Checking Out of Checking In: Why Older Women Still Check Their Luggage and What to Do Instead

Yep, we all know that carryon luggage is the way to travel—no waiting in line to retrieve bags, no items stolen in the airport’s back rooms, no lost luggage or baggage fees. So why doesn’t everyone just carry on?

My guess is that some pack their carryons so heavily they can’t heave them up into the overhead bins, and so they direct their luggage to the belly of the plane, their suitcases then vulnerable to sky pirates looking for loot. And older women, unless they’ve been doing weight training, may find it especially hard to lift and shove 40 pounds of gear—the usual US weight limit for carryons—into the overheads, which may not even be empty above their seats. Someone else got the space first. Then too, people over 50 are shrinking in height, sometimes considerably, so the push upwards can be harder than ever.

A Modest Proposal.

Get a luggage makeover. Go small. Go low. Go under the seat in front of you. Luggage manufacturers now make small rolling bags that will tuck under a seat. No lifting and much lighter.

Well, you may say, a child could live out of such small bag for two weeks, but it’s not for me. Well, I used to have that Marie Antoinette attitude—I must have all my frills and accoutrements—but then I discovered L.L Bean’s Carryall Rolling Underseat Bag—five colors, free shipping, $129. (You can see below that I picked the plum color.) Paired with a tote/handbag that slides over the handle of the underseat bag, here’s what I now pack and this list does not include the clothes I travel in—jeans, wrinkle-free jacket with an iPhone in the pocket, comfy shoes and wrap for the plane’s cool air.

Roller bag ‘n tote

 What Can a Canny Woman Stuff into an Underseat Bag?

Almost the kitchen sink. Into my bag go five tops including a sleep-in tee/beach coverup, one pair pants, one pair capris, one caftan, one pair soft slippers, a rain jacket, socks, bras, panties, folding aluminum hanger, soap leaves, sink stopper, necklaces, scarves, sandals, swimsuit and folded Rick Steve’s Ciivita Day pack.

Most everything is rolled and stuffed into eBags Slim Packing Cubes so that like stays with like items. The whole bag packed with these things weighs in at under 15 pounds and that—ta-dah!—is the limit for carryons for many international airlines, so I’m good to go pretty much anywhere without checking luggage.

And What Goes in the Large Handbag?

Into the travel tote/large handbag goes a wallet, passport, tickets, iPad, Kindle, eBags Portage Jr. toiletry case, the required bag for small liquids, hair brush, 2 chargers, ear buds, water bottle, snack and sunglasses. I use an old PacSafe tote, but there are newer options out there, some by baggalini and Lug Life.

Note What Isn’t There

         I leave behind my laptop, hair dryer, anything that wrinkles, anything bulky, any valuable jewelry, books (love those e-readers), big bottles of shampoo and conditioner, bulky shoes, dressy clothes. I try to leave all my troubles behind too. It’s the psychological baggage that one always pays for.

Tips and Tricks

         If you are a fashionista who wants a different outfit every day and who wouldn’t dream of washing out her travel clothes on the road, then this system is not for you. If, however, comfort, ease of travel and the security of your stuff are high priorities, you might adopt the underseat strategy. A few airline seats have equipment under them in which case you can easily lift 15 pounds into an overhead bin.

The trick to getting all these items into one small case is to select lightweight clothes that are hard to wrinkle. URU makes great silk tops that you can throw in a washing machine, place under a sitting elephant and they will still look good. Ditto for the black Misook knit pants and jacket that will take me anywhere dressy with the aid of a scarf or necklace.

I can’t go anywhere without jeans—color me 90 and I’ll still be wearing them—but they are bulky and so the tip here is not to pack them, but wear them on the plane.

One way to encourage clothes to dry overnight is to wring them out, wrap them in a towel and stomp on the towel. Some wash their travel clothes by wearing them in the shower, but too icky sticky for me.

So, before your next trip, take a look at www.llbean.com for their rolling underseat bag and visit www.eBags.com for slim packing cubes, toiletry kits and totes.

See ya, but not in the baggage area.


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Posted in Mel on Huffington Post, Travel, What to wear | 2 Comments

7 Things to Know About Life After 50

1. The urge to cook evaporates. The urge to order out, go out and cop out of cooking takes over. After 50, there is no going back to four-course dinner parties. Those dinner parties now seem like dreams, a time long ago when we pretended we were chefs the way we all once pretended we were rock stars.

2. The achievement years are not over after 50. When it comes to creativity and getting important things done, we older adults are not over until the fat lady sings at the memorial service. (Proof: See resumes of Grandma Moses, Granny D. and Dr. Ruth.)

3. The most common word retired couples use at home is just one syllable: What? The most common phrase? I can’t hear you. Conversation attempted one room to another will not work, proving that, after 50, sound no longer goes through doors or around corners.

4. Grandparenthood doesn’t mean what it used to. Think role revolution. No longer does the word grandma mean rocking chair. In fact, over half of grandparents report playing sports with grandkids. No wonder. The average age of a first-time grandparent is 48 and while that may not be so different than years ago, what’s different is biological age. Today’s grandparents are in better shape than those 100 years ago. They are also more connected to what’s going on in the world. About half of them are still working, which means they have lives beyond the Bermuda triangle of age: the couch, the fridge and the TV.

5. People over 50 begin to care less about what other people think. To understand this on a life stage level, remember that babies don’t care what anyone thinks. Centenarians don’t give a damn either. It’s the years between when the pressure to be popular turns us into social wimps. But the good thing about growing older is that we begin the shed that go-along conditioning and start returning to our natural-born independent selves. By 100, we’ll be able to tell anyone to take a flying leap.

6. After 50, the most important attribute of a mate or friend is a gold-plated, very handsome sense of humor. Nothing works its mood-levitating magic like a good giggle, which is why sitcoms have laugh tracks, not cry tracks. And when you really think about it: If God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.

7. After 50, one can finally tell the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

Mel Now On Huffington Post

I will be posting occasionally on the new Huff Post site for people 50 and over. To find my work online, go to www.huffingtonpost.com and put Mel Walsh in the search box.  There are other ways to follow those columns, but frankly, since this is a brand new enterprise, I have not yet figured out how to use these methods myself to follow others on the Huff Post. Will let you know when I get a clue.

Anyhow, check out the new Huff/Post 50 under the Living section at the top of the home page. Bill Maher and other ancients past 50—that’s me—will be writing for it and for you.

Posted in Growing older, Lifestyle, Mel on Huffington Post, Retirement | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Growing Down: Incredible Shrinking Humans


CharlynW/Flickr

I don’t need a shrink because I’m already shrunk. Over the years, I’ve measured the ever-diminishing me. I’ve lost two inches in height and I can’t seem to find them anywhere except in a pair of platform shoes.

And I’m not alone. Just call us the incredible shrinking species. Humans are not pre-shrunk. They do it by living a long time. One study of more than 2,000 older adults concluded that women lost an average of 2 inches between ages 30 and 70, ending up with a total loss of about 3 inches by 80. Men lost a little over 1 inch between 30 and 70 and about 2 inches by 80—in height that is. No other male parts were measured.

Yep, most of us knew this without reading a study. We just had to look at our grannies as we grew up and they grew down, but it is nice to know that we are not likely to melt into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West. And if I end up three inches shorter at 80, well, I was always short near the end of the month, so it makes sense to be short near the end of the lifespan.

So where do the inches go? First and most important: the disks between the vertebrae in the spine flatten out over the years. Also, tummy muscles weaken and bulge out leading to rotten posture and the shortening of the human in question. Also, feet can flatten and the pads of the feet may get thinner which will make us ever so slightly shorter and ever so interested in shoes with thick protective soles. We walk around town looking like mountaineers who lost their way to Whitney. But me, I never met a polyurethane outsole I couldn’t love and take home.

Are there ways to fight gravity?

Yes, regular weight-bearing exercises help preserve height, meaning exercise on your bedroom trapeze won’t count. Israeli researchers, studying over 2000 subjects, found that men and women who engaged in vigorous aerobic activity lost only about half as many inches in height as those who adopted the couch slouch life in middle age or who never exercised at all. It will be interesting to see how the texting generation ends up at 80 with only thumb-bearing exercise. They may be small enough to fit in a shoebox.

Other ways to preserve height: Spinal surgeon Dr. Roger Hartl suggests doing all one can to preserve the disks between the vertebrae. That means improving microcirculation to the disks by avoiding obesity, smoking and diabetes, a trio I’ve come to regard as the three horseman of the health apocalypse.

Of course there are also the usual recommendations to promote bone health by adequate calcium and vitamin D. Any height loss that is more extreme, painful or faster than is common—see the stats above—should be investigated by a health professional. A bone density test may be ordered. And, just to cover your bases, it may be wise to bring up the issue of shrinkage next time at the doc’s so the fact of your disappearance gets on the chart.

If you have a primary care doc who is recording your height as well as your weight, give him or her a gold star. If that isn’t happening, use the old pencil mark on the door frame approach. It worked for your kids as they grew up. It can work for you as you grow down.

But don’t get into a funk over predictable height loss that is not associated with serious health issues. Humans in earlier ages didn’t live long enough to have these problems. The longer we live, the shorter we get. It’s a trade-off: life for height.

Who wouldn’t take it?

 

Posted in Growing older, Health | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Mirror, Mirror: Giving Up Those Face Patrols

I can’t tell you how to fly over the rainbow, but I do know one way to make yourself miserable as mud. Here’s how: Get a magnifying mirror. Then go on constant face patrol, a form of culturally-induced self-torture. Consult this mirror often. After all, you can’t wear out a mirror. Sherlock your face. Search for wrinkles, sags, spots, bumps, freckles too large to be cute. Look in other mirrors, too—-stores, restaurants, the backs of spoons.

WordRidden/Flickr

Use your critical eye along with a narrative, a story told to yourself that may run like this:

Gee, I am looking old. I have furrows like a Utah canyon. My chins? Turkey wattles. And when I smile I see crow’s feet, laugh lines, teeth not as white as whatsherface’s—you know that star with teeth so bright white her bodyguards have to wear sunglasses. Even my earlobes have creases. My ear piercing holes droop. There’s a hair poking out of my nose. Hell, even my tongue looks old.

And that’s the face patrol story as told to mirrors all over America: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the oldest of them all? It’s a story that resulted in over 31 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures in 2010. It’s a story that impels people to go to group face filler parties for injections—all together now, the housewives of Botox County—and to visit dermatologists, plastic surgeons, laser technicians, face scrapers, skin burners—all because the story we tell ourselves in front of the mirror makes us unhappy and we want to have a different story, one that will end with—You look simply fabulous, darling.

To Each Her Own Path

Not that I quarrel with people who decide to reconstruct the face or body. I don’t care what people do as long they don’t hurt themselves or spend the kids’ college tuition on butt lifts so they’ll look like Pippa. Their new bottoms are not my business and, anyhow, it’s not the way the majority of us greet age. An Associated Press survey reveals that only 1 in 5 Boomers has had cosmetic procedures done or would even consider it. So eighty percent of us won’t spend the time or money to go into a body shop.

Really, what concerns me are people who, whether or not they choose serious cosmetic enhancements, make themselves unhappy by going on constant face and body patrols, noting every flaw and sign of age, comparing themselves to Photoshopped images of celebrities, making themselves sad they are not 21 anymore. But why manufacture unhappiness? Why choose an avoidable downer?

Orin Zebest/Flickr

So what to do instead?

First—and this is obvious to the point of Duh—give your mirror a bit of benign neglect. Don’t go on constant patrols. Stay in front of a mirror long enough to brush teeth, do hair, put on makeup, check how the shoes look with the outfit—-that’s enough.

Second—realize that growing older is not an elective. Growing older is the core curriculum of life. It’s what we do and we can do it well, have fun and enjoy the pleasures of maturity or we can try to be 21, a game we will lose. (I don’t want to be 21 again. I spent it pregnant, throwing up and being scared of my mother-in-law.) If you think this is Pollyanna advice, know that I speak from positive experience, having left 50 behind in my rear view mirror along with pregnancy fears and teacher conferences.

Third—You may look older and so what? So what if you look older? Better than looking dead. Better than never having been born and missing out on all that is life. My strategy? I let gravity have its way with me, but still, as the years passed, I tried to look my best 50, my best 60 and will go on and settle happily for looking my best 100. And my standard for looking good is this: take enough care of yourself so you don’t scare people at the mall.

Fourth—Avoid peer pressure. Don’t hang around with people who make a lifestyle out of trying to be cosmetically perfect. If you are getting pressure from friends to go under the knife, tell them what they can do with the knife.

Fifth—I regret this as much as you, but daily exercise—even a 30-minute walk—lights up the body, the face, the spirit. It’s as if you swallowed a light bulb.

Sixth—If you want to look vital—not necessarily young, but vital—pay attention to your crowning glory. Condition your hair. People do all they can to be dewy of face and up-to-date in clothes and shoes, but they let their hair go dull—no life, no gleam. So condition after a shampoo. And maybe look into shine products made from Moroccan argan oil. Argan hair products are reviewed on Amazon, less expensive when bought online rather than in a salon. A tiny dab will make you shine no matter your age.

And maybe that’s the story here: there are ways to shine after 50 without all the expensive and uncertain cosmetic procedures, without the constant face patrols. And last, according to my mate, Cranky Pants: Nothing shines up a woman as much as her smile.

Mac Small (Cranky Pants) and Mel

Posted in Growing older, Looks | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The 3,000 Mile Umbilical Cord

It’s funny about umbilical cords. They were supposedly cut at birth and they don’t extend to grandchildren. Then how come I’m still connected in some ancient mammalian way to generations of my family even though they live 3000 miles away?

It must be a weird inherited thing. My mom had it too. She lived on the East Coast. I lived on the West. She checked my weather every day—did it rain on her child or was she having a nice sunny day? Ditto for my horoscope. Did Aries have to be careful with co-workers today? Was I going into danger with my love life?

Her connections with me were mostly through her newspapers, a paper umbilical cord. My umbilical cord is electronic. This last week I was mostly emailing family about Irene, The Late Great Storm.

NASA/flickr

Have you gotten out of New York City? Have you heard from Brian?

And I was a doofus over-50 texter, sending messages with arthritic thumbs: how clse r u 2 river? Sure, I used a cell phone too: just seeing if you are stocked up, just seeing if a tree came down, just seeing….

Maybe I’ll top it off tonight a quick Skype to view the faces that came through the heavy rains without sailing down a creek in an SUV.

Whatever form the cord takes—paper, cloud-lifted emails, clumsy-thumbed text—it’s the ancient umbilical connection to family. How are they? The eternal question.

And, no matter how old I get, even if I make it to 100, I’ll be checking the weather–each of their cities is already bookmarked on my weather site and on my iPhone. And maybe I’ll honor my mom’s tradition and check their horoscopes. (I don’t believe in them, but always believed in mom.) Will my kids and grandkids have a good day? Should they take on a new venture? Stay away from Scorpios?

So, you tell me: Am I a helicopter grandmother, hovering above family when the stereotype says I should be out playing bingo at the senior center? (Not on your life. Bingo tiles equal brain death. )

My guess is that I’m just like many out-of-work mothers, decommissioned by our children’s independence and rightly so. As I see it, I cut the apron strings years ago, but never the cord.

Mothers may age, but motherhood is eternal.

Posted in Family | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Size Matters: The Vitamin Pill Dilemma

I’m not a horse and neither are you. So why do supplement makers design giant horse pills that only Secretariat could swallow? Choking on the choices, we older adults with small throats have just one response to horse pills: Naaay.

Because size does matter, at least if you take vitamins and minerals, and that choice depends on what advice one chooses. There are two schools of vitamin advice and they contradict each other. Some say we don’t need vitamins. Just eat a healthy diet. Others say we do need them for optimum health because people don’t eat well.

Once again, we are left to flip a coin when it comes to health advice.

Erich Ferdinand/Flickr

If you and your doc come down on the side of supplements…you may still have the gagging dilemma to solve: How to take horse pills if you are not a horse.

Luckily, vitamins are made in chewable, liquid and spray forms., but liquids can be expensive. With that in mind,  I searched Amazon and found the edible, non-liquid products below.

(I have no financial interest in these and I’m not a doctor. I just found some products that work for gaggable me and thought they might interest readers with the same issue.)

So here are a few chewable or small-sized contenders:

Centrum Silver,  Citrus Berry Multivitamin, Multimineral Chewables. If your doc says you need calcium, this pill will give you just 20% of the established value, but, on the other hand, this one chewable product covers many nutritional bases.

Omega-3 Easy-to Swallow, Ultra-Pure Fish Oil Supplement, Natural Lemon Flavor.  Dr. Andrew Weil recommends fish oils that are molecularly distilled—the bad stuff taken out—and these small gel capsules are so purified. The lemon flavor matters if you bite down instead of swallow whole.

Bluebonnet Earth Sweet Chewable Vitamin D3, 2000 IU, Natural Raspberry Flavor. If you’re up on nutrition advice, you know that Vitamin D3 is a current star. These little gems are quite tasty.

Enzymatic Smart Q10, 100 mg Chewable Tablets. My doc recommends this enzyme. The Mayo Clinic says the jury is out. Still another advice conflict. Maybe I should chew just half.

Those of you struggling with calcium horse pills have probably found a solution by now as the chewable and liquid forms are readily available. Some of the supplements featured above, though, are hard to find except on Amazon, where the price is usually a bargain and you can read the consumer reviews before ordering. You might also want to run your supplements by a physician or nutrition guru, but only if they are not selling the stuff. (My suspicion runs deep.)

Last…Some of you were kind enough to notice I’ve taken time off from blogging. After writing hundreds of columns with no break, I needed a mini-sabbatical to recharge.

Sandra Forbes/Flickr

But I have steam up in the boiler again—the little blogger that could—and I hope I’ll be seeing you here at http://www.geezerdiary.com.

Posted in Health | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

For geezer orphans: Mother’s Day is never over

Photo/Ralph Daily

There’s always a way to say thanks to mom, even after she’s gone. Here’s one surprising idea , a way to keep the special day alive by adding a new phase to the celebration…

 When my mother graduated from the planet in her old age, I missed celebrating her special day. What was Mother’s Day without a mother?  Does the party have to end when mother is gone? Why not a further stage to the family celebrations?

For Mother’s Day does have its stages. The recognition typically begins when young moms post crayoned Mother’s Day cards on the refrigerator—the frame of fame in every home. And dad throws in a nightgown to fatten the offerings. That’s the pre-school stage.

Then there’s the pancake era. The kids, now older, make breakfast for mom, served in bed, crumbs in the sheets, the tray decorated by dandelions in old pickle jars. As the years pass, the flowers come from the florist and the pancakes evolve into an Eggs Benedict brunch, payment in Hollandaise and Mimosas for another year of motherhood.

But then what? What happens when mom is no longer there, but the gratitude lingers on? I knew I couldn’t just park my mood at sad when Mother’s Day rolled around after my mom died. No place for sad with my mom. She was a show business performer and the smile must go on. So I had to think of something else to do other than mope and complain I’m an orphan.

But what?

Inviting Mom to Dinner

I once read that the ancient Greeks set a place at the table for their favorite god, even though they knew the god wouldn’t show up. And it’s true that even today some cultures offer treats for the departed, sometimes on the anniversary of a death, sometimes during special holidays such as Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which sounds gruesome, but isn’t. Music, food, decorations—it’s a holiday in Mexico to honor the spirits of the departed.

So why not mom and me? If other cultures enjoyed social occasions with people who used to be, why not a little party to honor mom on her day? So my man and I set a table for four—-places for him, his mom, me and my mom—both mothers long gone to the spirit world.

I fixed my mom’s favorite meal—Shrimp Scampi—and hoped his invisible mom would like it because I wasn’t making two main courses for one meal. (Two ghosts, but just one special recipe—my new rule.)

Photo/blue.tofu

We lit candles and we raised our glasses to the memory of those lovely ladies. We told each other stories about our mothers—how one thought the solution to all troubles was to put on lipstick—Revlon’s Fire and Ice—and how the neighborhood kids would come over, not to see us, but to see our moms.

So it was dinner for four, leftovers for two and lots of family stories. Sweet nostalgia for dessert. What could be better?

For us, it’s a new tradition, a forever stage to Mother’s Day celebrations. And anybody who thinks I’m silly—putting out food for invisible people—should remember who used to put out milk and cookies for Santa.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Mel Walsh is a columnist, a gerontologist and the author of four non-fiction books, the most recent, HOT GRANNY, Chronicle Books, advice for older women. 

Posted in Family, Food & Recipes | Tagged | 7 Comments

End of days: Why cats have it better than we do

Highly recommended: Free emailed posts from The Writer’s Almanac—a new poem a day and the kind of poetry a person can understand.

Photo/Isaac Wedin

Here’s today’s poem about the end of cats and the end of people–right on the money from Marge Piercy’s book, The Hunger Moon.  If you want to sign up for a daily hit of poetry, google Writer’s Almanac. There’s a choice to listen to these or read them. I read. You do what you want….it’s the geezer’s mantra.

End of Days

by Marge Piercy

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you—
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise—sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover’s arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning’s hum.
I want to click the off switch.
And if I can no longer choose

I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

“End of Days” by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980 – 2010. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Note from Mel: You can also get Piercy’s poems on your Kindle…Amazon link above.

Posted in Growing older, Over 80, Philosophy | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Are you autoliterate?: What older people need to know about the new cars

We’ve all heard about the reduced skills of older drivers: We’re less flexible so we can’t swivel our necks to see backing up. Our reflexes are slower and we’re more likely to get in accidents–blah, blah. Still, it is the truth that we are no longer in shape to start careers as race car drivers.

But and however, a whole slew of safety and convenience features are now available in many cars with more due out later this year and in 2012. Not that a bad driver can now get away with stupid maneouvers, but these inventions can help all of us drive more safely and perhaps be less up tight behind the wheel.

Each car brand has its own name for these features and not all cars have all of them. You have to do your own detective work about brands and versions, but here’s a generic description of the features that appeal to this geezer:

Quick stop protection from rear-ending a car in slow city traffic: I tested this quick stop feature at a Volvo dealer. If the car is going 19 mph or less and it senses you are about to crash into another, it brakes and stops. No big jarring with this feature since it only works at low speeds and natch, you have a seat belt on. But a nifty way to avoid fender benders.

Backup cameras: Either on a separate screen or as part of the rear view mirror, these allow drivers to see clearly what’s behind as they back up. Actually, a great feature for all ages.

Back-up audio warnings: These beeps let a driver know how close he or she is to hitting another object. Accompanied by visual warnings on a screen in the dash. Same for forward motion.

Lane assist: This feature lets you know if you are straying out of your lane. Should stop the perpetual weavers who can’t seem to keep their vehicles between the lines.

Smart air bags: Not only are there more airbags on the newer cars—side, some knee bags and so forth—some manufacturers have sensors that tell the size and weight of the seat occupant and adjust the bags accordingly. Ford calls this an “occupant classification system”.

Navigation systems: Yeah,  you’ve probably had your portable Garmin giving directions forever, but I’ve hated ours sitting loose on the dash. (We should have secured it.) So cars with a built-in navigation screen seem safer and more convenient to me, though some say it’s silly to buy an expensive built-in nav system when you can just buy a much cheaper portable system. Whatever works to get you where you want to go, but older drivers who are feeling insecure about direction may enjoy having any talking nav system as a driving partner, especially one with a cute Australian accent, Cranky Pants’ current electronic love on the Garmin choice-of-voice list.

Electronic stability control: You know about anti-lock brakes and such, but the latest in safety engineering is electronic stability control or ESC. Each brand seems to have it own name for this feature. It prevents panic under-steering or over-steering and applies the brake to the appropriate wheel if a driver begins spinning or plowing.

Built-in Bluetooth: I don’t know of one older person who can make his or her portable Bluetooth work reliably in a car for cell phone calls. Maybe the built-in version will be better.

Seat belts that adjust to your height: What little old lady in driving shoes has not felt choked by a seat belt that only adjusted around the lap, but not for her height? Look up to the side of the car where the belt emerges above the head to see if yours is adjustable. This isn’t a deal breaker when it comes to picking out a car, but as someone who was hit so hard in the chest by a seatbelt in a collision that she later got a tumor (benign) where the belt cut into flesh, I would hate to think what a non-adjustable seatbelt could do to a small person’s throat in an accident.

Over-all safety concerns: You can still look to the testing done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety as well as articles in Consumer Reports on the behavior of various makes and models during crash tests. Here are the 2011 crash test results from the IIHS: http://www.iihs.org/

Fave Feature: The new Ford C-Max van—out later this year—has a rear hatch that will lift if you just wave a foot under the rear bumper. No hands! You do have to have the car key in your pocket. Here’s a video of the magic:

http://bit.ly/dXmUuT

Other issues: Older adults contemplating new cars need to get up to speed on the green car developments: the industry is going hybrid. The Prius is the best-selling hybrid, but the number of clean and green offerings is growing. One way to keep up is to check out www.cleanfleetreport. Before you go totally electric,  remember that power outages are common and that the electricity comes from a power plant that could be coal or nuclear. I hate to depend on gas, but I hate to depend on the grid.

I want a car that is powered by the motion of its own wheels. Engineers who are present: Isn’t this possible? Or I’ll plug my car into my rooftop solar array or the little wind mill on the garage.

Now if only there were windmill and solar lobbyists with big bucks to bribe–I mean lobby—lawmakers.

Photo of Prius courtesy of Roger H. Goun/Flickr

Posted in Growing older, Health, Lifestyle, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Alzheimer’s–New Research Suggests Trouble Starts in the Liver, Not the Brain

If True, It May Be An Open Door To New Treatments With The Liver As Target

Recent research suggests the amyloid protein making up the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s Disease may start in the liver and be moved by the blood stream to the brain. At least that’s the theory put forth by research investigator, Greg Sutcliffe, at Scripps Institute in La Jolla, CA.

The findings surprised the investigator who used sophisticated methods of identifying genes that protect against beta amyloid and detecting where in the bodies of mice those genes were produced. Results suggested that some of the genes that controlled AD were, against almost all current medical opinion, produced in the liver and not the brain.

If the Scripps research is confirmed by others, it will open the door to new studies directed at the liver, possibly testing already existing drugs such as Gleevec, now used for leukemia and tumors, but used in this research on mice to “dramatically” reduce the beta amyloid in the mouse brains and blood.

Read that last sentence again: an existing drug dramatically improved the physical evidence of Alzheimer’s in mouse brains. If the Scripps findings are confirmed by other researchers, this line of thinking might continue into human trials and then into real world treatment. We’ll wait and see, but keep an eye out for more on the liver-Alzheimer’s connection.

As with any news that upsets known apple carts, the old guard is often suspiscious of new findings and sometimes rightly so. But sometimes not. Whatever the truth in this case, William Theis, chief medical officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, was not optimistic and is quoted as saying: “You could have any number of reasons (a treatment that targets the liver) might fail”.

Me,  I’m betting  more studies will target the liver. In fact, researchers at UC Irvine have been looking at the role of DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid,  in the liver and its connection to Alzheimer’s. Also focusing on the liver a few years ahead of these findings were some family members  on Web-based medical bulletin boards! Good for them.

(Ordinary people dealing with medical issues are not bound by received professional opinion. Their brains don’t live in content cages.)

Brains in cages

Here’s a link to Scripps with much more scientific detail: http://bit.ly/i9OTiC

The take-home from Scripps: Maybe we’ve been barking up the wrong tree. Maybe the answer will be found in teeny mouse livers. And then in ours. Stay tuned. I’ve got a Google alert on Alzheimer’s and livers, so I’ll post as new findings come in.

Best from Mel Walsh

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Brains in Cages: Photo by Kevin Hutchinson/Flickr

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