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Image: Wellcome Collection

Loss of hearing has been on my mind lately. I’m getting near the age my mother started to lose her hearing. She made it work for her, though, pretending she didn’t hear you when she didn’t want to answer your question.

I, on the other hand, will look into hearing aids. Jane Brody at the New York Times reported recently that getting a hearing aid before your hearing is really bad is associated with slowing the onset of dementia. I like the sound of that.

Meanwhile, at National Public Radio (NPR), we learn that everyone’s hearing is being adversely affected by our noisy world.

Dave Davies at WHYY’s Fresh Air interviews the author of a new book on the topic.

“Our ears are complicated, delicate instruments that largely evolved in far quieter times than the age we currently inhabit — an early world without rock concerts, loud restaurants, power tools and earbuds.

“Writer David Owen describes our current age as a ‘deafening’ one, and in his new book, Volume Control, he explains how the loud noises we live with are harming our ears.

“Owen warns that even small household appliances like food processors and hair dryers can generate noise at levels that lead to permanent damage. He notes that people who live in places without significant background noises tend to experience less hearing loss.

‘There have been a couple of studies done with populations of indigenous people who live in places where there is very little background noise and elderly people in those populations tend to hear as well as infants do,’ he says.

“Owen recommends that people carry earplugs with them — and not be bashful about using them. Recently he popped in a pair of musician’s earplugs before watching Dunkirk, a movie long on explosions and short on dialogue. …

” ‘People who have trouble hearing tend to have more unrelated health issues of all kinds. It, sort of, overworks our brains. If you can’t quite hear what people are saying, you have to work harder to figure it out, and the brainpower that you use to do that is brainpower that you can’t use for anything else. People who have trouble hearing also tend to withdraw. … If you have trouble seeing things, you get glasses. But people tend to put off getting hearing aids for a long time. …

” ‘The largest single purchaser of hearing aids in the United States is the [Department of Veterans Affairs]. The No. 1 and No. 2 service-related health claims made by military veterans are hearing loss and tinnitus. Exposure to gunfire, especially exposure to blast explosions, but then also just the extraordinarily high sound levels of military service, even on a base outside of combat. One of the loudest work environments in the world is an aircraft carrier. And simply sleeping on an aircraft carrier, you can expose yourself to sound at levels that are sufficient to do permanent damage to your hearing. …

” ‘I learned from reading about tinnitus that there’s basically nothing you can do. You can’t make it go away. There is no known cure for it. The therapy for tinnitus is to learn to accommodate it. …

” ‘Sometimes hearing aids can help you. If you have some hearing loss and you eliminate that, you bring up the sound of everything else. Then this phantom noise becomes less bothersome. You can’t hear it as much. A therapist described it to me as, “You’re in a room with a candle. The candle is the tinnitus. But if you turn on the lights, then the candle is less noticeable.” And that’s what sometimes happens with hearing aids with somebody who has tinnitus. …

“Classical musicians — just like rock musicians — experience hearing loss. ‘The impact on your hearing probably has less to do with the instrument that you play than with the instrument that the person who sits behind you plays. So if you have a loud instrument right behind you, you’re the one who gets the impact. … It’s not only in those performances. Musicians practice, especially nowadays, for hours and hours and in small rooms with loud instruments and it takes a toll on their hearing very definitely. …

” ‘The revolution that’s coming is that it’s going to be increasingly possible to buy over-the-counter, less expensive hearing improvement products — hearing aids and other products. … I have a friend who lost a lot of hearing, wears hearing aids. He wore [Bose] Hearphones to a restaurant and found them much superior to his hearing aids — the quality of the sound, the ability to focus on people that he wanted to listen to.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Capable (Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders)
The Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders program sends a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a handyman to modify and improve the home environment of low-income seniors.

Many people I know are thinking about downsizing or signing up for an assisted-living arrangement that could be tapped when needed. It’s tricky though. Most places require a checkup to show you’re healthy when you arrive, but you may not want to use the service until you are routinely forgetting to turn off the oven or until the local building inspector is demanding expensive repairs on your property.

That is why so many new models are emerging.

Amanda Abrams writes at Shelterforce, “Three years ago, Lisa was in trouble. The Minneapolis homeowner had fallen victim to several recent misfortunes, including a divorce and diagnosis of a chronic illness. But it was the attention of a particularly punitive city housing inspections department that almost did her in. …

“Lisa was required to paint the trim around her own house, add handrails to the front steps, and fix the roof. Later, the city also pointed out that two elm trees in her yard were diseased and had to be cut down. The fines she was assessed had a steep interest rate and the total grew rapidly; within a few years, she owed $24,000; plus, she needed another $4,000 to cut down the elm trees.

“Lisa, then 65, didn’t have that kind of money, so the amount was added to her property taxes, putting her ownership of the house at risk. The home, a two-story duplex in an ethnically diverse North Side neighborhood, was paid off, but Lisa was unable to refinance it or otherwise raise the funds. …

“Lisa’s story sounds dramatic, but it’s not a particularly unusual one for low- and moderate-income seniors around the country. According to experts, the United States is about to face a giant wave of aging baby boomers who are hoping to remain in their houses as they age, but who are often one outstanding tax bill, major repair, or medical crisis away from losing their homes altogether.

“The statistics are daunting. According to LeadingAge, a national association of not-for-profit aging services organizations, in a little over 10 years, one in five Americans will be older than 65, and over half of them will need some sort of paid long-term care services. The organization recently released the results of a poll showing that at least 60 percent of seniors hope to remain at home as they age, even if they have a physical disability.

“But elderly Americans tend to have low incomes, as their life spans outstrip their savings. Roughly 20 million senior households pay over 30 percent of their incomes for housing, according to the AARP Foundation; almost 10 million pay over 50 percent. …

“ ‘For younger baby boomers, their economic situation is much worse than the older ones — they got hit in ’08 [by the financial crisis] and were unable to recover. There’s a growing number of baby boomers retiring with mortgages, so they don’t own their houses outright,’ says Robyn Stone, co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @ UMass Boston. …

“Dan Soliman, director of housing impact at the AARP Foundation, agrees with Stone that a crisis is looming, but he’s more optimistic about the options for addressing it. ‘It’s a really, really big math problem.’ …

“There are definitely innovative programs out there, Soliman says. One is the Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE) initiative run by the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. The program sends a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a handyman to modify and improve the home environment of low-income seniors who want to age in place. Initially piloted in Baltimore, it’s a modest program that can have a real impact — and save money for Medicare and Medicaid.

“ ‘They get that if we’re able to keep an older adult in their home rather than a facility, there’s significant savings,’ says Soliman. The program is now being expanded to several states.

“AARP Foundation itself has developed a new program called Property Tax-Aide to help older homeowners gain better access to property tax refund and credit programs; currently only about 8 percent of low-income seniors benefit from these initiatives. …

“And many cities have programs that help elderly residents retrofit their houses to make them more user-friendly. Washington, D.C., for example, offers grants of up to $10,000 to low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters for home modifications that reduce the risk of falls and improve mobility.

“But those programs don’t get at some of the bigger issues, like out-of-control tax bills that can eventually lead to foreclosure, major repairs costing tens of thousands of dollars, or medical crisis that interrupt mortgage or tax payments.

“There is a small program currently being implemented in Minneapolis that addresses just about all of the key problems, and then some. It funds housing retrofits and pays off outstanding bills so that seniors can age in place, and could cover some services as well. And it keeps the homes affordable to low- and moderate-income buyers in perpetuity, so that when seniors no longer live there, the houses don’t fall into the hands of investors or negligent landlords.

“The program, called Project Sustained Legacy, was created by Minneapolis’ City of Lakes Community Land Trust. It takes advantage of the land trust model — but tweaks it slightly. Rather than buying the land underneath a house in order to lower the initial purchase price for a new buyer — the traditional CLT approach — the organization takes over the deed to the land belonging to an existing homeowner. In return, City of Lakes addresses outstanding tax liens, mortgage payments, and deferred maintenance.”

There are, of course, challenges to implementing a program like this. You can read about that and about what parts of the country are tackling a land-trust model here.

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Delicious array of gourmet cheese on a platter

Photo: Foodandmore

Dear Readers, You know that you have been wondering why the taste of cheese changes depending on what music it was exposed to during the aging process. So much more agreeable than wondering who the next president will be or “why the sea is boiling hot,” to quote the prescient Lewis Carroll!

Well, wonder no more. Jason Daley at the Smithsonian has the musical cheese story covered.

The creation of good cheese involves a complex dance between milk and bacteria. In a quite literal sense, playing the right tune while this dance unfolds changes the final product’s taste, a new study shows.

“Denis Balibouse and Cecile Mantovani at Reuters report that hip-hop, for example, gave the cheese an especially funky flavor, while cheese that rocked out to Led Zeppelin or relaxed with Mozart had milder zests.

“Last September, Swiss cheesemaker Beat Wampfler [whose day job is as a veterinarian] and a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts placed nine 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese in individual wooden crates in Wampfler’s cheese cellar. Then, for the next six months each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels.

“The ‘classical’ cheese mellowed to the sounds of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The ‘rock’ cheese listened to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ An ambient cheese listened to Yello’s ‘Monolith,’ the hip-hop cheese was exposed to A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Jazz (We’ve Got)’ and the techno fromage raved to Vril’s ‘UV.’ A control cheese aged in silence, while three other wheels were exposed to simple high, medium and low frequency tones.

“According to a press release, the cheese was then examined by food technologists from the ZHAW Food Perception Research Group, which concluded that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the non-musical cheese. They also found that the hip-hop cheese had a stronger aroma and stronger flavor than other samples.

“The cheeses were then sampled by a jury of culinary experts during two rounds of a blind taste test. Their results were similar to the research group’s conclusions and the hip-hop cheese came out on top. …

“Michael Harenberg, director of the music program at Bern University of the Arts says he was skeptical of the whole project when Wampfler first approached him. ‘Then we discovered there is a field called sonochemistry that looks at the influences of sound waves, the effect of sound on solid bodies.’

“It turns out that Wampfler was rooting for the hip-hop cheese to win all along. Now, reports Reuters, he and his collaborators want to expose cheese to five to ten different types of hip-hop to see if it has similar effects.”

More here.

 

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I gravitate to stories about older people who keep on truckin’ and don’t let age keep them from doing what they love.

Here’s one about a 102-year-old museum docent, who is being honored with a café in her name.

Chuck Hinman of Rhode Island Public Radio reported, “There’s something new at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence … . Visitors to the [Rhode Island School of Design] Museum have been unable to use its Benefit St. entrance since mid-April, but that entrance now has been re-opened, as RISD unveils what it’s been working on these past few months: its first café, called Café Pearl, after one of the museum’s most dedicated and long-serving docents, Pearl Nathan.

“RIPR’s Chuck Hinman talked to the 102-year-old Nathan at her home in East Providence, about her long association with the RISD Museum.”

Hinman goes on to say Nathan is bemused by the café and her new fame. She tells him her “emphasis was on my art collection,” not the food.  She graduated with a degree in art history in New York. When she came to Providence, a friend got her involved in “touring with the children,” and she stayed on. For 70 years.

When Hinman asks who Nathan’s favorite artist is, she says she thinks she will surprise him: “I adore Francis Bacon!”

Now, that takes a certain kind of person, I’d say. A person open to experience. Listen to the audio here and see a photo of Nathan leading a tour in 1962.

Photo: Chuck Hinman / RIPR

Pearl Nathan, 102, a guide at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design.

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I wouldn’t call them role models, but they have done things in their older years that have given me food for thought.

This week, we heard that Diane Rehm, who has hosted a popular talk show for 37 years despite a speaking disability, will be retiring after the presidential election. She is currently 79.

Jimmy Carter’s mother (remember Miss Lillian?) joined the Peace Corps around the time he became president. She went to India.

My mother ran for Congress in her early 70s.

My friend Dorothy kept going to her editing job in her late 70s. In her late 80s,  she was asked by her former boss to edit a book. (This time she declined politely, reminding him he now knew how to identify a dangling participle.)

Just putting it out there.

Photo: National Endowment for the Humanities
Diane Rehm, popular talk show host for 37 years, plans to retire after the election.

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Last spring, Sandra and Pat were in Italy, and on one adventure, they toured a company that is very serious about the art of making balsamic vinegar. They learned that a special barrel is started when a new baby is born and ages slowly for years under careful surveillance.

From the website: “Boni’s Acetaia is located, together with its almost 100 years tradition, in the first hills just outside of Modena, in Solignano di Castelvetro. Grandfather Arturo, at the beginning of XX century, started taking lovely care of wooden barrels in which he produced Traditional Balsamic Vinegar in its acetaia in Castelvetro. …

“There are many varieties of Balsamic Vinegars that differ one from the other because of the age and aromas. Boni’s Acetaia apart from Balsamic Vinegars aged in casks made with commonly used woods offers precious products aged in casks made of special local and now rare woods.”

On their next trip, Sandra says, she hopes to get to the new balsamic vinegar museum, also located in Modena.

From the museum site: “The visitor enters a section in which he can see the processing steps for the production of Balsamic vinegar, from the grape harvest … The visitor can see the tools used in the grape collection, the pressing machines and the vats, the copper pot ready for the [cooking] and the barrels under construction. In the attic reconstruction the visitor can smell the balsamic perfume of the vinegar in the barrels, among which the barrels of a very ancient set of vessels belonging to the Fabriani family, which lived here. …

“Finally comes the aging stage, during which the vinegar’s characteristics reach true perfection. These three stages take place in a series of barrels of different woods (cherry, chestnut, mulberry, oak, false acacia, ash tree and juniper) and decreasing size. Each type of wood gives to the vinegar a specific characteristic such as a certain colour, flavour or taste.

“Only after 12 or 25 years of maturing the product reaches that surprising balance of aromas and flavours that allows it to bear the title of ‘protected origin denomination’ (DOP). Walking into the following room the visitor can admire the tools used for the annual operations to carry on in the Acetaia. Here there is a 1785 bottle of Balsamic Vinegar, and its content was tasted a few years ago.” More.

I am learning there is more to vinegar than meets the eye.

Photo: Boni Balsamic Vinegar, Italy

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Erik, this one’s for you. I saw a book on 100-year-olds in your kitchen, and I know you and your company aim to enable us all to be centenarians.

Sally Williams writes in the Guardian, “Three score and 10 may be the span of a man, but no one has broken the news to David Bailey who, at 76, still behaves like someone turning one score and eight.

“Last month he walked into a studio in London (not his: too many stairs) to photograph some of Britain’s oldest people. The youngest was just 100; the oldest 107. Dressed in a baggy polo shirt and a pair of old combat trousers, small but physically imposing, Bailey flirted, flattered, insulted his subjects in order to get the picture he wanted.

“ ‘We’ve been married for 62 years,’ Shirley Arkush told Bailey of her husband David, one of the centenarians waiting to be photographed. ‘Same as me,’ he replied, ‘but not to the same wife.’ And he gave a combative, high-pitched laugh. (Bailey’s marriage to his first wife, Rosemary Bramble, lasted three years, and his second, to Catherine Deneuve, two; he was married to Marie Helvin for 10 years, before marrying Catherine Dyer in 1986.) …

“He worked at an incredible pace – nine portraits in four hours, and on subjects with a collective age of 917 years. ‘I’ve always wanted to photograph old people,’ he said at one point, after pinning one centenarian in forensic close-up (he had requested no makeup, only ‘a tidy-up’ for the women).

“Not everyone was happy. Joe Britton, 103, Chelsea Pensioner and horseracing enthusiast, said he knew Bailey and had been looking forward to seeing him again. But, ‘That’s not David Bailey,’ he said with disappointment after the shoot – his David Bailey is the horse trainer.” More pictures, more story here.

Photograph: David Bailey/Guardian
Violet Butler: ‘I’m no paragon. I used to smoke and drink, but not to excess.’

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