Friday, October 28, 2011

Mind the Mind

George Burns, the comedian who lived to 100 years of age, once quipped, “By the time you’re eighty years old, you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it!” What Burns may not have known—and what those of us who worry about the effects of aging on the mind may not realize—is that learning is one of the most effective ways to keep memory and thinking skills sharp as we age.

A recent study titled ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) found that five years after a group of 3,000 volunteers had gone through eighteen hours of instruction in cognitive exercises, their thinking skills improved. The volunteers, aged 65 and older, underwent a series of trainings focused on memory, reasoning, and speed of processing.

Michael Marsiske, a principal investigator in the study, noted, “What we clearly show is that these short mental workouts improve performance, and that improvement is detectable even five years later.”

Short mental exercises are available to all of us: we can, for example, spend fifteen minutes a day working on crossword or Sudoku puzzles or memorizing foreign words and phrases in preparation for a trip abroad.

Another way to think about aging and cognitive ability is to imagine that the best way to age is to bring a well-exercised brain with us. An article published in the New York Times in January 2007 reported the following: “The one social factor researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education.” 

With this new emphasis on learning and “brain calisthenics,” it’s important to keep in mind that the brain cares for the mind as with a partner. The body, too, needs exercise. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which, according to researchers, uses 25 percent of the oxygen that enters the body. Exercise also eases depression, a frequent companion to an inactive body.

Staying active in a number of ways—thinking about new subjects, playing challenging games, taking daily walks—seems to be the right way to shore up our minds for a fulfilling future. If we do so, we improve our chances of beating the odds as George Burns did and give ourselves the opportunity to live, learn, laugh, and remember for years to come!


Friday, October 21, 2011

If not you, who? Write your story now

While this generation is busy text messaging in techno speak to family and mostly friends, there are other stories to be told, stories begging to be captured.  Who is telling your story?  Who really knows your story?  No one but you.  Where can you begin?

When actress, Liv Ullman, wrote her memoir, Changes she didn’t write a chronological history, rather she chose events, or those moments of realization significant in her life journey.  This might be the least complicated way to write your own story.

The first step might be to get good equipment:  a smooth writing pen that glides across the page and a fresh notebook or journal.  Or if you prefer, use your computer.  Then choose a time of day when you are least likely to have interruptions. You might want to set a time limit, but no need to stay with it if you get on a roll.

Besides expressing your feelings about things that happen there are practical reasons for keeping a journal.  For example: when did you last see your Aunt Mary? Or what could you have possibly said at the bridal shower that upset off the mother of the bride?  There it is in black and white, in your journal.

The good thing about journaling is that you don’t need to worry about spelling or grammar as your write.  Just write whatever comes up.  It is probably better not to critique your thoughts.  No one else will read them.  Of course make sure to secure your journal in a safe place since it’s for your eyes only…for now.

Include the Times

As you write your journal include stories of your family and the times you are living in should they come to mind.  Somewhere down the road there will be someone who will wonder about things that took place in the 20th and 21st centuries.  For instance, if you lived through WWII you might remember the victory gardens in your neighborhood or the air raid warnings, or the food rationing books, or life before PCs.  Today, you are living in a time in history of momentous happenings that call for your opinion or reaction.  Presidential elections, wars, recession to name some.  How are you and your family affected ?  All this is part of your valuable life experience.     

Be creative.  Draw pictures, collages whatever comes to mind.  Your journal is yours, so have fun with it.  It might be helpful to think about family members and friends whose  stories you would have loved to have known from their point of view. If only they had written it down! Your journaling can prove to be a wonderful gift to those who someday will wish to read your story, in your words.


Friday, October 14, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

You’ve worked hard and in retirement you are satisfied with the nest egg you’ve squirreled away to make the future just the way you want.  Then Surprise!  Your adult child comes to you in tears, in financial need.  Your question is “Where did I go wrong?”

You’ve set a good example.  You’ve saved, set up IRA’s and 401K’s.  You’ve paid yourself every payday.  Now the unexpected shows up in the face of your dearly loved offspring. Guidelines may be in order, not for love, but for loving our adult children in a way that encourages their financial health while keeping your own.

You know your savings account is not a sweet treat to be dispensed liberally without caution.  And the time for early conversation with your child about budgeting is well passed.  Now what?

Here are some things to consider when talking with a grown child about finances:

  • If she has lost her job offer your home until she can re-establish herself in new employment.
  • Examine the urgency of the present need.  If there is no urgency suggest she save for what she wants. (Remember that?)  If there is some urgency create a workable understanding on how she will repay the loan.  
  • Suggest sharing an apartment with a roommate.  

We are living in challenging times for young people.  So it is not surprising to hear of parents paying medical insurance or college loans to ease their child’s burden.  An important question to pose to the adult child is, “How will you manage your finances going forward?”

Draw the Line Together

We live in an age when commercial advertizing, especially on the internet and television lures people of any age to spend beyond their means.  Life style adjustment may be needed.  Like cooking meals on week-ends, having people over for pot luck suppers, going out to eat only once a month.  Young people don’t like asking parents for money, but making some basic changes in how they spend money can make a difference.  There is no one easy answer.  Each family can talk through the situation and come up a solution that works for everyone, parents included.  For example, if the problem is credit card debt, don’t take out a home equity loan to take care of it. If cutting up the credit card and creating a reasonable budget doesn’t work it may be time to consult a debt counselor to help her out of the hole. It will require swallowing some pride but there is a way out from under this money elephant. And what a relief when it’s gone!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stressed by Requests

Are you stressed by too many requests for donations? We can limit the amount of solicitations that fill our mailboxes and waste trees, time and money. This can be stressful all year, but most especially at the end when many charities make a final effort to finance their humanitarian programs. It’s not too late to take charge of how much charity mail we receive.


Relieve the Burden

What follows are some suggestions from the Federal Trade Commission and people who have figured out how to dispense with an unwanted paper stressor:

·   When you choose to donate to a charity include a note asking that the charity not rent, sell or exchange your personal information and donation history.

·   You can ask a nonprofit organization to limit donation requests to once or twice a year.  If the organization fails to do this, you may wish to find a different charity. 

·   If an unsolicited request includes a postage paid stamp and you want to stop future mailings, write a note on the slip that contains your name and address asking that your name be removed from their mailing list. Mail it back to the organization. You can also print out slips with your name and address and send it to the charity with your own stamp.


When Feelings Are Involved

·   Some charities elicit an emotional response with pictures of people suffering hardships.  As worthy as a cause may be, your feelings of guilt may transform into resentment when you find yourself dipping too deeply into your own pockets to support an unsolicited cause.

·   Be aware of charities that send gifts such as note pads, clothing, pens, etc.  They may be well intended but you might wonder why donations are used to fund promotional items you may not want. You may also feel guilty if you don’t send a donation for a “free” gift.  Include a note with your donation asking that instead of receiving gifts you would like your donation to be used for the fine programs you support.

Consider choosing a few legitimate, worthy causes for your giving dollars. To make sure a charity is on the “up and up” research it with these organizations:

BBBGiving Alliance:
American Institute of Philanthropy:

Finally there is always the refuse bin for unwanted solicitations.  This works in the moment, but may not stop future unsolicited requests. 

Be charitable and give, but on your terms!

A. M.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Get Involved

This October, Isabella Geriatric Center is proud to sponsor National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a time to promote regular mammograms and increase early detection of breast cancer. About 1 in 8 women in the United States will get breast cancer. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer in women. Mammograms can help find breast cancer early when there is the best chance for treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in White, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
  • If you are age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often you need them.
  • If you are age 50 or older, call today to schedule your mammogram.
These are general guidelines. Talk to a doctor about your risk for breast cancer, especially if breast or ovarian cancer runs in your family. Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to get a mammogram.

Get Involved: 

Isabella is gearing up for Breast Cancer Awareness Month by hosting its annual bake sale in support of the American Cancer Society's "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" Event. The Bake Sale will be held on October 7th at 515 Audubon Avenue, New York, NY 10040.  

We are also encouraging community members to join the Isabella team on October 16th at the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at Central Park.
Call (212) 342-9548 for additional information.

Isabella is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization serving the elderly of New York since 1875. Our mission is to provide quality care through diverse programs designed to promote health and independence within and beyond our walls. To learn more about Isabella visit