The Art of Acupuncture, Baby Boomer Edition

0 comments / February 29, 2016


A scathing email from an M.D. was the first clue I had that my article on acupuncture for Baby Boomers had been published:

Your article on acupuncture was little more than an advertising piece for the featured person. Virtually none of the benefits you site have any scientific validation. The idea that acupuncture can in effect produce a facelift is beyond belief. There is not one shred of credible evidence anywhere that acupuncture is anything more than a counter irritant. You have a responsibility as a writer to write article that are factual or at least explain that the scientific community disputes virtually every claim that acupuncture makes.Or you need to identify that your article is an advertisement(puff piece) Acupuncture was brought to this country after  Nixon visited China in the 1970’s. since then it  has had virtually no significant impact on healthcare simply because it is at best a creative placebo. Try to be at least balanced next time.

I reprint his email verbatim, complete with typos. As to the charge that the article wasn’t “balanced,” I plead guilty as charged. The article was written for a publication called The Good Life, and it’s not investigative reporting. As for a “shred of evidence” that acupuncture is effective, my source for the article sites the current issue of Minnesota Physician.

But here’s the bottom line: I was introduced to acupuncture through my cat Shirley. At age 15, right before Christmas one year, she had what appeared to be a stroke. She lost her sense of balance, was nauseated, couldn’t walk, crawled under the guest bed and hid. I spent two days laying on the floor next to the bed, petting her, waiting for the holiday to be over so that I could call my wonderful vet, Nancy Balto, to come to the house and do the euthanasia.

By December 26, Shirley was still alive, although still unable to walk without staggering. Nancy said it might be a brain tumor, but it might also be something called a vestibular, which, she said, responded well to acupuncture. She suggested we give it a try. “You’re going to stick needles in Shirley?” I asked. Shirley was the alpha cat, prone to back-handing her two much larger brothers on her way through the room for no apparent reason.

Nancy came over and we corralled the cat in the living room–happily, that wasn’t difficult since the cat couldn’t run away. Nancy put the needles in. Shirley went into what I can only describe as a Zen trance. Her eyes were closed. Her body was still and relaxed. Twenty minutes later, Nancy took the needles out. Shirley woke up and walked out of the room–still wobbly, but noticeably improved. Nancy did three more treatments, and Shirley lived five more years. She always had a bit of a head tilt, and she could not longer perch on top of the refrigerator, but she had a happy, full life.

Obviously, I was never able to think of acupuncture as a “creative placebo,” because cats don’t really know what a placebo is. When I had a spasm in my back, I went in for acupuncture, and one treatment nailed it. I had a series of peri-menopausal treatments, and I recently used acupuncture to get me through a stressful period of my life.

If you want my “balanced” perspective, it’s this: Acupuncture restored balance to Shirley, my cat. And that made a believer of me.




Long-Distance Misfit

0 comments / February 26, 2016


On February 21, my Misfit Shine phone app sent me a lovely message informing me that the Shine and I had walked 150 miles together. I’m pretty sure that’s 75 miles more than I would have walked in six weeks without the Shine.



Seeing the Future: New Options in Cataract Surgery

0 comments / February 22, 2016

CheatersMy stepfather’s mother had cataract surgery back in the 1960’s. She was diabetic and must have had severe cataracts. It was a rare surgery back then. As I recall, she was bedridden for days, and forever after wore pop-bottle glasses that distorted her eyes.

Flash forward fifty years. Nowadays, it seems, cataract surgery is a given for everyone who lives long enough. My mother was well up in her 80s when she had her cataracts removed. She told me on the phone that she was going in for the first of the two operations. Alarmed, I said, “Do you want me to come up and take you to the hospital?” She immediately replied, “Oh, no,” sounding surprised. Obviously, she already knew it was no big deal.

The video does look a little gory, but now that my peers and near-peers are having the surgery, I can say that it is, indeed, no big deal.

On the other hand, the new range of options for intraocular implants makes the pre-op decisions more complicated. I’ve been told I have just the beginnings of cataracts, so I have a few years to make up my mind. I’ve had monovision for about 25 years, which is a nifty way to deal with presbyopia, if you ask me. My left eye is near-sighted, my right eye is far-sighted. I achieved that effect first with contact lenses and then with Lasik in the right eye only. It allowed me to escape glasses altogether for a couple of decades. Then something changed–I was told it was increased astigmatism, but more recently that it’s something called “macular crumple.” Now I do need glasses for distance, but I’m still fine while reading and wandering around the house.

I don’t think I’d like the standard monofocal lens alternative, which corrects for vision and leaves one wearing “cheaters” for reading and computer work. That’s most of my daily life. But when my significant other had cataract surgery last week, the doctor cleverly made the incision through the worst of the astigmatism, and he’s now doing fine with no glasses and no cheaters.

The multifocal option scares me because I was never able to get used to bifocals or progressive lenses. I remember driving through the mountains of western Pennsylvania with my first pair of bifocals, going 25 miles an hour and feeling like I was on a roller coaster. That was when I went with the monovision correction.

Of course, it sounds like I’m a few years away from the surgery and at the rate things are progressing, there may be even better options available to me.

Work or Retire? It’s Not That Easy

0 comments / February 18, 2016

Retirement concept with retire and work text

More and more people claim they plan to keep working past the traditional retirement age. In 2015, about 36 percent of people over 25 said they planned to work past age 65. But things don’t always go according to plan, as the  University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS) shows. The HRS has been surveying a sample of approximately 20,000 people in America over the age of 50 every two years since 1992.

The most recent results of the survey show that 37 percent–roughly the same percent who say they plan to work past age 65–don’t actually make it to their planned retirement age. The main reason is health. Second most common is layoffs. Third is change in work or health status of a spouse or partner.

And sometimes it’s all of the above. I had a couple of projects that were more frustrating than challenging. I lost a beloved long-term gig. And I found myself overwhelmed with caregiver responsibilities. I had always seen myself steaming past 65 and 70, still doing what I’d been doing for the past 20 years. But that has changed.

Of course, as Chris Farrell and others have pointed out, it’s no longer easy to draw a clean line between “work” and “retirement,” either. I do still have one job, which I intend to continue. I have entrepreneurial projects that I am committed to, and hope I can eventually earn money from. I’m not using the word “retirement.” I am saying “sabbatical.” In true sabbatical fashion, I hope to acquire some new knowledge and skills, travel and have some time for introspection.

But will I ever return to pre-sabbatical levels of earning and activity? That remains to be seen.

When All You Need Is Love….

0 comments / February 14, 2016

IMG_2154According to the Pew Foundation, 15 percent of American adults have used online dating sites as of 2015.That number seems really low to me–but that is, perhaps, due to my demographic. The numbers grow steadily upward with education and income levels, although they decline with age.

If you study the bar chart, you discover, in fact, that 12 percent of adults 55-64 have used online dating–a percentage that has doubled in just two years since 2013. Those over 65 bring the average down, at just 3 percent, with no growth over the past two years.

Senior Planet even has a list of the best senior dating sites. The 2014 list changed substantially from 2013. First on the list is a brand-new option called Stitch, which gets high marks for an emphasis on safety. Stitch also allows for a range of relationship needs, including activity and travel companions as well as the traditional love-and-marriage option. (If that’s your focus, try eHarmony.)

If you’re an active Facebook user, and you’re a fan of mobile devices, you might try Coffee Meets Bagel, which matches you with friends of your friends on Facebook. Download the app to your phone. (As you might expect, the users tend to be under 35–but that can change.)

The Pew report includes the upsides and downsides of online dating:

  • It’s a good way to meet people. (If there were someone in your immediate circle, you’d already have met by now.)
  • The wider reach can create a better match. That’s certainly true among the sparse ranks of eligible seniors, and especially if education, religion, interests or personal quirks set you out of the mainstream.
  • It’s easier and more efficient than other ways of meeting people. Why join groups you aren’t really interested in or prowl the produce aisle with a hidden agenda?

On the other hand, it is more dangerous than other ways of meeting people. If you’re aware that scams are inevitable, there’s no harm done. Read profiles critically and don’t click if things don’t make sense. And while online dating is a more efficient way of meeting people, it can create a catalog effect–browsing for the perfect fit without actually buying anything. (Men are more likely to take the “candy store” approach, according to sources.)

Still, it’s worth a try. I speak from personal experience: I found love on J-Date a little more than a year ago.

Are you ready for retirement?

0 comments / February 12, 2016

Retirement concept with retire and work text

A Facebook quiz says five easy questions can help me determine if I’m ready for retirement. I answered truthfully–that my work is central to my identity, that I don’t really have much else going on, that I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I weren’t working. The quiz told me I’m ready to retire.

What does the quiz tell you?


Still Shining

0 comments / February 10, 2016


Update on my fitness tracker: I really do love my Misfit Shine. I bought it mostly because was the only affordable alternative for swimming. But there’s so much more.

Most important: The Happy Dance. When I meet my 10,000 point goal, the watch doesn’t just buzz (which, as I understand it, is all you get from Fitbit). Instead, the lights go round and round in a flashing, manic circle. And they will keep doing that for the rest of the day. A You Tube video calls it “motivation at a glance,” and that’s accurate.

I love to achieve my goal by, say, noon, and then smugly tap the watch at 2 p.m.

But if it’s 9 p.m. and the watch is showing I’m only at 80 percent of my goal, I’ll work those steps in: Marching in place while watching television, doing some dance steps while reading the newspaper. Jogging in place while I’m waiting for the dog to finish her last trip out for the night.

The Misfit Shine is extremely comfortable, even for someone who types for a living. I wear it round the clock, and the band has only come undone once.

The only problem is that the watch doesn’t quite work in real time. A few days ago, the watch told me late in the evening that I was at about 80 percent of my goal. I gave up–only to discover when I checked the app on my phone the next day that my total for the day had been 993. I could easily have achieved those extra seven points!

The app has some other quirks. Last week I joined some friends for a half-hour of Pilates after a brisk half-hour walk. Somehow, the app recorded that activity as 45 minutes of “moderate activity” plus three minutes of swimming.

Does 10 minutes of marching in place, Don McNeill style, really contribute to my health and fitness? Who knows. But I have a five-day streak going, and I’m determined to hit the one-week mark.


Old Folks at Home

0 comments / February 1, 2016

Family portrait standing outside

I’m seeing articles about planned retirement communities. It seems that some people like the idea of being around people their own age. On the other hand, the number of multigenerational households has doubled over the past thirty years, according to the Pew Foundation.

There are good arguments on both sides. A community built for retirees can focus on the amenities that seniors appreciate–safety, transportation, easy socializing. You’re not paying for playground equipment and three-car garages.

The argument for multigenerational households is that the older generation provides childcare and household services while the younger generation focuses on career-building, and both generations save money.

Neither extreme appeals to me, but I am more aware than I used to be of the need to pay attention to neighborhood demographics. When I moved into my current home, the 20 houses along the alley were largely occupied by long-time residents. That made for quiet and stability. Over the past five years, many of those houses have turned over. Some have become rental units, which is a less stable situation. Others have been purchased by young families, and that certainly decreases the quiet.

The house-hunting Website Trulia, I just found out, provides information on the average age, marital status and education level in any neighborhood, along with crime reporting statistics. Would I pick a neighborhood with an average age of 64 over one with an average age of 27? I don’t know–but I might look at the neighborhood differently, making a late-night visit to the younger neighborhood, for example.

The Sandwich Generation: Call Me Lunchmeat

0 comments / January 26, 2016

RadiationLast Sunday, I officially stepped down as primary caregiver. Radiation and chemo had ended on Tuesday. The calendar opens up. From here on, I explained, it’s pretty simple math: 2,000 calories is the requirement for American adults to maintain a healthy weight. Nagging from me added no food value. Pain decreases with pain management and increases without it. And so on. Happy to help, I said. Happy to run and buy you anything with calories in it. Happy to find you a good massage to make you feel better. But it’s time to accept the things I cannot change.

Today–one week after the last day at Hubert Humphrey Cancer Center–my sister called to say my mother is having problems with an irregular heartbeat and is going to the doctor. Who, then, she wonders, would take care of her cat. I am hoping this is the too-predictable outcome of a recent health screening: Lots of articles are critical of the procedures because they can produce false positives that result in unnecessary treatment. “More harm than good,” one article said. The Journal of the American Medical Association said they “target consumer fear.”

My mother’s screening revealed her most amazing self–no coronary blockage, minimal osteoporosis. The only thing to report was a single premature ventricular contraction (PVC). The Mayo Clinic website calls them “very common” and says “most people will have them at some point.” That’s what my mother’s doctor told her–my sister was in the room and heard him say it. But it has probably resulted in a lot of personal pulse-taking and anxiety.

On the other hand, she is going on 90. And so I am once again on emergency standby.