Posts Tagged ‘aging’

Photo: Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images.
Elderly spectators arrive to attend a concert specifically tailored to people living with dementia at the Wiener Musikverein in Vienna on December 5, 2022.

Meghna Chakrabarti of WBUR’s On Point had a great show recently about enlightened dementia communities in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe.

I came away feeling that the reason we have little like this in the US is because of insurance. We are such a crazily litigious society, we can’t afford to take the slightest risk, even if it means an older person will have a happier aging experience.

Producer Paige Sutherland and host Meghna Chakrabarti shared highlights from the show at the WBUR website.

“Is there a better way to care for dementia patients? And what might that look like?

” ‘I think it really focuses on what’s the day-to-day life and looking at this balance between safety and freedom,’ Dr. Tia Powell [professor of psychiatry and bioethics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine] says.

“And that’s exactly what the Netherlands did when they opened up the first-ever ‘dementia village,’ where residents can live freely despite their memory loss.

” ‘Officially, it’s a nursing home, so we offer highly complex care, skilled nursing. But it does not look anything like a nursing home,’ [advisor at Be Advice] Iris Van Slooten says. …

“On the idea behind a ‘dementia village’

“Iris Van Slooten: It should be about the individual; it should be about the person living in that place and need to deal with dementia. And you want to continue your life even though you are dealing with dementia. And so you want to continue life like you did before and not be hospitalized. I always ask our visitors and the people we work with, would you want to live in a hospital for the rest of your life? And then always the answer, of course, is no.

“So then why did we do that to the people that were living with us? … You can continue with your life, you can stay a human being. And what makes you a human being, for instance, is that you can make your own choices every day. Like … what do I have on my sandwich? Or in what place do I want to be right now? Very, very simple choices we make every day but are taken away from people that live in a nursing home.

“On what the village looks like

“Iris Van Slooten: You will enter through a door and then you will enter the hallway. And that is a safe neighborhood where the outside of the homes are the barrier to the … broader surroundings. And we had a door because there were laws in place back when we designed … we had to keep people inside. But you will find 27 homes in a normal looking community. In a normal neighborhood. The homes look like normal Dutch homes with a normal living room, a kitchen, private bedrooms.

“And when residents also step out of the front door, … they are really outside. And there are many streets and many gardens they can explore. We have a restaurant, a pub, a theater, many club rooms, a supermarket. So, everything you will find in any neighborhood, in any community. So yeah, very normal, and especially on a sunny day and in spring and summer, of course, then you see a lot of people walking around, having conversations, meeting each other, grabbing a chair, enjoying a drink in a restaurant. It’s just life. …

“Every resident that lives there has severe dementia. So, you need to have an indication from the Dutch government saying you have severe dementia. … We have teams in the houses that support the household and really run the household. But we also have a quite extensive medical support team, including a specialist, elderly care, doctor, but also a psychiatrist, an official therapist, a social coach. …

“Say someone left their home, and they wanted to go to the village supermarket, but got lost or forgot the way. How do you help that person get to where they wanted to go?

“Iris Van Slooten: One thing we highly value in the Hogeweyk is having freedom and giving the freedom to these people and not restraining them. … They are free to walk around on their own. A lot of people can find their way because also people with severe dementia, they still have learning abilities, and the place is designed [so that it is] recognizable for them. …

“So also the staff in the restaurant, also the reception, also the technicians, also me when I’m there. … When I look out my office and I see somebody in the rain without a coat on, it might slip to the attention of a staff member in house. But then it’s also my job to go over there and find a jacket for that person. …

“On helping people maintain their independence and humanity in the ‘dementia village’

“Dr. Tia Powell: [As] a bioethicist, really all of our challenges can be summed up by the tension between maintaining freedom, which is part of what all human beings strive for, and safety. And this argument’s been going on forever for hundreds of years.

So I do think that many of the ways in which we provide care today in the U.S. for people with dementia do not focus on care, but they focus on other issues. You know, maintaining regulations, all kinds of other things.

“And we have forgotten about freedom and joy.”

A bit from the transcript on the sad US situation.

“Meghna Chakrabarti: Beth Ounsworth … was living a very rich life full of friends and music. As a member of her choir, she was independent in her own apartment in Philadelphia. And that started changing when Beth was about 69 years old. She began forgetting simple things like what day and time she had scheduled meetings, directions to common places. …

“And so her children finally took her to see a neurologist. And Beth was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Now, we spoke with her daughter, Meg Ounsworth Steere. Because Meg wanted to care for her mother, but with two young children at home, it just wasn’t possible. So they looked at assisted living centers near where Meg lived in Boston.

“Meg Ounsworth Steere: So she did go and visit a few assisted living centers with me. … We went to lunch, and she just looked around and she was like, Not me, not now. And I was like, okay, you know? And that’s when we had this conversation about she was like, I don’t want to be in a place where I’m just surrounded by old people. I want to be in a place where there are, you know, babies, too, and young families, and I can feel a part of a community. …

Chakrabarti: So Beth stayed in Philadelphia, but it wasn’t easy. Daughter Meg had to find full time aides to take Beth to all of her appointments and to help with all of her daily activities. Meanwhile, the disease progressed.

“Ounsworth Steere: It got to a point when I took her to the neurologist. He would give her a mini mental state exam and 30 is normal. My mom was testing at a four at that point. Partially because she has aphasia and so she doesn’t really understand words. And so he was like, you know, she’s not going to answer the questions that were like, do you know who the president is? …

“Chakrabarti: So the family decided it would be better for Beth to live in a memory care facility. And they found a good one near Boston. Beth moved in in 2018, and ever since then, Meg and the family have been paying about $100,000 out of pocket for the facility every year.

“Ounsworth Steere: What worries me is that I know I’m on the luckier side and it’s still not perfect. So I can’t quite fathom what it’s like when you have to go to a facility that can’t possibly retain the aides that they want. … Or where aides are just less engaged and involved, they’re just kind of physically there. Kind of like the first aides that I had, but not really assisting, you know, and engaging with and kind of trying to love the resident and then the people who can’t afford care at all. I just, I don’t know how that’s possible.

“Chakrabarti: Meg visits her mother often. Beth is nonverbal now, However, Meg gets to communicate with her in a different way: by singing.”

If you click on the arrow at WBUR, here, you can listen to the whole show. PS. I blogged about the Dutch dementia village in 2016, here!

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Photo: Suzanne and John’s Mom.
Suzanne and Kate on Cape Cod. They laugh a lot.

When I saw today’s article by Teddy Amenabar at the Washington Post, I knew it would be blog material. That’s not just because friends have been important to me since childhood (Hello, Hannah!), but because I’ve been learning about the particular virtues that conversation with friends has for older people. There’s the value of relaxing, having fun. But there are also cognitive benefits from focusing on what friends are saying and responding thoughtfully.

Amenabar writes, “One of the more surprising findings in the science of relationships is that both romance and friendship often start the same way — with a spark. … A growing body of research shows friends are essential to a healthy life — and they are just as important for our well-being as healthy eating habits or a good night’s sleep.

“ ‘We’ve always had this hierarchy of love with romantic love at the top and friendship seen as second class,’ said Marisa G. Franco, a professor at the University of Maryland and author of Platonic: How The Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends. …

“Platonic love trumps romantic love in a number of ways. People with strong friendships tend to have better mental health and studies suggest they’re in better physical health, as well. Researchers have found large social networks lower our risk of premature death more than exercise or dieting alone.

A six-year study of 736 middle-aged Swedish men found having a life partner didn’t affect the risk of heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease — but having friends did.

“A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a lot of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with few friends. Notably, having a social network of children and relatives did not affect survival rates. …

“There are multiple theories about the association between friendship and better health. Part of the effect may be due to the fact that it’s easier for healthy people to make friends. A strong social network could be an indicator that someone has more access to medical care. And, someone with more friends may just have a better support system to get a ride to the doctor’s office.

“But there is also a psychological effect of friendship that likely plays a role. Friends help us cope with stress. In one study at the University of Virginia, many people were intimidated at the prospect of climbing a steep hill. But researchers found that when people were standing next to a friend, they rated the hill less challenging than those who were alone.

Brain imaging studies suggest that friendship affects brain systems associated with reward, stress and negative emotions, offering an explanation for why social connection benefits mental health and well-being. Friendship even seems to affect our immune response. In one remarkable study, 276 healthy volunteers were given nose drops containing a cold virus. Those with diverse social ties were less likely to develop cold symptoms. …

“Friends don’t just appear out of thin air, Franco said. Here’s her advice for making new connections and maintaining the old ones.

Take the initiative. Trust your gut when you’re meeting new people. We’re particularly good at knowing when someone is a potential new friend (remember that spark). And, you should assume people like you. We often underestimate how positively others think of us, Franco said. …

Start with a text. Start small by scrolling through your phone and shooting a text message to an old friend you’ve been meaning to reconnect with.

Show your gratitude. If a potential friend reaches out to you to grab coffee or pizza, tell them how happy you are they reached out, and that you appreciate the effort, Franco said. In a University of Utah study, researchers asked 70 college freshman to keep a check list of certain interactions — like going to see a movie together or calling just to say hello — they did with new friends. After three months, the researchers found that close friendships were more likely to form when the pairs expressed affection to each other. …

Invite friends to things you’ve already planned. If it’s hard to find time for friends, think of the tasks you already have to accomplish and tag on a friend, Franco said. The next time you workout at the gym, for example, you could invite someone to join. ‘Ask yourself: Are there parts of your day right now that you’re doing anyway that you can just do in community with other people?’ Franco said.

Join a book club, take a class or play a sport. Regular interaction with people who share the same interests as you could lead to friendship. Another University of Maryland study that found cadets who sat next to each other in police academy were more likely to become close friends. …

“While having friends is good for your health, not having them can be detrimental.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loneliness has been associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. For older women, loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of heart disease by as much as 27 percent.

“Loneliness is essentially the perceived gap between the relationships you have and the relationships you want in your life, said Adam Smiley Poswolsky, the author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.

“A 2018 study found that loneliness is common across age groups. … Social media can exacerbate our perception of loneliness by bombarding us with photos and videos of friends and acquaintances seemingly spending their time without us, said Poswolsky.

“[Said] Poswolsky, ‘No one feels like they can talk about it because there’s a lot of shame associated with loneliness.’

Billy Baker, the author of We Need to Hang Out, a memoir of his personal journey to find new friends as a middle-aged man, said he realized he needed to build beyond the lifelong friendships he made in high school or college.

“Baker said he didn’t have very many people he could call in the middle of the night if there was an emergency. To remedy this, he started a fraternity for neighborhood dads to meet every Wednesday night, and the group now gets together on other days and on the weekends.

“Baker said he’s spent years ‘checking off so many other boxes,’ to be a good father and husband, but he’s never had ‘hanging out with my buddies’ on the list.

“ ‘We all know how to do this,’ he said. ‘What very often happens in those moments is you feel that spark with someone and you say: “Hey, we should grab a beer some time!” But, how often do you go grab that beer?’ ”

As Suzanne and her fellow Girl Scouts used to sing,

“Make new friends
“But keep the old.
“One is silver
“And the other gold.”

More at the Post, here.

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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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Kathy was telling me on the commuter train about an article on Littleton’s Life Care Center, which uses llamas and other critters to engage the residents.

I said, “Send me a link!”

Today I received the article in the Lowell Sun. Samantha Allen writes, “At the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, it’s not uncommon to see patients asleep in their wheelchairs by the saltwater-fish tank, or out for a stroll around a pasture filled with grass-grazing animals like goats and llamas.

“Director Ellen Levinson said while the merits of ‘pet therapy’ have been adopted and used at various skilled nursing facilities across the country, it’s rare to find chickens and alpacas at a site.

“At the 120-bed nursing home, which houses a specialized memory-support unit for those with severe dementia and other conditions that affect the memory, staff members make time to ensure their patients interact with the animals whenever possible.

” ‘This is my philosophy: A lot of places say, “We have pet therapy,” and what they have is someone who brings a dog in on a leash once a week,’ she said. ‘If I were living here, that would make me more miserable. It’s not like real life. It’s not like having a dog, and then you’re just tempted with what you could have all the time.’ …

“This spring, the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley was awarded a perfect score by the [Massachusetts] Department of Public Health in a survey of nursing homes and senior-care providers.” According to Kathy, the Center is also friendly to outsiders, welcoming the public in for the llama shearing and other events.

Read more about the approach Levinson devised, here.

Photo: Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley 

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Being in the aging-happily business, Erik is always on the lookout for stories about how seniors are putting their own stamp on their later years, after they have given up skydiving.

He sent me an article about a gentleman called Martin Bayne, who has become a bit of an expert on assisted living, having tried one facility that literally drove him crazy and having eventually found one he loves.

Writes Judith Graham in the NY Times, “Sometimes Martin Bayne speaks in little more than a whisper, like many people with advanced Parkinson’s disease. But his voice has a way of carrying.

“Many consider him the nation’s foremost advocate for people in assisted living. … Dr. William Thomas, a geriatrician and nursing home reformer, wrote in an e-mail, ‘He has been able to do what very few others have done — he has told the story of life on the inside of long-term care.’

After his first assisted-living experience, says Graham, “Mr. Bayne relocated to a facility in northeastern Pennsylvania, where he has a single room and receives several hours of help from aides every day. From this perch, Mr. Bayne blogs about assisted living at thevoiceofagingboomers.com  …

Bayne tells Graham how critical he believes it is to reach out to the others around you when they feel down, “Sometimes just a hand on someone’s shoulder is all it takes. Sometimes picking up a fork that someone drops in the dining room on the floor. Sometimes, just sitting with someone. Trying to make people more comfortable. The simplest things in the world can lead to what I call incremental victories. That’s what I go for in my life.

“I sneak in touches whenever I can. I call them sneak attacks. I just go over and touch someone’s hand or some other part of them. Men are in need of it the most. Men are never touched, at least in this culture.”

Graham asks Bayne how he would run his dream facility, and he says, “First of all, when a prospective resident came to visit, I would have him sit down with 10 other residents. And we would ask, ‘What’s your passion? What motivates you? What’s your mission in life?’ If you don’t have an answer to those questions, then we don’t accept you. Because we want a community that is alive.

“There would be a welcoming committee for every new resident. You’d be taken around and treated like royalty when you first come in. We’d show you that we care about you.

“Once you’re here, you’d get a job. No matter how seemingly insignificant, you’d have responsibilities every day. And the emphasis wouldn’t be on you, the emphasis would be on the community.” More.

Some of the article is sad, but the idea that you can keep making things work for you — over a longer period of time than you may have thought —  is something to ponder.

“Dear Sir,” below, is the first art collaboration of Rhian and Ray Ferrer. Please visit Rhian’s WordPress blog for lots more art, http://artgland.wordpress.com.

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