Good news about memory loss…really

Photo: S. Cordier-Dirikoc/GE Healthcare

Here’s the good news: Some forms of memory loss are fixable.

There are people with memory loss who suffer, not from Alzheimer’s, but from reversible conditions that may be confused with Alzheimer’s. So read on and take a little comfort from this post….

Me, I don’t know of one person who isn’t afraid of getting Alzhammered. With this dementia,  you lose memory, lose who you are and who you were. In the later stages, you can’t even understand the present. There’s not one good thing to say about this disease.

However, there’s plenty to say about memory loss that may mimic Alzheimer’s:  First, there are several potentially reversible causes of memory loss and everybody should know them. Why? Two reasons: Because no one should leap to the conclusion she has a fatal disease such as Alzheimer’s just because she has problems with memory…and because these causes have the possibility of being fixed, unlike Alzheimer’s, which now has no cure.

And if a condition can be treated…well, then memory loss is not a sentence, but a symptom. So, if you think your memory is beginning to falter, consider these eight possible causes, none of them Alzheimer’s:

Eight potentially reversible causes of memory loss (Courtesy Mayo Clinic.)

1. Side effects of medications or medication combinations; 2. Infections, including infections of the urinary tract; 3. Diseases of the thyroid, kidney, liver and pancreas; 4. Depression; 5. Pressure on the brain from a hematoma or tumor; 6. Nutritional deficiencies, such as B-12; 7. Alcoholism or misuse of prescription drugs; 8. Something called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalaus or NPH.

(Actually, this last cause, NPH, isn’t normal at all. It’s excess cerebrospinal fluid building up in the brain.)

One more cause to ponder…low vitamin D

Just this month the Archives of Internal Medicine featured a research report linking low levels  of vitamin D and worsening memory. The study is probably the first in the world to look at vitamin D and memory decline over time–from the start of the study until the end, six years later. It tracked mental agility and vitamin D levels. The results were clear. According to the researchers: “Low levels of vitamin D were associated with substantial cognitive decline”. (Cognitive decline most commonly means the memory isn’t working well.)

Now, there are also very serious causes of  memory loss such as stroke, Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s dementia among others, but we’ll save those bad boys for another day. Here we’re just considering the brighter side of memory loss—the eight potentially reversible causes above. (If you are going to get a disease, make it sure it can go into reverse!)

If you want to swim out into this information sea on your own, a safe medical haven is always—a wonderful website about all the things we think are wrong with us.

And, as usual, if any of the above seems to apply to you or yours, discuss it with your health care professional. If he or she asks about your meds, remember that over-the-counter drugstore aids—such as those for sleep and allergy—are indeed medications.

And maybe pass on the information here with a link to this site, After all, how many people know that a problem down in the urinary tract could impact the geography between your ears? Or that getting low on sunshine vitamin D is linked to worsening memory?

But now you know and that’s a beginning. I hope this helps with any back-of-the mind fears you may have had about your memory.

Photo by Sean Mcgrath/Flickr

What’s a girl to wear when she’s not a girl?

What's a girl to wear?

It’s a mystery…what to wear when you’re a woman of a certain age.

Is anything clear on this subject? Yes, what NOT to wear. Smart women avoid the extreme ends of the style spectrum. On one end is teeny bopper style, with its short skirts and high heels, and on the other,  the stereotypical granny style with flowered housedresses and buniony shoes.

That leaves a big middle, which is how my own style pattern is set—Elastic Waist Couture, which embraces the enlarged middles of women everywhere. Smart designers such as Eileen Fisher and Chico’s incorporate elastic waists into many of their pieces. Today’s manufacturers make clothes even more comfortable by adding a 5% dash of spandex to the basic material. Clothes now stretch with us as we expand.

But we women look for style as well as comfort—or we would go round only in sweatpants and sweatshirts. Here are some brands to look for: Chico’s, J. Jill, Coldwater Creek, Eileen Fisher, Lands End and French Dressing, including their jeans line, FDJ.

A country girl, I live in FDJ’s Suzanne bootcut jeans in both black and denim. Stretchy waist, some spandex, slimming, minimum pop-out stretch at the knees after a day’s wear. FDJ are not cheap, but last a long time. They come in different lengths, but I don’t, so I buy their petite, aka short.

As for easy care blouses, look for Foxcroft—but not their 100% cotton which wrinkles—and anything made of a crinkle material. Chico’s offers crinkled blouses and skirts. So does J. Jill and, of course, many import stores offer nicely crinkled ethnic selections, especially broomstick skirts which actually look good only on those with broomstick waists.

Women who travel…

Easy care, slow to wrinkle, go with everything—those are the watchwords here. A woman can get basic black pants and tops from Misook. Misook, found at Nordstrom, is fabulous for travel, but the retail prices are high. Better to buy Misook pieces ever so slightly used on eBay. (I’ll post a piece later about how to buy excellent recycled clothing on eBay.)

Chico’s has a special travel line called Travelers (duh). The material is very shiny and tough. I just like their plain black pants, tops and ponchos for travel, but many professional women who travel like the entire line—all colors, all designs.

J. Jill, whose ads  say they are “easy, ageless, cool”, also has a line of hard-wearing, easy care travel wear which they call The Wearever Collection. And yes, I know Magellan and Travelsmith offer travel clothes, but one has to look hard to find a stylish piece. Too many hidden pockets for passports, money, iPods, binoculars and Mars bars to qualify as stylish.

As for travel purses, my favorites of all time are the cross-body offerings from Giani Bernini. There’s a compartment for just about everything. They are not huge purses—just usually 9″ by 11″—but I can fit in a wallet, Kindle, iPhone, earplugs, earphones, makeup, brush, pill box, pen, cards, fan, tissue pack, travel toothbrush, two cases for glasses, writing pad, keys, flashlight, gum for airplane descents, energy bar and even a small bottle of water.

And if you have an iPhone in your Bernini, you are also carrying your email, the internet, an alarm clock, a calendar, a weather report, an address book, radio, photo album, camera, calculator and as many 1000’s of songs you’d care to add in. (I’ve also added my favorite app, a relaxation tape by Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson, with his soft Scottish burr, can get me to relax while stuck on any tarmac.)

And maybe that’s the best thing to wear for travel—a relaxed attitude.

Some new things to look for when searching out clothes for the older woman: a brand called Iridium. They specialize in clothing that’s casual and natural. Some of their blouses have a South American flair and actually are made in Ecuador. I have had people want to take my Iridum blouses off my back. Well, that’s one way to shop, but don’t mess with my Iridiums. Check out their retail stores at

Last, I have zero financial interest in any of the above or indeed, in anything I write about in The Geezer Diary, though I do wish I bought Apple when it was just a seed.

Photo by akaporn/flickr

Shoes: no more little old ladies just in tennis shoes


What do women want? That’s the eternal question. And the eternal answer is shoes. They want shoes that are good-looking and comfortable, shoes that are used, not left in the closet as an offering to the gods of guilt.

Easy to say, hard to find, especially by older women who have given up high heels—instruments of torture—but who will never give up looking good. So where to look for shoes?

The comfort brands most commonly mentioned by my favorite older women are: Merrell, Mephisto, Ecco, New Balance, SAS, Clarks and Easy Spirit. Also mentioned are Nike, Dansk, Walking Cradles, Privo, Cole Haan, Seibel, Finn Comfort and Birkenstock. Some of these brands have perky style choices that do not remind one of orthotics and that can be worn with a slightly dressy outfit.

Of course, each of us has developed her own foot profile over the years, a little bump here, a tiny bunion-esque development there, so one shoe brand will not fit all. The smart thing to do is to try on and try on until it gets so trying that you need to take a mall break.

Those with problem feet will find all kinds of help at There you can look up shoes by the kind of problem you may have—say no arches or high arches. They also have an interesting catalog, but if you order shoes and they don’t fit, you do have to pay the return postage. Phone: 800.707.9928.

Zappo’s: A place to sink your feet into

I am not responsible if you get a Zappo’s shoe habit by going far too often to Owned by Amazon, they have the same excellent customer service and you can return shoes that don’t fit free of charge, no questions asked. They have 51,000 kinds of shoes right now, so something should do you. 800.927.7671.

Both FootSmart and Zappo’s have helpful online customer reviews.


Ladies who used to lunch

Vanilla lobster by Cristalart

In the days of yore, when women worried about glassware instead of glass ceilings, there was an entertainment called a ladies’ lunch. If you were trying to be cool, you even called it a ladies’ luncheon.

Women took turns as the hostess. Much was made of  napkin origami and molded gelatines of uncertain origin. This was the era of sherry in crystal glasses, lobster salad and petits four.

Outstanding hostesses put tiny shell guest soaps and linen hand towels in the powder room, which was not a euphemism for a WC because ladies did actually powder their noses.

After lunch, out of courtesy, the women asked for the recipe of whatever was served. They then returned home, filed and forgot the recipe, just the way we do today. (If you find a recipe in your mother’s handwriting circa 1950 for curried chicken salad with almond topping, she probably got it at a ladies’ lunch.)

Bridge may have followed the meal. At each card table was a dish of bridge mix. (Bridge mix is trail mix for ladies.)  Then there was a tour of the garden to inspect the progress of the peonies.

Ladies’ lunches were regarded  as important events. You knew because the dining room table was called into major entertaining action, complete with heavy protective tabletop pads and an ironed tablecloth. Ironed tablecloths—you can’t get more serious than that.

But ladies’ lunches are now on the endangered list. The last sighting was at Leisure World in 1994. Ladies’ lunches are dying, not because there are no ladies, but because brown bag lunches and hectic work lives have taken over. However, a turkey sandwich with sprouts is a long way from lobster salad and garden tours. Plus women still need a chance to socialize at their leisure, to laugh and to only slightly trash those who are not present.

Today’s solutions fit the present era. Girl get-togethers can now occur day or evening and they are: meeting at a restaurant as did Carrie Bradshaw; meeting at a bar, as did Carrie Bradshaw; and/or doing a potluck, as Carrie Bradshaw didn’t because it involved dishes. (Did her apartment even have a hot plate?) So the basic rule about today’s get-togethers is that nobody gets stuck in the kitchen.

But, if nostalgia overcomes any reader of this blog in a weak moment and you do give a lunch with lobster salad, I’m probably free.

Botanical wills: Leaving leaves to your family

Green comfort—that’s what I call plants. Somehow, they soothe and make me as peaceful as an old nun. Maybe human love for plants comes from some tribal memory at work, something buried in the DNA, a smart something that equated plants with food, with survival itself.

Anyhow, plants just knock me out and I’d certainly like to pass a love of growing things down to my kids and grandkids. But I ‘d like to pass on more than a tradition of caring for plants. I’d like to pass down the plant itself…to make a botanical will.

What plant is passable to the next generation? A Christmas cactus comes to mind. They can get old and gnarled, just like people, but they keep on keeping on, blooming year  after year–again, just like people.

My friend, Fred, recently put himself into assisted living and passed on his Christmas cactus to me. It now lives in the window over my desk, to remind me that I need to keep blooming, year after year, no matter how old I get. Fred still blooms–especially when he laughs, and he’s in his 90’s.

I named the plant Fred The Cactus. Duh! Maybe I can think up something more catchy.

Its flowers are red and actually a bit confused, because they bloomed at Easter. I hope to pass Fred The Cactus or some of his cuttings down to a third generation.

Anyhow, here’s Fred, in his 95th year. Thank you, Fred.

Avoiding the ER and other dismal places

Gravity will have its way with older people. We fall.

We end up in the ER with broken skulls and spines, smashed hips, fractured forearms, and so on into Crunch City. Falls seem so simple, it’s hard to believe that people die from them or end up disabled or afraid to go out of the house. It’s not as if we were taking headers from a trapeze. But it doesn’t take distance or speed to break important parts of ourselves. You  may not believe it if you haven’t yet taken a header, but falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among geezers.

How does it happen? Think rugs, tubs, ladders, curbs, wires, plant pots, steps, dogs, cats, sidewalks and anything we can’t see and don’t expect. I fell hard over a speedbump in a parking lot. Head up, looking for my car, I didn’t see the change in the pavement. Wham. Broke my sunglasses on my cheekbone and had a black eye the size of a sunflower.

And the statistics—imagine 1.8 million older people treated in ER for falls in 2005—well, they don’t tell the whole story. The statistics are just the people who swallowed their pride and took their broken wings to the hospital. But many more older people took a tumble, hid the fact and never made  it into the statistics.

You don’t have to crack yourself wide open

What’s hopeful is that falls are preventable, not a sentence from fate. Their causes are well known and can be avoided. Whoever you are and no matter what your age, fall prevention should be a lifetime skill.

Causes of Tumbles

Unsafe Conditions: Think throw rugs, loose cords, stairs with no rails, pets, bathtubs with no grab bar, ice and wet floors. That’s for starters.

Medications: Think tranquilizers, muscle relaxants and antihistamines. If those make you dizzy or out of it, talk with the doc about med choice and dosage. If you take many medications, bring them to the doc and see if any can be eliminated or reduced.

Alcohol and pot: If you are drinking or smoking to the point of unsteadiness or inattention to what you are doing, you are a candidate for a tumble. Ease up.

Reduced Vision: If you can’t see well, please get new glasses. If they are too expensive, put new lenses into the old frames—that’s if the old frames are still sturdy and your kids approve of your snappy geezer image in the recycled frames. Or go to a warehouse store with an eye care department that won’t cost an entire month of Social Security.

Lack of Strength: Legs can lose their muscle over time. One way to build strength is to get up and down from a chair. Up, down. Up, down. Sounds silly, but it wakes up the thigh muscles.

Meanwhile, only go horizontal if it’s on purpose.


Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Archives

So who is old? Evidently nobody.

Most of us think of ourselves as fifteen years younger than we are. So we are not old, but just traveling through the outskirts of age—maybe touching down in geezer country when there are senior discounts to be had.

I think this mind set is good. If you think you are young, your outlook brightens because you still have a future. Actually, anyone who is not ashes in a rose garden has a future. A wise older person acts on that thought, not only enjoying the day that is, but looking forward to tomorrow.

As for death, when I’m having a good time, I rarely think about death and when I do, I am happy that I’m happy before I don’t have a chance to be happy anymore.

Here’s how Henry Fielding saw it in the 18th century: “Happy the man, and happy he alone, who can call today his own—-He who, secure within, can say, “Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”

And to those who reply they are too old really live today, I say you are younger today than you ever will be again, so get going.

Mel got going under water.

The truth at last: How age really happens

Me, I was forever pre-old. Age was a distant horizon. I always walked toward it and never arrived. Well, that was the theory, but then my freckles began turning into liver spots. So I knew I had gone past pre-old into another life territory—the dewy dawn of the sunset years.

And the truth is this: how age feels is different from how it really happens. It feels as if some force lifted me up, threw me over the back fence into age forty, twirled me around menopause and stuck me down on the other side of sixty—the age tornado in action.

But age really happens bit by bit. It’s a stealth operation. You don’t know what’s going on. However, one day you realize you are living in geezer country and the trip was taken without your knowledge or consent. It was as if my body had an affair with Father Time and even my best friends didn’t tell me. Anyhow, here I am and I’m going to write about it so that others who find themselves past mid-life will have a buddy to help them over the hill, which is better than being under it, and actually a very interesting neighborhood of life.

This blog is part journal about the process of growing older and part insider instruction blog about how to do it all with grace, a sense of humor and without ending up on the obit page before your time.  I delve into the large issues—keeping health, wealth and meaning in life, handling retirement, sustaining relationships, deciding on legacies and all the other big things that grow more urgent every year. But I also dig into the nooks and crannies of aging—the tiny things that either reward us beyond their measure or annoy us beyond our patience. So this blog about growing older is wide-ranging—-from what you want to be when you finally have the freedom to grow into your real self to how to double-tie your shoe laces so they won’t come undone on the hike.

Or maybe you feel you’re not ready to hear any messages from the far side of life. When it comes to aging, you want to say: No thanks, I’m just looking. Fine, but it won’t hurt to take a peek here—just in case you do grow older some day.

If you want to know more about me, click the ABOUT section above. If you want to know more about yourself, keep on reading. It may be my life, but it’s yours too, at least in spots.