Tag: aging

An Old Dog Still Teaching Some New Tricks

The writer’s dog, Puck.

My old dog is deaf. Completely deaf. It is a strange thing to take care of a dog that cannot hear and we are learning together how to navigate this. We cannot be lazy with him at all. If we let him out in the back yard and he goes crazy barking at the rabbit and fox, we’ve got to be prepared to trek out to get him, positioning ourselves so that he can see us. We have to make hand signals to tell him to be quiet. Remarkably, he seems to understand these.

The Journey of Dementia


dementia image

My sister and I had traveled home to give my brother a break.  We were with my mother at her primary care physician’s, technically a licensed nurse practitioner whose manner is part game show host, part private investigator.  We all love her.  After the good news –physically Mom was in top form — Lynne shifted gears, getting to the real reason we were there.

How to Convince Your Parents it’s Time to Move




Have mom or dad been struggling to get around the home they’ve lived in for years? Or, are they getting confused or overwhelmed taking care of themselves or each other? If so, it may be time to have the talk.

Exercise Keeps Brains Young, Hopkins Researchers Say

Vladimir Putin attempts to attain eternal youth through exercise
Vladimir Putin attempts to attain eternal youth through exercise

Neuroscientists have long understood that age and stress damage the brain, in part by depleting energy reserves that are crucial to brain cell function. At its most extreme, such damage shows up as diseases like Alzheimer’s. But new research out of Johns Hopkins indicates that exercise may play a powerful role in protecting the brain against age- and stress-related damage.

Fear and Loathing in the Middle Ages

Photo via mnn.com
Photo via mnn.com

One of the things you’re going to see as soon as marijuana is legal is hordes of people in their forties, fifties, and sixties lining up outside the dispensary, finally able to get some weed without buying it from the kids. In fact, if you think about it, this is why decriminalization is upon us: the inaugural generation of American stoners is driving the lead bus of the social order and they cannot figure out where to cop.

Yet I will not be among the chuffed boomers dropping vac-packs of skunk into their Prius glove compartments, I’m sorry to say. I so wish I could enjoy marijuana — it’s clearly the most wholesome of the mind-altering substances, a superior vice in almost every way. Indeed, back in high school in the seventies I could not make it through fourth period without dipping out to the parking lot for a toke. But then I took a long break from my friend Mr. THC, first for spiritual endeavors, later, for poor choices involving hard drugs, finally for pregnancy and motherhood. Ever since, it hasn’t been the same. As much as I may love it in theory, bud is not my bud. This may be partly due to the fact that the weed of today is 50,000 times stronger than what was smoked in the bus-ports of yore, but I also suspect that have I some sort of cannabis allergy.

    Loss in Dating (and the Self You Gain)


    Dear Sara,

    I went through a trauma a couple years ago and haven’t been dating that much since. In the beginning, it was easy to throw myself into other aspects of life, and then suddenly a couple of years passed. It’s very personal, so I don’t feel like sharing the details with prospective dates. Yes, I have had some therapy for it. But I feel wistful for my old, normal life. Every now and then I meet a guy who makes me feel like I might be ready to open up, but I don’t want to bring an unnecessary aspect of seriousness to the relationship too soon. I’m not even sure I know how to express interest anymore, in fact I can’t even attend a party properly. I feel shy where I once felt bold. I feel self-conscious when I once felt confident. I feel broken where I once felt whole.

    What If You Are Wrong?


    University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik wants to accept one of the biggest compliments of her life. So what’s stopping her?

    The other day I received an email from a woman named Marjorie, who’d just read a short memoir I wrote, set in Austin back in 1981. She, too, had vivid recollections of the period and people described — a serious flood, a piano in a tree, a dog the size of a pony, a jazz musician the size of a Volkswagen, a suicide. Her letter was a surprise to receive and interesting to read, but there were two sentences in particular that knocked me over.

    This Week in Research: Fewer Butterflies, More Doctor’s Visits


    The mild winter and early spring might be putting people in a good mood, but it’s taking a toll in unexpected places. Take the butterflies, for example. When snow melts early (or never comes in the first place), flowers can bud too soon. If a late-season frost happens to hit, the flowers are killed, meaning that there’s less nectar overall for the butterflies to chow down on. And that means fewer butterflies overall.

    According to David Inouye, a University of Maryland biology professor and co-author of a recent study on the Mormon fritillary butterfly, the warm winters can account for more than 80 percent of the butterflies’ population decline. In other words, climate change has a very direct — and surprisingly strong — effect on insect life, even in the case of bugs that only live for a season. “We already can predict that this coming summer will be difficult for the butterflies,” said Inouye’s co-author, Carol Boggs.

    No one likes going to the doctor — but sometimes there’s a good reason to stop into that office. Recent research out of Johns Hopkins shows that when adults accompany their aging parents to routine office visits with doctors, their loved ones get better care. According to the study, these companions help provide information to the doctor, ask the doctor questions, and explain the doctor’s instructions to their loved ones. Older, less-educated patients were less likely to have a consistent companion taking them to the doctor, as were patients with multiple chronic ailments.

    In other words, improving care isn’t just a doctor-patient issue. “Initiatives to improve older adults’ quality of chronic illness care have typically focused on improving health care professional and patient competencies, and have ignored the fact that Medicare beneficiaries often manage their health conditions and attend routine physician visits with a family member, predominantly a spouse or an adult child,” said Jennifer Wolff, lead author of the study and a professor at Johns Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    This Week in Research: Fear of Falling; Building Better Banks


    People have been saying some awfully mean things about banks recently. Poor banks! They can’t help being ruthless and volatile… right? Johns Hopkins economist Caroline Fohlin doesn’t think banks should be let off the hook so easily. In her new book, Mobilizing Money:  How the World’s Richest Nations Financed Industrial Growth, she argues that it’s not the structure of banks but their behavior (and how that behavior is regulated) that has an affect on our economy, for better or worse. In other words, Fohlin’s intensive examination of the history of modern corporate finance systems reveals that there’s no “one size fits all” model that guarantees growth and stability. Instead, many different financial systems have successfully supported economic development. And so maybe instead of thinking about massive reforms to our financial systems, we should concentrate more on policy matters. “In the heat of the moment, you don’t want to react to short-term phenomena,” Fohlin says. “We need to look back over decades, and even centuries, and take into account the long-term trends in financial development over time. Do we need to completely rip up our current financial system? Probably not, when you look at the big picture.”

    The body does all sorts of odd things as it ages. Its hair changes color. It stops being able to hear so well. Suddenly, simply walking down the stairs becomes more difficult. But rather than being completely separate phenomena, it turns out that some of these bodily betrayals might be related, according to recent Johns Hopkins research. After surveying thousands of middle-aged patients (age 40 to 69), researches found that people with mild hearing loss (25 decibels) were three times as likely to have a history of falling, compared to those without hearing loss; every 10 decibels above that increased the chance of falling by 1.4. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why. It could be that hearing loss makes it harder to pay attention to the outside environment, or that the brain suffers from “cognitive load” — that is, it’s too overwhelmed with input. “Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” said study head Frank Lin. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”

    Eight Over 80


    This is the final installment in our four-part series on eight 80-year-olds living in Baltimore who inspire and impress us with their hard work, vigor and commitment to living a life of purpose. Find links to all eight profiles at the end of the post below. Photos by Anne Sachs.

    In the case of eight Baltimoreans, age 80 seems to be the new 64. These eight men and women remain active in work and in Baltimore.  Although official retirees, they could hardly be considered “retired.”  

    While Americans are often labeled workaholics, these eight fall into another category. They are still following their passions, passions born sometimes in childhood, others at mid-career. All have received numerous awards for their achievements, some honorary doctorates. While they say they have slowed down physically, all push themselves with regular exercise. All are fully engaged mentally.

    Most, in the course of their lives, have had to overcome discrimination because of race, creed or gender. One of these giants said of his peers, “We were fortunate. The world changed so much in our lifetime.”

    Three are over 90 and were alive during World War I. All lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the civil rights movement. These eight have experienced the proliferation of the automobile, air travel and computers. They are connected to a world and to times that most of us alive today have not known. Our Baltimore is different because of their work in the past and their work today.


    Sister Mary Alice Chineworth, O.S.P.

    D.O.B.: July 16, 1917, Rock Island, Illinois

    Education: St. Joseph School ‘35, Mount Mary College [STET.], B.A. ‘52, Catholic University of America, M.A. ‘62; Ph.D. ‘72

    Career, Present and Past:
    Sister Mary Alice Chineworth has just returned from her 76th high school reunion in Illinois and has recently celebrated her 75th anniversary with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, which she joined at 19. At 94, she does what she has always done: correct papers. These, however, are not homework assignments, term papers, fundraising or administrative documents but articles for the national newsletter of her order. Established in Baltimore in 1829, the order was the first founded by women of African descent. Its motherhouse is Mount Providence, where Sister Alice lives and works in a community of more than 50 sisters. 

    Sister Alice has worked in many capacities: elementary and secondary teacher, principal and administrator in Baltimore, Charleston, Alexandria, Washington, D.C., and St. Paul, as well as president of Mount Providence Junior College in Baltimore and superior general of the order, whose mission is education and service to the poor and neglected.

    Today her daily routine is precise. She sets her alarm for 4 a.m. to begin 30 minutes of exercise before she washes, dresses and gets her room in “ship shape.”  The daughter of an African-American father and Caucasian, German mother, Sister Alice and her siblings were not allowed to leave their rooms without having their belongings in perfect order. After breakfast she works at the switchboard from 7 to 9 and attends mass. At 9 she goes to her office to do correspondence and editing. At the daily 1 p.m. dinner she, ever the extrovert, lingers to talk until 2 or 2:30. She returns to work until 5, when she goes to chapel for private prayer before the evening Divine Office. Then it’s back upstairs to watch the local and national news before her bedtime of 8 p.m.

    Two days a week she goes out with another sister on errands.  “I drove until I was 88,” says the sister who has had a computer since the early 1980’s and a cell phone since they first came out, who served on the National Advisory Council of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, who has met three U.S. Presidents and recently received 75 American Beauty roses from a former student, Camille Cosby, whose husband Bill sometimes writes her into jokes.

    Key to Longevity of Engagement: “I’ve never lost interest in life. I love people…. If they didn’t have community  [in the largest sense of the word], they’d have to invent it for me.” Many she has known most of their lives, like her best friend from St. Joseph School that had 600 students and only six African-Americans, four of whom were Chineworths.

    Current Challenge: As an editor: “English is so difficult for some, that agreement between subject and predicate!” Personally: “To keep moving; it’s so easy just to sit.” 


    Sidney Silber 

    D.O.B: January 12, 1918, Baltimore, Maryland

    Education: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute ’35
    M.I.T. ’39  (Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society)

    Service: Non-military, high-priority defense work as experimental flight test engineer for Boeing Aircraft Company, Seattle, Washington, 1939-1946

    Career, Present and Past:
    Sidney Silber, at 93, is still fully engaged in his art and horticulture, two of three passionate, long-running avocations. (Racing sailboats in Annapolis is the third, from which he now takes leave.) All have paralleled his three careers as engineer, bakery president and commercial real estate developer.

    Silber pursues drawing and painting with devotion — he drew well as a child and honed the skill in mechanical drawing courses at Poly, M.I.T., and at Boeing where he did flight analysis. There he flew on 50 test flights, including those of the B-17 and the first pressurized military airplane, the B-29, which was designed to carry the atom bomb. 

    After the death of his father and brother, Silber returned to Baltimore in 1946. Using engineering and increasing real estate acumen, he expanded the now-legendary family business, Silber Bakeries, to 25 shops. After leaving the business in 1962, he founded Commercial and Industrial Realty Corporation and for 27 years developed residential, commercial and industrial properties.

    The proceeds from the sales of those properties created the Jean and Sidney Silber Foundation. Today cultural and educational institutions, as well as Baltimore non-profits focused on education and poverty, occupy much of his interest, philanthropy and time.

    So does horticulture. “We had no garden on Monroe Street,” he says of the home where he and seven siblings grew up above the bakery.  In 1959 he and his wife Jean combined energy, intellect, artistic and engineering talent to begin a six-acre masterpiece in Lutherville. Fifty-two years later it is considered one the finest gardens in Maryland and the U.S.

    While he officially retired in 1990, Silber never stopped working. In khaki pants and oxford cloth shirt, he is found early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with a folding pruning saw and clippers, tending his “living work of art” that draws visitors on private tours from all over the country to see the garden and hear its botanically expert owners lecture.

    Among many sculptures in the garden are several of his own, all bronze. (His sculpture is also in the collections of M.I.T. and Goucher College.) Besides collecting art, his current passion is portrait painting. Many line the walls of his studio off the garden.

    Key to longevity of engagement: “Shall I say, a young wife?” he laughs. “Jeannie keeps me going…. I think you should always be a student,” says the man, just back from a painting class, who studied law at Boeing, real estate and finance in the bakery business and art, horticulture and history for as long as he can remember. “Physical activity is important too.”

    Current challenge: In the art: “Drawing it well, mixing the colors right… I draw. I paint. My eyesight is good, but I still can’t see what I’m supposed to see.” In the garden: “What to do with the garden in the future.” In philanthropy:  “How to make the decisions every year.”

    Read more about other inspiring seniors:

    Marion Bascom and Sue Baker

    Clinton Bamberger and Beatrice Levi

    Martin Millspaugh and Iris Rosenblatt