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Redwood Age: A Certain Age
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Jennifer Meacham, December 1,  2011

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As researchers set out to study the genes of those who live past 100 (see “X Prize Enlists Elders in a Quest for Youth”), I’m reminded of a close friend with elders at 98, 101 and 111. The 111-year-old was at the bedside of her son, when he died at 90 of pneumonia – his lungs weakened by decades of smoking. I was there as she held his hand, and told him everything would be OK. She was one of 92 “super centenarians” over the age of 110 at the time. That number is now down to 78, according to the  Gerontology Research Group’s most-recent count. The “longevity gene” is likely hereditary. But for those not blessed with centenarian and super centenarian foremothers and the occasional forefathers, Boston University Medical School Geriatrician Thomas Perls -- who studies those from 100 to 109 years old -- has these tips from an interview in US News & World Report: “I have an acronym: AGEING, spelled the British way. ‘A’ is for attitude. Centenarians are optimistic, and they tend to be funny. I think that those personality characteristics translate into being able to manage stress well. They don't internalize stress; they seem to be able to let go. The ‘G’ is for genetics. If people in your family have passed away in their 60s and 70s, alarm bells should be going off: You, more than other people, need to pay attention to prevention and screening. The ‘E’ is for exercise. I say people should exercise five times a week, 30 minutes a day. ‘I’ stands for interest, and that has to do with exercising your brain. ‘N,’ nutrition: The goal should be a healthy weight. ‘G’ is for, Get rid of smoking, and get rid of anti-aging quackery.” Perhaps the key to longevity can’t be found in a sequence of genes; it seems to me it’s sourced directly from the mind.

Pamela A. MacLean, March 12,  2011

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While listening to Tom Petty singing "Big Weekend" it wasn't his need for a big weekend that got me it was the line "If you don't run, you rust." At the time I was running and being passed by 20-somethings. But no matter. The idea is to keep going.  This is congenital with boomers. There is the desire to stay forever young. So I felt a boost to learn recently my daily cup of Joe may help prevent strokes in women. I may not run as fast as I once did, but I can still drink coffee.

Tom Murphy, December 22,  2010

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About a decade ago, I wrote a book called "Web Rules" that talked about how the Internet would let just about anyone find the information or entertainment they wanted. That, I predicted, would eventually empower people to learn more about what they want and make better decisions about their lives. And that would lead to a shift in power in our society. We're not there yet, but we've spent a lot of time this past year hearing about the grassroots revolt. Younger adults especially simply expect all kinds of information to be available at their command, and good for them. They're coming into power, and they're every bit as socially active as their boomer grandparents. It doesn't surprise me that we're seeing the Ma Bell and the Cable Guys (note to self: good name for a group) teaming up with conservative leaders to try to grab that power back before things get out of hand. The next battle in this war will come in 2011 as the FCC's new rules on net neutrality face a hostile audience in the Republican-controlled House. I'm not making any bets. But I think if the public really understands what is at stake here, we're going to see a grassroots revolt will make the Tea Party look like, well, a tea party.

Tom Murphy, November 19,  2010

Nobody should be dying from cholera in Haiti. It's a preventable and treatable disease. But 1,000 people have died so far and the number is likely to jump much higher. No wonder frustrated Haitians are confronting UN troops, who are there to help prevent chaos. The situation is inexcusable. It's been more than a half a year since the island nation was rocked by a quake that left millions homeless. Billions in foreign aid was promised by the US and other countries, but the American money has been slow to arrive, tied up by red tape in Congress. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are living in tents, having survived the hurricane season only to face an epidemic of cholera. To be sure, it will take years to rebuild Haiti, but instead of seeing it as a burden, we must see it as an opportunity to cement relations with people in their hour of need.  Ignoring this crisis any further is not only in human, it is an invitation to turn frustration into anger.

Pamela A. MacLean, October 12,  2010

California's desperate financial straits prompted the governor to put 11 buildings up for sale that the state will immediately lease back.  It is a fire sale for upfront cash, $2.3 billion.  Does this mean the new owners can sell naming rights, like ballparks? Imagine the state Public Utilities Commission building now called the PG&E Public Utilities Commission after the company whose gas pipeline blew up last month. And why name courthouses after dead judges? How about the Milberg Weiss Supreme Court building.  Well, maybe not Milberg Weiss; lawyers from that now-defunct firm went to jail for fraud, but some firms may pay big bucks to get their names on the front door of the courthouse. This could be an advertising bonanza for cash-strapped states that hold on to their naming rights before selling old buildings.

Tom Murphy, September 27,  2010

Summer is over. In Northern California where I live, that means some of the nicest weather is just starting. Fall in the San Francisco Bay Area is warm and sunny - ideal weather for a morning jog or afternoon bike ride. And the farmer's markets are full of sweet peaches, plump tomatoes and dozens of other organic treats. Unlike a lot of Americans, I eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and I get plenty of exercise. But I'm still overweight, and I've got lots of company. Seven in 10 Americans are overweight, up from five in 10 just three decades ago. None of us want to be that way. But within 10 years, the number will be 75 percent of us - unless we change our ways. And aging doesn't help. As boomers get older, their metabolisms will slow, meaning it will be harder to lose burn calories. This is more than a personal matter that shortens our lives. It's an economic issue that affects us individually and on a societal level. And so, I plan to do more even more jogging, eat even less junk food and otherwise do my best to shed a few more pounds. I hope the government will do all it can to help by attacking unhealthy foods the same way it goes after tobacco. Maybe that's the push we need to live healthier lives.

Wendy Wolfson, April 21,  2010

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Today when I was bringing Marjana and Mr. Button, home from daycare, we turned by accident into a different street. The neighborhood is filled with unremitting lawns and grimly pruned bushes adrift on swaths of gravel.  But here was a house with a front yard full of orange California poppies and all sorts of other wildflowers. The owner had just ripped out the usual lawn and planted the sort of gorgeous mess that appeals to butterflies and hummingbirds, and small children as well. Upon their request, I stopped the car, and carried them over to the wild garden for a closer look. They thought all the flowers were great and wanted a garden of their own. I promised them that we'd rip out the front lawn of any place we moved to and plant flowers. I figure, as a parent, if I can do at least one thing a day to nurture their imaginations, at least when they are adults they won't blindly drive past flowers.

Pamela A. Maclean, February 21,  2010

Boomers are no strangers to tough job markets. The mid-1970s recession hit just as I headed out of college. With jobs tight and competition stiff, it took a long time to get a career off the ground, and even then a couple corrupt executives looted the pension fund. They went to prison. Succeeding employers offered the privilege of managing my own 401(k) instead of setting up a pension. That was fine until the dot.com bust. Then, just as the retirement savings start to recover, the latest job market went into a tailspin. Now it's older workers getting the boot as companies try to cut costs. Millions of us feel like we're scrambling for the same jobs we competed to get at the beginning of our careers.  Social Security has already seen an upswing in claims since the recession began. And Congress can't get together on a health care overhaul, making things worse for people of a certain age. Time for Congress to at least extend Medicare coverage to anyone 55 or older.  That small move would ease the stress on jobless and underemployed boomers everywhere.

Pamela A. Maclean, January 1,  2010

It may be tough finding reasons to think positively about 2010. Consider Colorado became the first state to cut its minimum wage which is tied to inflation, and the current double digit jobless rate may take years just to get back down to a "normal 5 or 6 percent.  But that's when the positive thinkers look outside the black box, outside jobs and outside the material goods of life.  Find pleasure where you can, in the personal; an outing with family or friends, a walk in nature or finding a way to volunteer your talents to those in need. The returns on generosity multiply for the giver.  And there is good news.  Quebec will adopt California's strict auto emissions standards  and reports of lower crime rates have come out in San Francisco, Oakland, Calif. and even New York City - all part of a national trend. 

Pamela A. Maclean, September 15,  2009

For all the talk of family values from a range of politicians, many adults of a certain age responsible for the care of an aging parent have a tenuous hold on the family structure. The caregiving itself becomes exhausting and stressful and may sap energy from the attention or time that might go to other family members. So when government cuts programs that offer respite for these families, like adult day care services, the politicians simply cut the ability of many families to remain together. The elder adults end up in nursing homes, at a much higher cost to the taxpayers, and often in locations far from immediate family members. This means fewer visits and may also leave adult children when feelings of guilt. And if no nursing home option is possible it may simply mean they endure the stress of fulltime care of a parent, and in the process damage their own health. Some government efforts at cost saving are simply short-sighted.

Pamela A. Maclean, August 27,  2009

Anyone of a certain age remembers where they were when President Kennedy was shot in 1963, or when his brother Robert was assassinated in 1968. No one of that era wanted Ted Kennedy to run for president; it tempted fate. His passing is sad for all of us, no matter what your political stripe, because it marks the end of that generation of brothers. And the loss of Ted Kennedy from the Senate also brings to mind something else that has been lost in our society – the notion that those born with the privileges of wealth have a social obligation to the rest of us. Kennedy embodied that notion of work for social good over self-interested feathering of ever-more beautiful nests embodied in the Bernie Madoffs and Paris Hiltons of the world. The Kennedys worked to improve the lot of farm workers, the mentally handicapped, the elderly, teachers, the working class and so many others over the decades. In his final years he spent his energies on universal health care even though he could have retired and spent time sailing at Hyannis or anywhere else in the world. The notion of “noblesse oblige” seems lost among the many who have acquired great wealth in recent years. Instead we have executives spending millions on parties and redecoration of mansions rather than the broader social good. Perhaps Ted Kennedy’s death will remind those in Washington that they may get more recognition through collaboration and compromise to achieve their goals than selfish self-promotion.

Pamela A. Maclean, August 10,  2009

The destructive force of Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan, the Philippines and China have the power to shock and humble us with the power of nature. But the news that China evacuated 1 million people from coastal cities in advance of the storm, and that officials were seen riding bicycles to deliver food supplies to the stranded, has an equally powerful message. It was four years ago this month that Hurricane Katrina and its ensuing flood slammed into an unprepared gulf coast, creating the worst natural disaster those of us of a certain age could recall. Indeed, it was the biggest natural disaster in the US since the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco. New Orleans and state officials were overwhelmed and disorganized, while the federal government simply failed on a grand scale. The response of local people to save their own highlights the difference between guerrilla warfare and conventional slow-moving armies. As author Douglas Brinkley conveyed in his account of Katrina and its aftermath in "The Great Deluge," the federal effort to slowly amass resources and organize meant nothing happened for days, allowing many to die.  As the next hurricane season approaches we'd do well to remind ourselves of the people on the Gulf Coast, demand better of the leaders we pay to be prepared for disaster, but also be ready to look out for ourselves and our neighbors in times of natural disasters. 

Pamela A. Maclean, July 23,  2009

We boomers are a neurotic lot. In our 30s, it was worries about cancer. In our 40s, about heart attacks. And in our 50s, it's the drumbeat of early Alzheimer's striking us at a certain age. But it’s not forgetting where you put your car keys that indicates Alzheimer's, it’s forgetting what your car keys are for. Time for some mental calisthenics. Consider federal judges. These are people who have a job for life and often work well into their 80s, handling highly complex issues that require mental agility. People in careers such as theirs have lower rates of Alzheimer's and the mental testing may account for part of it. So get out The New York Times crossword or a Sudoku puzzle or try to keep up with your teenager's slang. It may help in the long run and it sure can’t hurt.

Pamela A. Maclean, July 7,  2009

Just a couple years ago the federal government spent more than $79 billion on medical care for people with diabetes and the amount has probably risen higher since then.  Much of that cost is preventable if people with diabetes lost weight and watched their diets.  The same is true for people with high cholesterol and looming heart disease problems.  So where is the campaign to get people to change their eating habits?  Why do we still super-size our meals and hit fast-food rather than healthy food?  At a time the Obama Administration is pushing a national reform of the health care insurance system, doesn't it seem that now is the time for a campaign to change our eating habits and avoid diabetes and heart disease? 

Robin Evans, June 26,  2009

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So the question we're already asking each other is whether Michael Jackson will be remembered for his music or his eccentricity. I think it will be his music. His obssessive face-whitening and cosmetic surgery will diminish to "tragic side note" to the brilliant career of a singer, dancer and showman whose popularity was on par with that of the Beatles. It’s a given in the art world that brilliant people often have a dark side, from simple bad or reckless behavior to emotional instability or mental illness. What drove Michael Jackson will likely be the topic of future biographies. The people of a certain age who loved his music may or may not read such books. But you can be sure that now matter how old they get, they’ll still get a thrill out of “Thriller.”

P.A. MacLean, June 12,  2009

Anyone of a certain age will tell you the body slows down over time. As vigorous as we may be now, there are limits. That's why many boomers keep a keen eye on how their physical changes affect their lifestyle.  And many of us want to know how we can live independently in our own homes as many years as possible.  The long country bike ride today may be limited to a bike ride for groceries, or errands in years to come. Yet few cities have started to examine the myriad changes that may come from their aging populations.  They may need smaller housing stock, more short-hop transit and attention on safer streets.  But most have not. Those cities are missing a great opportunity and may be setting themselves up for higher future costs just to catch up. Four cities just announced they're looking at ways to help the aging population stay in their homes. More should join them.  The demand on services for the aging will grow in the next two decades and cities need to address ways to become age-friendly quickly.

P.A. MacLean, May 24,  2009

When you get to be a certain age, you understand the importance of a pension. And now that the stock market has tanked and companies are filing for bankruptcy, some people face the loss of pensions or significant reduction in their benefits. This makes all the more repulsive the news that the man in charge of a government agency that guarantees benefits for failed pensions may have engaged in favoritism of a few Wall St. investment firms. The former head of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., Charles E.B. Millard, is accused of steering contracts to a few favored firms. In addition, he embarked on a program to adopt a risky investment program that would put more of pension funds in stocks, real estate and private equity funds, all to the benefit of the investment firms that manage the money. Left in the dust are the current and future retirees who were hit first by bankrupt companies with underfunded pensions. The second hit would come had Millard's plan had gotten into full swing just as the market came tumbling down.

P.A. MacLean, April 26,  2009

I was an early adopter of buying on-line, not because I like to shop, but with an elderly parent living far away, this allowed me to provide necessities she could not get on her own while helping me balance my work with her needs. Medical supplies, household goods, new clothes, whatever she wanted it was a computer away. But that raises another issue. Boomers find themselves picking up bigger tabs for an aging parent's financial care, about 45 percent of those caring for an elderly parent also fork over money. This is only going to get worse. Many in the elder generation today had fixed pensions from an era when that was common in companies. Now that is gone and as we age, those defined benefit plans have vanished, to be replaced with  401(k) plans. And we know what's happened to those lately. Even with a change in attitude, public policy and the economy, those of a certain age may soon find themselves tapping junior for a loan in the decades ahead.

P.A. MacLean, April 13,  2009

Who didn't know it would come to this?  We're feeding corn to our cars while people go hungry. The increased use of corn to produce ethanol - about one-quarter of the corn grown in the US - has cost us at the grocery store and raised the price of nutrition programs that are critical to people of a certain age. Why not pull the invasive Kudzu out of choked delta waterways and turn that into Ethanol? Or any of a number of rapid-growing, non-edible plants? The new frugality in this economic downturn is sowing something besides corn-driven cars. Home gardens and urban community gardens are sprouting in greater numbers. Just one garden saves on food prices, lowers the money spent driving to the grocer and the neighborhood garden encourages self-reliance, beautifies neighborhoods and improves the quality of life for gardeners. There is even a vegetable garden at the White House.

P.A. MacLean, March 16,  2009

The popular phrase among financial reporters is to say people used their homes as a piggy bank during the housing bubble.  Not Boomers. It was their nest egg. Now all that's left for many is the shell.  And since the government isn't passing bailout money directly to troubled homeowners, but is doling it out to banks, there are only a few things to help stop the growth in foreclosures and slide in home values. Congress approved a change in the law to allow renegotiation of interest rates and even reduce the debt on homes that have plunged in value. It is called a cramdown.  That may be one of the only things to stop people abandoning their mortgages.  That, in turn, may slow the falling values and stabilize the housing market. Eventually.  But Boomers don't have long investment horizons. Let's just hope we aren't faced with taking in renters as a retirement plan.

 

P.A. MacLean, March 2,  2009

Ryanair, the squeaky cheap Irish airline, has stirred up a fine kettle by suggesting it may charge captive airline passengers for access to the skyhigh washroom. One thing the Ryanair lads and many outraged pundits seem to have overlooked in the pay-to-pee controversy will be obvious to women of a certain age who remember the days of 10-cent public toilets. Former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu became famous for smashing a toilet on the state capital steps in the 1960s in her campaign to ban pay toilets as discriminatory to women. But even before that, there was widespread civil disobedience. You see, the first person pays and then everyone holds the door open for the line that follows. And if you've ever been on a plane after mealtime, you know that line will be long. Go ahead Ryanair, test your idea. Just don't expect much of an income stream.

 

Tom Murphy, February 24,  2009

The news on vitamins lately can make your head spin. They say vitamins won't block cancer, but vitamin B can help prevent blindness through advance macular degeneration. Vitamins and other supplements don't block cancer. However, calcium may help, but only if you get it through food. not pills. It makes a person wonder what to do when they hit that certain age. But almost every medical study, almost all health experts and almost all stories about them carry similar advice. Usually it goes something like this: There's no substitute for daily exercise along with a balanced diet that includes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. If you ask healthy old people how they got that way, more often than not, they'll tell you the same thing. One more thing: stay cool. Anger is not only nonproductive, but it may trigger heart problems. So what are you doing to stay healthy?

 

P.A. MacLean, January 20,  2009

The new President's first 100 days will be tracked closely, and for the pocketbook, things may not look good.  But for redirecting our focus away from an acquisitive culture to one of personal generosity things may be looking up. Barack Obama has called for more Americans to get involved in community service projects because the government can't do it all.  And at a time when more boomers begin to retire, we not only have the time, but the knowledge and skills to provide the government a bounty of sweat equity in the country. It may harken back to the 1960s for many who were involved in civil rights efforts, after-school tutoring, food pantries or environmental work in parks. Now those of a certain age bring years of experience that can avoid mistakes of the past and provide help creating new ways of working for better communities for all ages.

 

Tom Murphy, January 16,  2009

I was in my 20s when my company told me they were going to start something called a 401(k) to help workers save for retirement. I dutifully stored away cash, but always thought my pension would take care of me in retirement. That turned out to be the last job I had with a pension plan. Like most boomers, I'm mostly depending on my own savings and Social Security for retirement, and there's little comfort there. While my 401(k)-like accounts exceed the national average of $60,000 for people aged 55-64, I find myself envying friends retired in their mid-50s from government work with a tidy pension. Folks, $60,000 won't support you for more than a year or two once you start paying for housing, insurance, food and everything else. And Social Security payments will only keep you with one foot over the poverty line. So it's no surprise to me that four out of five Americans over the age of 25 are plenty worried about their retirement years - they should be. And I'm not surprised they think it's time to create a new pension system that will support you until you die, and then go on supporting your spouse. Our four-decade experiment with 401(k)s has been an utter failure - one that will plague us for decades to come as 78 million boomers go through retirement and old age. It's time to fix this mess for good, even if that means cutting way back in other areas.

 

Tom Murphy, January 12,  2009

Is the boomer era ending?  Apparently Jocelyn Noveck of The AP thinks so. I suspect most of the 78 million boomers, aged 45-63, would tend to disagree. Barack Obama, age 47, has chosen a cabinet full of boomers to help him find his way through thorny issues like Social Security, Medicare, home values and other economic challenges that are of growing - not shrinking - importance to boomers and, therefore, to society as a whole. With roughly one in four Americans falling into the boomer age bracket (one in three if you only count voters), it would be politically imprudent and impractical to declare an end to the boomer era. Plus, boomers spend about $2 trillion a year, which is about three times what Obama is proposing in his giant new program to enhance spending. So boomers will be vital to the economic recovery. If the new president forgets any of this, the AARP lobbyists will probably remind him on behalf of their 40 million members. Is the boomer era ending?  No. Not yet. Not by a long shot. In fact, it may be just getting started.

 

Tom Murphy, December 25,  2008

If you saw another hurricane Katrina coming, would you do something to help get people ready? Of course, you would. Well, something similar is happening, and now's the time to act. As RedwoodAge Senior Writer Cecily O'Connor points out in her three-part series on The Longevity Revolution, 78 million aging boomers will require extensive new services in healthcare, transportation, public safety, housing and other areas. Smart cities are starting to talk about this, and a few have even taken the first tentative steps towards change. But the real answers won't come from government. They'll come from ordinary people in communities who band together to find solutions, and then share those solutions with other communities. Innovative ideas - like intergenerational cohousing and retirees who provide voluntary daycare - can help all generations through what will likely be a rough time in America. Now's the time to figure out how you, your neighbors and your community can help.

Tom Murphy, December 9,  2008

I've always heard you should go easy on the nuts because they're loaded with fat, and it's true. But it's Omega 3 oil, the same stuff found in fish. That's why some health experts now say you should grab a handful of nuts every day for a healthy heart. OK by me. I've always liked them. Almonds are especially good for you. But don't stop there. There are five groups of food that can lower cholesterol and, when taken in combination, some studies say they can cut cholesterol by 20 percent - as much as some statin pills. The other four are: soy protein, high-fiber grains like oats, fruits and vegetables, and "plant sterols." The last item is naturally found in plants, but can also be consumed by having certain heart-healthy foods like orange juice or margarine that have at least 400 mg of plant sterols added. You'll need two servings a day to make up the 800 mg recommended.  Beyond all that, avoid trans fats and saturated fats. That means, skip the burger and fries. Instead, have a lean turkey breast on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato - a TLT, but hold the mayo. You can cut your cholesterol rate even more with exercise - the kind that actually keeps you trim, not the kind where you walk to the donut shop.

P.A. MacLean, November 26,  2008

Taking over control of my mother’s finances was a gradual thing that began years ago, and often involved a mini-crisis. One came when we discovered a trusted helper, who came twice a week to drive her for errands, had been stealing small amounts from her checkbook and forging her name. About 5 million elders a year are victims of financial crime, but only one in 25 incidents may be reported, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse,  Waiting for a crisis is not the best way to plan. Talking to an aging parent early, and offering help in small stages gets you both accustomed to the change.  Ask if you can help write checks for them, while they oversee.  Next, ask to balance a checkbook by looking at a monthly statement. You may see unauthorized ATM withdrawals. And check out a parent's odd claims of lost money. My mom sometimes complained about the theft of small amounts of cash, $5 or $10, from her room in an assisted living center. That turned out to be a janitor pilfering from many seniors' rooms over a long period.  Take over a meal as a "potluck" once a month, as time and distance allow.  There are plenty of groups that provide information and support.

P.A. MacLean, November 12,  2008

Faulty product price comparisons on Medicare coverage may only be the beginning of the difficulties in helping an elderly parent cope with Part D prescription decisions. The program allows insurers to decide what drugs they will and won’t cover and a look at reactions on email lists and blogs shows that companies may try to push patients to switch to cheaper generic drugs, even after they have been on name brands and the generic equivalent may disagree with them. But price comparisons remain the gateway problem for most people. Using a government site that doesn’t include some of the cheaper options is no way to help consumers. Take look at what Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in June during the opening of a hearing into Medicare Part D:  "What we discovered is that the taxpayers are paying far more for drugs under Medicare Part D than they do under Medicaid.  In effect, Medicare Part D has given the major drug companies a taxpayer-funded windfall worth billions of dollars..."

P.A. MacLean, November 7,  2008

When my husband puts the measuring spoons in the knife drawer I wonder if he has early stage Alzheimer's. When I do it, I'm just forgetful, or distracted. No one wants to think they have the mind-wasting disease. It doesn't help to know that the brain starts slowing down after 40.So getting a baseline test on National Memory Screening Day, to establish how well you're doing, may not be a bad idea. We just have to remember to do it. Now I take to mind tricks, like counting the number of items I carry on a plane, or into a restaurant, so I'll come out with the same number, repeating three over in my head to recall the purse, coat and umbrella. Forgetting neighbors' names, that's a bad one. I've found asking them to repeat it and saying over and over a half-dozen times in my head helps, but it always means I miss the first part of what they're saying. Wish I could remember how I did this when I was 20.

P.A. MacLean, October 27,  2008

During a stroll down the clothing aisle of a Target store, a woman easily in her 50s was overheard to tell her husband, “For $150,000 I could have a lifetime supply of clothes from Target.” This was not free retailer advertising but political commentary on Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate. whose recent $150,000 clothes-shopping spree, paid for by the GOP, have been as popular as Sen. John Edwards $400 haircut. Sarah's threads may unravel her appeal to women.  Sarah, selected as the GOP affirmative action hire to appeal to women, appears to be losing a chunk of those very voters. She's been slipping in popularity among women for the past month and has tried to talk more about women's concerns - then came the $150,000 wardrobe news.  As illustrated by the political pundit in Target, it's not just the clothes. Women aren't that shallow. It is the contrast of her Republican-clothes bailout versus the market slide most American women are seeing in the value of their wardrobes.

P.A. MacLean, September 21,  2008

Taking over financial management for an elderly parent, along with their health care decisions, for over 20 years as I did produces days of feeling lost and overwhelmed simply by the bureaucracy of the task. For years it was seat-of-the-pants learning by calling here, there and everywhere for answers. These days things are changing and the Marin Senior Consultation Clinic provides an example of groups that are pulling together volunteer experts in one place to answer wide ranging questions in one-on-one clinics. Help on legal questions, senior housing, long-term care, adult day services and home care are among the services at the one-day clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area. For $30, the consultants will address specific questions. There are no speeches, no presentations, just volunteers with expertise in a range of senior specialties offering to help. Whether you want to know how to get time off from a parent with Alzheimer's or how to address moving and downsizing to a parent or planning long-term care options, programs like this make a big difference. Let's hope the idea spreads nationwide.

Jennifer Meacham, September 12,  2008

This just in: A new AARP report, "More to Give," concludes that tens of millions of baby boomers and members of the silent generation “appear ready to increase their civic participation in retirement.” Hey! We already knew that.  The report comes at the heels of IBM's pledge to contribute $250 million in services to charities/nonprofit groups through its "corporate version of the Peace Corps" and President Bush's call for "volunteering because our country needs you." Indeed, the US is in dire need of volunteers to pick up where the government has left off: training the next generation in financial management skills, helping communities help themselves through entrepreneurship, and so many other business-tied initiatives. Take boomer Clay McAllester, who developed a financial/life education board game for grade schoolers with the help of the Service Corp of Retired Executives. It's too bad we have to pick up the pieces, but then again, someone has to.

P.A. MacLean, August 28,  2008

People over 55 are filing for bankruptcy at an alarming rate. In many cases, that's due to a health crisis. But these days there are other reasons, notably the home foreclosure crisis. Just look at the newly released numbers for federal bankruptcies. For the year that ended in June, the number of bankruptcies in nine Western states shot up by 60 percent from the year before. Those states include California, Nevada and Arizona, which were among the areas hardest hit by foreclosures. Across the nation, bankruptcies of all types were up 29 percent for the same period, from 751,000 in fiscal 2007 to 968,000 in 2008, according to the administrative office of the courts.  Many of the cases are Chapter 7 - liquidation bankruptcies that require selling off assets to pay bills - rather than reorganization under what's known as Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  Chapter 7 liquidations were up nearly 37 percent, while Chapter 13, which allows wage earners to reorganize and have some debts forgiven, grew 17 percent. If you look at bankruptcy filings by population size, particularly liquidation filings, some rust belt state like Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio are at the top of the list. What does this mean? It means older workers laid-off from jobs, losing health care coverage and borrowing against the value of their homes are losing everything they worked for.

P.A. MacLean, August 16,  2008

The light media coverage of Olympic bicycling time trials means lots of people may have missed the story of American Kristin Armstrong, who won the gold medal in the women’s time trial. The more interesting aspect of her win is that Armstrong, who is 34, overcame osteoarthritis to do it. While the mention of arthritis may conjure images of frail, gray-haired seniors with twisted hands, it strikes the young as well. There are 8.7 million people 18-44 with arthritis, but figure jumps to 20.5 million for boomers, ages 45-64, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Armstrong’s feat points out the importance of exercise and weight control in managing the disease. For older adults with knee osteoarthritis even moderate exercise, three times a week can cut the risk of arthritis-related disability by 47 percent, the CDC says. And while 16 percent of adults at a normal weight report arthritis, a whopping 66% of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis are overweight. Losing as little as 11 pounds reduces the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis among women by half, according to the CDC. So the message to boomers, use it or lose it.

P.A. MacLean, August 5,  2008

Stories abound about the politics of President Bush's trip to the Olympics, but many women of a certain age will remember the difficulty for women athletes to get into sports. It was 35 years ago, in 1972, that Congress and President Nixon created Title IX, a landmark law that banned discrimination based on sex in athletics and education. Before Title IX, schools routinely imposed strict limits on admission of women and sports scholarships were rare. Title IX has revolutionized women's sports competition in the last 35 years. Look at the Olympics today to consider how much things have changed. The women's 800 meters was held in 1928, then banned and declared unsafe from women until 1956. The next time it was run was 1960.  In 1984, after years of struggle to get a woman's marathon in the Olympics, American Joan Benoit became the first woman to win the Olympic women's marathon event in Los Angeles. In the US women's marathon time trials this year, 98 women finished in under 2:50, an astoundingly large field. It is second only to the 109 women who qualified with sub-2:50 times in the first women's trials in 1984. In Beijing, watch Dara Torres, at 41, the oldest woman swimmer in the games. But she is not the oldest woman ever to compete. That honor belongs to 70-year-old British equestrian Lorna Johnson in 1972.  



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