On Being High on Cities

For a small-town girl, I am embarrassingly in love with cities. Their energy, their sometime sophistication, their proud histories, their devil-may-care attitude toward the constantly undulating (some fast, some pokey) throngs of their citizens as they go about doing whatever it is that city people incessantly do.Prague castle

I fell for Prague the first step I took onto the first of its cobblestone bridges spanning the centuries of its brave survival of constant conquest and cultural assaults. A guide in the Prague Museum taught me a lesson worth a college semester with one proud sentence, “We do not have an army.” Thus giving this U.S.-raised citizen new insight into what armies can really mean.

In Bruges my husband and I discovered out-of-the-way museums and savored chocolate (ink-dark for him; pale for me) with our coffee while watching the canal boats.Bruges canal But mostly we wandered the endlessly wandering streets. It was in Bruges that we perfected the phrase employed for so many years throughout so many other cities, from Chicago to Shanghai: “Let’s just walk.”

I love Porto Alegre not just for being the city of my birth – the last sultry thing I ever did, I often say, was being born in Brazil – but for its mix of gentle warmth and cowboy swagger. On the single visit I made to the place where my father had helped start the Instituto Porto Alegre my husband and I were treated like royalty by representatives of that august institution. We were feted with meat-heavy banquets, tours and an organ concert and sent off with a bouquet of flowers; what’s not to love about a city offering that to a stranger?

Paris. Well, Paris.

DunhuangMy experience of China was one two-week excursion with the Oakland Museum Art Guild, which clearly makes me an expert on all things Chinese including its cities. So. While I loved the bustle (and the leafy former French Concession) of Shanghai, and marveled at the frenetic pace of both Shanghai and Beijing, Dunhuang stole my heart. Maybe because it’s been around since – oh, 2,000 B.C., there was something casually settled about Dunhuang. Everyone seemed to move more slowly, wrapped in the desert air, smilingly unconcerned with invading tourists, of whom there were not so many as elsewhere. When I asked one colorfully-dressed woman, through several bungled words and a lot of stupid gestures, if I might take a picture of her adorable tiny daughter, she grinned, pulled me to her side and insisted in a flurry of rapid-fire instructions to a passerby that he take a picture of the three of us, the toddler nestled happily in my arms. How could I not love Dunhuang?

I was in St. Petersburg at the end of a river trip from Moscow that had been pure joy and a time of revelation. But I had OD’d on castles. Plus, I really wanted to see the Dostoevsky Museum, which was not on the agenda for my tour group.Dostoevsky Museum So I set out on my own, equipped with a map by which I planned to count bridges and a total ignorance of the Cyrillic alphabet. My secret weapon was the ability to approach perfect strangers, point to my map and say, “Dostoevsky Musee?” in my most beseeching Southern accent. Six or seven instructors in I wound up with a polite gentleman who suggested, in severe Slavic gestures, that it would be best if he lead me there. I would never otherwise have found the nondescript entry into the apartment where the great man himself lived his last months, a small but remarkable museum that leaves one feeling as if Fyodor just stepped out for a drink. I was mesmerized by St. Petersburg.

Though I will always leave, and find, my heart in San Francisco, it can get a little fickle about New York. A recent visit coincided with the Twin Towers memorial lights of 9/11, and visits to two of my favorite museums in the world: the Whitney & the Morgan Library, and a stroll of the High Line from end to end and back.

Twin Towers Lights 9.11.19A discussion about New Yorkers could’ve been a discussion of city people anywhere. My New Yorker friend argued that his compatriots are rude and insensitive. I said, “I can stand at the top, or the bottom, of any flight of stairs anywhere with my carry-on bag, and within 30 seconds someone will appear and ask, ‘Would you like help with that, ma’am?’ Never fails. People are people, just more densely so in cities.

Oceans and beaches and mountains and parks remain full of wonder for me; cities are full of wondrous humankind.

Best city for geezers? NY lays claim

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New York City seems to be all aglow in being named by the World Health Organization to its Global Network of Age-friendly cities. As Clyde Haberman reported about the event in the July 1 New York Times,

“It makes us members of a club of people who are struggling, in their own and perhaps much different ways, with learning about and thinking about and approaching this issue,” said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services. “It’s really a lovely recognition.”

One reason for the acknowledgment was a plan that city officials and the New York Academy of Medicine announced last year to improve life for older New Yorkers. All sorts of ideas were put forth, on matters like transportation, housing, health care, job training, nutrition and cultural activities. To a large degree, it was more a wish list than a concrete program. But at least it showed that the city was thinking about issues that will only become more dominant.

Like other cities, New York has a population that is aging, if you will forgive a somewhat meaningless word that we are stuck with. After all, everyone is aging. It’s called living. The only people not aging are dead.

WHO says, of its Global Nework of Age-friendly Cities, that the problem lies with the fact that too many of us are aging and not dying.

Populations in almost every corner of the world are growing older. The greatest changes are occurring in less-developed countries. By 2050, it is estimated that 80% of the expected 2 billion people aged 60 years or over will live in low or middle income countries. The Network aims to help cities create urban environments that allow older people to remain active and healthy participants in society.

To that end, the Network got off the ground a few years ago, and now lists a few cities across the globe as having been accepted for membership. This week’s bulletin (excerpted above and below) lists the Big Apple as the first U.S. member, although the PDF of member cities also lists Portland, and one has to wonder how Portland’s going to feel about all of New York’s hoopla.

The WHO Age-friendly Cities initiative began in 2006 by identifying the key elements of the urban environment that support active and healthy ageing. Research from 33 cities, confirmed the importance for older people of access to public transport, outdoor spaces and buildings, as well as the need for appropriate housing, community support and health services. But it also highlighted the need to foster the connections that allow older people to be active participants in society, to overcome ageism and to provide greater opportunities for civic participation and employment.

The Global Network builds on these principles but takes them a significant step further by requiring participating cities to commence an ongoing process of assessment and implementation. Network members are committed to taking active steps to creating a better environment for their older residents.

A few years ago (2006) the Sperling’s Best Places people came out with a “Best Cities” list about which do the best job of caring for their aging folks. The “Best Cities for Seniors” study examined the state of senior care in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

“This is different from the usual studies of retirement living,” said Bert Sperling, the study’s primary author. “When we first retire, we have the energy for traveling and sightseeing. At some point, we will all need specialized resources and facilities to help us cope with aging. That’s what this study examines.”

This unique new study, produced in partnership with Bankers Life and Casualty Company, identifies cities that offer the best resources for less active seniors. The study analyzed nearly 50 categories such as various senior living facilities, comprehensive medical care, specialized transportation services, and a significant senior population.

Top Ten Cities for Seniors

  1. Portland, OR
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. Pittsburgh, PA
  5. Milwaukee, WI
  6. Philadelphia, PA
  7. New York, NY
  8. Boston, MA
  9. Cincinnati, OH
  10. Chicago, IL

Haberman takes issue with that ‘Senior’ word along with the ‘aging’ word. “What does that make the rest of the populace — juniors?” This space (an unabashed fan of Sperling’s #3 city — sorry, #7; but you’re my #2) concurs. But Great Geezer Towns probably wouldn’t cut it with WHO.

ADHD: A sometimes welcome diagnosis

“It’s ADHD, that’s what I have,” my friend Ann told me some years ago. She made the announcement with a combination of enthusiasm and relief, as if getting diagnosed with ADHD were the beginning of the end of years of anxiety and frustration — which, in fact, it was.

I had never heard of such a thing. I did know Ann was remarkably creative, that she often jumped from one idea to another, lost her house keys with regularity, frequently left things undone,  pushed herself to achieve and was famous for juggling three or four projects at once. By now, almost everyone in the country knows someone (or is someone) with a similar combination of traits, and almost everyone has heard of ADHD.

The symptoms of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder seem to describe half the people in New York City (and elsewhere): restlessness, impatience, impulsivity, procrastination, chronic lateness, and difficulty getting organized, focusing and finishing tasks.

How do you know you have ADHD, which experts compare to having a mind like a pinball, with thoughts flitting in multiple directions. Maybe you’re just overcaffeinated and overworked? And if you do have it, will there be a stigma? Should you try medication? Will it work?

Parents of children with suspected ADHD face a myriad of similar questions. But the concerns can be just as troubling for adults, whose ADHD often goes unrecognized.

An estimated 8% of U.S. children have ADHD, which is also known as ADD, for attention-deficit disorder, and some 50% of them outgrow it, according to government data. About 4.4% of U.S. adults—some 10 million people—also have ADHD and less than one-quarter of them are aware of it.

That’s because while ADHD always starts in childhood, according to official diagnostic criteria, many adults with the disorder went unnoticed when they were young. And it’s only been since the 1980s that therapists even recognized the disorder could persist in adults.

Even now, getting an accurate diagnosis is tricky. Some experts think that too many adults—and children—are being put on medications for ADHD, often by doctors with little experience with the disorder. Others think that many more people could benefit from ADHD drugs and behavioral therapy.

Ann considers herself one of the lucky ones. She was diagnosed relatively early (although the disorder undoubtedly caused a long list of problems that might well have been avoided) and settled into a drug regimen that has made life greatly more livable for decades. It does not appear she had other problems that often accompany ADHD, as Wall Street Journal health writer Melinda Beck explains in an informative ‘Personal Journal’ article this week.

Complicating the picture further, ADHD frequently goes hand in hand with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, and it can be difficult to untangle which came first. “It’s very common for someone to be treated for depression or anxiety for years, and have the therapist not notice the ADHD,” says Mary Solanto, director of the AD/HD Center at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. But adults whose ADHD is left untreated face a high incidence of substance abuse, automobile accidents, difficultly staying employed and maintaining relationships.

That said, some adults with ADHD are highly intelligent, energetic, charismatic and creative, and are able to focus intently on a narrow range of topics that interest them. David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airways, and Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, have spoken out about how the disorder helped them come up with innovative ideas for their corporations, despite their having done poorly in school.

“It’s amazing how successful some people are able to be despite these symptoms, and some people are totally paralyzed—there’s a whole spectrum of outcomes,” says Ivan K. Goldberg, a psychiatrist in New York City who co-developed a commonly used screening test.

Generally, ADHD can make life very difficult. It’s thought to be an imbalance in neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that relay signals in the brain, particularly in the frontal cortex that governs planning and impulse control. Children with the disorder, particularly boys, are likely to be hyperactive, with an intense need to move constantly, which can interfere with learning. (Girls tend to be talkative and dreamy, but they are often overlooked because they aren’t as disruptive.)

Adults more typically have trouble with paying attention, focusing and prioritizing. Managing time and money are particularly difficult.

“What it really is is a disturbance of the executive functions of the brain — it’s the inability to plan things, to initiate them at the appropriate time, not to skip any of the steps and to terminate them at the appropriate time,” says Dr. Goldberg. “An awful lot of these people are very bright but they can’t keep it together. They keep screwing things up.”

It’s that last line that gets the attention of us all. Some of us screw things up more often than others — and wonder if we could blame it on ADHD. Identifying, and treating, those who can is a bright-spot possibility of the future.

ADHD: Why More Adults Are Being Diagnosed – WSJ.com.

Will fatherhood change Rev. Billy?

It’s true. The 50-something Reverend is a new father. Rev. Billy and his gorgeous wife  Savitri, today welcomed Lena Nightstar Talen into the world. If you Facebook friend him you can see her photos.

You may not have encountered Rev. Billy. He is, however, worth encountering. Minister of the Church of Stop Shopping, occasionally the Church of Stop the Bombing or most recently the Church of Life After Shopping, Reverend Billy got out of jail in time for his daughter’s arrival. He was incarcerated (something that happens with some regularity) for creating a mountain of toxic waste from Appalachia and dumping it in the NY lobby of JP Morgan Chase in protest against their financing of mountaintop mining.

Rev. Billy, a performance artist AKA Bill Talen, puts his energies where his beliefs are in ways most of us couldn’t imagine — and certainly couldn’t pull off. He ran unsuccessfully but with gusto for Mayor of New York in the last election. Long before the gun folks targeted Starbucks the Rev was targeting them for driving out the mom and pop stores. (That particular campaign, which included preaching a one-minute anti-Starbucks sermon in every Starbucks in Manhattan, got Starbucks’ attention, prompted a memo to their outlets and resulted in a book titled after that memo, What Should I Do If Reverend Billy Is In My Store.)

The Rev supports equality, gay rights and everyday folks; he laments consumerism, corporate culture, destruction of the environment and other popular evils. His laments, though, are considerably more activist than most. This is partly because he’s gifted and funny, and mostly because he truly believes that one should stand up for principles that matter. Check him out. You may not agree with his passions or his methods, but you won’t be bored.

About those passions, what Rev. Billy wants most is a better world for newcomers like Lena Nightstar. He’s entertaining, but he’s dead serious.

So no, I doubt that fatherhood will slow him down. Congratulations, Savitri & Bill.

Abortion foes invade NY Metro

A new attack on reproductive rights is underway, this time on New York City subways. As if the Georgia anti-choice campaign linking abortion rights to Black genocide or the Polish campaign linking abortion to Hitler weren’t enough, now we have a soft sell campaign complete with well-dressed women ostensibly traumatized by a past abortion and downcast men who  yearn to be good fathers.  Come on, folks. Is it possible that (often poor, often desperate) women choosing to have an abortion have perfectly good brains, and not many of them have the man in question offering support?

The 2,000 ads, which straphangers (are now seeing) in nearly every subway station, depict either a woman saying, “I thought life would be the way it was before,” or a man saying, “I often wonder if there was something I could have done to help her.”

Many people, certainly including this writer, will have reservations about all this.

“The campaign suggests that feelings of sadness and self-harm are the universal experiences for someone who had an abortion,” said Samantha Levine of NARAL Pro-Choice New York. “And there’s no evidence to suggest that that’s true.”

“The organization behind these ads has an agenda,” continued Levine. “They aren’t seeking to help women — they’re seeking to get abortion banned.”

But Michaelene Fredenburg, who started San Diego-based Abortion Changes You (25 years) after her own abortion, says her ads are more about helping people than politics.

“I had an abortion when I was 18,” said Fredenburg, 44. “I had a hard time … I wanted to reach out and say you’re not alone.”

Fredenburg’s agenda could be broader than Levine suggests, or narrower, depending on your degree of cynicism. She has, surprise, a book. You can purchase it on her website at a 20% discount, for $19.95. Plus “outreach materials” that include cards ($20 for 250), posters (set of three, $50.) A disclaimer at the bottom of most pages says it is “not a professional counseling site” or meant to replace such, but you are offered ‘Healing Pathways’ to follow or other readers’ stories to read.

Fredenburg was 8 when Roe v Wade paved the way for her to choose a safe, legal abortion 10 years later. Had that not been the case, she might well have joined the uncounted thousands who died at the hands of back alley butchers rather than lived to create an organization. Contributions are invited, and purportedly tax deductible, although there is no mention of 501(c)3 status. Miscellaneous retreats (and the phone number of a suicide prevention hotline) are listed under the ‘Find Help’ button. Planned Parenthood is notably not listed, although they often help, and they do not force anyone to have an abortion.

I have no reason, other than it seems a great way to sell stuff and make a few bucks, to question Fredenburg’s altruistic intentions in founding Abortion Changes You. (PS, so does an unwanted pregnancy.) But if she is not in cahoots with those who seek to eliminate a woman’s right to control her own body, she is their tool. Should they succeed, women will return to a dark age that today’s 44-year-olds cannot begin to imagine.

When Fredenburg agrees to fight for all women’s right to control their own bodies, and to have access to the safe, sterile, legal abortion she presumably chose for herself, as well as to console others who have long-afterward regrets, I’ll buy her book.

Metro – Don’t look now: You may not like the ads you see.

Get smarter before the New Year? Sure you can

Scientific proof is limited. But this space, in the interest of staving off dementia while smartening up the general population, has been investigating recent reports on benefits of brain exercise. (One recent report in this space said crossword puzzles aren’t any big brain deal, which is mildly contradicted by the report below, which proves one cannot believe everything one reads online. Still… evidence is coming in.)

Doing crossword puzzles, reading, and playing cards daily may delay the rapid memory decline that occurs if people develop dementia, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers from New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine spent five years following 488 people aged 75 to 85 who did not have dementia at the start of the study.

Participants were tracked for how often they engaged in six endeavors: reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, having group discussions and playing music. Almost 1/4 of them developed dementia (that’s the bad news) during the study period. But the more engagement, the slower the decline.

Denise Park, PhD, founder of the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas and a panelist on the recent brain fitness segment of PBS’ Life (Part 2) series, argued against crossword puzzles in this space (Can You Beef Up Your Brain, 12-09-09.) The social component (think tackling a new dance step) of brain exercise, she and many others maintain, is critical. Or the multi-layered element involved in learning to play a musical instrument or taking up photography — Park believes those sorts of endeavors will always beat crossword puzzles and solitary computer games.

Now comes Kathryn Bresnik of ProProfs.com. Bresnik isn’t quite ready to assert that you can improve your cognitive function right this minute by playing online brain games, but she cites a recent report (by Mary Brophy Marcus in USA Today) that the movement is gaining traction:

Computer games have been inching their way into the medical world over the last few years and though your local hospital may not become a mini-arcade, experts say patients can expect to see more gaming in medical settings in the years to come, especially brain games.

That report covered a recent Games for Health Conference in Boston, which for the first time featured a day of sessions specifically focused on gaming and cognitive health, and presentations by researchers from such mildly disparate sites as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. (Pick which to believe.)

For the past two days, since being alerted to ProProfs.com, I have been sneaking over to their game page, doing things like the Family Word Search or the Quick Calculate math one. Being an admitted novice to computer games, I found it pretty nifty to have that little voice telling me That. Is. Correct. when I did something right, and presenting instant tallies of time and scores.

So, okay, I haven’t made it into the top 50 for this week, and the games I chose are probably designed for 7th graders rather than 70-somethings. But here’s the thing: Every day, my scores are just a tiny bit better. This seems proof, albeit slightly anecdotal, that I am getting smarter. You may want to give it a try. If I can get smart enough to embed the game that the site tells me I can embed into a blog, it will be done at a later date, and perhaps we can poll True/Slant readers for increased cognitive function.

One caveat: While you are doing computer games, you cannot be doing dishes. Or writing blogs, for that matter. Smartness has its price.

via A crossword puzzle a day may delay dementia – Aging- msnbc.com.

Moving Mom & Dad — into a Village

What about moms and dads who really don’t want to move?

The problem of where to go and what to do about housing in the sometimes not-so-golden years has an assortment of solutions for those who prefer (and can afford) the retirement community or any of the multitude of assisted living communities around. But for those who are bound and determined to stay put in the old house or the long-familiar apartment? A collection of obstacles begins to accumulate.

Enter the village.

Swiftly catching on around the country, aging-in-place “villages” are designed to help  members overcome those obstacles by providing a variety of programs and services – while the members stay put. The prototype was Boston’s Beacon Hill Village, founded in 2001, which offers “groceries to Tai Chi to cultural and social activities to home care.” Others have popped up in states ranging from Colorado to New York, Florida to Nebraska, Massachussetts to Hawaii.

San Francisco Village was the second, after Avenidas in Palo Alto, to get off the drawing boards and into action in California. Although each Village differs from others, SFV illustrates many of the attractions that are drawing in the stay-put crowd. The organization began with some local grants and individual donations, and is sustained now by annual membership fees.

Sarah Goldman agreed, after a good bit of arm-twisting, to be a poster girl for SFV in upcoming stories for the neighborhood’s New Fillmore newspaper. Sarah was among the first to join the organization, and in many ways typifies the village member-enthusiast: fit, active and fiercely independent at 80, she plans to stay that way as long as humanly possible. Her first move, as a Village member, was in support of someone older still and desperately in need of help: her landlady. Goldman could see that the landlady, who also lived alone, was becoming forgetful and increasingly unkempt – the distress signals that often propel seniors into care facilities. So she began by talking the landlady into joining also. This paved the way for calling in, with the landlady’s approval, a wide-ranging group of service providers: house cleaners, organizers, financial assistance people, personal care helpers. All had been vetted by SFV. Their help has now enabled both landlady and tenant to keep right on aging in place.

Goldman also quickly started a program patterned after one she had organized when working with an assisted living community. SFV’s play-reading group was an immediate hit among those seeking socialization and intellectual stimulation. Three necessities of life — social, physical and mental fitness — added to issues such as those dealt with by the landlady, add up to the heart of the Village. Members hope that by accessing things like this while staying on familiar turf their golden years may indeed stay shiny.

This one hopes that SFV membership will help keep the contributions of this space emanating from this laptop on this Sacramento Street kitchen counter for a very long time to come.