2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,900 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Beware of Health Scams

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 19, 2014

Like millions of older baby boomers and seniors, some nights you just can’t get to sleep. It’s very late and you begin channel surfing. Does this sound familiar? Many TV viewers may ultimately find themselves, usually from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., watching an infomercial announcer pitch a health product or service, always claiming your health will improve, or that the aging process can be stopped or reversed, if you just purchase that bottle of dietary supplements, weight loss product, baldness remedies or sexual enhancement supplements, that home exercise machine, even register for a memory improvement course. The lists of products pitched on these paid commercials are endless.

The Vancouver, BC-based International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), a nonprofit group that supports professionals who develop wellness facilities, programs and services for adults over 50, calls on older consumers to beware of false promises and products with little health benefit. “Unfortunately, as people over 50 pursue this goal, many succumb to what one industry insider calls graywashing – claims that chip away at older adults’ retirement nest eggs with dubious promises of renewed youth and health,” says Colin Milner, CEO and founder of ICAA, who coined the term, graywashing.

There is No Fountain of Youth

According to Milner, there is no shortcut to improving your health. “Yet, people spend billions of dollars a year on products that claim there is,” he observes. “Many products also say they will turn back time,” he says, noting that the research shows these claims to be unsubstantiated.

Milner points to a statement by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institute of Health, which states: Despite claims about pills or treatments that lead to endless youth, no treatment has been proven to slow or reverse the aging process.” Be aware, warns Milner, as health fraud scams are abundant.

According to NIA’s Age Page, “Beware of Health Scams,” health product scams offer viable “solutions that appear to be quick and painless.”

As to dietary and weight loss supplements, American consumers spend a small fortune on potions claiming to help shed pounds, many sold over the counter. Be careful. Some supplements contain hidden illegal drugs and other chemicals that could cause serious harm.

The NIA fact sheet also claims that most dietary supplements are not fully tested by the Federal Drug Administration, a federal agency charged with protecting the public’s health. In 2014, FDA issued 63 Warning letters to companies that cited unapproved or unsubstantiated claims, tainted products or other health-fraud-related violations.

So, think carefully before you purchase that item. It is important to talk with your physician before you begin taking a supplement or using a health product remedy.

The NIA Fact Sheet notes that arthritis remedies, using Magnets, copper bracelets, chemicals, special diets and electronic devices, oftentimes unproven, can be quite expensive, potentially harmful, and unlikely to help. There is no cure for some forms of arthritis and rest, exercise, heat and some drugs, are the best ways to control the painful symptoms.

Health scams oftentimes target very sick people, especially those afflicted with cancer, in an attempt to trick people who are desperate for any remedy they can find. Buzz words to beware of include: “quick fix,” “secret ingredient” or “scientific breakthrough,” says NIA’s Fact Sheet.

Furthermore, weight loss, sexual enhancement and bodybuilding “supplements” are especially suspect, too, warns the NIA Fact Sheet. Some vitamins may help, but some supplements can harm people taking certain medicines or with some medical conditions. In particular, avoid those supplements claiming to shrink tumors, solve impotence or cure Alzheimer’s. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease at this time.

Milner urges older Americans not to be swayed by personal testimonials featuring “real people,” or “doctors,” often times played by actors who claim amazing cures. These testimonials are no substitute for real scientific studies, and can tip you off to a scam. In general, never purchase or start taking a medical treatment without first talking to your healthcare professional, particularly if you already take other prescribed drugs, recommends Milner.

Don’t Become a Victim of Scam

Be knowledgeable about the health care products you buy, suggests Milner, noting that the NIA Fact Sheet recommends that a person question what he or she sees or hears in ads or online. Always ask your physician, nurse, pharmacist or other healthcare provider about products you’re thinking of buying. Most important, avoid products that “promise a quick or painless cure.” Beware of claims that a health care product is made from a “special, secret or ancient formula” or it can “only be purchased from one company.”

Also, be wary if the infomercial claims the product can cure a wide variety of medical conditions or even successfully treats a devastating disease like Alzheimer’s or chronic arthritis. Put your credit card away and hang of the phone if you are required to make an advance payment or there is a very limited supply of the product.

“Science may be getting closer to a Fountain of Youth, says Milner, but, “we’re not there yet. “The pillars of healthy aging are simple. They include a sensible diet, regular exercise, good sleep habits, meaningful relationships, and engagement in life,”

A Final Note for Rhode Island’s AG…

The Consumer Protection Unit at the Office of Attorney General receives very few consumer complaints about deceptive health and beauty products, because most of these products are regulated on the federal level. The best advice they can offer consumers is to file a complaint with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB. Although these types of products are not regulated by individual states, and therefore the Attorney General has no jurisdiction over the sale of such products, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin reminds consumers that the age old tip applies when considering a purchase, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

One way consumers can protect themselves, says Kilmartin, is to “ask for medical documentation backing up the claims and to ask and understand the refund policies before making a purchase. Another way to protect yourself is to pay by credit card, not debit card. Many credit card companies will allow you to dispute payment if the product or service doesn’t match up to its claims.”

For more information about the National Council on Active Aging go to http://www.icaa.cc/.

FDA s created a new website (www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm278980.htm) to help consumers protect themselves from fraudulent health products and schemes.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Prominent Oncologist’s Death Wish at Age 75

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 12, 2014

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, Ph.D., a nationally-recognized oncologist and bioethicist, definitely marches to a different drummer.  While millions of older Americans pop Vitamins and supplements like M&M Candy, regularly exercise at their local gym, religiously jog and carefully watch what they eat to increase their life span, the chair of medical bioethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, says living past the ripe old age of 75 is not on his bucket list.  We would be doing both society and our loved ones a favor by agreeing with this belief, he says.

When I am 75…

Why not age 80 or even 85?  Emanuel admits that his 75th birthday day was just a randomly chosen number, but the year was selected because scientific studies indicate that increases in physical and mental disability occur around this age, as well as a decline in both creativity and productivity.

The renowned 57-year old breast oncologist is at the top of his professional game.  Emanuel has received dozens of awards from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society, including being elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Science, the Association of American Physicians, and the Royal College of Medicine (UK). Hippocrates Magazine even selected him as Doctor of the Year in Ethics.

Emanuel is a prolific writer, editing 9 books and penning over 200 scientific articles. He is currently a columnist for the New York Times and appears regularly on television shows including Morning Joe and Hardball with Chris Matthews.  .

The prominent physician, is also considered a key designer of the Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare).  At a personal level, he has two well-known brothers, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff, and Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel.

With this prominence, Emanuel’s death wish to die at 75, (the year 2032) before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and decreased physical stamina (it’s harder to walk a quarter of a mile, even to climb 10 stairs) is drawing the ire of critics who charge that he advocates for health care rationing and legalized euthanasia.

But Emanuel claims that these charges are not true.  Setting his death at 75 is just his personal preference, he says, leaving his mortal coil. In his writings and media interviews he notes that setting the age when he hopes to die just drives his daughters and brothers crazy.

Last October, at the BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit in Manhattan, Emanuel’s prop, a full-page AARP ad from a newspaper, featuring an older couple hiking above a line of text that read, “When the view goes on forever, I feel like I can, too. Go long.”  Reinforcing his point, Emanuel is not buying AARP’s message pushing the positives of living an extended life.  For him, he doesn’t buy it and most definitely, seventy is not the new 50.

Sharing a Death Wish on the Air Ways

On Dec. 7, on CBC Radio Canada’s Sunday Edition, Emanuel, discussed his controversial October 21, 2014 article published in the The Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”  His Sunday interview detailed his unconventional and controversial stance, especially to AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group, and aging organizations who strongly oppose this type of thinking.

Throughout the 28.12 minute interview with Michael Enright, Emanuel, he warns listeners, “Don’t focus on years, and focus on quality.”

“A good life is not just about stacking up the years and living as long as possible. People need to focus on quality of life,” says Emanuel, noting that “Setting an actual date for a good time to die helps you focus on what is important in your life.”

“It is really about what you are doing to contributing and enriching the world.  I want people to stop focusing on just more years, focusing on quality,” he says.

Emanuel says that you need to be realistic on living forever, your body and mind doesn’t  go on forever.  You should just be satisfied with living a complete life, he says.

By age 75, people will have gone through all stages of life, says Emanuel.  As a child you begin to develop skills and figuring out your place in the world. You go to college, raise a family, work to hone your skills and talents. At the later stages of your life you give advice and mentor people, he says, noting that in your mid-seventies, physical deterioration and mental slowing along with loss of creativity, begin to be felt.

During his radio interview, Emanuel claimed he is very active, recently climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with is two nephews, stressing that he is in relatively good health and doesn’t have a terminal illness and has no plans to commit suicide.   As a matter of fact, the physician even condemned physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, in a 1997 article published in The Atlantic, a policy allowed in the states of Oregon, Vermont and Washington.  His philosophical view of ending one’s life is to allow the body to age naturally, he stresses.

In eighteen years, Emanuel pledges to refuse all medical procedures and treatments, including taking medications such as statins, cholesterol lowing drugs, and antibiotics that could prevent life-threatening illnesses or extend his life.  He notes that his last colonoscopy will be at 65, to screen for cancer.  No more colonoscopies after 75.  And, he’ll only accept palliative care after that milestone age, too.

“I’m not suggesting people kill themselves at 75 but, rather, let nature take its course,” Emanuel says.

How Others See it

Emanuel’s personal preference not to seek medical procedures or to use medications at age 75 that might lead to his death is not the same as physician assisted suicide, says Rev. Christopher M. Mahar, S.T.L., of the Providence Catholic Diocese, noting that this choice has always been respected by the Catholic Church.

“He is not actively choosing to take his life, and as long as he is not rejecting any of the ordinary means necessary for the preservation of life, such as nutrition and hydration, and is not intentionally destroying his body, he is free to decide for himself, says Mahar.

As Emanuel says, there is a downside to aging.  My 88-year-old mother died after a 14 year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  At age 89, my father, whose quality of life declined over his later years, died suddenly, by having a pulmonary embolism.

For me, 89 is the year I choose to meet my maker, hanging up my spurs.  Yes, I will let nature take its course, but I will most continue to take Vitamins and antibiotics, even my Lisinopril, for high blood pressure.  I will not turn my back on medical procedures or technology that might enhance the quality of my life, even lengthen it.

I agree with the statement of late Actress Betty Davis stated, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”   There is no alternatives, you can only hope for nature to ultimately take its course, and it will.  And so, we all are inclined to pick our own magic number.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.

Conference on Aging Planned for Summer 2015

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 5, 2015

It seems that aging advocates will have many celebrations to attend throughout 2015. This year is the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Last July, the White House announced the scheduling this summer of the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA). This once-in-a-decade is an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key federal programs as well as to look ahead to the issues that will help shape the quality of life for older Americans for the next decade.

With Nora Super named as the Conference’s new Executive Director in July combined with its website up and running in October, planning for the event is gearing up.

A Look Back

The first White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) was held in 1961, with following conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. Over the past 40 years, professionals in the aging network have viewed these decennial conferences to be catalysts for development of aging policy. The conferences generated ideas and ultimately political momentum to establish or make significant improvements to many of the nation’s domestic programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Acts and even to Social Security.

The four-day 2005 WHCoA was geared to provide the nation’s73 million baby boomers plan for their decades in retirement. That year, Pre-WHOCoA Forums (listening, solutions and mini conferences) were held around the country, to develop proposed solutions to the challenges of aging and the Main Conference itself, ultimately resulted in 73 resolutions with 50 of them being presented to the president and Congress.

Ten years ago, Governors of all 50 States, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Territories, Members of the 109th Congress, the National Congress of American Indians and the Policy Committee, selected 1,200 bipartisan delegates. At press time, delegate selection details have not been announced. But, like previous Conferences, I expect that incoming Governor, Gina Raimondo, to have some slots to appoint. Stay tuned.

In the past, processes for the five conferences were created by federal statute with the form and structure directed by Congressional lawmakers through legislation authorizing the Older Americans Act. To date, a deeply divided Congress has not reauthorized this program, and the pending bill does not include a statutory requirement or framework for the 2015 conference.

WHCoA organizers say that without a Congressionally defined framework, the White House begins to plans, still strongly committed to hosting a White House Conference on Aging in 2015. The American public will be engaged and involved in developing the conference, they say, by utilizing technology, by using web tools and social media, can encourage the nation’s Baby Boomers and seniors to participate.
Super Takes the Reins

Nora Super, the executive director of the upcoming WHCoA, says on the event’s website, “the coming months will be a time for us to engage in a dialogue and build a shared vision on how to continue to maximize the contributions of Americans as we age, and how to advance priorities such as healthy aging, a secure retirement, accessing the services and supports older Americans need to remain in their communities, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect.”

Super, who has over 20 years working in the federal government, and a lobbyist for AARP and represented Kaiser Permanente’s eight regional Permanente Medical Groups, believes, “The White House Conference on Aging represents an important step in working to ensure that Americans throughout the lifespan have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, make choices about their daily lives, and participate fully in community life.”

According to Super, “the Conference is designed to assist the public and private sectors to be responsive to the needs of a diverse aging population and to promote the dignity and independence of and expand opportunities for current and future generations of older persons and their families.”
Listening session, beginning last July that will continue up to and during the Conference, have produced some common themes, including: retirement security; healthy aging; long-term services and supports to help older adults remain in their communities; and preventing financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect of older adults.

A Call for Participation

Sign up to receive regular updates and emails to stay informed. You will learn more about the planned WHCoA listening sessions, regional forums, webinars and opportunities for public engagement. Provide your thoughts as to what’s most important to you and your ideas for actions that can help to improve the lives of older Americans.

Don’t sit on the sidelines. Bring your comments to the table, especially share personal stories and life experiences about your aging, either from the frame of reference as an older adult or caregiver. Give your thoughts about the different federal programs that have enhanced the quality of your life or those family members, friends, and neighbors around you.

Last October, the WHCoA website, http://www.WhiteHouseConferenceOnAging.gov, was launched as a way to engage the public about aging issues. It provides regular updates on Conference activities, more important it serves as a way to easily provide your comments and input.

This columnist, writing for McKnight’s LTC News, one of the oldest trade publications covering the long-term care sector, covered the 1995 WHCoA for the prestigious publication. As a journalist it was an exciting assignment, to report on a national Conference that brought together aging advocates, long-term care providers, academicians, and researchers. This synergy ultimately would create formal resolutions to be shared with President William Clinton and Congress as to how to direct the nation’s resources and federal programs to better serve older Americans.

Summer 2015 kicks off the WHCoA. Hopefully, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs and RI AARP will be in the forefront to gather comments from Rhode Island’s Aging Baby Boomers and Seniors about aging issues and problems that impact them. Rhode Islanders must be at the table and have a voice at the nation’s most important aging conference.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.