*Nov - Dec 2011 E-zine*

This Month's Highlights:
· Senior Reading Groups
· Oh My Aching Back (or Knee)
· Traveling with Others

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Many adult communities, mature individuals in neighborhoods, and residents of assisted-living and long-term care communities are creating senior reading groups or book clubs. These senior reading programs can provide many benefits, and the cost is minimal.

  • Reading is fun, entertaining, and a learning experience.
  • The mental stimulation that reading provides is one of the valuable tools in combating depression, isolation and loneliness.
  • These book clubs can become great informal social events, with snacks, discussion, and even some related activities that spark the imagination and encourage conversation.
  • Reading can even be instrumental in slowing the advance of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

While many senior living communities have libraries and some even have a book club, many seniors living at home miss out on the advantages of reading and discussing the printed word. Yet a reading group created by and for mature readers can easily be a part of senior communities, senior meal sites, even public libraries. One school we know of hosts a "Wednesday Afternoon Books and Tea" every week for seniors in the neighborhood. What began with about six individuals soon expanded to an average of twenty attendees.

The following are some thoughts on creating and using an informal reading group for elders.

Why a senior reading program?

Reading and discussing what we read is one of the best ways to exercise the mature mind. Mental stimulation far better than TV, it exercises the imagination. Reading and discussing what we have read can serve as memory triggers. Reading also forces us to think, process new information, and be creative ourselves. Reading provides topics for conversation, discussion, and our own storytelling. Sharing ideas sparks our own creativity, and this can be expressed in our writing, art, music, and open discussion.

Some of the Problems encountered

The success of the reading program will depend on more than just the reading material available; formatting of available material often makes reading difficult.

  • Large print is often necessary, The small print of a paperback or newspaper can be difficult to read.
  • The smaller size of a paperback or hard-cover book makes it difficult for arthritic hands to hold. Even newspapers can be awkward.
  • The length of paragraphs, chapters, and books themselves sometimes make it difficult to follow the story line.
  • The value of illustrations is often overlooked. They are helpful in following the plot of a story, and can provide secondary creative experiences.

Subject matter may not be relevant to mature readers

  • As we age and gain in wisdom, the concerns of youth and young adults may cease to be our major interests.
  • Sometimes the reading materials and activities are actually insulting to someone who has gained the status of elder, perhaps in their unwitting simplicity (or complexity) or references to technology that we may not be familiar with.
  • What we read can inspire, enlighten, encourage, inform, and entertain us; or it can depress, anger, belittle, mock, or insult us as elders.

Little reading material available has senior citizens as the main characters. Yet we feel emotions, experience romance, overcome challenges, and do great things with our lives, too. In most cultures elders are respected and hold important roles in the family. It is their work to tell the stories and to continue the traditions that guide the children. Unfortunately, our culture has given that role to television and the computer. Much of the reading matter available either ignores or denigrates our role. What if we made our elders the heroes in what they were reading? What if the stories dealt with issues, topics, and concerns of a life-experienced readership?

Designing your reading group or book club

  • We think of reading as a solitary activity with the individual responsible for maintaining focus, following plot and processing the information.
  • A reading group can make this a social activity with discussion about what has been, or is being, read. Reading becomes an opportunity to voice our opinions, and this is empowering.
  • When we discuss what literature, poetry and art mean to us, we give ourselves permission to think and be creative ourselves. This is also empowering.
  • With a reading club, the story, book, or article is only the beginning. The real value is what we put into the process.

Mechanics of a reading group can vary depending on the needs of those involved.

  • Reading material can vary depending on the interests of the participants and their ability to read and comprehend.
  • Large-print, easy-to-hold formats are often available.
  • Frequency of meetings can range from almost daily to weekly or monthly.
  • The length of time of meetings can also vary with attention spans and other activities available.
  • A comfortable setting is key, using informal, comfortable seating, etc.
  • Snacks and drinks are optional, but can help create a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
  • Activities relating to the story can be enjoyed.

Don't make it feel like a classroom, and NO TESTS! Discussion topics and conversation starters are great, but avoid anything that implies "pass or fail."

  • It's best if the participants make the decisions and suggest related activities.
  • Don't forget the value of humor! Laugh, share stories and enjoy the experience.
  • Too rigid a structure can stifle the group, the discussion and participation.

One of the ways to start a senior reading club is with books designed for just this purpose. Seniors Illustrated is an ongoing series of books with senior heroes and a format designed to be convenient for senior readers. Get a copy here.

Hank Bruce Petals & Pages Press 860 Polaris Blvd SE, Rio Rancho, NM 87124 (505) 891-1355

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A2. Oh, My Aching Back (or Knee)

Those aching joints we especially notice during damp or cold weather are generally caused by wear and tear, and as we age they grow more pronounced. Although they're not all caused by the degenerative disease we call osteoarthritis (OA), many of them are. Most adults over the age of 55 suffer from some form, to some degree, of osteoarthritis, and almost everyone has it by age 70. It seems to run in families, and being overweight increases the chances it'll affect you. Fractures and overuse at work or in sports and bleeding diseases such as hemophilia or disorders that block blood supply near a joint can lead to OA. Gout is another form of arthritis.

The most common symptoms of OA are pain and stiffness in a joint or joints. Pain may be present in the morning just after you wake up, and you may attribute it to "morning stiffness," which usually lasts for about half an hour after you get up. Some lucky people never have this symptom. Some seniors find that the pain increases with activity and gets better when they’re resting, and a fortunate few may have no symptoms, though the changes are visible on X-rays. Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but its effects can be moderated

Although many of us simply "grin and bear it," we have many ways to help ourselves feel better. The most common aids to our arthritis aches and pains are medications. The first line is generally acetominophen, such as Tylenol; it's relatively safe and inexpensive, though it doesn't lessen the inflammation. The second-string drugs consist of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which decrease inflammation as well as reduce pain. This group of drugs consists of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxin (Aleve). These are all over-the-counter drugs. Other drugs may be prescribed for you--stronger analgesics that may contain codeine or other narcotics.

Topical analgesics, those you rub into the skin where you have joint pain, may be useful, though it may take several applications before you begin to feel results. One type is the capsaicin drugs. These are derived from the natural pain-blocker found in cayenne peppers, and no, don''t rub peppers on your skin! Counterirritants such as menthol oil, eucalyptus or turpentine oil, and camphor oil, distract your body from pain (guess how). Salicylates originally came from willow bark, though they can be made in the laboratory. These drugs need to be used carefully; some people are allergic to them.

Other home treatment may include nutritional supplements, particularly glucosamine and condroitin. The building blocks of the cartilage that cushions the joints, for many seniors taking them as dietary supplements does reduce pain, though there's some discussion as to whether they help rebuild cartilage. If you take these supplements, you should ask your doctor about the right dosages for you. Beware of these two supplements if you're allergic to fish or shellfish.

Your doctor may prescribe injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid. These drugs, given into the affected joint(s), are related to a natural hormone and a natural acid already found in your joints which keep them moving freely. These injections can relieve joint pain and inflammation for weeks or months at a time.

Other natural treatments for OA include exercise and physical therapy, and these should absolutely be tried before more radical options. Water therapy is particularly effective in OA because when you move underwater you take weight (pressure) off the affected joints. Walking and bicycling are good exercise, too--and they help you get into better shape generally. Your doctor may want you to consult with a physical therapist to incorporate certain exercises to regain posture, balance, stability, and flexibility. If this is prescribed for you, try not to be brave and refuse it. It may be a most worthwhile investment, saving you much pain, and maybe some money you’d rather not spend on surgery! Weight loss is one of the best things you can do for yourself to improve your OA symptoms. Even losing a few pounds makes a difference in the amount of pressure you put on your joints, and it may help you avoid or put off joint surgery.

Now we get down to the nitty gritty: arthroscopic surgery and joint replacement surgery. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on television, but I do know something about arthroscopic surgery, having been its recipient a time or three. Surgery is not recommended for most people with OA, but eventually the pain may become so severe that it’s disabling. Arthroscopic surgery is done through a couple of tiny incisions through the skin into the joint. Through these incisions a scope is inserted, and your surgeon’s scalpel or an electronic knife excises damaged cartilage, and "floating" debris is flushed out. The type of surgery is often done on an outpatient basis, though this is not to say you’ll be feeling great right away-you won't, and you'll have to endure that physical therapy anyway. But the result isgenerally favorable, with no resultant pain as you return to normal activities.

Joint replacement is a possibility, usually performed on the knee or hip, though it's often used in other arthritic joints such as the shoulder or ankle. This, of course, is a last resort. Although the surgery is relatively safe, recuperation can be lengthy and painful, though patients are generally up and walking within a day of surgery and often only hours after operation. It's generally performed when you have severe pain that limits your everyday activities; when you have moderate or severe pain when resting; when you have swelling that doesn't go down with rest; when over-the-counter medications don't work any longer; or when the joint is deformed or swollen, or can't flex properly. Other indications for surgery might be that you can't tolerate or don't improve with prescribed medications, or that you need a cane or a walker to get around.

In joint replacement, the cartilage is removed from both sides of the affected joint and it's resurfaced. A prosthetic one, which is made of metal and plastic components, is fitted to the roughened surfaces. It can be cemented in or not, depending on the principal material of the prosthesis. Generally, people who have this surgery can return to normal daily function, including low-impact sports.

Remember, every person with this disease is different. The same treatments have different effects on different people. I hope yours turns out well.

Find additional Health information at

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1. So You Are Taking a Trip With Others.
There are a few steps that can make the journey more enjoyable and stress-free for all.

Begin by considering everyone in your party. There may be needs or interests that are unique.

  • Does there need to be time for shopping?
  • Is there some "must see" location?
  • Should a particular restaurant be on the agenda?

Have a discussion with each person to discover his/her thoughts and wishes. This will also provide something for everyone to look forward to during the trip.

The trip needs to be a reasonable one for each member of the group: the energy level of the trip needs to be assessed. A cruise may be what is called for, not a safari.

Obviously, health and age concerns need to be addressed. For example, the young and the old may prefer a midday rest.

Avoid surprises about the financial elements of the trip. Discuss with all the participants the expected expenses and any contingency considerations. Remember, plans can go awry. Illness strikes, work commitments may intercede, or the weather turns uncooperative.

While a lot of travel can be booked online, a more complex trip may need the help of a travel agent. The latter may be the case if party members are coming from different locations to a common meeting ground.

Find financial information to help fund your trip at


2 "Third-hand" Smoke
So what is left when secondhand smoke has cleared? "Third-hand" smoke, of course. This "smoke" is the cigarette byproducts that cling to smokers' hair and clothing, as well as to nearby carpets, fabrics and surfaces. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix. The mix may contain cancer-causing substances that could be a hazard to non-smokers and children. Inhaling, ingesting or touching these toxins may cause health-related problems. The full impact of the dangers is still under study.

As "third-hand" smoke builds up on surfaces over time, it resists normal cleaning. Such remedies as: opening windows and doors, airing out rooms, using fans, air conditioners, or confining smoking to only certain rooms, cannot eliminate the hazard. "Third-hand" smoke last much longer than "second-hand" smoke. The latter is the smoke and other airborne products that come from being close to tobacco products that are burning.

Find mire health information at:

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We present here some words from those with a birthday this month.

Nadia Comaneci - "I don't run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet."

Sammy Sosa - "A hit is a hit... any time."

Robert Louis Stevenson - "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."

Whoopi Goldberg - "I don't have pet peeves, I have whole kennels of irritation."

Georgia O'Keeffe - "Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time--like to have a friend takes time."

More "Thoughts" at:

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1. Long Term Care Choice
An alternative to a long term facility is a portable, modular medical home located on the property of a loved one. A 12-by-24-foot MedCottage, with technology and amenities for the health, comfort and safety is designed for the elderly or those recovering from illness or injury. The MedCottage can be purchased or leased and temporarily placed on the care-giving family's property. Like an RV, it connects to a single-family house's electrical and water supplies. The final layout was designed by students at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech as part of a senior design project.

The MedCottage features three rooms:

  • A kitchen with a small refrigerator, microwave, washer-dryer combination and medication dispenser.
  • Bedroom with hospital-caliber bed.
  • Bathroom with ample room to maneuver.

Some of the MedCottage's other optional features include

  • A video system that monitors the floor at ankle level, so the patient can have privacy, but a caregiver would know if there were a problem.
  • Pressurized ventilation that can keep airborne pathogens out, or for the purpose of sterilization.
  • A lift, attached to a built-in track in the ceiling that can move a patient from bed to bathroom, so that the caregiver can avoid heavy lifting.
  • Lighting illuminating the floors--stumbling over an object on the floor is the most common cause of falls.

Learn more at

Visit Housing Choices for a full look at all housing options

2. Save That Energy
With today's tight budgets, saving energy is one way to keep money in your pocket. Here are a few tips to help you along.

  • Unplug those chargers for the cellphones and other portable electronics. They use energy even when the gadget is not attached.
  • Minimize the use of overhead lighting.
  • Use motion detectors and timers to control when lights and heaters turn on.
  • Keep furniture and drapes away from register, grilles and radiators.
  • Do not run your vehicles when parked.
  • Use cold water when possible. Hot water should not exceed 100 degrees.
  • Capture as much sunlight in your home as possible during the winter. Open your blinds and drapes.

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1. Q&A Drives You to Retirement

Question: Why do retirees count pennies?
Answer: They are the only ones who have the time.

Question: What is the common term for someone who enjoys work and refuses to retire?
Answer: NUTS!

Question: Why are retirees so slow to clean out the basement, attic or garage?
Answer: They know that as soon as they do, one of their adult kids will want to store stuff there.

Question: What do retirees call a long lunch?
Answer: Normal.

2. In the Eye of the Beholder

Larry watched, fascinated, as his mother smoothed cold cream on her face. "Why do you do that, Mommy?" he asked.
"To make myself beautiful," said his mother, who then began removing the cream with a tissue.
"What's the matter," asked Larry. "Giving up?"

"Oh My Aging Funny Bone" is at:

This issue has been edited by Betsy Day ([email protected]).

Copyright 2011, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products, service and companies named herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders and are solely responsible for the content of their articles. Articles are included for informational purposes and are not an endorsement.

This Copyright E-zine may be forwarded to others only if sent in its entirety. Other uses are subject to written permission of the publisher.

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