Category Archives: Senior Viewpoint

Senior Viewpoint: Bone Health & You, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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Ask anyone, especially a senior, What is a sign of wellness? What tissue epitomizes strength? The answer is your bones and skeletal health. Never have we known so much about bone health, and never has it received so much attention. Our understanding of bone as an organ and a tissue has deepened, especially in the last few years. The public’s level of awareness has been raised as well, and people want to know what they can do to improve their bone health. They know about the problems that result from osteoporosis, especially the potential for fractures and bone injury.

Bone is truly a remarkable tissue, with amazing abilities and wonderful reparative properties. Bone has the principal responsibility of supporting the load imposed upon itclinical herbalism, the human body. The demands placed upon our bones require enormous strength and resilience, while still being relatively lightweight. Bone is a very responsive tissue, altering its shape and configuration depending on the forces it endures, responding to physical stress by becoming stronger.

Bone requires physical forces be placed upon it, at least partially in the form of resisting gravity, to survive and thrive.

We know more about this process than ever before. At last, we begin to grasp how bone responds to physical activity. Advances in technology have allowed us a better, more thorough understanding of the biology and physics of bone. We know its healing abilities are excellent, at least partially because of its well-endowed blood supply.

As we are all aware, aging affects bones, as it does every part of the human body (and everything else). But certain eras are associated with more significant bone changes. Bone loss begins or accelerates at midlife for both men and women. The goal during this time of life is to keep bone loss to a minimum. For example, between the ages of forty and fifty, bone loss may progress more slowly in both sexes with effective interventions. Unfortunately, during menopause, there is a period of more rapid loss in women. Both sexes may lose a total of 25 percent of bone during this period. This phase can occur anytime between the ages of fifty and seventy.

The frailty phase typically occurs in adults over age seventy. One common occurrence in this phase: bowing of the spine, called kyphosis, due to spinal fractures secondary to osteoporosis. But, be aware these phases are generalized. It is important to know fractures are not a natural consequence of aging. They can be avoided, to some extent. Your chronological age, as an individual, is a given, so we must focus on those factors over which we have some control—our diet and physical activity.

Osteoporosis is the excessive, or “pathologic,” thinning or loss of bone density.

With this common disease, bone substance is lost, making the bone lighter, thinner, and, of course, weaker. When progressive, it can lead to loss of height, stooped posture, humpback, and severe pain. Osteoporosis is characterized by the systemic impairment of bone mass, and strength, resulting in increased risk for fragility fractures, disability, and loss of independence.

Falls frequently result in fractures when thinning of bone has occurred. In seniors, or anyone with certain risk factors, falls are a real and ever-present threat. One approach to the problem is participating in a fall prevention program, helping us to protect our bones by reducing the risk of injury. Programs such as these, addressing muscle strengthening, balance, and gait training, and home hazards evaluations, all help to reduce the number of fractures that occur.

Gait-assistive devices are important, although patient acceptance can be a real issue. Bracing and supports can be beneficial, but are utilized far too rarely. Re-evaluation of prescribed and over-the-counter medications being taken for possible unexpected consequences is also recommended. Oftentimes, one person may receive prescriptions for multiple medications from multiple providers. Many pharmaceuticals have the potential to have psychotropic qualities, meaning they alter perception or mental acuity in some way, and should be reduced or replaced.

Osteoporosis is the most common and most well-known of the bone diseases.

Sometimes referred to as the “fragile bone disease,” this loss of bone mass is often caused by a vitamin deficiency, particularly calcium, vitamin D, or magnesium. Its development usually starts with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis, in which there is early bone thinning.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects 54 million Americans, mostly women. Millions more Americans are estimated to have the low bone mass of osteopenia, putting them at risk for osteoporosis. The morbidity and resulting expense is incalculable. For starters, we know that almost two million Americans a year suffer a fracture attributable to osteoporosis.

It’s well-recognized and proven that physical activity is important for bone health.

Exercise, in all of its varied forms, helps to reduce the risk of falling in later years. This is common mantra holds true throughout the many phases of life. Exercise helps to increase or preserve bone mass. Resistance training, whether with machines or weights, is especially helpful.

We can improve our own bone stock. Still, we have no control over some of the most important factors in developing healthy bone. Studies indicate that genetic factors are responsible for determining fifty to ninety percent of our body’s bone mass. Heredity issues not only limit how much bone a person may acquire, but also affect bone structure, the rate of bone loss, and the skeleton’s response to environmental stimuli, such as certain nutrients and physical activity.

Healthy, sufficient nutrition is important in maintaining optimal bone mass.

We also know the optimal type of nutrition and activity will vary across our life spans. A person’s nutrition over the years is clearly essential to preventing this debilitating disease. It is widely accepted that adequate calcium and vitamin D intake are necessary for good bone health, and the nutritional benefits of these two nutrients go far beyond their boon to bone health.

Because the average American consumes levels of calcium far below the amount recommended for optimal bone health, it has been singled out as a major public health concern today. Vitamin D aids in the absorption and utilization of calcium. There is a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in nursing home residents, hospitalized patients, and adults with hip fractures.

Some estimates claim that over 40% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency.

Although sunshine is the best method of increasing your levels, supplementation is recommended for most of us. Current guidelines suggest 400–800 IU per day is adequate, although many scientists say this is not nearly enough. Another controversy surrounds which type of vitamin D is best, D2 or D3. The former is from plant sources and the latter from animals. Most experts believe D3 is better at raising tissue levels. 

It is essential we value the impact we can have on our own bone health. While genetic factors are important in determining bone mass, we each need to understand we have a critical part to play. In fact, controllable lifestyle factors, generally referring to diet and physical activity, are responsible for ten to fifty percent of our bone mass and structure.

But too many of us are too sedentary. Many of us know, in a general sense, that exercise is important. Yet how many of us are able to incorporate it into our average day and make it a regular practice? A little self-knowledge has not achieved great gains in levels of personal fitness. It may be time for a different approach. When exercise is prescribed like a drug by one’s family doc, it acts as a prescription medicine. And it is the healthiest kind.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: Nutrition Essential to Fighting Infection, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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The attention devoted to sickness and health is omnipresent these days, and with good reason. The pandemic is filling the airwaves and prompting fear in the hearts of many. What we need is accurate information, smart practices. This is where the knowledge of the physician specializing in infectious disease, one who knows the immune system intimately, can be invaluable.

So what specifically is the immune system? It’s the part of the body devoted to fighting off invading micro-organisms that are a part of our world. The complexity and effectiveness of our immune system is nothing short of staggering.

What are the functions of the immune system? This system is critical for survival. Our immune system is constantly alert, monitoring for signs of an invading organism. The immune system functions to keep us free of infection, be it through the skin, a skin structure, or our intestinal lining. Cells of the immune system must be able to distinguish self from something else, i.e. “non-self.”

By now it is well-recognized the COVID-19 virus is more dangerous in the elderly.

A decline in immune function is consistently observed among older adults. Aging is also associated with increased inflammation in the absence of infection and has been found to predict infirmity. The result is seniors are more susceptible to infections and have more serious complications when they get one.

The term for this decline in immune function is immunosenescence. It reflects the deterioration of both components of the immune system—the acquired and the innate. The innate system is the ‘first responder’ to an alien invasion (of a microbe). The cells of the innate system act quickly, but are not specialized. The innate system is generally less effective than the adaptive immune response. The adaptive response is able to recognize a specific invading organism and remember it later, if exposed again.

Scientists specializing in the role of macronutrients, micronutrients, and the gut microbiome are convinced they all play a critical role in the functioning of our immune system. It turns out to be an incredibly complex system, with a multitude of factors and variables. Up until recently, we knew next to nothing about our gut bacteria and its complex interaction with our health and immunity. We do know one crucial part of gut health, not surprising, is our diet. But there are many ways to optimize the effectiveness of our immunity.

Your nutrition can affect the microbes residing in your guts, directly altering your immune response.

The  microbial community in the mammalian gut is a complex and dynamic system, crucial for the development and maturation of every facet of our immune response. The complex interaction between available nutrients, the microbiota, and the immune system seems to be the most important ‘player’ in the fight against invading pathogens.

What does it take to have a healthy immune system?

We know well many micronutrient deficiencies have been identified as contributors to declining immunity. It is believed these could provide opportunities for directed therapies for potentially restoring immune function, creating better health through improved nutrition.

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Some proffered recommendations: eat yogurt for breakfast! Apparently, the probiotics strengthen the immune system, as revealed by a study on athletes and their colds and GI infections. Yogurt is also rich in vitamin D, which also boosts your immune system.

Vitamin C is well-recognized as an extremely important part of an effective immune system, and a deficit can make you more prone to getting sick. Because your body cannot store it, daily intake is essential for good health. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, kale, and broccoli.

Vitamin B6 supports many of the reactions that are integral to immune function. Foods high in B6 include chicken and cold water fish (e.g. salmon and tuna), and green vegetables. Another important vitamin for fighting infection is E, which is a powerful antioxidant. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds, and spinach.

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Some people think of tea as something consumed in the movies, yet studies reveal alkylamine, a naturally occurring chemical in tea, strengthens the immune system, again, helping it fight off infection more effectively. Honey has centuries of use because of its medicinal properties. Numerous reviews find honey, an antioxidant, acts as a natural immunity booster. So you might want to add it to your tea for both flavor and health benefits.

Another suggestion made by researchers is to eat more garlic, since it seems to stimulate many different cell types essential to the immune system. Ginger, another powerful antioxidant, has antiviral properties, probably a good idea these days. Consume more lemon. Lemon juice is high in vitamin C, and can be used for its antioxidant properties and to prevent the common cold.

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How about a bowl of chicken soup? Thought by some to simply be a comfort food, the dish has a mild anti-inflammatory effect. Ingredients in the classic recipe (chicken, garlic, onion, celery, etc.) have been found to slow the migration of white blood cells into the upper respiratory tract, helping to relieve the symptoms of a cold. Additionally, a compound found in chicken soup called carnosine seems to prevent colds. How about a nice bowl of curcumin? This is a component in the spice called turmeric. Studies have shown curcumin helps to regulate the immune system.

Zinc is known to be an important micronutrient for the immune system. Even a mild deficiency in zinc has been associated with widespread defects in the immune response. Look to fish, seeds, nuts, and broccoli as good food sources. Selenium is a trace element that also has critical functional, structural, and enzymatic roles. Inadequate selenium is associated with a higher risk for a variety of chronic diseases since it is critical to immune function. Foods containing higher levels of this mineral include spinach, lentils, eggs, and fish.

Some recommendations for immune health are related more to lifestyle modifications.

Make workouts a part of your weekly regimen since regular exercise increases the activity of immune cells. Exercise also seems to flush bacteria out of your lungs, reducing the likelihood of an airborne illness. Experts suggest moderate levels of intensity, performed 4 to 5 times a week for 30-40 minutes.

Staying hydrated is required for immune health. Water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune cells. Sun exposure is important (although difficult in certain climes) since it is the most efficient way to stock up on vitamin D, an immune system supercharger. Surprisingly little is needed, just 15 to 20 minutes a day, to get the recommended dosage.

Getting the flu shot can improve your immune profile, and has been approved for all adults. Smoking suppresses the immune system generally, so quitting helps lower the risk of infectious disease. Smoking also damages the lining of our “windpipes,” explaining why smokers are much more likely to catch a cold virus.

Because of their effectiveness, nutritional therapies should be getting prescribed in the typical medical practice, though this has been rarely and inconsistently recommended. This therapeutic approach should be utilized more consistently in those demonstrating poor immune function, as well as healthy populations.

Our understanding of the risk factors for immune system dysregulation is far from complete.

We can say definitively that adopting these and related strategies will optimize your chances of reducing or delaying the onset of immune-mediated acute and chronic diseases. In summary, I would say, you have a road map. Your course of action, a plan for better health, can now be laid. Perhaps it is time for positive changes in your routine, and thereby your health. Though giant steps are hard to take, small ones require only a step, and if taken in the right direction, lead to the larger changes you choose.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

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Is AARP® for You? (Part 2), Lucy LaFaive

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Did you know AARP ® has a foundation that helps provide economic opportunity, social connectedness, and legal advocacy for older citizens? AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social welfare organization focused on empowering older Americans to live their best lives. AARP addresses issues affecting older citizens including poverty, social isolation, loneliness, affordable accessible housing, physical and financial exploitation, and fraud. Its affiliated charity, the AARP Foundation, helps promote this mission through a number of valuable programs.

Economic Opportunity

There are two AARP Foundation programs available in the U.P. promoting economic opportunity—the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), and the Tax-Aide Program.

An AARP Foundation SCSEP office in Marquette is responsible for serving the entire U.P. and Michigan’s northern lower peninsula. The SCSEP is a federally funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that trains and helps low-income, unemployed seniors fifty-five and older get jobs. The SCSEP participants receive job training, support services, community service placement, wages, and assistance in finding future employment.

The AARP Foundation operates the SCSEP for the U.S. Department of Labor in twenty-one states, including Michigan and Puerto Rico.

This program benefits not only job seekers, but also non-profit community and government agencies that host individuals. Hosting organizations provide training to participants while getting free staffing because seniors are being paid through the SCSEP.

A few of the one-hundred-and-twenty hosting organizations in the U.P. and northern Lower Peninsula benefitting from this program are Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, YMCA, United Way, Aspirus, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Room at the Inn, Trillium House, U.P. Children’s Museum, the Women’s Center in Marquette, and the Caring House in Iron Mountain.

Courtney Hafer, Project Director of AARP Foundation SCSEP in Marquette, says she’s “always enrolling participants, and is here to help as many people as we can.” To apply for this program, your annual income must be less than the federal poverty level ($15,613 for 1 person, $21,138 for 2). Job seekers and non-profit organizations interested in hosting can contact the Marquette office (906-273-2460, chafer@aarp.org) for more information.

From February through April, the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide Program provides free tax counseling and preparation, including e-filing for low to moderate income people, with special consideration for those fifty or older.

This program is currently available in the U.P. in Marquette, Gwinn, Negaunee, Iron Mountain, Sault Ste. Marie, Houghton, Menominee, and Escanaba. Well-trained volunteers provide tax preparation at these locations by appointment.

Eight-year volunteer Rich Brich, the Marquette Local Coordinator and the Coordinator of Technology for the U.P., would like to provide the program to more areas of the U.P. Brich and other AARP volunteers are “constantly looking for new folks” to volunteer.

Fifteen-year volunteer Betty Trudell, U.P. District Coordinator, estimates the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program helped between 2,000 and 3,000 U.P. residents last year. She also emphasized the constant need for volunteers. She is currently looking for volunteers in Escanaba and Iron Mountain.

To volunteer or get help with your taxes, you can find a location near you by calling 1-888-227-7669, or Googling AARP Tax Aide to be linked to the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program site. You can also go to AARP.org and scroll down to the bottom of the page to the list under “Information for You” for the Tax Aide page link.

Social Connectedness

U.P. opportunities for increasing social connectedness include free social events such as those mentioned in my previous article, Is AARP for You? (Part 1)—AARP on Tap, A Taste of AARP, Movies for Grownups, and AARP classes. If you are interested in volunteering to help bring more of the AARP social programs mentioned above to the U.P., contact Sally Bruce, U.P. Michigan AARP Executive Council Member and eighteen-year volunteer, at sallybruce62@gmail.com, or (906) 786-3827.

AARP also increases social connection by providing community service opportunities. Some Foundation programs have a two-fold benefit—they benefit the individuals being helped and also the helpers. Volunteering is good for your physical, mental, and emotional health. It promotes a sense of satisfaction from helping others. Other benefits include lower stress levels, increased brain function, increased dopamine levels, lower risk of depression, a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and a longer life. Volunteering reduces isolation and loneliness, and increases social connectedness.

Many AARP Foundation programs are volunteer-run, so volunteers are essential to the programs. Another AARP Foundation program in the U.P. seeking volunteers to serve more areas is the AARP Driver Safety Program. More U.P. volunteers are sought to teach its Smart Driver course.

Currently, the U.P. has two long-term volunteers from Marquette and Newberry. Chris Earle, the AARP Driver Safety Zone Coordinator and Driver Safety Instructor responsible for the program in the northern Lower Peninsula and the U.P., travels up from Traverse City to teach classes in the U.P. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact him at (586) 707-5836 or dc123mi@charter.net.

Don Balmer of Marquette has been teaching the AARP Driver Safety “Smart Driver” course for over twenty years. The nationwide program is specifically designed for drivers fifty or older. The 8-hour classroom course discusses changes in roads, cars, and the law occurring since the over-50 crowd began driving. The refresher course includes research-based safety strategies, proper use of vehicle technology, and information on age-related changes such as medication and alcohol use, and health issues that affect driving ability. Winter driving is also discussed. Some insurance companies may offer discounts for participation in the driver safety course.

Classes are offered between May and October based on the instructor’s schedule. Earle will be scheduling classes this spring. You can find more information at aarp.org/findacourse or by calling 1-877-846-3299. If no classes are listed, check again as classes may be added.

Legal Advocacy

AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) is responsible for legal advocacy. AFL attorneys fight elder abuse, discrimination, and other barriers to employment. They also protect investors, employee health and pension benefits, and access to affordable accessible housing, among other things.

AFL was involved in a recent settlement with Senior Citizens Housing of Ann Arbor. The case was settled after Senior Citizens Housing of Ann Arbor removed the “able to live independently” requirement from its lease, and implemented practices to prevent disability discrimination and to make reasonable accommodations for its tenants.

For more information about AARP or the AARP Foundation, go to aarp.org.

Lucy Jeanette La Faive is a stress reduction, relaxation, and empowerment specialist living in Marquette. She loves to share her tools for joyful living in classes, workshops, and presentations. For more information, you can call (906) 225-1059.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. 

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Senior Viewpoint: Is AARP for You? (Part 1), by Lucy Jeannette LaFaive

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I’ve been a member of AARP for 19 years now. I’ll be honest-the reason my husband and I joined was for the discounts motels and other businesses offer AARP members. Over the years, I have come to really appreciate many of the other benefits of membership.

I have recently become interested in finding out more about AARP. I discovered it offers much more than I realized. AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) no longer just focuses on retired people. Membership is now open to anyone fifty or older. AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social welfare organization whose focus is to empower older Americans to live their best life.

Besides the parent organization, AARP has an affiliated charity, AARP Foundation, and a for-profit, taxable subsidiary, AARP Services, Inc. Most of us have seen the ads for insurance and other products endorsed by AARP Services, Inc. Many people incorrectly assume AARP sells insurance and other products. AARP is paid by insurance companies and other businesses for using its name. AARP uses these funds to supplement its membership dues in order to be able to cover the services it offers AARP members. AARP provides members with information, advocacy, and community service opportunities. In this article, I’ll explain the information and legislative advocacy portions of AARP membership.

AARP provides educational information to members in its magazine, bulletin, classes, and online at http://www.aarp.org.

Topics include Social Security, Medicare, health and wellness, member stories, celebrities, fraud, finance, travel, books, movies, entertainment, driver safety, and more.

Personally, I have come to rely on AARP’s help in navigating the world of Medicare and Social Security. I learn a lot about both just from reading AARP’s magazine and bulletin. Its columnists have provided me with very useful information that I didn’t get from talking to Social Security office personnel.

AARP’s in-person classes and events rely on volunteers to organize, plan, and schedule them. Currently, the U.P. has two very dedicated volunteers from Escanaba-Sally and Jimmy Bruce. The Bruces, age seventy-five, have been volunteering with AARP for 18 and 12 years respectively. They are members of the Michigan AARP Executive Counsel, which helps set AARP’s priorities in Michigan. Sally and Jimmy Bruce have each received the Shining Star Award in recognition of their volunteer service to AARP in 2002 and 2005, respectively. Sally Bruce recently received an award from UPCAP, the U.P. Area Agency on Aging, and the Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (MLTCOP) for her 33 years of service advocating for elders of the Upper Peninsula.

With the help of local volunteers, the Bruces have organized events in the U.P…

such as Movies for Grownups, fraud presentations, and a yearly AARP table at the Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba on Senior Day. They have also organized free social events in Escanaba and Marquette for anyone fifty or older. In May 2017, the Bruces organized A Taste of AARP at the Bonifas Arts Center that included wine tasting, singing, line dancing, hors d’oeuvres, a chef’s demo, and presentations by Michigan AARP state director Paula D. Cunningham and AARP Associate State Director of Government Affairs Melissa Seifert.

Another A Taste of AARP event was held at the Holiday Inn in Marquette during November 2017. This past July, AARP On Tap was held at the Upper Hand Brewery in Escanaba, which included beer, hors d’oeuvres, and AARP presentations. The Bruces are currently looking for another U.P. brewery willing to host AARP On Tap in the future.

The Bruces have also helped the AARP Michigan Office with events such as hosting the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency to present information about veterans’ benefits in the U.P. Another U.P. Veterans event is being planned for 2020.

Many educational, entertainment, and outreach programs are available similar to the ones the Bruces have organized, and more. To look up activities available in Michigan, go to states.aarp.org, then select Michigan and search for your area. However, to help make such events happen, volunteers are necessary. If you are interested in volunteering to help bring more AARP programs to the U.P., contact Sally Bruce at sallybruce62@gmail.com or 906-786-3827.

AARP also works as an advocate for older Americans both legislatively and within the legal system.

As a non-partisan advocate, AARP lobbies for legislation benefiting older Americans in Washington DC and in each state. Michigan’s state office is in Lansing about two-and-a-half blocks from the Capitol, making it easy for AARP to stay in touch with what’s happening legislatively in Michigan that will affect its older citizens. Currently, the priority is to reduce prescription drug costs, and to make it possible for citizens to get lower-price drugs from Canada. Expanding advance practice nursing and tele-health are also priorities to help make healthcare more widely available, especially in low-income and rural areas like the U.P. AARP has also lobbied for family caregivers, and supported the passage of bills in Michigan in 2016 and 2018 that help family caretakers care for their loved ones more effectively.

Legal advocacy is conducted through AARP’s affiliated charity, the AARP Foundation. To read about AARP’s affiliated charity, the AARP Foundation, and the work it does to promote economic opportunity, social connectedness, community service opportunities, and legal advocacy, see Part 2 in the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.

Lucy Jeanette La Faive is a stress reduction, relaxation, and empowerment specialist living in Marquette. She loves to share her tools for joyful living in classes, workshops and presentations. For more information, call (906) 225-1059.

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: The Heart of the Brain—Losses & Gains

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Are you concerned your brain’s ability may decline as you age, or that it already has?

If so, you’re far from alone. This is one of the most common current concerns about aging.

The Cedar Tree Institute of Marquette recently presented Heart of the Brain, a four-hour workshop addressing the unique nature of individual brains, and the impact of this uniqueness on one’s everyday life. Participants gained insights into the roots of memory and problem solving at different stages of life, with practical techniques and specific practices to improve mental functioning and decision-making.

Heart of the Brain, a unique program created by Layne Kalbfleisch, M.Ed., Ph.D., is an amalgam of psychology, neurology, pediatrics, behavior modification, education, art, prayerfulness, and intuition. Kalbfleisch designed this program to help participants learn basic principles about the brain’s function and plasticity–how it adapts, remembers, creates, and imagines in childhood and across life; the difference between good and bad stress; and new skills to keep it healthy, enhance memory, and support skills and talent in the individual.

Usually aging is seen as loss.

However, that’s not necessarily true. The brain, with its principle of plasticity, over time brings a tradeoff between declarative memory (names, dates, and other straightforward facts) and non-declarative memory (recollection of how to do things automatically, such as drive, swim, bike, etc.). With repetitive structures to daily life in place, elders may bring more openness, and approach their lives more creatively.

Cedar Tree Institute Executive Director Jon Magnuson notes, “I’ve seen this with people I’ve worked with in counseling—the ability to see options one hadn’t when younger, coming to a different way to look at one’s life. In the faith community, I’ve found it’s your children and elders who are the most creative, and that those in the middle age range are more likely to have become hardened and rigid.”

Kalbfleisch’s years as an educational psychologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and educator give her a unique background to approach brain function challenges from several perspectives at once. She is the founder of 2E Consults ® LLC, and works with doctors, psychiatrists, educators, physical therapists, and other professionals to help them function as a team to solve problems and ensure support from all sides for her clients.

“Teachers, doctors, psychologists, scientists–they all live in separate universes,” Kalbfleisch said.

“I bring information from learning science into people’s lives, uncover the root of problems, and help people understand them and find ways to work on them. The evaluation processes are standard, but I use the results more holistically to target change,” she said.

Kalbfleisch studies the relationship between talent and disability, and how the human brain supports ingenuity and problem-solving throughout a lifetime.  “I work across the lifespan,” she said. “I work with young children through those suffering from age-related changes to memory.”

Kalbfleisch helps clients use their natural assets to solve problems. She looks at the client’s weaknesses and strengths in functioning, and helps them understand and change unwanted behaviors. “Natural resources can be disguised as a burden,” she said.

Here are some of Kalbfleisch’s recommendations to help optimize your own brain’s function:

Make Music 

People who have training in music and who engage in music on a regular basis are being shown to have brains that are more resistant to distraction. Don’t play an instrument? Sing! This helps your brain to integrate and exercise, powerfully impacting its abilities.

Sleep Well

Deep, REM sleep lets your brain rest, sort, and sift, providing hygiene for your brain. Have trouble sleeping?  Fit more zzzs in with a nap. Research is showing naps support better cognitive processing.
Exercise – Staying active helps keep the parts of the brain that facilitate memory from aging as fast as the rest of the brain, so find and continue the forms that work for you.

Exercise

Staying active helps keep the parts of the brain that facilitate memory from aging as fast as the rest of the brain, so find and continue the forms that work for you.

Engage Socially 

Having a social life and engaging with others supports the aging brain by protecting against inflammation and supporting the processes that allow you to grow new brain cells in response to social experiences and activities. For bonus points, talk about your feelings. This exercises your ability to empathize, a key factor in connecting with others, which in turn improves your quality of life.

Kalbfleisch is affiliated with Pediatrics at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., and in the College of Education at Northern New Mexico College, Espanola, NM. She has been featured on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, SiriusXM Doctor Radio, The Coffee Klatch – Special Needs Radio, Rhode Island PBS ‘School Talk’ and as a columnist writing on brain science and education for the Fairfax County Times. To learn more, visit 2E Consults at the2e.com. Layne Kalbfleisch can be reached at (505) 316-0285 or 2econsults@gmail.com.

Thank you to article contributors Layne Kalbfleisch, Vicki Londerville, Jon Magnuson, and Roslyn McGrath.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved

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Senior Viewpoint: Navigating the New Give-and-Take, John Olesnavage

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We spend a lifetime learning how to be independent and self-sufficient. We are taught to rely on our own wits and resources to take care of ourselves and those we love. Forget Spiderman and Batman, MacGyver is the real American hero! Give him a stick of gum, a can of paint, or a roll of duct tape, and he can conquer any obstacle.

As we mature, we take pride in standing on “our own two feet.” Then time marches us along into the “golden years.” We may start losing our car keys and forget about that doctor’s appointment we needed to keep. A few short years later, we may find ourselves standing on the corner of Main St. and Vine, gripping our cane tightly, not sure we can make it across the street before the light changes. A man stops his car, gets out and stands there like a crossing guard until we safely make it across. Head down, resolute, we shuffle forward, not daring to look up at the light or the traffic. We nod at the man as we shuffle past him, and mumble thank you, but what we feel is diminished and somewhat ashamed. So much for being self-sufficient! We are more likely at the mercy of our own failing body. How do we reconcile or make lemonade out of this lemon?

We have a choice. We can resent growing old and in need of help, or we can see the strength and power in letting others help us. Let’s look at how that works.

It starts with understanding the co-creative nature of a helping relationship. Co-creative means that both parties are stretching beyond what is expected and giving of their time and talent. We know the gift/assistance we have received, but what do we, the receiver of this generosity, give back?

We give the gift of helping someone else feel needed, appreciated, and in a real way, powerful. That is why resenting their help diminishes not only their gift, but they themselves. Doing so is missing a life-affirming connection. Did you ever give someone a gift and see them never even take it out of the box? I did, and felt hurt for a long time.

When we give the gift of letting someone help us, we are also co-creating some new space. That space is quite magical. It has the power to transform a mundane act such as holding a door open into an act of affirmation, maybe even healing. We are receiving while we are also giving. This is “Co-creation 101.” It means letting go of pride, yes, but it also means bestowing some pride on someone else. It calls for some vulnerability, yes, but also a realization that something bigger than a door being opened is going on.

And, while we are making that giver-of help feel powerful and good, who has the greater power? It may well be the person gripping the cane, or, could we call it a wizard’s wand? Eat your heart out MacGyver! But, remember, that wand works best with a light touch. Too much power (or pride in what you can do for the other person) will also diminish the gift.

We are taught to be self-sufficient, but the real strength is in knowing how to form co-created relationships.

John Olesnavage, author of Ask* your Powerful Question, is a psychologist, educator, and author who follows his own Powerful Question “each-and-every-day.” John also wrote Our Boundary, a book describing his ground-breaking, boundary-based approach to counseling.

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: Your Personal Legacy is Happening Now, Heather Mlsna

hand-1549399_1280A personal legacy isn’t something static that appears or is bequeathed when we die. We are continually creating it. Our everyday actions, emotions, and behaviors combine into a series of good and bad experiences that result in our individual life history.

When considering the legacy we are leaving behind, it’s helpful to take an honest look at our lives—from our earliest memories to present-day experiences. Chances are, as you take time to reflect, you will recall events that made you feel all sorts of emotions.

Often, these feelings move us to want to write about our lives, perhaps even more so as we move into our later years. We may feel a need to “set the record straight” by clarifying words and actions from our past. This sort of project can be comprehensive or narrow in scope, and can take the shape of a letter, memoir, journal entry, conversation, poem, etc. Legacy writing can take many forms, but the first step always begins with personal reflection.

How do we tell our story? One way is to create a personal legacy document. The exercise that follows is an example of how to write about a life event in need of remediation. However, the process can be used to describe any of your experiences.

A personal legacy document is defined as any narrative that describes or explains a period of time in someone’s life.

If you are unsure where to start, reflect on your individual history, and make two columns on a piece of paper. It’s sometimes helpful to look at old photo albums to aid your reflective journey. Start with your childhood, and systematically move through your history to the present. In one column, list the deeds of which you’re proud. In the other section, record anything you’ve done that you regret.

Take a look at your list and identify which negative memory causes you the most pain. Circle it. This is your starting point. Here is where you identify your audience, or the wronged party. Write the name of the person, place, or thing involved in this recollection next to the circled memory. This is who you will be addressing in your document.

Next, on a new page, record everything you can remember about this unsettling life event. Make three columns labeled: before, during, and after. Write down the concrete and abstract details of what happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the experience. Remember to include feelings, intentions, your temperament that day, and personal circumstances at that point in your life. Try to identify all the existing verbal and nonverbal communication going on at that moment. You are not creating a document here; you are brainstorming, so don’t worry about creating sentences. Get your ideas on paper in any manner that is functional to you.

These pieces are the elements you’ll use to construct the story of what happened, a graphic organizer or outline to guide your writing process. If you don’t have enough information in any of the three columns, go back to brainstorming and look harder at the situation. Add some sensory details to your lists so you can show – and not just tell – your reader how you feel. For example, “Right before I saw you, my brother called to say we needed to paint our parents’ house. My arthritis was so painful that day that the thought of doing that plunged me right into a funky mood.”

Now you are ready to write. It’s important to remember writing is a process. What you put down on paper initially will not be perfect, and you shouldn’t strive to make it so. Write, and do it fearlessly, so you can find your inner truth and voice, and then convey this to others.

What you have created thus far lays the foundation for plotting your story. All stories have a beginning, middle, and end. These are equivalent to the before, during, and after columns you’ve just created.

The “before” represents the exposition of your story—the explanation for what leads to the negative interaction you are trying to remediate by writing. But before you get to the part where the trouble explodes, you need to show how the exchange built up. If you’ve brainstormed adequately, these essential pieces will be in the “before” and “during” sections of your outline or graphic organizer.

Although it takes time to write these details, they are a key part of the process, helping you to illustrate what brought you to the moment of harm (the climax). This allows for the expression of your humanity – right or wrong – and to tell your side of the story, giving the reader an opportunity to connect with your state of being, and perhaps find insight into your thoughts and actions.

The person or people being addressed won’t need help recognizing the climax and what came afterwards for them. However, you will need to tell them how it has affected you. This is the “after” of your story, illustrating the falling action, or what came after the life event.

Finally, we arrive at the point of resolution, where you get to apologize and attempt to make restitution for your actions or words. It’s the most important part because without a thorough and honorable admission of your misdeed, you cannot ask for a reprieve. You have to be crystal clear about what you are owning, and what you are asking forgiveness for. Better still, describe any life lessons you learned and carry with you.

Your first draft is now complete. As you go back to revise and edit it, you can decide on your vehicle of delivery. Will you make this document into a letter? Will you deliver the information personally through conversation? Will you compose a short story and offer it to the transgressed? Will you keep it as a diary entry for yourself? (Sometimes the latter choice is the only one available if our audience is deceased.)

Read your finished first draft out loud to yourself. Note information or descriptions to add, and scratch out anything that doesn’t make sense. Rewrite to include omissions and additions, and make sure there is unity in your document so every sentence advances your story. Do this over and over until you are satisfied. If you are feeling brave, have a friend or relative read your story and offer a critique.

You can repeat this process any number of times. These same steps can also be used to describe wholesome, nourishing pieces of your history, or the history of a relative or friend. Doing this can support the flow of your life into the future, knowing you have done your very best to be a good person.

Creating a legacy document can open doors of communication you thought were closed. It can illustrate a life that was previously unknown, stand as a memorial to a deceased person, aid in remembering favorite trips or adventures, help heal relationships, figure out our place here on earth, or be thematic and pull memories from various corners of your mind. Chances are, as you move through the process of writing there will be an element of self-discovery. Your life – your living legacy – may be enhanced with this unveiling.

Heather Mlsna is a professional writer. Her business, Last Letters/No Regrets, seeks to promote healing and remembrance through writing. It serves individuals seeking to express themselves on paper who need help getting started. Heather can be reached at lastlettersmqt@gmail.com. (https://lastlettersnoregrets.com

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2018-19 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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A Senior’s Viewpoint: Women’s Rights through the Years by Karlyn Rapport

Our parents worked to make things better for the next generation. Are we?

In the late ’60s, Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique raised awareness of inequities women face. At that time in Marquette, women could not have a library card, a credit card, or a loan in their name.

Changes have occurred, but women do not have equal rights. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution states men are guaranteed equality under the law. Women are not included. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) says:” Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Congress overwhelmingly approved ERA on March 22, 1972. Thirty-five of the needed thirty-eight states ratified this amendment, but we were unable to obtain the needed three states by the 1982 deadline.

Recently, Nevada and Illinois ratified ERA. A third state is likely to follow. Congress needs to pass legislation extending the deadline, recognizing the ratification of three additional states. It is unlikely this Congress will do so. In view of hard-fought gains, is it necessary? The ERA would clarify for all that sex discrimination in employment, reproductive rights, insurance, Social Security, education, and more is a violation of our constitutional rights as Americans. Legislation, court victories, and presidential executive orders against sex discrimination are not permanent. The ERA places the burden of proof on those discriminating instead of those fighting for equality. Now men have rights, but women have to prove they have rights.

In the ’50s, women could be teachers, secretaries, clerks, waitresses, and nurses. I was the first teacher in the Ishpeming school system allowed to teach while pregnant. The fact that I was one of three speech pathologists in the U.P and Ishpeming was sorely in need of my services helped. Now women can enter any field. However, women are confronted by a glass ceiling, a gender pay gap, a motherhood penalty, and worse. Pay inequity is a loss of family income. Each diminished paycheck affects future Social Security and retirement income as well. The 2012 Census revealed 17.8 million women or 1:7 live in poverty; low-paying jobs, lack of access to reproductive healthcare, and unaffordable child care trap them.

The Affordable Care Act allowed access to contraception, reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. These rights are in jeopardy. Access to reproductive health care is sex discrimination. Women and only women are denied control of their reproductive lives. Roe vs. Wade is under threat by a conservative Supreme Court. A woman’s financial security and her right to make the decision whether or when to parent a child is in jeopardy. In 1959, a dear friend suffered tragic losses of her husband and 3-year-old daughter due to carbon monoxide. She miraculously survived. She was 6 weeks pregnant. Two obstetricians and a psychiatrist recommended termination of the pregnancy, but the University of Michigan Hospital would not perform this medical procedure. I travelled with her to New York, where she paid a prosecuting attorney to protect herself from being charged with a crime. I know of others who died as result of illegal abortions. Recently an Arizona woman tried to have her physician’s prescription for an abortifacient filled because the fetus she was carrying died in utero. The pharmacist would not fill it. States have adopted 833 measures restricting women’s reproductive rights since 1995.

Violence against women remains pervasive. There are 1.3 million women victims of physical assault reported yearly. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates this is one quarter of the actual numbers. One in 6 women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

In the late ’60s, a serial rapist attacked women on the bike path in Marquette. Houses posted red signs in their window indicating this was a place to run for safety. The perpetrator was eventually apprehended. The Women’s Center developed a team of trained advocates to assist women through the process of dealing with this trauma. The hospital began using forensic rape kits. The Women’s Center continues to offer support for survivors of sexual violence.

As a speech pathologist at MGH, I treated several patients who suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of domestic violence. Family members were afraid to provide shelter fearing reprisal by the assailant.

Members of the Marquette Branch of AAUW assisted me in bringing a Spouse Abuse Task Force together of people and agencies trying to help survivors of domestic violence. The Women’s Center, law enforcement, and the prosecuting attorney’s office were at that table. The Spouse Abuse Shelter, now Harbor House, is a product of this task force. The Women’s Center, its Harbor House program, and the Blue Print for Safety Program through the Prosecutor’s Office continue to assist survivors in rebuilding their lives and are focusing efforts to hold the perpetrator accountable.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for reauthorization. This legislation addresses domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence. VAWA supports and funds essential services for survivors and their families. This bill improves health care responses, and provides housing protections crucial to improving safety when survivors flee abuse. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and their children. Urge legislators to co-sponsor this legislation and adequately fund it.

The Me Too movement gives me hope. Sexual harassment and violence persist. Now some perpetrators face consequences. Will such egregious behavior be tolerated?

The Equal Rights Amendment could provide remediation. All need to work for equality for all. Will we continue to allow women to be treated as second class citizens? My advice: Do research. Learn what the job is worth. Learn to negotiate an equitable wage. Work for ERA. Above all, vote on November 6 as if your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren depend on it because, in fact, they do.

Karlyn Rapport, founding mother of the Women’s Center’s Harbor House, is the Public Policy Representative for the Marquette Branch of AAUW and Michigan AAUW’s Public Policy Committee. She was Marquette County Commissioner for 6 years and is currently on Marquette County’s Board of Health.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Fall 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: Hands of Time, by Esther Margaret Ayers

“Do wrinkles hurt?”

The eleven-year-old boy asked it suddenly as we sat together on the piano bench. I had asked the student to observe my hands on the keys, showing him the proper position: curved fingers, the wrist forming a level bridge from hand to forearm.

“What?” I was caught off guard, unable to think of a simple reply. With three fingers and a thumb, he stretched the thin skin on top of one of my hands. It obligingly yielded, rising in a pale tent of tissue. He released it, and the tent slowly collapsed. “Old people have such cool skin,” he murmured.

“Okay, buster,” I retorted, gently batting his hand away. “Your turn to try this.”

I was thirty-two years of age at the time. I certainly didn’t accept the notion of myself as old. This was the first occasion a student had even hinted at such a thing. After his lesson was over, I briefly contemplated my hands, then set the moment aside. I was, after all, a young wife and mother, a teacher, a graduate student; I had no time to think about Time.

In my forties, a single parent, I continued to teach piano in addition to my full-time job as a vocal music teacher. My students continued to teach me, too.

One student, in her fifties, studied with me for eight years. She had grown up in a poor rural family, but had always wanted to play the piano. Over the years she mastered the basics, learned to play hymns and popular songs of her youth. Yet she loved the classics and we began to learn the much beloved Adagio Cantabile from Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. She learned the notes and rhythms readily, but neither of us could understand why certain passages were so difficult, why it didn’t sing. We labored in some frustration until one day she sighed, “Maybe it’s my hands. You’re still young; you wouldn’t understand. But I’m getting older.”

I tried to brush it off. “Oh, we all have different hands. You’ll be playing in your seventies.”

“No, look at my hands. I think it’s the arthritis.”

I looked—really looked—at her hands, seeing them for the first time. I saw the swelling and redness. I had been so focused on the music and the instrument, I had been looking right past her hands. How could I have been so blind?

I took her hands in mine. She encouraged me to feel the knobs forming at her joints. “It’s probably from the laundry.”

“Laundry?”

“Yes, that’s what the doctor thinks. I was the oldest of nine kids. My job was to hang wet laundry outside on the line. He thinks it’s a miracle I can play the piano at all, but says it’s good for my hands.”

I closed my eyes, picturing the little girl in the woods near Big Bay, her bare fingers freezing in the winter wind as she pinned up the family washing.

“Shall I play it again?” she asked.

Yes, please. Tears ran down my face this time as she played the timeless melody.

It’s been twenty years since the woman with arthritis suggested I was too young to understand, and 30 years since that boy cast me as an ‘old’ person. I still work full-time: mornings are for writing, afternoons for piano teaching. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of students of all ages, all with something to teach me.

This fall, a new student began lessons with me, a professional woman in her forties, with a good ear and a ready laugh. She took lessons as a child. As a yoga instructor, her posture is already perfect. Her fingers curve beautifully over the keys. However, when she plays the Arabesque, I hear a brittle, tense tone. I observe how her wrists and arms are locked.

I say, “Watch me play for a moment.”

“Oh,” she exclaims, after a few measures. “You make it look so easy. Your hands move so naturally.”

“Here.” I pat the bench of my piano. “Come sit beside me. Let’s draw some circles with our wrists and elbows.”

It’s true my presbyopia makes me fiddle with myriad sets of glasses, which amuses my young students. But I wouldn’t trade the eyes I have now for anything; I see more clearly, with more openness.

It’s true my ears don’t work as well as they once did, especially that left one. But I hear my students better, for I have finally learned how to listen to them.

And even I will admit I have “old hands.” But these hands are still learning—from my own teacher, now in her mid-seventies, who guides them in making even more beautiful the music I still desire.

Esther Margaret Ayers (known to her students as Esther LaVoy Barrington) lives and writes in Marquette. She has taught piano from her home studio near McCarty’s Cove since 1983.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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