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Monday, October 24, 2016

When Aging in Place Means Aging in Community

I’m pleased to report that the Aging in Place conversation that started with my July 30 blogpost continues. People who agreed to fill out and return a questionnaire on the topic have not only done so, but forwarded it on to friends and family throughout the country, people living in cities, small towns, suburbs, and rural areas.

And just last week I held the first in-person AIP discussion at a local support group for gay seniors. In November, the Budlong branch of the Chicago Public Library is hosting a round-table discussion on the subject.

At the same time, the articles with an aging-in-place focus continue to show up in print and online, including an October 14 piece in the New York Time’s Business Section, “The Future of Retirement Communities: Walkable and Urban,” by John F. Wasik.

(Please note: I do not believe that “aging in place” and “retirement” go hand in hand. Many Boomers & Beyonders interested in the AIP process are still working and plan to do so indefinitely.)

There are several important points made in Wasik's article, and for me they start with the phrase “aging in community” used by one of the people he interviewed, Ben Brown: “We realized ‘aging in place’ means a lot more than just a comfortable house,” Mr. Brown said. “So we began thinking more about ‘aging in community.’”

This broader use of aging in place makes the process a genuine reflection of what we value in a place beyond the walls of a particular residence. If understood from that perspective, then our search begins with a clear understanding of those values. 

For Mr. Brown, 70, and his 66 year-old wife, Christine, that meant urban and walkable, a community where they could live comfortably without a car. The place they chose? Not the obvious major urban centers that might first come to mind, but West Asheville, North Carolina.

To read more about what Wasik describes as “clearly a growing demand for walkable, urban retirement communities” no matter where they are situated:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Where'd I Put My Keys?

I’ve had some middlin’ memory lapses these past two weeks, most related to where I’ve put things in my new apartment: house keys, wallet, sunglasses, and cell phone, for starters.

In the old place, each had their spot, easily retrieved as I headed out the door or down to do the laundry. Oh, yah, and I knew where the laundry detergent was too. (I think I put it in the storage area in this place.)

I had a little bit of a panic the other day when I couldn’t find my faculty ID from the Lutheran School of Theology, where I’m guest lecturing in a course this semester. At the old place, it was in the dining room. But now I don’t have a dining room, instead a dining “area” in this large loft-like studio. Just minutes before leaving for class on Monday, I finally saw it on a wall shelf in the “office” area.

But these are less memory lapses than the need to acquire new habits. And when those circuits are finally laid down, retrieving the keys et al. will be automatic.

But what about maintaining memory in general? Especially as we age?  Lucky for us, it turns out to be as easy as taking a walk.  For more about that, here’s part of a Chicago Tribune article from October 13, by Keri Wiginton: “Brain-training apps don't work. Here's what does.”

It turns out games aimed at training the brain will likely only help you get better at those specific games. So you're out of luck if you're hoping those Sudoku apps will help you focus more at work or remember where you left your keys. 

There's no compelling evidence that any brain-training product enhances cognitive performance in real-world activities, reports a study published last week in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

So doing crosswords will help you get better at crosswords, but it won't help you remember your new coworker's name. 

"A company might claim benefits for memory, but you should ask whether the benefits extend to memory tasks other than those you practiced, including ones that you want to improve," said Daniel Simons, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and first author of the review.

Lumo Labs — which claimed their Lumosity app could prevent age-related memory decline and help kids do better in school — even had to pay $2 million to settle a false-advertising suit brought by the Federal Trade Commission.

So in honor of National Train Your Brain Day, we're here to offer two techniques that actually work.

For memory, focus on movement.

This is bad news for people who hope to maintain their mind by playing on their smartphone. But it's great for those who want to actively sharpen their focus.
"Exercise is the only evidence-based activity that will improve cognitive fitness," said Ken Weingardt, a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

People who engage in higher levels of physical activity are less likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke — all factors related to developing dementia, he said.

A recent study by the National Institute of Aging shows that exercising causes muscles to release a protein that stimulates production of new cells in the hippocampus — a part of the brain that controls memory.

Try Nike+ Training Club if you want a personal-fitness app to keep you moving. It's free and you can choose from four- to eight-week programs, or pick from more than 100 single workouts ranging from beginner to expert.

(NOTE: the second technique described—meditation—is not related specifically to memory. To read more about what that practice does help, click here:)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

On Moving, Moving On

A pre-move gratitude list inevitably leads to a post-move one.

And so sitting here in my new place a week following my move, I am happy to list what I am truly grateful from the actual day, a day--from this vantage point--that feels more dream than reality:

--my wonderful movers who showed up 30 minutes late, allowing me to actually have everything packed;

--friend Helen who helped me move the fragile stuff in her car;

--my new landlord who met me at 8:30 am on moving day with the keys to the apartment;

--my former landlord who showed up late to get the keys to my old apartment, allowing me to finish cleaning the place for the new tenants;

--cell phones.

And finally, a new neighbor, who I met while going back and forth between the old and new apartments. Turns out, he is a former colleague from my adjunct days at DePaul. He made my heart sing with his enthusiastic welcome.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Apartment-Hunting Blues: A Gratitude List

--for friends, Facebook and otherwise, who let me rant and rave and piss and moan about the whole dispiriting process;

--for daily doses of 1,000 mg Vitamin C Emergen-Cs;

--for yelp, for getting the lowdown on apartment management companies without leaving home;

--for daily doses of almond biscotti from Tony’s;

--for online maps of Chicago neighborhoods available for download;

--for excellent September weather for biking and walking those neighborhoods;

--for Facebook friends who shared information about their particular neighborhoods;

--for my “visiting scholar” gig at Lutheran School of Theology in Hyde Park. It kept me focused and grounded throughout these past several weeks;

--for my private clients who let me re-schedule our meetings when necessary;

--for having a journal writing practice. It has delivered all the benefits of personal writing during times of transition: expressing thoughts and feelings; problem solving/figuring things out; making decisions; keeping a record; and, of course, telling the story;

--for accepting sooner rather than later that I wasn’t going to get what I was looking for: a nice apartment at a rent I could afford near a north side Red or Brown line stop;

--for then realizing that there was a lot I’d miss about where I currently live—a bus ride away from the Western Brown line—especially the diversity of this neighborhood, a major reason I even want to live in Chicago. Not only is West Rogers Park ethnically and religiously diverse, but people of all ages and incomes live here.

Or as urban guru Jane Jacobs said: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

--Finally, I am grateful for everyone in my life who appreciates—whether through experience or imagination—the challenges of a single, non-car-owning woman of modest means seeking suitable housing (i.e., well maintained, responsive management) in this very financially troubled city, this place I’ve called home for nearly 50 years.

On the plus side, however, my often-failed attempts to find such housing during the most recent of those years—starting with the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression— only strengthens my resolve to make affordable “aging in place” an important part of my second book.
Because my experience is surely not unique, as Chicago’s own Theaster Gates predicts:

"If we are not careful, profit will trump humanity and the only people who will be able to experience the beautiful local will be the very rich or the extremely poor."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Avoiding a Full-Blown Pity Party

It took me way too long to learn that the best response to being stressed out—which can too often lead to a full-blown pity party—is to be grateful. Yes, we can acknowledge how crappy we feel, how much anxiety we’re carting around—but we just can’t take up residence there.

At least for too long.

And so, instead, we turn our attention from what’s not working in our lives to what is. That for me is the definition of being grateful. When I can do that, I realize that the more I practice being grateful, the more I actually feel grateful.

Which is a much more comfortable—and calm—place to live.  Psych 101 stuff: you can’t be anxious and calm at the same time.

In these past few weeks of apartment hunting, I’ve managed to accumulate much stress and anxiety. I’ve seen so many truly crappy places at such mind-boggling rents. And some—the two-room studios in Lincoln Square for $1,000/month—I couldn’t even bring myself to look at. Because why??

But back to the gratitude. 

Check this weekend for that nice long list, which, I hope, will include a detailed description of my lovely new apartment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Value of Many Life Reviews

“Writing a ‘Last Letter’ When You’re Healthy,” by Dr. V.J. Periyakoil (New York Times, 9.7.16), put me in mind of an annual writing exercise I do every New Year’s Day (or thereabouts). It’s a year-end review of the major experiences and events in my life from the past year, especially those related to work, hobbies, friends, family, health, travel, and so on.

To create my review, I go through my journals and calendar from the past year, then type up what I think is worth saving. Entries from recent years have included doing a presentation at the International Urban Wildlife Conference at the Lincoln Park Zoo in 2015; touring the “1968” exhibit at the Chicago History Museum with my long-time friend, Judy in 2014; and going solo to London, to celebrate my November birthday in 2013.

In Dr. Periyakoil’s article, the “Last Letter” refers to the Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project, which provides a template for doing a specific kind of life review.

As she writes, “[w]ith guidance from seriously ill patients and families from various racial and ethnic groups, we developed a free template for a letter that can help people complete seven life review tasks: acknowledging important people in our lives; remembering treasured moments; apologizing to those we may have hurt; forgiving those who have hurt us; and saying “thank you,” “I love you” and “goodbye.”

And what interests me most—and reminds me of my own less focused yearly review—is that people can use two different versions of the template: an illness letter and a healthy letter. Dr. Periyakoil says that people not confronting serious illness can “use the letter as a living legacy document and update it over time.”

Now “over time” doesn’t have to mean yearly as I do it, but it could. Or it could mean every six months or five years. Whatever the schedule, I think it's the regularity that matters most, the piling up of the reviews, rather than waiting to do one "final life review."

For starters, it might make that final one much shorter—especially the regrets, forgiveness, and apology sections.

To read the entire article:

And here’s a direct link to the template:

Monday, September 5, 2016

A-Laboring I Have Been on Labor Day

OK, just a teensy bit, time spent searching for and finding the section on “Work Stories” in my first book, Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories (Marion Street Press, 2008).

Slightly edited, below is the introduction to the three exercises on telling work stories, plus the first of those exercises. While some people may march in parades on Labor Day and/or have backyard barbecues, telling those work stories that have special significance for you might be another way to mark this holiday.

I hope that the following helps you to do that.

Work Stories
            I was raised by a man who graduated from high school in 1929, the year of the infamous and devastating Crash. When I learned this about my father, suddenly everything fell into place, explaining his near hysteria every time I casually quit one job and sailed easily into another. He’d taken a job right out of high school with a company he stayed with for 40 years. I, on the other hand, raced like some prairie wildfire through an endless succession of jobs and careers: mailroom clerk, secretary, waitress, social worker, college instructor, office temp, and academic counselor.
            I worked for a shower curtain company, three universities, a political campaign, a beauty supply company, two hospitals, a half-way house for the mentally ill, a camera store, and an upscale restaurant before finally settling down as a writer and a teacher.
            Not surprisingly I’ve acquired some pretty good work stories along the way, not only about the getting, losing, and quitting of jobs, but also of bully bosses, psychotic colleagues, and office romances gone (real) bad.

Following are 3 exercises to help you tell some of your work stories:
For the first, make a list of specific jobs you’ve held since becoming an adult, no matter how long they lasted or how insignificant they were. Pick one on your list and describe where and when you performed this job, and who your colleagues and bosses were. Then describe yourself doing the job, as if someone had a camera trained on you while you were working. See what stories that leads to.