Amy Abbott

Apr 042017

April 4, 2017 — Today is our son’s 27th birthday. What richness Alex has brought to our lives! He is a wonderful person, full of laughter and intelligence and compassion and love.

As we celebrate his birthday, I’m also reminded of another anniversary.

  • Twenty-five years ago today, we took our son to the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, we heard the word autism for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, our lives — and his — changed forever.

A much-wanted baby, he took his sweet time, showing up nearly two weeks late. His infancy typically processed until eighteen months.

We visited my brother and his family in Iowa. Our nephew, three months younger, was running circles around our boy. Our nephew came early and weighed four-and-a-half-pounds, but at 15 months was stronger, faster, and even said a few words.

While it is never a good idea to compare cousins or siblings, seeing the boys together punched us in the gut. Our nephew nearly solved equations, compared to our son. Alex, the larger of the two, was awkward and had no cogent vocabulary.


Sitting in a high chair during our visit, he looked at my brother’s video camera and said what sounded like, “Hello, Uncle Andy.” That was the last thing we understood him to say until several years later.

That trip woke us up. We noticed Alex loved ceiling fans and watched for minutes at a time. He was highly impatience if he lost a particular toy, his precious Toddle Tots. We named all of them. He had more than one “Jerome,” which he clung to so tightly he rubbed their eyes off. He drank only from his red sippy cup with a particular lid. His eye contact was poor, and while he interacted with others at daycare, his play patterns were unusual. (Later in his pre-school days, a teacher told me he liked to have “meetings.”  She thought this was odd. I thought it was normal for the only child of two parents with lots of meetings.)

I consulted our family doctor who told me I was “a nervous mother and I should get over it.” Over the next few months, our son’s behavior and actions differed from the other children we knew.

After several similar visits with our family doctor, I had had it. I sought a female physician (whom I still see). On our first visit, she suggested we have our son evaluated for developmental issues.

On April 4, 1992, we walked into the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for a lengthy evaluation. Alex was screened by a visiting neurologist from St. Louis Children’s Hospital (whom he would see several more times) and physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The specialists felt he had PDD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. In 1992, the word “spectrum” had not come into use.

All we heard was the “A” word, autism, about which we knew nothing. We left the Rehab Center with more questions than answers. Would he ever talk? Did he understand the language? Would he always live with us? What was his ability to learn?

The Rehab Center recommended weekly therapies, and within a year, he also started their therapeutic pre-school. He improved, slowly.

At the Rehab Center, all three of us learned more than Alex’s therapies taught. Our son was by far the least impaired person in his classes.  Many children had severe physical defects, used wheelchairs, and lacked support at home. I am certain Alex’s empathy as an adult derives from learning about others with differing abilities and backgrounds as a small child.

Language came fully along by age four. The child who screamed for his sippy cup now read everything to us, from words on television to signs at Sam’s Club. Many of his behavioral issues may have been caused by his frustration. We believe he fully understood language and read very early, but his inability to communicate made him furious.

At his pre-school graduation in 1995, he spoke to the crowd. “My name is Alexander Abbott, and I’m going to kindergarten at Chandler Elementary School.” His vocabulary was well ahead of his years, yet his ability to speak was still halting and stilted. He stayed in special education until second grade, also receiving an IEP for speech until fourth grade.

His challenges were more social after early elementary school, and those are his stories to tell. We are grateful he had friends from Scouting, who sometimes pulled him out of a bully’s harm. I neither want to maximize or minimize his issues.  Likely, he has Asperger Syndrome, with its bundle of impaired social skills and understanding.

Today he is a college graduate working and living in Washington D.C. His life is rich with friends and activities, kayaking and hiking on weekends, enjoying baseball and board games and nights out with pals. Early intervention from the Rehab Center gave him a self-awareness most neurotypical people lack. He knows his limitations and works through them, which is more than most people do. Unless you know him well, you likely won’t know he is on the spectrum.

On my desk, I have his last Jerome, a late model with eyes intact. I keep it there as a reminder of how fortunate Alex was to have dozens of teachers, therapists, and mentors who care about him.

Happy birthday, son. We love you, as the song says, just the way you are.


Apr 012017

April 1, 2017 — We’ve known about the three family weddings for a year.  Three of our nephews are getting married this spring, each blessed day six weeks apart.  The first wedding is a week from today. Somehow, it evaded me that I might need to have something to wear to these special family events.  My Beloved bought new Florsheim’s a month ago, so he’s a bit ahead of me.

As aunt and uncle, we have no visible role.  We buy an acceptable gift. We show up and try to stay low key.  This means looking normal, not like a flamboyant Auntie Mame character or Marvin from “Office Space.”

The bride and groom tell everyone the same thing; we want you to be at our wedding.  Don’t worry about the details.  You being there is the most important thing to us.

But we know the underlying message is that we need to stay in the background. Our day is past.  Basically, we want to have a Low Profile. This is difficult because we both possess qualities of each character, well, mostly me.  (Ones of my prized possessions is a red stapler I won from Radio WOWO in 1973.  Sad life.)

My Beloved generally knows how to stay beneath the radar. He looks nice every day, because (unless it is Saturday) he won’t go out in jeans and a sweatshirt. He wears nice slacks and neatly pressed collared shirts (by the dry cleaners, not me) every weekday. (We’re not counting that time we ate the 100 Swiss franc lunch in Lugano when he was wearing his Allis-Chalmers orange sweatshirt from Rural King.  I’m telling you, he’s Ralph Lauren business casual most of the time.)

We rarely dress up. The suits I wore when I worked for a Fortune 100 company are long gone.  Husband has the requisite weddings and funeral suits.  Wednesday night we canvassed his closet and had a “try-on” session.  He was wearing no shirt and Marvin the Martian fancy pants.  Real sexy stuff.

He found three identical blue sports jackets.  Nice for when we summer in the Hamptons.  Seriously, why does he have these?   My theory is that in the last 21 years (that’s as long as we’ve lived in this house), some occasion arose that he needed a blue sports jacket, so  he bought one.  And then another.  And then another.

Then he found five nearly identical suits in dry cleaning bags.  One of the suits had two red Christmas tapers packed in plastic attached to the bag.  Was it a giveaway from the dry cleaners?  Were they in his pockets when he took the jacket in?  We thought we might surprise the bride and groom as we walked up the aisle each carrying a red candle, but realized that would put is in the Being Noticed category.

Four of the five suits fit, and I insisted he put the fifth (a leftover from about twenty years ago) in the Goodwill pile.  He didn’t want to, but I reminded him that having four identical suits that fit qualifies him for a new career as a funeral director.  He’s not really interested in changing careers.  We agreed to find a shirt and tie to match whatever I wore.  This is problematic.

I have nothing to wear.  

Nothing.  I purchased a dress for another nephew’s wedding in 2015, and well, the dress was hideous.  There was also a minor incident with a slip.  A slip is a piece of women’s lingerie from Queen Victoria’s era.  The only other dress I have is my “funeral dress.”  I wore it to my mother’s funeral because my father requested I wear a dress. (I will not be wearing one to his funeral, should he proceed me, as he won’t be there to observe.)  There is something acceptable I can wear to Wedding #3 because it’s colors are black and gold and I happen to own a summery, shimmery black and gold two-piece top with a pair of black summery, shimmery slacks.  This fits into the vision of looking gracious but not overly visible.

I made a trek to the mall today (a place I never ever visit) and found a helpful clerk and found something acceptable and low key.  Now if I remember not to call the groom by his childhood nickname, not carry lighted tapers down the aisle, pull my red stapler out of my purse, and for God’s sake, not dance at the reception, we will be under the radar.







Mar 252017

March 25, 2017 — Today is Elton John’s 70th birthday.  I’ve been a fan since I was a young teenager and am still a fan.  Randy and I have been fortunate to attend two Elton John concerts, one in Tampa, and the other at the old Roberts Stadium in Evansville.

Early in my career when most of my focus was on public relations, I met many celebrities (hate to tag anyone a celebrity but let’s say these are people with some form of national recognition.)

There is, however, no one who stands out like Elton John.  In September 1986, my Beloved and I saw Elton in concert for the first time at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.  Randy was in his second year of graduate school. The concert was beyond our dreams.  Elton gave 86 concerts all over the world that year.  In September 1986, he played Tampa with Denver a few days later.

A few days after the concert, I traveled on business to Denver and stayed at the Fairmont Hotel.  (Yes, healthcare WAS different then!)  A Denver friend met me for drinks and we decided to go out for dinner.  I needed to retrieve my purse so we went up to my room.  Standing waiting for the elevator was Elton John.  Funky glasses and wearing an orange and pink suit that resembled a domino piece.

Not shy,  I engaged him in conversation by telling him I heard his concert a few days before in Tampa.  He asked me a number of questions about the concert, and seemed genuinely interested in my answers.  He was kind to us, gave me an autograph, and let the elevator go as he was speaking with us.  I was “got.”  We did not ride down with him, but went back to my room and called my friend’s daughter who was sixteen and had tickets for a concert that night.  We giggled like sixteen-year-old groupies for a few minutes!

I had no camera with me.  This was before cell phones,  but he was so nice I suspect he would have allowed us to take his picture.  I framed his autograph, no doubt on some scrap of paper my friend had, and kept it on my desk these thirty-some years.

My friend and I eventually recovered, got back on the elevator, and when the door opened in the lobby, there stood John Madden.  Madden is a huge man, and hard to miss.  Neither of us could have cared less about seeing another famous person.  We saw Elton, enough fame to last a life time.

Take a trip with me and listen to the anthem of my youth, which still gets me rocking.


Dec 212016

This is an old but goodie from my book, “Whitley County Kid,” (available on Amazon).  The time and some descriptions have been changed to protect identity, but the gist of the story from my childhood is true.  And bears retelling every year.

In the 1960s, I was an elementary school student. My primary concern each December was what presents Santa Claus would bring for Christmas. From the moment the Sears Wish Book arrived, I leafed through the slick pages, highlighting the toys I wanted.

Before big box stores, our rural village had a bustling business district. Farmers came from the country to visit the Farmer’s Elevator. Wives bought flour, sugar, and necessities at the G & G Market. People gardened and canned, so few bought vegetables or fruit, except in December when the high school’s Sunshine Society sold Florida oranges to benefit Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

Citizens visited the brick post office to see Postmaster Clarence Pook, pick up mail, and catch up on local news. Across the street, a comfortable white house served as the town’s busy library with a real-life Marian the Librarian, Marian Bollinger. Edna Michels, the Story Lady, donned a bonnet and old-fashioned long dress to host weekly story hours for children.

The day after Thanksgiving, the volunteer firefighters hung giant red and white plastic candy canes from the lamps on State Street and displayed a life-sized manger scene near the three-way stop on the south end of town. Snow came early and blanketed the ground until after the IHSAA boys’ basketball tournament at the beginning of spring.

My father bought our real Christmas tree every year from a local tree farm. Our ranch-style home lacked a fireplace, so my brother and I hung our red and white flannel stockings on the windowsills. Mom used Elmer’s glue and green glitter to paint our first names on the white furry part of the red flannel Christmas stockings.

My father taught high school science and agriculture and advised the Future Farmers of America chapter. Each year the FFA chapter raised money, bought the high school a real Christmas tree, and decorated it with blue, green, and red bulbs and fragile, sparkling glass ornaments. The school community enjoyed the tree until the semester ended.

Tradition dictated that the FFA boys and my father take the tree, decorations and all, to a needy family chosen by the other teachers. Our 1965 Chevy Biscayne station wagon was inadequate to cart the nearly nine-foot tree to this family, so Dad borrowed the school’s World War II-era Army truck from Willie Sims, the maintenance man.

School was out for the semester a few days before Christmas. Dad let the chosen family know they would be receiving a large, fully decorated Christmas tree. Dad and several of the FFA boys would bring the tree to their home.

The children ranged in age from an infant to an eighteen-year-old, with ten other children in between. The father was out of work, a rarity in Middle America then, when manufacturing and farming jobs were readily available. There were no subsidized school lunches, free books, or heating assistance.

Dad had his students put the decorated tree in the back of the old truck. The three of them—the thirty-something schoolteacher and the two teenage boys in blue corduroy Future Farmer jackets—were in a festive mood, congratulating themselves on the good deed they were about to do.

They traveled east on the state highway past well-manicured farms, bright, freshly painted red barns and white fences. As the old truck turned onto a county road, pieces of packed ice and gravel spit up from the vehicle’s worn tires.

Nearing the family’s home, Dad turned around and looked in the truck bed to check on the gift.

No tree.

No lights.

No decorations.

No green and red metal tree stand.

Nothing but an empty and scratched truck bed.

Dad turned the truck around. He and the students retraced their steps to town where the shops were closing for the night. The twinkle of holiday bulbs and the lights from the Evangelical United Brethren Church signaled evening.

Nothing could be found. Now past five o’clock, stores were already closing, if not already closed, on State Street. It was two days before Christmas.

Dad thought about it. “What should I do? Should I go home and get our tree?”

He did not believe that was a reasonable choice, with his two small children enjoying the tree, but he steeled himself for that option. If need be, he thought, his children could learn about sharing.

With darkness coming, the gray truck and three not-so-wise men arrived in town. A tree lot at the used car place was closing for the night. Dad reached for his wallet and bought the healthiest tree that remained on the lot. Then, off to Huffman and Deaton’s Hardware for lights and ornaments and a new metal tree stand. Joe Huffman was closing his register for the day but recognized my father and let him in.

With a new tree in the bed of the beat-up gray truck, the group headed east again. As they tentatively approached the family’s large farmhouse, they could spy children watching them from each window. The family’s older children greeted the group and set up the tree in their living room. Dad noticed a stack of presents and bags of candy and fruit donated by the Lions Club and other community groups.

The scent of anticipation and cinnamon apples hung in the air. The teacher and the teenagers left the family with happiness and wonder.

Our family had our usual Christmas celebration. I am confident we went to our German Lutheran church on Christmas Eve, and my brother and I sang in the children’s program.

I am certain nervous children in Sears’ plaid robes re-created the manger scene.

I am certain we sang carols about a needy couple two thousand years ago who had their child in poor surroundings.

I am certain my brother and I ran from our bedrooms early the next morning to see what treasures lay wrapped and waiting under our tree.

I am certain my brother and I balked when our mother made us eat breakfast before unwrapping our numerous gifts and toys.

I am certain Christmas was delightful though I cannot remember one specific gift I received or what we ate at our holiday meal.

I don’t know what happened to the large family. I haven’t lived in my hometown for more than thirty years.

What I do know is this: my father spent much more on the family’s tree and decorations than he did on ours. Dad and those long-forgotten high school students received a huge blessing when they saw the lights in the eyes of those children.

My family receives a blessing in the annual retelling of this tale, with its message of the power in giving.


Several weeks later, Dad went into the brick post office to pick up the mail and chat with Clarence Pook, the postmaster. A man Dad did not know began talking to Clarence in a loud voice.


“Clarence,” the stranger said. “It’s the oddest thing. You know, I was driving out east of town a few nights before Christmas, and you would not believe it, I found a completely decorated, beautiful nine-foot Christmas tree that someone had thrown in a ditch!”


Nov 122016

HEALTH November 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

The magnitude of opioid use among seniors is astounding …nearly a third of Medicare beneficiaries receive prescriptions for commonly abused opioids, including OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Fentanyl or generic equivalents.

While the mainstream media reports on the opiates epidemic, another concern about opioid use hide in plain sight. Nearly 12 million Medicare recipients received at least one prescription for an opioid painkiller last year, according to a federal report.

“The magnitude of opioid use among seniors is astounding,” according to Frederic Blow, director of addiction research at the University of Michigan medical school, in “StatNews.” The article also noted that nearly a third of Medicare beneficiaries receive prescriptions for commonly abused opioids, including OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Fentanyl or generic equivalents.


Why should seniors and caregivers be mindful of opioid usage?

Suzanne Robotti, founder of MedShadow, a New York-based consumer advocacy group, spoke to Senior Wire News Service about why seniors are often prescribed opioids.

“Here’s a common scenario. Seniors may experience back pain, migraines, hip pain, arthritis knees, pulled muscles, or whatever.” She said. “Some people will not take NSAIDs — ibuprofen or naproxen — because stomachs and aging kidneys will not tolerate them.”

Robotti said many seniors do not like to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) because the difference between an effective dose and a toxic dose is just too close. She added that a physician might suggest a patient “take an Aleve and give yourself a couple of days.”

Many seniors will come home with an opioid instead of the other options, and sometimes it may be prescribed by a dentist for a procedure like a root canal.

“In aging bodies, metabolism slows down. Our kidneys and liver are organs through which drugs pass, and the organs now move more slowly. Drugs are in the body much longer, so the half-life is longer,” she said. “A drug that might last six hours in a 50-year-old body could last 50 percent longer in a senior.”

She explained that older people often don’t want to challenge their physicians. “It is typical that if a medication indicates ‘take at breakfast and dinner for ten days or as needed, that patient will take at breakfast and dinner for ten days’ whether necessary or not.”
Why Do These Drugs Act Differently in Aging Bodies?

According to Robotti, “They up your dopamine level and slow down your pain receptors so that you feel less pain.” These benefits explain why opioids are beloved.

But, as she continued, “The medications slow everything down. For some seniors, slowing of systems is a bad idea.” Robotti spoke of new drug for opioid-induced constipation due to slowing of bowel function for older adults. Constipation may lead to yet another medication.

Anyone with breathing problems should be mindful. “Opioids typically depress respiration in all age groups. Of course, older adults are more likely to suffer from COPD and other respiratory diseases from long-term smoking to simply living a long life. Many things like pollution and asthma may cause respiratory problems.”

Many opioids, alone or in conjunction with other prescribed drugs or over the counter medications, may impair cognition. This may lead to a higher risk of falling, and the consequence of a broken bone.

Robotti also worries about herbal remedies and supplements because they are unregulated by the FDA, which only gets involved if there is a problem. If someone needs an herbal remedy or supplement, Robotti recommends consulting a pharmacist about which brand is the best. Not all supplements and herbal remedies are created equal, and Robotti believes pharmacists can help make an informed decision.


What’s the Wise Health Consumer to Do?

Robotti offered suggestions: talk to your medical provider and pharmacist, use the Beers Criteria, and try non-drug options. “And don’t just say ‘should I take this drug’ but ask ‘how does this work in my body. Is there a non-drug alternative for me?’”

  • Medical providers: The Beers Criteria is a great go-to for information on medications. The list is available online at According to Robotti, “The Beers criteria goes through all the scientific documentation and notes which drugs should not be given to seniors. This list is clear, simple, and trustworthy and is the first place I turn to when I need information.”Robotti believes that the fewer drugs taken, the more options open. She says “Delay, delay, delay.” To clarify, Robotti is not recommending seniors abandon all prescription medication, but rather be involved in an active, ongoing dialogue with all medical providers about the drugs’ benefits and concerns.
  • Pharmacists: Robotti cites a resource right under our nose, our local pharmacy. “Pharmacists know which drugs will interact and can suggest alternatives. Go to your neighborhood drug store and just as you do at your doctor’s appointment, hand your pharmacist a list of your prescriptions. You will want to include every supplement and herbal remedy as well, as they can also have multiple side effects.Robotti admits to a fondness for pharmacists because “doctors are healers and diagnosticians, but pharmacists are drug experts.”
  • Non-drug options: Robotti is a champion of non-pharmacologic options. Many seniors turn to opioids for pain, when meditation and physical therapy may do the trick.

“There have been several studies that have shown pain can be effectively managed by non-drug options. Our society has an attitude that nobody should be in pain for any moment of the day. I am not suggesting that people live with chronic pain. If the pain is temporary and you know there is a cause for it, try meditation, ice packs, cognitive behavioral therapy, and putting your feet up. Give yourself the chance to heal before reaching for an opioid.”

Robotti started MedShadow borne of her own experience – she was exposed to the synthetic hormone Diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in her mother’s womb. She formed the group to help consumers understand that many drugs have unintended consequences. DES was prescribed from 1938 to 1971 to women at risk of miscarriage and other problems of pregnancy. It was taken off the market 45 years ago when discovered a relationship with cancer in the children born from women who took the synthetic estrogen.

Final word? Please consult your personal health care provider about what is best for you.

Nov 122016

HEALTH November 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

The NWS reports there are 25 million clouds-to-ground lightning strikes per year. While your chances are probably as good as winning the lottery, why take the chance? Golfers and football players know the secret. If there is lightning in the area, get indoors. If you are in a car, make sure it has a hard top.

Mildly Obese Diabetes Easier Access to Bariatric Surgery

More than 415 million people globally have diabetes. Of that number, most have Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Fewer than half of adults with Type 2 diabetes can control blood sugar with medication and lifestyle changes, according to Diabetes Care.

Cleveland Clinic, in conjunction with the American Diabetes Association, recently published the results of a new clinical trial. When Body Mass Index (BMI) is reduced, diabetics are better able to manage their disease. The new guidelines help physicians understand the role of bariatric surgery in patients with diabetes and a high BMI.

The study analyzed 11 randomized, controlled trials to compare the success of surgery versus medication intervention and lifestyle improvement. The new guidelines drop the eligibility threshold from a BMI of 35 to 30, which according to Cleveland Clinic, opens up the possibility of bariatric surgery to more than three million Americans.

The official Medicare site ( noted that Medicare pays for some weight loss surgery for morbidly obese patients. Some commercial insurance plans pay as well. Consult your doctor and insurance plan for more information.


However, Doctor, I Was Struck by Lightning!

The National Weather Service reports that more people in the United States have been killed by lighting this year than tornadoes. By September 12, 2016, according to the NWS, 35 people died from lightning strikes. In contrast, 12 individuals died from storms during the same period.

“This year seems to be unusually high,” said John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. “That is because of the totals have been in the 20s for quite some years now, since 2009.”

Has lightning increased or are we more cavalier to nature’s ultimate light show?

The NWS reports there are 25 million clouds-to-ground lightning strikes per year. While your chances are probably as good as winning the lottery, why take the chance?

Golfers and football players know the secret. If there is lightning in the area, get indoors. If you are in a car, make sure it has a hard top.

“When you are struck, you have electricity moving through your body,” Jensenius told the magazine Live Science. “The electricity typically goes through either the cardiovascular or the nervous system.” Cardiac arrest is the usual cause of death.


Disagreement on Osteoporosis Coverage

Osteoporosis is pervasive among seniors and causes weakened bones that lead to fractures. Many women have stopped taking medication that may help them avoid the condition, reported a recent New York Times article.

Use of the most popular prescribed osteoporosis drugs fell by 50 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to the article.

Earlier this summer, the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, the National Osteoporosis Foundation, and the National Bone Health Alliance, asked physicians for more aggressive treatment for patients at highest risk.

“Ninety percent of patients, when you talk to them about starting one of these drugs, won’t go on,” said Dr. Paul D. Miller, medical director of the Colorado Center for Bone Research, Lakewood, Colorado.

Fueled by media stories, the fear for patients is cracked thighbones or rotting jawbones. While the FDA provides a warning in the package insert, these side effects have been rare. Many physicians feel the benefit of the drugs in preventing fractures outweigh the slight risk of the unusual side effects.

The medical community knows that often a fracture may be the start of a slippery slope of bad health for an older individual.


Potential Glaucoma Treatment May Eliminate Daily Drops

Science Daily noted that 3 million people with glaucoma in the U.S. could benefit from a new device that slowly releases eye medication. The promising research by Dr. James D. Brandt, director of the University of California Davis Medical Center Glaucoma Service focuses on a silicone ring resting on the eye. A time release, the ring released medication slowly over six months.

As a person with glaucoma for more than a decade, I fight the daily battle to remember my eye drops. We only have two eyes, so one would suspect the motivation is high. Seniors all have tricks to remember our medication; pills may be easier than drops. This new technology could provide vision-saving technology to individuals like me.

Glaucoma remains a leading cause of blindness. People with glaucoma have increased intraocular pressure, and the drops are taken daily lower the pressure and, in turn, permanent damage to the optic nerve.

This new technology requires a visit to the ophthalmologist every six months for a replacement and does not involve surgery.

The UC Davis study showed a well-tolerated device and a high retention rate of 89%.

“In making effective treatments easier for patients, the hope is that we can reduce vision loss from glaucoma, and possibly other diseases,” said Dr. Brandt.

Oct 282016

Silver Birch Press


Poems for a Lifetime
by Amy Abbott

The blue, hardback book Favorite Poems Old and News carries an inscription “To Amy LeNore, from Grammy and Grandpa, March 21, 1967.” A tiny orange sticker says Sandy Book Store, Clearwater, Florida, on the inside back cover.

My grandparents wintered in Florida and often brought books to my brother and me in Indiana. By age ten, I was a reader in my own right. My parents read to us, and each loved reading.

Now dog-eared and fragile, the book contained such riches that I read it again and again, opening cautiously like a museum window lined in velvet, showcasing precious stones.

In the anthology, I first discovered Teasdale’s “Barter,” Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost. And, cummings, the queer old balloonman whistles far and wee and bettyandisbel come dancing. Longfellow, the Psalms, Wordsworth or Wallace Stevens. For half a century, my precious book is my go-to during times of joy and sorrow. I slip my hand into the museum case and choose a sparkling diamond or an emerald. I’m whisked off to Kipling’s world, or Thayer’s where there’s no joy in Mudville. I’ve wandered with Poe in his sepulcher by the sea or at the seashore with Robert Louis Stevenson.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I saw this prompt, I immediately knew I would write about the ragged blue book on my desk. Favorite Poems Old and New is among the first items I would grab if my house were burning down. It was easy to write about this book, as I have loved it for nearly 50 years.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Abbott writes two syndicated columns for Senior Wire News Service, including “A Healthy Age” (on senior health) and “The Raven Lunatic “(humor.) She is the author of multiple books, and is currently featured in These Winter Months: An Anthology of the Late Orphan Projectby The Backpack Press. The anthology features 25 writers discussing the loss of a parent. Amy lives in southern Indiana with her husband of 32 years. Her online home is

Oct 022016

20161002_132129I’ve loved politics since I was a small child.  I am a Baby Boomer, born in 1957, smack dab in the middle of the Boom after World War II, during the Eisenhower administration. My parents were “cloth-coat” Republicans, moderate in all things. (The term cloth coat Republicans came from Pat Nixon’s trip to China, where she eschewed fur for a simple wool coat.)

And it goes without saying because I am a white person raised in a safe space, that I was the benefit of white privilege.  While I was in Bible School at a rural white church, four little girls of color were killed in Birmingham, Alabama. While I ran in last place at junior high field day, civil rights leaders were shot on the Edmund Pettit Bridge.

My parents read “Time” magazine cover to cover every week, and we discussed the cover story. We talked about current events at the dinner table. My father’s family was mostly Democrats and my mother’s family Republican. My grandmother McVay hated the man she called “Nick a son,” while my Grandmother Enz kept an autographed picture of Ronald Reagan on her television. My Uncle Woody and my Dad exchanged barbs about politics at family dinners. I listened in to their civil exchanges and learned.

The law allowing eighteen-year-olds to vote (long after many young men under 21 gave their lives in Vietnam) enabled me to cast my first Presidential vote at 19 in 1976.  I proudly voted for Gerald Ford. My roommate and I (she was a Carter supporter) argued about the candidates, wonky Carter before wonk became a word and clumsy Eagle Scout Ford.forddole

Over the years, the moderate Republican party that I knew became too conservative for me. The party slid slowly to the right, while I stood still.  President Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency, and the current Republican presidential candidate denies climate change. The political climate has spilled over into what we used to call “polite society,” which by all accounts, is no more.  Go to WalMart and listen.  Turn on any evening political show.  How did we get here?

Perhaps this journey started with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  I volunteered for the John Anderson campaign in Fort Wayne.  Anderson was a Republican who ran as an independent. Having graduated from college in the depths of a recession, it wasn’t “morning in America” for me. And, johnandersonCarter wasn’t working.

The Moral Majority hung onto the non-church-going Reagan as a beacon of morality, while the former B-actor ignored the plights of those with AIDS.  Many people made a lot of money in the freewheeling “greed is good” eighties, and others lost sight of the shore as manufacturing curled up and died. International Harvester closed its Fort Wayne plant in 1983, and more than 2,000 people lost good jobs. Many members of the small church I grew up in lost jobs yet kept afloat as many were also farmers. A New York Times article notes that unemployment in Fort Wayne at the time of the plant closing was 10.3%.

Cable tv started in the early 1980s, which brought on 24/7 news.  One has to wonder how 24/7 news would have covered Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, or even Lincoln.  Can you imagine Mary Todd’s antics for the press?  Lincoln himself was known to suffer from depression, then called melancholy.  Thomas Eagleton didn’t last when the media uncovered his mental health past. We are aware details of  Bill Clinton’s trysts  (the famous little blue dress), and photographic evidence of a potential First Lady posing nearly nude.

The events I believe led directly to our vitriol today are two things: the Great Recession of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama. I think history will record the economic events of eight years ago wsj-front-page-sept-18-2008as depression. When I reflect on the Ronald Reagan question “are you better off than during the last President’s run?”  I am certainly better off. I was one of the 800,000 people who lost my job during the last month of Dubya’s term.  Five years later, I found a similar job. And I’m among the lucky ones. I had severance and health insurance and a spouse to support me.

Second, I believe Barack Obama’s election is in part the reason for the hatred we see.  I was raised in an all-white, mostly Protestant, rural area.  I heard the “N” word frequently growing up (not in my home.)  Somehow the election of our first black President seems to have made racist talk and action okay.  To me this is counterintuitive.  My father lives in a retirement home that is not inexpensive. Almost everyone who lives there has a college degree or enjoys great business success from the School of Hard Knocks.  A neighbor of Dad’s hung a picture of our President as an ape on his front door. Social media runs rampant with memes about Obama (as well as everything else), and it isn’t what my late momma called “kind and good.”  Seriously.  Is this acceptable?

But, there is much more to celebrate after eight years of President Obama.  (Note, I don’t entirely agree with everything he did, but compared to his predecessor taking us into Iraq, he’s vastly improved.  People criticized Poppy Bush for years for not going through Baghdad.  There was a reason he didn’t.  His son found out why.)

The notes below are from the bipartisan

  • Homicides have dropped 13 percent, but gun sales have surged.
  • The economy has added more than 9 million jobs, and the jobless rate fell to below the historical median.
  • The number of long-term unemployed Americans has declined by 614,000 under Obama, but it is still 761,000 higher than at the start of the Great Recession.
  • Corporate profits are up 166 percent; real weekly wages are up 3.4 percent.
  • There are 15 million fewer people who lack health insurance.
  • Wind and solar power have nearly tripled and now account for more than 5 percent of U.S. electricity.
  • The federal debt has more than doubled — rising 116 percent — and significant annual deficits have continued. (Noted: this is not okay and must be addressed.)

So here we are today with two presidential candidates that most people find offensive, and frankly, equal. Most individuals who support Trump say it is for economic reasons, and yet ignore the facts shown above that the jobless rate has dropped below the historical median.  Why people vote against their self-interest has baffled me since I read Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”  Thomas Frank’s 2004 book looks at how the conservative, anti-elitist movement played out in rural Kansas.

So for whom will you vote?

A cautionary tale: My close friend who is a decade younger than me has been having heart problems. When the situation became critical, my friend went to Cleveland Clinic. The clinic is recognized as the top heart center in the  United States if not the world. Imagine if you are in the same situation.  Do you want the most experienced surgeons operating on you?  Or would you rather have someone who has never worked as a heart surgeon, but learned about it from watching “the shows?”  Granted, I’m way over the bubble that is Washington D.C., but in our country’s haste to throw out the elite, political class, who can do the job?  The Republican candidate dislikes the military and throws his disdain around for most government workers. He doesn’t have enough children to fill all the Cabinet posts.  It ‘s hard for me to believe the Republican candidate beat sixteen other primary challengers.

I’m not going to defend Hillary Clinton for her foibles; that is up to the voter to discern. But I will say that the experience of being a lawyer, First Lady, a Senator, and Secretary of State gives her experience that no other person living or dead has had in government.  No other person.  There is absolutely no way to equivocate the Republican nominee against this backdrop.

Image result for photo of earth from spaceWhile the Republican nominee sells his experience as a business person, all the evidence we have leads us to believe otherwise.  His bankruptcies and texts from various court appearances. His failed businesses.  His unwillingness to share his tax returns. We cannot judge his business acumen because he refuses to share the documents that will show his net worth, his charitable giving, and his tax burden.  (Tax dollars will fix the crumbling airports about which he complains.)

I am fifty-nine years old, and I’ve been in the workforce for more than 40 years. I want to see a woman president in my lifetime. But, gender is secondary to the difficult job our president has to do.  I want a person with the skills to work with other people, the savvy to know when to shut up and when to engage, and the stones to stand up to bullies, Mitch McConnell or Vladimir Putin.

The Republican nominee can do none of those things. A vote for an independent is a vote for the Republican candidate.

When you go into the voting booth, think about your legacy? Will you be complicit in giving the keys to the kingdom to the no-nothing hater? What will you tell your children and grandchildren about your role in this election?


Oct 012016

HEALTH October 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

Internal factors affecting hair color over time may include genetic defects, hormones, body distribution, and age.  External factors may include climate, pollutants, toxins, and chemical exposure.

* * * * *

When the wheel of fortune landed on me, I started graying at age 28. I covered my hair with a series of subtle and sometimes outrageous colors, tints, and highlights. When I finally stopped that expensive madness, my hair was nearly all gray and is now turning white.

October 1, 2016  In spring 2016, researchers identified the primary gene responsible for graying hair, noted a study inNature Communications. This research study may someday lead to a pill that prevents what now seems inevitable – the graying of our hair.

Newsweek reported, “Researchers analyzed the DNA of 6,000 people from Latin America to locate the genes that determine hair color, texture, density and other attributes such as whether a person’s hair is straight or has corkscrew curls.” The magazine noted that the study included people of mixed European, Native American and African origin, which represented a mixed gene pool.

What’s your story? Do you blame the broad swath of human history, or pin it down onwhite-haired Grandma Nellie?

My mother’s only sister will be 88 this fall. Except for a few strands of gray near her face, my aunt’s hair remains the lovely auburn shade she had as a girl. My mother, who is her half-sister, had jet black hair that started turning gray then white in her 30s.

When the wheel of fortune landed on me, I started graying at age 28. I covered my hair with a series of subtle and sometimes outrageous colors, tints, and highlights. When I finally stopped that expensive madness, my hair was nearly all gray and is now turning white.

My mother and her sister shared the same father, but different mothers. My aunt’s mother died in childbirth, so we’ll never know if her auburn hair would have lightened. My aunt’s grandmother lived well into her 90s with that striking auburn hair.

My mother’s mother, my grandmother, had dark hair that turned early, as did my mom, as did mine.

“Hair graying is a natural age-associated feature,” reported the National Institute of Health, “The hair graying trait correlates closely with chronological aging, but it occurs to varying degrees in all individuals. Hair is said to gray prematurely if it occurs before the age of 20 in Caucasians and before 30 in African-Americans.”

Twenty or 30? Are you kidding me? Many of my friends in their 60s and 70s are still hitting the bottle (the hair dye bottle) regularly, and not acknowledging this process is happening.

I accepted the inevitable in my mid-50s. You honestly can’t fool Mother Nature, but I tried. In the last years before my decision to let it go, my stylist highlighted my hair, either by pulling strands through a cap or using strips of aluminum foil. One of Buck Rogers’ space creatures might have felt at home next to me in the salon when I underwent this uncomfortable transformation.

Only one downfall and uncomfortable situation. Security demands new passport photos be shot against a white background. I won’t be using my new passport photo for holiday cards anytime soon, as I faded into the background. It wasn’t my finest hour. That fading out wasn’t a problem ten years ago with my last passport photo when my hair was an unknown, chemical color.

What causes this change? Why do some people gray and others keep their natural color? We can thank or blame it on the pigment called melanin, the formation of which begins before birth.

“How Stuff Works” explained, “Except for a few growing cells at the base of the root, the hair is dead tissue and is composed of keratin and related proteins. The hair follicle is a tube-like pocket of the epidermis that encloses a small section of the dermis at its base. Human hair is formed by rapid divisions of cells at the base of the follicle. As the cells are pushed upward from the follicle’s base, they harden and undergo pigmentation.”

At that point, our genetics come into play. Genes produce and regulate the melanin that gives hair its color. Melanin is also responsible for eye color and skin color. Gray hair occurs when the body slows down its production of melanin, which is also determined by genetics.

Unless we turn to chemicals, there’s not much we can do about our genetic make-up.

Several other factors may contribute to change in hair color. Internal factors affecting hair color over time may include genetic defects, hormones, body distribution, and age.  External factors may include climate, pollutants, toxins, and chemical exposure.

Our genes affect other factors about our hair, including the texture, straightness or curliness, and yes, even the loss of hair.

Graying may not be all bad. Advertising has discovered gray and white-haired people, of all ages. Younger people sometimes enhance darker hair with a streak of gray, and those who come by it through family ties are showing up in more ads. Regardless of whether mine came from my maternal grandmother or a wider gene pool, I tell people “I’ve earned it!”

On Go60.US.

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Oct 012016

HEALTH October 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

Undiagnosed OSA is dangerous; the sleeping sufferer’s airway is blocked by erratic breathing from a complete or partial obstruction. The individual may snore, gasp, or even choke during restless sleep, waking up him/herself and anyone nearby….OSA can be a contributor to or a consequence of other health problems including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

October 1, 2016.  Have you or someone you love said this, “I would pay good money for a good night’s sleep?”

According to the Persistence Market Report group, plenty of Americans are paying good money for the elusive eight hours of sleep.

The August 2016 report noted, “North America dominates the global sleep aids market. The United States represents the largest market for sleep aids in North America.”

Additionally, the report explained that economic upswing is due to a growing senior population and increased demand for sleep medication in a complex, complicated world. Mix into the nightly brew, the marketing efforts of health and pharmaceutical organizations.

A factor in the increasing sleep market is the awareness of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released a report this summer on the “Hidden Health Crisis Costing America Billions.”

You can’t throw a wind-up alarm clock without hitting some remedy for what ails our collective sleep. While perhaps not as hidden as the hyperbole described, sleep problems are now mainstream.

The report noted that obstructive sleep apnea is rising in prevalence in the United States, and estimated 29.4 million Americans. Amazingly, that figure represents 12 percent of our country’s population.

The AASM highlighted the annual economic consequences, “The annual financial burden of undiagnosed sleep apnea among U.S. adults is approximate $149.6 billion. This burden includes almost $87 billion in lost productivity, $26 billion in car crashes, and $6.5 billion in workplace accidents.” If the OSA remains untreated, the study authors estimated that an additional $30 a year in increased health costs and medication costs related to the co-occurring health conditions listed above.

Here’s the real sticker shocker.

According to the AASM report, if every patient in the U.S. who has sleep apnea were diagnosed and treated, it would result in an annual economic savings of more than $100 billion.

The most obvious cost is the individual and his or her family. Undiagnosed OSA is dangerous; the sleeping sufferer’s airway is blocked by erratic breathing from a complete or partial obstruction. The individual may snore, gasp, or even choke during restless sleep, waking up him/herself and anyone nearby. The next day, he may wonder why he is so sleepy. OSA can be a contributor to or a consequence of other health problems including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

How do you know if you or your significant other has OSA?

Do you snore, gasp, or choke during your sleep? You might want to ask your sleep partner, or keep a sleep diary for a week or two with what you remember. Note your awakenings, daytime sleepiness, and any naps.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests a visit to your primary care doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist who may be a physician schooled in sleep studies, or a lung specialist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

The Institute noted that your provider will ask you about your sleep and your daily functioning. He’ll be interested if any family members have OSA. Some individuals with OSA have an enlarged uvula or soft palate. The uvula hangs from the middle of your mouth, while your palate is atop the back of your mouth.

If sent for a sleep study, you may have a polysomnogram (PSG) or a home-based portable monitor. PSGs happen in hospital sleep departments or stand-alone centers. During sleep, you are monitored for brain activity, eye movement, heart rate, and blood pressure. Or you may be recommended for a home study to determine if a full PSG is needed.

Individuals with OSA use a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP.) The name sounds much worse than it is – the machine keeps your airway open while you sleep. Most CPAP machines have three parts, a mask, a hose, and the device. Technology offers variety, and if diagnosed, you may have a second sleep study to determine what type of CPAP you need.

It’s not a good idea to order your own CPAP off the Internet; anyone listening to satellite radio knows the bombastic commercials about preventing snoring.  For your safety, CPAP machines are calibrated to your own sleep and breathing patterns by your medical provider.

You’ll soon feel better. You’ll sleep better, snore less if at all, possibly reverse some health conditions, experience lowered blood pressure, and increase your alertness. Maybe, you can leap across a building in a single bound like Superman, or at the very least, go without an afternoon nap.


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Sep 032016

Senior Wire News Service, September 2016

By Amy Abbott

 The conventional wisdom is that we, as parents, shut our collective mouths and smile when our children make purchases they likely cannot afford or our grandchildren go without sunscreen Weren’t we annoyed when our parents commented on our choices?

* * * * *


Shakespeare chronicled the seven ages of man from infancy to old age in “As You Like It.” Anyone with adult children knows the Bard of Avon left out a critical stage – the stage when you zip your lip around your adult child, fearful of your words pushing them away.

You don’t have to be a poet or a researcher to understand that parents and adult children experience tension long after the child’s emancipation.

A few caveats from a University of Michigan Institute for Social Research study which examined adult children over age 22 who lived within 50 miles of parents.

  • Tensions erupted for various topics, including personality differences, money, lifestyle, and frequency of interaction. (As I write this, I’m awaiting word on whether my adult son is Skyping with us this evening.)
  • Parents may have more intense emotions with concern about their child’s success in adulthood.
  • Parents with daughters reported more tension, likely because of increased contact between parent and child.
  • The mother is often the guilty party with unsolicited advice.

The conventional wisdom is that we, as parents, shut our collective mouths and smile when our children make purchases they likely cannot afford or our grandchildren go without sunscreen. Weren’t we annoyed when our parents commented on our choices?

Author Ruth Nemzoff, Resident Scholar at Brandeis Women’s Research Center, Waltham, Mass., challenges what most of us have accepted.

Dr. Nemzoff is the mother of four adult children. For years, she’s listened to people complaining about their adult children. The familiar theme was “I bite my tongue,” when it comes to concern about adult children’s lives and choices.

“I started asking people about how they deal with their adult children,” Dr. Nemzoff told Senior Wire News Service. “No matter their social class, people said the same thing.”

“I thought about all the wisdom we’re losing,” she said, “That’s not good.”

Dr. Nemzoff wrote the book Don’t Bite Your Tongue. Her premise, she wrote, “ counters the popular belief that parents must let go of their adult children and silence themselves.”

Her message is what to say, how to say it, and possibly most important, when to say it.

Dr. Nemzoff offered suggestions for the parent wanting to improve communication with an adult child.

  1. Use “I” statements. “You might want to say to your child, there’s something I want to say, I want to tell you how I’m viewing the situation. You don’t have to take my opinion, but I want you to know how I am feeling. I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention what I’m seeing.”Dr. Nemzoff added, “That’s very different than saying, You are an idiot.”
  2. Ask questions, but don’t interrogate. The Brandeis scholar gave an example, “I know you are spending much time with John or Susie or Suki and you seem to enjoy them. What do you like about the person? Alternatively, tell me what you don’t like about the person.”
  3. Share your observations. “I noticed you are very quiet when you are with this person.”
  4. Choose to be silent. “Sometimes, we might not decide to say anything at all, because sometimes a person has to discover things themselves. I may be uncertain that I am correct. I may not want to tackle a particular subject. The timing is wrong. That’s very different from saying my tongue is bloody from biting, because I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. I choose to remain silent.”
  5. Choose the appropriate venue. The old landline phone just isn’t what it used to be. Dr. Nemzoff, who has 10 grandchildren, learned to text because her grandchildren did not want to talk on the phone. She said, “Technology is not something to be feared.”

Using these techniques have helped Dr. Nemzoff learn more about her offspring. “Often when I question my children’s decisions, they have very good reasons for making a different decision than I expect. I didn’t have all the variables. They may have put more emphasis on something about which I didn’t know.”

While the 50‑mile range in the study cited at the article’s beginning has value, our world becomes more global and less local every day. Conflict can erupt between generations simply because of nomadic lifestyles. Grandma is in Ohio, and the adult children and grandchildren may live in California, multiple time zones apart. Considering context when communicating with adult children is also important.

Dr. Nemzoff talked about a bi‑continental relationship of which she is aware. The adult son, who lives overseas, calls his father while having his morning coffee. His father, the grandfather, entertains the toddler with songs and smiles via modern technology. Three generations thousands of miles apart have family time on a daily basis via FaceTime.

She continued, “The aim of building solid relationships with our adult children is interdependence, and keeping the relationship.”

Sep 032016

From Senior Wire News Service, September 2016

By Amy Abbott
“Expectation (from the patient) plays a potent role in the placebo effect. The more a person believes they are going to benefit from treatment, the more likely it is they will experience a benefit.”

Avid watchers of “The Andy Griffith Show” recall when pharmacist Ellie Walker came to Mayberry. The 1960 episode put the new pharmacist in a pickle. Resident Emma Brand demanded her standard ten-cent nerve pills from the new pharmacist.

Ellie refused to give Emma her usual dose. As happens in all sitcoms, the problem was solved in 23 minutes when Sheriff Andy Taylor stepped in. The lawman suggested Ellie bend the rules for the quirky Mayberry resident.

The fictional Emma experienced the placebo effect.

Intriguing, new research suggests placebos can cause positive benefits for patients. The human brain may receive clinical benefit from positive expectations via the “placebo effect,” noted an animal study published in the journal Nature Medicine in July 2016.

The placebo effect or “response” is a bogus treatment. According to “Expectation (from the patient) plays a potent role in the placebo effect. The more a person believes they are going to benefit from treatment, the more likely it is they will experience a benefit.”

In plain speak, Emma Brand thought her sugar pills would cure what ailed her, and they did.

Science long studied this effect and wants proof of what Dr. Norman Vincent Peale called “the power of positive thinking” in a clinical improvement.

Researchers in the Nature Medicine study found activation of the ventral tegmental area – a part of the brain – strengthened immune response in mice. We are not Mickey or Minnie, but most medical research starts with animals and progresses to human subjects when appropriate.

The researchers used “designer receptors activated by designer drugs” to activate dopaminergic neurons in the VTA of mice. The $50-dollar word “dopaminergic” relates to dopamine, from the pleasure or rewards center of the brain.

Researchers then applied a virus and studied the immune response. Presto! They noted an immune response against the bacteria. Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel, concluded their findings established a relationship between the brain activity and the immune response to the bacteria.

What is the significance of this mouse study on mere mortals? For us seniors, who take the lion’s share of prescription medication, this research is significant, or at the very least, compelling.

Ted J. Kaptchuk, Harvard, is likely the guru of studying the placebo effect in this country and offers some answers.

A 2013 Harvard Magazine article recalls a clinical drug trial Kaptchuk directed early in his career for patients experiencing pain. The study compared medication with acupuncture treatments. Researchers warned patients treatments might cause significant side effects. According to the Harvard Magazine, many patients reported real relief as well as significant side effects from treatment. Acupuncture patients reported even better results. However, it was a sham; pills consisted of cornstarch, fake needles didn’t penetrate skin.

Kaptchuk spent his career since this early trial studying the placebo response in the human brain. The challenge, he told Harvard Magazine, is uncovering the mechanisms behind the physical response.

“The experiment, among the first to tease apart the components of placebo response, showed that the method of placebo administration as important as the administration itself,” said Kaptchuk. Is the doctor kind or friendly during the appointment? Did the office have a warm atmosphere?

What a revelation for caregivers! Kaptchuk believes data shows the patient’s perceptions also matter.

Western medicine does not always recognize his work. Kaptchuk’s degree is not an MD or a Ph.D., rather a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from a Chinese school. While traditional Western medicine does recognize the power of the mind in healing, it often questions the accuracy of studies.

Kaptchuk told the New Yorker, “Placebos do not shrink tumors. They do not make blind people see. If you are paralyzed, they will not help you walk.” Even after all his research, he says he is not a “zealot or a true believer. I am sure that I do not understand the placebo effect. I ask questions, hopefully, valuable questions, and we will see where the research lands.”

So, is the body pre-conditioned to expect a response? Research continues on this interesting question. Stay tuned.




Sep 022016
Backpack Press, 2016

Backpack Press, 2016

Every life experiences loss.  Those with two parents for much of adulthood are blessed. Writer Anne Born pulled together a collection of essays about the loss of a parent during  adulthood. I am fortunate to have an article included, which I’m reprinting below.

If you have lost a parent in your adulthood or have a friend who has, please consider buying this book or asking your local library to purchase it. Here is the link for the book which will be available on Kindle in a few weeks

Anne is seeking essays and poems for a second edition for 2017.  For submission guidelines for the next edition, contact Anne Born at

This is what I submitted:

You are Just Like Your Mother

“You are just like your mother.” A college friend of mine tossed this pejorative my way.

My mother and I shared few common attributes.

She paced herself and moved with caution; I run. She did one thing at a time, always linear. I multi-task, weaving a path of destruction like a buzzing bumblebee. Mom focused first on her family. While I love my husband and child, I struggle to balance my career.

Mom’s last decade challenged the entire family. She had vascular dementia, a brain disease that stole her from us. We lost our companion, mother, sister, grandmother, aunt and friend, minute by minute, hour by hour, week by week, month by month, year by year. She was present, but not there. My father insisted we include her in everything, even when she could not take part.

When she died four years ago, I was relieved. Her quality of life had diminished. Dad found her daily care challenging. Close to the end of her life, Dad could no longer lift her from her chair. Mom moved to a skilled nursing facility for her final three weeks. Mom shook with tremors and tiny strokes.

On the evening she died, I felt like the next candy pellet in the top of a Pez dispenser. It was my turn now. I was the matriarch. Who am I now?  Who am I supposed to be? What can I take from the life of my mother?

That night, I made a conscious decision to let go of some of me and be more like Mom. How funny that 32 years before, hearing “You are just like your mother” offended me. Now I would give anything for some of her attributes. She was not perfect; we were and are both complex, flawed creatures.

Mom suffered from depression. Her troubles began shortly after I started high school and ended around the time of the birth of my son. Her first grandchild.

When I was small, my mother was the perfect stay-at-home mom, as if plucked from central casting for a situation comedy. With her delicate features and porcelain skin, my petite mother had classic Jackie Kennedy looks. From birth I was heavy, a chubby infant never outgrowing baby fat and towering over the elementary school boys until eighth grade.

Mom never said anything bad about anyone; I am gifted in the art of acerbic sarcasm.

I only heard Mom swear once. A cousin called during dinner to report her father’s death. Mom said, “Sue called,” and burst into tears. My dad, brother, and I laughed because we had no idea what Mom meant.

Mom said, “Damnit, Sue’s father, Mr. McLaughlin, died today.” We all knew this was serious. We were insensitive and wrong. I’m working on the colorful language, being less colorful, that is. As a sales rep, I channel Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man and the players from Glengarry Glen Ross.

Mom’s sweetness didn’t always roll over to her only daughter. She often told my brother and me: “Be kind and good.” Her greatest diatribe on another person was “They are not kind and good.”

Being kind and good meant thinking of the other person first. Mom mailed handwritten notes and “cheer cards” to acquaintances in nursing homes or homebound. She took food for friends after hospitalizations, and she remembered birthdays. Her family was small, but she acknowledged the birthday of every distant cousin. She tried, sometimes oddly, to engage me in family history. After returning home to Florida from our honeymoon, the mail brought a wedding card from Mom and Dad. At the bottom, Mom wrote, “We buried cousin Beulah today.”

I kept the card.

Mom’s kindness resulted in lifelong friends. She was in a literary sorority, volunteer groups, church groups. She supported my father’s work and community activities. Mom led Brownie and Cub Scouts, chauffeured us, baked school cakes and cookies, and hosted slumber parties.

She was often silly and loved silly songs, poems, and stories. She colored with us, played Hide and Seek, and read from the scary Fairy Tale Anthology with the gory color pictures of ogres and trolls.

Mom was a second-grade teacher with a reading specialty degree from Indiana University. When she was pregnant with me in 1956, the Swayzee School Board retired her at mid-year. How untoward for second graders to see their teacher in a hatching jacket. She had married my dad a scant eighteen months before.

In the past four years, I’ve worked hard to channel some of Mom’s excellent attributes. As a social media user, I often know when someone has died or is ill. So, I send the card or flowers or make the call for the entire family.

I make a point to nurture my lifelong friendships. What is better than the comfort of talking with an old friend? I stay in touch with some of my mother’s friends.

Mom was always the first to suggest a party; I’d rather stay home and write. So, for my dad’s 85th birthday, I phoned my brother, and we planned a party for December. I did the invitations, and my brother took care of the photographer and the catering. After the party, I sent pictures out to family and friends, just as Mom would have. On Dad’s 50th birthday she had a surprise party for him and rented a wheelchair. She thought it was hilarious.

Mom was a good listener; I’m a terrible listener. It’s hard to hear what the other person is saying when I’m talking about myself, or talking about my writing. I am working on it; I’ve made myself more self-aware.

Two profound legacies come from Mom’s illness. Witnessing my mother’s decline, my husband and I decided now is the time for travel. We don’t know if the clock is ticking for me, or for any of us, for that matter. Since 2011, we’ve visited ten European countries. We’ve ridden in a gondola on Venice’s Grand Canal, eaten paella cooked outside in Spain, watched the Changing of the Guard in London, and viewed Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in Amsterdam.

The second legacy is the completion of a circle I did not foresee. When I was 25, my mother was at her worst with her mental illness. I lived in Florida, hundreds of miles away from my parents in the Midwest.

On an ordinary spring day, Mom was unsuccessful in a suicide attempt. I immediately flew through the night to her side. Mom was in a medical hospital and dismissed to a psychiatric center twenty miles away. My father had a difficult time with this. During his childhood, a family member had a breakdown and was removed by force to the local jail.

It was up to me to handle the paperwork, talk to the admitting people. I worked in a hospital, and I knew the drill. It was not easy for me, either. I didn’t understand the concept of the locked facility. I hardly handled it when we left her behind in the sterile, concrete building. The metal door slammed shut and locked us out – my petite, beautiful mother left inside.

Mom got better. Before she died, she enjoyed watching her grandsons grow up until dementia stole her memories.

I lost my long-time job in 2009, and when faced with the rotten economy and lack of employment, I freelanced for five years. This gave me more time to help my father with mom.

The economy improved. I needed full-time work. In February 2014, I started working at a psychiatric hospital and addiction treatment center.

This is mom’s last legacy to me: when a family member picks up that phone and calls my office for the first time and asks for help for their loved one, I feel their pain. I have great empathy for the patients we serve. Our facility is beautiful and has amazing therapists. I wish Mom could have benefited from it.

Once in a while now, someone I’ve known all my life will say to me, “That’s something your mom would do.” Nothing pleases me more.


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Aug 312016

Clearwater Beach, 1969

August 31, 2016 — I rarely take a vacation by myself.  After a visit to a writer’s conference last spring, I experienced the benefits of a retreat. Getting away alone to read and write for a few days recharged my batteries.  It’s been a long, hot summer and I need a break.  On a whim, I planned another retreat over Labor Day while my husband works.

I chose a special place, Clearwater Beach, Florida. For the first half of my life, I frequently spent time on Clearwater Beach, usually around the Palm Pavillion.

Yesterday, Jim Cantore ruined my dream of sitting in a cabana of a beach-front hotel.  He waved his weather wand and my tanned cabana boy, disappeared with his tray of Bellini’s.  Poof, off in a storm surge. 

Most of yesterday the Weather Channel featured Cantore on Pier Sixty at Clearwater Beach, crushing my dreams into the dirt, not white sand, but grimy Indiana soil. While it was still sunny and beautiful yesterday, today the rains hit with a vengeance.  The Director of Emergency Management for Hillsborough County (Tampa) is talking about evacuations. The Weather Channel has a fancy new logo “Hurricane Central” which signals my retreat dreams fading away, rolling back like the waves on a beach.  Rolling, rolling away on that bright white crystalline sand beach with the blue skies and puffy clouds of my dreams.

I’m okay with staying home because a visit to the beach this weekend would be anything but a dream.  I experienced the wrath of gusty, evening rains and wind in Florida as well as hurricanes and tropical storms and depressions. But my experience with Hurricane Elena, a Category 2 hurricane that came into Tampa Bay and up the Hillsborough River, sealed the deal for me.  As long as I can help it, I will never be near another hurricane.

On Labor Day weekend 1985, we watched the Tampa Bay Bucs play the Washington Redskins in an NFL pre-season game at Tampa Stadium.

1946 Florida Hurricane Map, NOAA Central Library

1946 Florida Hurricane Map, NOAA Central Library

My husband and I had moved to Tampa the previous June from Pinellas County (where Clearwater is.)    Something was up because a cool rain drizzled throughout the game; the rain didn’t come from above but from the west, that is, sideways.  The drive home to Temple Terrace (a suburb near the University of South Florida, north side of Tampa) was harrowing in our little Chevette, with powerful wind gusts punctuating our drive north on I-275. Here’s what the

Here’s what the “Tampa Bay Times” recalled about the storm.

For three days over the 1985 Labor Day weekend, Hurricane Elena stalled off the coast of West Central Florida and held it a virtual hostage. More than 300,000 residents fled their homes, the largest peace-time evacuation in U.S. history.

Although Elena never came closer than 80 miles to the Tampa Bay area, its 40 to 50 mph sustained winds caused tides six feet above normal on the beaches and seven feet above normal in the bay. The storm killed four people, destroyed more than 250 homes and damaged thousands of others before finally moving north and coming ashore in Mississippi. Elena washed away the landmark Indian Rocks Pier, including snack bar, tackle shop and bathhouse, all of which went in a single piece.

“For weeks afterward,” one resident recalls, “They were finding pieces of the pier from the beach to Tarpon Springs.” The hurricane even altered the area’s coastal geography — it filled in the Dunedin Pass with sand, meaning Clearwater Beach boaters no longer could use the channel to get to the Gulf of Mexico.

Total damages to man-made property in Florida were estimated at $213-million.

I was the marketing director at a Tampa Bay psychiatric hospital.  The storm surge rolled up the Hillsborough River, which ran through the hospital’s backyard. The county decided we needed to evacuate the hospital to a high school on higher ground. Did I mention it was a 48-bed psychiatric hospital?

All hands were on deck.  Off-shift employees showed up, and we loaded patients in two school buses. The terrifying part of the hurricane for me was the school bus ride there.  The wind whipped around the bus.  Would it tip over?

I cannot remember the name of the school we went to, but school employees cooked meals. I stayed at work for three days helping out with patients as I could, and dealing with the occasional media showing up. Considering how awful it could have been, the patients — for the most part — handled it as an adventure. Our physicians had a harder time because several other hospitals in Tampa shipped patients to northern and outlying hospitals.

We had it easy compared to Tampa General, the then-600 bed tertiary hospital located on Davis Island near downtown Tampa.  The hospital, according to an old newspaper story, evacuated 520 patients to area higher-ground hospitals on August 31, 1985 (31 years ago today.)

We discharged some patients to home after the 3-day stint at the school.  Our hospital’s lower level was unusable for several weeks.  The CEO and maintenance staff toured the bottom level after the hurricane passed.  Broken windows and doors from the force of the surge allowed snakes, a small alligator, and numerous river fish a visitor’s pass. We were waiting for State Board or Joint Commission to walk in the front door, but they had larger fish to fry with med/surg hospitals suffering the same fate.

Our condo in North Tampa suffered no damage; I finally went home after a marathon-72 hour shift. Tampa Bay was a wreck for weeks. I’m not sure what was in my mind when I planned my retreat on Labor Day weekend. Next time I’m headed for the Panhandle.


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Aug 302016


How To Handle Your Widowed Father Dating With Compassion

This piece first appeared on  See Amy’s complete bio and contact info below the post.

We were in the Detroit airport, ready to board our flight to Rome. My cell phone rang. Figured it must be an emergency, as we headed over the pond.

It was my father, so I answered immediately.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he said.  “I just want to talk to you about something.”

“Okay, but we’re boarding in a few minutes,” I said, checking the time on my Smart Phone.

“I will always love your mother, for the rest of my life,” he said. “But sometimes I get lonely. I think I would like some female companionship.  I’m calling you first, and then I’m going to call your brother.”

Not our usual call. My mother died ten months before after a long siege with vascular dementia. Dad cared for her until three weeks before her death. He could not longer lift her. She moved to a skilled nursing facility within their retirement complex.

He had never asked my permission or approval for anything.  The last time I discussed anything with him was when I informed my parents I was going to graduate school. They weren’t delighted.  Their affirmation shortly came when I told them I had a job on the alumni magazine.

“Of course,” I told him. “You deserve some happiness.”  I hung up, and we boarded the plane.

Dad had kissed a few female frogs before he found a princess. I didn’t think much of it until he found someone special. His princess, four years later, is now a part of our family. They’ve stayed in their respective apartments in different levels of care. I took my time getting to know her. Now we’re friends.  I’ve learned a few things along the way that I want to share.

 Respect her for the person she is. She is not my mother, and will never be my mother. That’s okay. I can honor and respect her for the person she is. She is someone who cares for my dad, travels with him, and takes care of him when he is sick. She makes him laugh, and he gives her flowers. My mother, like me, was clumsy.  His new friend, he likes to brag, was a “varsity cheerleader in high school.”

They often double date with my brother and his significant other. They go to the symphony, new restaurants, and drives in the countryside.

Respect their privacy.  You expect privacy in your relationship, give them privacy in theirs.  Some issues are none of your business. Period. They aren’t seventeen and sneaking someone in through the back window.

Don’t shut down the memories of your loved one. My parents were married for 57 years. His friend has her memories and her past. Neither of their histories is going away. Learn to be comfortable talking about your loved ones, but don’t forget to ask about her loved ones.  I recognize the gift of having parents in a long-term, intact marriage.

When they first had a picture taken together for her church directory, that was difficult for me. Dad did not remove pictures of my mom, much as he has not removed her from his heart. Dad added his new friend to our mix. The addition didn’t take away the past.

Appreciate her good qualities. For God’s sake, don’t compare her to your mother.  Again, she’s not your mom.  She’s somebody who bought your brother a hula skirt and made him wear it. I swear, if she had the coconut bra, she would have given him that as well. She gets Dad out of his comfort zone sometimes.

Get over yourself.  It isn’t your life. As you accept your children’s relationships, accept your widowed parent’s relationship. Make your judgment and don’t let others sway you.  Recognize not everyone is going to be happy about his new life.  Our human nature is to resist change. Adjusting to the new normal takes time.  I had a wonderful mother for 55 years, and her memory did not vanish when she passed. When a family member has dementia, you learn to accept change on its terms.

You have a choice. Sit on your behind and mourn, or move forward.

Aug 272016


By EHRENBERG Kommunikation (Fish Sticks) [CC BY-SA 2.0

August 26, 2016 — I don’t like to cook.  Yes, I sincerely mean it.  Being in a partnership means I have my share of responsibility for our food. Frankly, I have about one miserable failure a month. I learned the hard way early in life that you shouldn’t put Saran Wrap in the oven.

The good part about my issues is that I have a husband with extremely low standards, so it works out fairly well.

He’s a marvelous cook but wants to cook when he has time to do something special. So, he’s the holiday cook, the person who makes the corn casserole for a funeral, the person who makes the rare special birthday or anniversary meal. He’s famous for his meatballs, his mandarin orange cake, his holiday carrots, and a host of other things family members request. He’s tackled a standing rib roast and his holiday meals often contain something new and wonderful.

During the week, I’m the primary person responsible for food.  My Beloved prepares the weekend meals. Mind you; I’m  not complaining. I’ve had breakfast in bed every Sunday for as long as I can remember. We’re talking his unusual combination of freshly ground beans for coffee, chocolate chip muffins, and fresh fruit, perhaps pineapple, blueberries or strawberries.

Weeknights I may pick up two large berry salads at Wendy’s or Subway. Sometimes I will cook from my repertoire which hasn’t changed from my twenties, nachos, spaghetti, lasagne, tuna melts, tuna salad sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches (he doesn’t like that), the Big Salad (as Elaine on “Seinfeld” says) or some meat grilled on the George Foreman.

Thursday night I tried to fake him out. I sent him an email that said, “It is okay if we have fish sticks for dinner?”  My evil ploy anticipated his response being, “Oh, no, let me bring home Outback or Lone Star.”

Nope.  He said, “Great, and can we have macaroni and cheese with that?”  Meaning the Bob Evans Mac and cheese in the refrigerator.

I should have known.  Low standards. Not sure WHY there are fish sticks in the freezer.  The tartar sauce in the fridge expired about the time Generalissimo Franco did, so that got thrown out.  I made my own, a little pickle relish, a little Mayo (no Miracle Whip in this Yankee’s house.)

Enjoying haggis in Edinburgh, Scotland, 2013

Enjoying haggis in Edinburgh, Scotland, 2013

He loved it.  Damn.

As I came home from work Friday night,  I noticed the American Legion’s marquee proclaimed “Chicken Livers and Gizzards” night.  And they have take-out.  No way was I going to try to trick him again.  I cannot abide food that sounds like the Clampett family has it for Sunday dinner in the pool parlor.

I should have known better about the fish sticks.  After all, of the five of us who traveled to Scotland together, he was the only one who finished his haggis.


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Aug 162016

July 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott, Senior Wire News Service

Death of a spouse and loss of our longtime home or severe illness may lead to isolation or loneliness, which may up consumption. U.S. widowers over 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism. Lifestyle changes are difficult at any age.

The opioid epidemic is, no doubt, the health topic of the year, if not the century. The increased abuse of prescription drugs is a serious and devastating problem.

Another more familiar addiction demon wreaks havoc with families, and especially with seniors. That demon is alcohol. However, none of us wants a lecture about our socially acceptable drinking habits. We are all used to our evening cocktail, and no one bats an eye. We consider it a social ritual.

Moreover, we’re blasted with conflicting information. A little red wine is good for us. A little red wine is bad for us. Let’s hoist a jug of red wine, a rasher of bacon, and multiple, evil carbs and have a huge picnic in spite of all the data.

Hear me out. As seniors, there are other considerations. The UK Institute of Alcohol Studies and the U.S. National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) offered these caveats.

  • While older adults consume less alcohol than younger drinkers, seniors are more likely to drink daily.
  • Alcohol-related hospital admissions in the UK are rising among those age 65 and older. The NCADD notes six to 11 percent of U.S. hospital admissions result from alcohol or drug problems.
  • Death of a spouse and loss of our longtime home or severe illness may lead to isolation or loneliness, which may up consumption. U.S. widowers over 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism. Lifestyle changes are difficult at any age.
  • A traditional belief that liquor is medicinal – from the “hot toddy” school of thinking – may offer comfort.

We read these facts and shake our heads and move on. It is not us or anyone we know. It is the other guy. I was blissfully unaware until a job took me to many retirement centers. I learned that upon admission many patients ask if alcohol is allowed. Many skilled nursing facilities need a doctor’s order that states “Rodney may have two beers a day.”

Other retirement centers, with assisted or independent living, feature bars and evening cocktail hours. My dad’s facility has a bar aptly named “The Pub.”

However, I am making a point here. Every population group has a percentage of people who cannot handle alcohol. Upping our awareness may help us encourage a loved one to slow it down or stop drinking.

Who is at risk? The UK study identified three types of senior drinkers:

1. Survivors are lifelong drinkers. Studies tell us that survivors may have a life cut short 10 to 15 years by their heavy drinking. We all know individuals whose livers have gone kaput before their will to drink ended.

2. Reactors are people who did not start drinking until later in life. These individuals may have suffered significant loss, illness, and pain, or an unwanted retirement.

3. Binge drinkers may not use alcohol every day but drink to excess when overindulging.

The National Institute of Health explained that as we age the amount of water in our bodies decreases. When older adults imbibe alcohol, less water present means less dilution of alcohol.

This ups the blood alcohol content (BAC). Younger people can consume the same amount of alcohol and have a lower BAC. Reactors and binge-drinkers, according to the study, have the best opportunity to curb alcohol use with appropriate treatment.

What are the signs that may identify that drinking has become a problem in our loved one? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offered these warning signs: secretive drinking, drinking rituals, loss of interest in hobbies, ignoring warning labels on prescription drugs, slurred speech, change in appearance, chronic and unidentifiable health complaints, hostility or depression, and confusion or memory loss. A genuinely sad aspect is that these signs may be hidden among other aspects of aging. We become blind to what we do not want to recognize. We may toss off these symptoms to the usual process of growing older.

When we can identify these problems, treatment abounds. The good news is that there are multiple treatment and rehab programs, focusing on the specific physical and emotional needs of seniors. Addiction and support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, offer help in most areas specific to gender and population. Medicare plans pay for treatment (please check your specific policy documentation.)

Your loved one, of course, must consent to treatment. Now armed with reasons why lowered or no alcohol use may be best, the real battle is within the individual. Encouragement from family or friends may be a start.

Aug 162016

August 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott, Senior Wire News Service

Two early studies on both elderly and adult subjects found that caffeine improves attention span, psychomotor performance and cognitive function, as well as and feelings of well-being in the elderly. The elderly appeared more sensitive to the protective effects of caffeine on declining mental performance over time than the younger subject.

We’ve lived long enough to see science lose and gain favor with eggs, fats, red wine, some fruits and vegetables, and chocolate. Perhaps more confusing than studies around those food items are the studies surrounding coffee. Slatemagazine noted in 2010 that there were more than 500 studies on coffee and human health.

Well, this senior is not human until I have that first cup of coffee in the morning. Both as a coffee drinker and a health writer, I’ve been following the coffee conundrum for three decades. (And just for the record, an old-fashioned electric percolator makes better coffee than anything on the market today. We received one for a wedding present, and it’s long gone.)

In mid-June, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release with mixed messages. We’ll start with information directly from the source.

From Lyon, France, 15 June 2016 – Twenty-three scientists convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, evaluated the carcinogenicity of drinking coffee and very hot beverages. The press release stated, “The Working Group (scientists) found no conclusive evidence of a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee. However, the experts did conclude that drinking scalding beverages (above 65 degrees Celsius or 149 Fahrenheit) probably causes cancer of the esophagus.

Christopher Wild, IARC director, said, “These results suggest that drinking very hot beverages is one probable cause of esophageal cancer and that it is the temperature, rather than the drinks themselves that appear to be responsible.” He added that smoking and drinking alcohol are also leading causes of this type of cancer; in many Asian, South American, and East African countries where people commonly drink very hot beverages, there is a high incidence of esophageal cancer.

In the United States, the National Coffee Association recommends coffee brewed at between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal flavor. Most Americans drink coffee that is about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s always a good idea to let it cool after brewing.

IARC scientists noted an “inverse relationship between drinking coffee and certain types of cancer.” The study said, remarkably, that the risk of developing liver cancer dropped by 15% for each cup of coffee drunk. Studies also suggest fewer incidents of breast cancer and endometrial or uterine cancer develop among coffee drinkers. The organization steps back a bit with this caveat: other factors may be responsible for this data, and they do not consider coffee as a protectant against cancer.

This arm of WHO is the same group that in 1991 suggested coffee was possibly carcinogenic to the bladder. Another source reported that IARC’s Dana Loomis, deputy head of the organization, said: “We cannot say that it is completely safe because proving a negative is very difficult, but it has moved down a step regarding the hierarchy of concern.” The finding notes that it is “unclassifiable” as a risk because of (their words) “insufficient studies in humans.”

Researchers three and four decades ago found drinking coffee might increase the risk of heart problems and high blood pressure. More recent research negated those claims. Today the common research wisdom is that coffee may help fight heart disease, offer protection against certain cancers, and ease the effects of dementia.

While seniors are not specifically mentioned in this study, a recent National Institutes of Health white paper suggested, “Two early studies on both elderly and adult subjects found that caffeine improves attention span, psychomotor performance and cognitive function, as well as feelings of well-being in the elderly. The elderly appeared more sensitive to the protective effects of caffeine on declining mental performance over time than the younger subject.”

Regardless of how we interpret the studies, Americans like coffee. The National Coffee Association reports we spent nearly 75 billion last year for our java. It is the most common beverage in America, supplanting tap water. Our global counterparts are joining the traditional coffee drinker of the U.S. and Europe. Coffee consumption has risen globally at a rate of 2.5% since 2011.

The average person, not mired daily in academic-based research, may shake a caffeinated head with all this information. When confused about a medical research issue, a good rule of thumb (as I did in this story) is to start directly with the source. In this case, that was the World Health Organization site. Multiple sites picked up the news and pulled out their favorite nougat.

For me, I’ll take the extensive track record of the WHO, and look forward to my big cuppa joe in the morning. I prefer a 20-ounce cup of medium roast, black. Don’t talk to me until I’ve imbibed. Then we can discuss the latest research about coffee, which today seems like good news

Aug 162016
August 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott, for Senior Wire News Service

Penn’s program for cancer patients also includes acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga, and massage. Physicians explained that Reiki doesn’t compete with other pain treatments. “Reiki itself does not cure cancer but it may help lead to better adherence to conventional therapies, which in turn will promote better clinical outcomes.”

Pain is real, a sometimes aggravating part of aging. Pain is not inevitable with aging, but many seniors experience pain from ailments. I have osteoarthritis and have experienced the benefits of several alternative treatments. With all the media and societal discussion about pain medications, I explored alternatives available for seniors.

Most of us know the basic drill when speaking with our medical practitioners about pain. Modern medicine provides treatment guidelines and protocols, but if those don’t work or have unwanted side effects, there are some alternatives.


* Acupuncture: The acupuncturist puts long, slender needles through the skin to stimulate certain points of the body. The National Institutes of Health reports that acupuncture, from traditional Chinese medicine, may provide pain relief for chronic conditions such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. The process was developed in ancient China, before Western evidence-based medicine, and has been used by millions of people. Many studies refute acupuncture as a pain reliever, yet it is still a widely used method.

The NIH reported, “There have been extensive studies conducted on acupuncture, especially for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis/knee pain, and headache. However, researchers are only beginning to understand whether acupuncture can be helpful for various health conditions. Research suggests that acupuncture can help manage certain pain conditions, but evidence about its value for other health issues is uncertain.”

What do we know about the safety of acupuncture?

The NIH says acupuncture is considered safe when performed by an experienced, well-trained practitioner using sterile needles. Acupuncture that is carried out haphazardly or by an untrained practitioner can result in adverse effects.


* Reiki Healing: Recently I was talking to a millennial colleague who is also a health writer. She laughed when I spoke about the idea that Reiki healing can impact pain. While I am the first to look for evidenced-based practice, I did have to ask her, “For someone in pain who has tried multiple traditional therapies, what does that person have to lose?”

Reiki is a Japanese spiritual practice, not based on any particular religion, that accesses a “life force energy” within the body and uses it for healing. A trained Reiki Master will lay hands on a person, which heightens the energy within. I have experienced this several times. I am not a scientist, and as the daughter of a science teacher I tend to be skeptical. Whether my pain reduction came from a quiet, restful hour or the touch of a Reiki master, I cannot say. It does, however, provide relief for me.

While there are few studies showing benefit, one study reported by the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center cited benefits for cancer patients during chemo. “Our recent study has shown that Reiki induces relaxation, decreases anxiety, stress and a patient’s perception of pain,” said Jun Mao, MD, director of the Integrative Oncology Initiative at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Penn’s program for cancer patients also includes acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga, and massage. Physicians explained that Reiki doesn’t compete with other pain treatments. “Reiki itself does not cure cancer but it may help lead to better adherence to conventional therapies, which in turn will promote better clinical outcomes,” Mao added.


* Jin Shin Jyutsu: During a recent massage, I complained to my massage therapist about my ongoing struggle with asthma. I follow all the rules and use all the medications and techniques my doctors prescribe. Our Ohio River Valley air was particularly humid and polluted, and I was having more trouble than usual with breathing. She suggested a Jin Shin Jyutsu treatment along with my massage. Ever the skeptic, I quizzed her about it, and then decided, “what the heck?”

Again, perhaps it was the quiet hour, relaxing music, and massage touch, but I felt remarkably better. My breathing deepened and I will try it again.

Of course, this anecdote is but one example. Clinical, evidence-based research is lacking, but likely the treatment can do no harm.

The Jin Shin Jyutsu method also traces back into ancient times – before Buddha and Moses. Oral tradition passed the practice down through the generations. The practice had all but disappeared until it was rediscovered by Master Jiro Murai, a healer, and philosopher.

The tale goes that Murai was able to heal Emperor Hirohito’s brother and thus given access to ancient texts that offered more information. During treatment, the practitioner uses his or her hands to work with 26 points of energy. This set of points is known as Safety Energy Locks along energy pathways in the body. The tradition says that when a pathway is blocked, energy stagnates which initially affects the local area and ultimately can create an imbalance along the entire pathway. (This is similar to acupressure, though acupressure has 300 points.)

Mary Burmeister met Murai in Japan and brought Jin Shin Jyutsu to the U.S. She did not believe in promoting the healing procedure as a business, so today it is still primarily learned by word of mouth.

The science around our mind has exploded in the last 50 years. We still fully lack an understanding about the power of our mind to heal, but few adverse reactions exist for the three treatments discussed.

As always, check with your regular healthcare providers before trying any therapies.


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