It was Sabrina Hamilton, the brilliant director of the Ko Festival of Performance, who kicked off my speaking career by inviting me to do a monologue in 2012. She’s got superlative taste and she’s bringing a show called “D-Generation: An Exaltation of Larks” to Brooklyn’s Irondale Center this week and next. The show uses puppets to illuminate the inner life of people with late-stage dementia and what it’s like to care for them, and it’s wrenching and uplifting and remarkable.
Yesterday I spoke for the first time to an audience of medical practitioners at Weill Cornell Medical College/NY-Presbyterian Hospital Dept. of Geriatrics. It was in a beautiful conference room in the Gothic hulk of a building next to the East River where my daughter was born 28 years ago next week. I opened with an anecdote from a friend who brought his 83-year-old mother in to the family doctor for a check-up—she was in a wheelchair after a stroke—and when they came into his office the doctor said, “Are you still around?”
Until I read this article on the New York Times Well Blog, I had no idea that hearing loss linked to a variety of health problems, most notably dementia. It cites a longitudinal study that found that “compared to individuals with normal hearing, those individuals with a mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss, respectively, had a 2-, 3- and 5-fold increased risk of developing dementia [emphasis mine] over the course of the study.”
I’ve been invited to speak to the Weill Cornell Hospital Department of Geriatrics, so I’ve been reviewing my interviews with people in the field. Eighteen months ago I much enjoyed meeting geriatric care manager Claudia Fine, and today I was struck by her description of her sister’s difficulty dealing with her mother-in-law’s dementia.
I’m making my way through Never Say Die, Susan Jacoby’s screed against the perky marketing of “the new old age.” More on that soon, much more, but it’s in her first chapter that I found the following statistics, from Muriel Gillick’s The Denial of Aging: “The latest prediction is that if you are just now turning 65, you have nearly a 50 percent chance of spending some time in a nursing home before you die. Approximately 10 percent of those nursing home stays will be short-term, intended for recuperation after a hospitalization. The remainder will be for the long haul, with discharge to a funeral parlor, not to the family home.”
Finally, the news I’ve been waiting for: the only exercise I actually enjoy — dancing — is better for your brain than any other.
I took an instant liking to Claudia Fine, the Executive Vice President of SeniorBridge, a national organization that provides health and care management. We met in her midtown office, following up on a connection I’d made through a journalism seminar. She was warm, candid, and impatient with institutional dumbness.
Bad-boy British novelist Martin Amis is in the news for proposing euthanasia "booths" on street corners where the old old could off themselves with "a martini and a medal.” Amis maintained that his comments were meant to be "satirical" rather than "glib", but there’s something to offend just about everyone in his prediction that “a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, [will be] stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops.”