, friendly visits and cookies and flowers at holidays. They brought my mother a plate of Christmas cookies when she was in a nursing home. That always made me feel so good. A few years ago, the committee expanded to include chore services and is now called Church Friends. It's not just for helping older people, though. When I young mom had an operation, members provided meals and rides for her kids to their activities.  

I'm on the board of new nonprofit in Darien, Connecticut, called Aging in Place+Gallivant ("AIP+G"). We provide a single place to call to learn about the services that already exist in the community to help you stay in your home as you get older. We also provide transportation and some handyman services. We are currently discussing how we can use volunteers to do more, such as friendly visits and friendly shopping.

The point is, people are making a difference in helping one another. You or your loved-ones do not have to be alone. Find out what is available where you live.

How To Help Caregivers

One of the women who comes to our church's monthly lunches (First Congregational Church of Darien, UCC) for older members is a caregiver. She can only get out to a few lunches when her husband is receiving a medical treatment. It does her so much good to be with other ladies, enjoying the lively conversations. (We are determined to solve the problems of the world and discuss them quite seriously!)

But I've wondered what else we could be doing for this truly lovely lady and what resources exist online that could help. In my searches I discovered that the Mayo Clinic has some basic advice on how to help caregivers. Take a look.

I've also learned that our Darien Senior Center runs support groups for caregivers. What a great local resource.

If you want a new site that lets you play games and interact with other caregivers online, check out The Caregiver Village.  (Full disclosure - they contacted me to recommend themselves. Since I like entrepreneurship, I'm posting the link.)

Being a caregiver can be tiring, lonely and frustrating. You do not have to do it alone! Seek and find the support that is out there.

Please post your own resources to share with others. Thanks!

Should You Take the (P.S.A.) Prostate Test?

Two articles from last week's New York Times  starkly raise the question of whether it makes sense for healthy men to undergo prostate cancer screening. The United States Preventive Services Task Force has scientific evidence that the tests do more harm than good, but the entrenched practices of the medical establishment and some patient groups are fighting the pronouncement. Separately, an article in the Science Times simply reinforced for me the evidence of potential harm from over testing (see link below). The best way to understand the controversy is to read the articles yourself and do some critical thinking:

Published: October 6, 2011
Giving healthy men P.S.A. blood tests for prostate cancer does not save lives and often leads to treatment that can cause needless pain and side effects, a government panel said.
Published: October 7, 2011
A finding that a blood test to screen for prostate cancer does not save lives, but results in needless medical procedures, is being contested.
Published: October 3, 2011
A prostate biopsy more than doubles the risk of being hospitalized for infections and other problems within the following month, a new study says.
Reading these articles about the studies on prostate cancer screening and the backlash they are causing really makes me question how science, medical technology, fear and greed all interact. It sure looks like the P.S.A. test is at best worthless for saving lives, and at worst, that it does more harm than good. The tests lead to far too many further tests that will not save your life, and in fact, can worsen its quality.
Yet, good people, doctors, insurance companies and policy makers all seem to be unwilling to try to understand the value of how statistical evidence can better guide our decisions. Even the articles show how quickly we turn to the small, individual stories that are easier for us to relate to, the anecdotes of lives being saved -- or of tests being avoided. 
But what none of these articles show are anecdotes from the people who had the further tests and treatments and had their lives wrecked as a result. If you're reading this and can provide such anecdotes, I will make sure they are posted because I believe we need to get a better handle on what the choices are. And we need to have some better ways to imagine the consequences of not following the scientific evidence which the United States Preventive Services Task Force has published. 

Active Vacations for Empty Nesters

One of the advantages of having adult children is that vacations are no longer dictated by the school calendar. We have also found ourselves more willing to try a vacation that was planned by professionals. This September we tried biking in Tuscany with Vermont Bicycle Tours.

One of our biggest surprises was that virtually everyone on the tour was about our age, mostly with adult children off on their own or in college. Given that this was a very active vacation, it was nice to be with people who were all fit, were from all over the U.S. and Canada and were interested in exploring the world. I was actually amazed at how much other people on the tour bike on a regular basis. While I might do 30 miles a week, they were doing over 65.

In case you're wondering what an active vacation is like, I'm going to give you rundown right here.

Vermont Bicycle Tours really tries to take care of its guests. They arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport in Rome and drive us to the hilltop town of Orvieto in Umbria. (The 1 1/2 hour ride was terrifying, as our driver drove as fast as possible, weaving in and out of lanes. We finally asked him to slow down.) Orvieto is an ancient town built on a flat hill of tufa.

Orvieto Highlights: Viewing the duomo with amazing carved friezes and gargoyles.
Exploring underground caves where people once lived and hid from attackers.
Walking the narrow streets filled with people out to enjoy a fall weekend.
Excellent thin crust pizza covered with fresh mushrooms and prociutto.

Bus ride to La Parrina where we stayed at Antica Fattoria La Parrina - a very old working farm with olive trees, vineyards, old buildings, and a lovely pool. The fattoria makes its own cheese and wine and grows its own fruits and vegetables. Given all this, I expected that the locally produced food would be amazing. But it wasn't. Most of the food was just really plain with not much flavor or interest. The La Parrina wine was fine, however.  The only food that impressed me was a vegetarian lasagna made with zucchini, peppers, local fresh cheese and bechamel sauce. And surprisingly, we had freshly roasted turkey with it. Delicious.

During a tour of the La Parrina shop, we were surprised to see a local man come in pulling a little wagon with two huge glass jugs with woven covers. He filled the jugs with wine using something that looked like a fire hose that came out of the wall. Wine was only 1 euro per liter when purchased that way! I wish we could do that in our country.  

Bike rides that we took from La Parrina included a windy ride to Talamone - a lovely village by the sea where we had a fantastic picnic prepared by our tour guides, Luca and Robert. They used fabulous fresh foods, including the best pesto I've ever had. They also gave us wild boar salami and lovely soft pecorino cheese. Why can't we get food like that in the states?

The biking past olive orchards, vineyards, sheep, hills and plowed fields was just wonderful. Going by bike really let me take in my surroundings. It made me truly live in the moment. The best part was being cheered on by ditch diggers laying pipes by the side of the road.

The great picnic in Talamone was in sharp contrast to the truly terrible dinner we had that night at the "Ristorante il Pescatore" of Orbetello. I expected amazingly fresh seafood in this seafood restaurant by the lagoon, but it all tasted old and of very strong unpleasant fishy flavors. I asked if I could change my spaghetti with clams for spaghetti with tomato sauce, which fortunately they let me do. The tomato sauce was just OK. But the locally farmed bass, served next, was just too fishy to eat. The only part of the evening that was great was the bus ride there -- we saw a gorgeous sunset, a rainbow and lightning -- all at the same time! 

The following day, we rode to Capalbio. The medieval walled village reminded me of Middle Earth. There we had aquacotta and wild boar (cinghiale) ragu on creamy polenta. The food was out of this world. Some of our new friends and we had been drawn into the restaurant al Pozzo by the aromas coming out the door. After lunch, we rode to a gorgeous beach in a park preserve near Ansedonia. We rode 6 km through a pine forest to find a path to a spectacular crescent beach - white sand, warm water of many blues and greens -- could have stayed all afternoon. But we needed to push on to Orbetello where we would be picked up.

The next day, we were taken by bus and ferry boat to Giglio Island where we explored another medieval town and went swimming at a windy, wavy beach. And my husband got to eat grilled calamari that he adored. I can't say enough about how fascinating the medieval villages are with their imposing walls, tiny streets, sturdy doors, shuttered windows, potted flowers and succulents and spectacular views. We could see the islands of Monte Cristo, Elbe, and Sardinia.

More later.

Test Your Senior Trivia Memory

A fellow baby boomer friend emailed this "memory" quiz to me. It's truly a trip down memory lane, especially if you watched a lot of TV when you were younger. Take a look. Test yourself. Answers and my score at the end.

1. What builds strong bodies 12 ways?
A. Flintstones vitamins
B. The Butt master
C. Spaghetti
D. Wonder Bread
E. Orange Juice
F. Milk
G. Cod Liver Oil
2. Before he was Muhammad Ali, he was...
A. Sugar Ray Robinson.
B. Roy Orbison..
C. Gene Autry.
D. Rudolph Valentino.
E. Fabian.
F. Mickey Mantle.
G. Cassius Clay.
3. Pogo, the comic strip character said, 'We have met the enemy and....
A. It's you.
B. He is us.
C. It's the Grinch.
D. He wasn't home.
E. He's really me and you.
F. We quit.
G. He surrendered.
4. Good night, David.
A.. Good night, Chet.
B. Sleep well.
C. Good night, Irene.
D.. Good night, Gracie.
E. See you later, alligator.
F. Until tomorrow.
G. Good night, Steve.
5. You'll wonder where the yellow went...
A. When you use Tide.
B. When you lose your crayons.
C. When you clean your tub.
D. If you paint the room blue.
E. If you buy a soft water tank.
F. When you use Lady Clairol.
G. When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.
6. Before he was the Skipper's Little Buddy, Bob Denver was Dobie's friend...
A. Stuart Whitman.
B Randolph Scott.
C. Steve Reeves..
D. Maynard G. Krebs.
E. Corky B. Dork.
F. Dave the Whale.
G. Zippy Zoo.
7. Liar, liar...
A. You're a liar.
B. Your nose is growing.
C. Pants on fire.
D. Join the choir
E. Jump up higher.
F. On the wire.
G. I'm telling Mom.
8. Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Superman fights a never ending battle for truth, justice and....
A. Wheaties.
B. Lois Lane .
C. TV ratings.
D. World peace.
E. Red tights.
F. The American way.
G. News headlines.
9. Hey kids! What time is it?
A. It's time for Yogi Bear.
B It's time to do your homework.
C. It's Howdy Doody Time.
D. It's time for Romper Room.
E. It's bedtime.
F... The Mighty Mouse Hour..
G. Scoopy Doo Time..
10. Lions and tigers and bears...
A. Yikes.
B. Oh, no..
C. Gee whiz.
D. I'm scared...
E. Oh my.
F. Help! Help!
G. Let's run.
11. Bob Dylan advised us never to trust anyone...
A. Over 40.
B. Wearing a uniform.
C.. Carrying a briefcase.
D. Over 30.
E. You don't know.
F. Who says, 'Trust me'..
G. Who eats tofu.
12. NFL quarterback who appeared in a television commercial wearing women's stockings...
A. Troy Aikman
B. Kenny Stabler
C. Joe Namath
D. Roger Staubach
E. Joe Montana
F. Steve Young
G. John Elway
13. Brylcream...
A. Smear it on.
B. You'll smell great.
C. Tame that cowlick.
D. Grease ball heaven.
E. It's a dream.
F. We're your team.
G. A little dab'll do ya.
14. I found my thrill...
A. In Blueberry muffins.
B. With my man, Bill.
C. Down at the mill.
D. Over the windowsill.
E. With thyme and dill.
F. Too late to enjoy.
G. On Blueberry Hill.
15. Before Robin Williams, Peter Pan was played by...
A. Clark Gable.
B. Mary Martin.
C. Doris Day.
D. Errol Flynn.
E. Sally Fields.
F. Jim Carrey.
G. Jay Leno.
16. Name the Beatles...
A. John, Steve, George, Ringo
B. John, Paul, George, Roscoe
C. John, Paul, Stacey, Ringo
D. Jay, Paul, George, Ringo
E. Lewis, Peter, George, Ringo
F. Jason, Betty, Skipper, Hazel
G. John, Paul, George, Ringo
17. I wonder, wonder, who...
A. Who ate the leftovers?
B. Who did the laundry?
C. Was it you?
D. Who wrote the book of love?
E. Who I am?
F. Passed the test?
G. Knocked on the door?
18. I'm strong to the finish...
A. Cause I eats my broccoli.
B. Cause I eats me spinach.
C. Cause I lift weights.
D. Cause I'm the hero.
E. And don't you for get it.
F. Cause Olive Oyl loves me.
G. To outlast Bruto.
19. When it's least expected, you're elected, you're the star today.
A. Smile, you're on Candid Camera.
B. Smile, you're on Star Search.
C. Smile, you won the lottery.
D. Smile, we're watching you.
E. Smile, the world sees you.
F. Smile, you're a hit.
G. Smile, you're on TV.
20. What do M & M's do?
A. Make your tummy happy.
B. Melt in your mouth, not in your pocket.
C. Make you fat.
D.. Melt your heart.
E... Make you popular.
F. Melt in your mouth, not in your hand.
G. Come in colors.
Below are the right answers:
1. D - Wonder Bread
2. G - Cassius Clay
3. B - He Is us
4. A - Good night, Chet
5. G - When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent
6. D - Maynard G. Krebs
7. C - Pants on fire
8. F - The American Way
9. C - It's Howdy Doody Time
10. E - Oh my
11. D - Over 30
12. C - Joe Namath
13. G - A little dab'll do ya
14. G - On Blueberry Hill
15. B - Mary Martin
16. G - John, Paul, George, Ringo
17. D - Who wrote the book of Love
18. B - Cause I eats me spinach
19. A - Smile, you're on Candid Camera
20.. F - Melt in your mouth not in your hand
(I got 100%. :-) ) What was your score?