Thursday, January 31, 2013

Where Did Your Memory Go?

Has someone in your family asked why you are repeating the same question that you asked ten minutes earlier?  Are you surprised when it's hard to call up the birthday of one of your adult children?  Have you faced the embarrassment of forgetting the names of persons who just introduced themselves to you?

You are not alone. 

The Journal, Nature Neuroscience, published recently some information about what is happening to our aging brains.  Apparently structural changes in our brain occur over the course of our lives.  These changes interfere with our capacity to sleep which in turn reduces the capacity of our brain to store our memories for the long term. We need sleep to consolidate our memories.  Without it, we older persons have trouble remembering.

What can be done about this frightening situation? Scientists need to find ways to improve our sleep patterns -- particularly the "slow wave phase" that makes up about a fourth of our sleep time.  The quality of our sleep is affecting our memory.  As we age, the part of our brain behind the forehead is shrinking; this is called "natural atrophy." Due to this shrinkage, older persons get lower quality sleep. And the aging brain is unadequate to process our newly gathered information. .. . so that we remember it.

What, if anything, can we do about it? More later on this blog. 

Susanne Paul
Global Action on Aging

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Research Focus on LGBT Seniors

Today people with HIV are living well past their 50s. They are aging alongside other LGBT baby boomers, many of whom have been out of the closet for decades and are demanding services as they enter retirement age.

The result is an increased effort to study LGBT seniors and address their concerns. Both the National Institutes of Health and AARP have funneled research resources toward LGBT adults.

Early last decade, Rainbow Research, an LGBT interest group, emerged within the Gerontological Society of America.  It  also took part in 2006 and 2010 in a Met Life study focused on LGBT seniors.

Researchers first looked at the needs of 1,000 LGBT baby boomers. A follow-up study then compared 1,200 LGBT boomers against 1,200 from the general population.

"It was one of the very few studies that allowed us to compare LGBT people with heterosexuals," a researcher pointed out.

One of the lead authors of the Met Life study, and a co-founder of the Rainbow Research group, was Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Washington and director of the Institute for Multigenerational Health.

Fredriksen-Goldsen, 55, an out lesbian, also received funding in 2009 from the NIH and the National Institute on Aging to conduct a national survey on the needs of LGBT seniors. More than 2,500 LGBT adults ranging in age from 50 to 95 took part.
Why wasn't funding earlier in coming? Fredriksen-Goldsen explains, "A lot of it has been just very rampant invisibility colliding with the stereotype that LGBT people aren't seniors."

Her latest project is to study the specific needs of LGBT seniors in San Francisco. Her first task was to study the responses from 295 San Francisco residents who took part in the federally funded Caring and Aging with Pride research project. She was in San Francisco recently to present her findings.  A report based on her work can be downloaded from the task force's website at .

Most of the respondents, some 85 percent, were white, and 70 percent were male. The majority lived alone, didn't have children, and were renters. More information is needed on LGBT seniors of color and transgender people, said Fredriksen-Goldsen.   The task force plans to put particular focus on reaching LGBT adults in those communities when it launches the online survey, which will be in English, Spanish, and Chinese, in late February. It plans to prepare a final analysis by July.

"I haven't had an opportunity before to work as closely and go into the kind of depth as we are going to go in San Francisco," said Fredriksen-Goldsen. "We really want to understand what is happening within very specific communities among LGBT adults.
For more specific information, check out the link above for greater details.  And, please comment.
Susanne Paul
Global Action on Aging





Sunday, January 27, 2013

Assisted Suicide -- An Ethical and Legal Dilemma

January 27, 2013

California newspapers recently covered a poignant event that took place near San Luis Obispo.  A park ranger stopped an older man as he left the beach parking lot after closing time. The man, George Taylor, 86, had cuts around his neck and on his wrists. He was disoriented and there was a body in the back seat with a plastic trash bag cinched around its neck. The man said that he and his wife, who was 81 years old, had a suicide pact.  He said that he had "failed." 
"Is that a mannequin?" the ranger asked, scanning the car with his flashlight.
Taylor said that it was his wife, 81-year-old Gewynn Taylor, and that she had been dead since the sun went down. He and Gewynn, his wife of 65 years, had a suicide pact, he said, and he had failed. The news writer asks the difficult question that many would raise, "Where does justice lie for those who, with no apparent motives other than love, help family members fulfill their last wishes and end their lives?" 

California prosecutors have decided not to bring charges in similar cases. In other instances, assisted suicide convictions can result in light sentences. Recently an Orange County social worker received three years' probation for a final meal--Oxycontin crushed into yogurt-- to an 86-year-old veteran who wanted to end his life.

Both George and Gewynn Taylor had been active in local causes and were acquainted with the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the doctor who advocated euthanasia.   George Taylor, who was charged with the illegal act of assisting suicide, pleaded guilty last month. The Judge, Ginger E. Garrett,  sentenced him to two days in jail — time that he had already spent jail following his arrest.

At his hearing, the news reporter wrote that the soft-spoken, slender Taylor, a retired Los Angeles firefighter, expressed gratitude but had no further comment.  Overall, the State lowered the charges and the judge showed sympathy. The reporter learned that the couple had informed their daughter of their agreement.  "There was nothing wrong with their thinking. They were active people who always promised one another that if they couldn't lead their lives the way they felt they should, then that would be the end of it."
What do you think about the Taylors' pact?  Do you agree with the judge's decision?  Should the State have prosecuted?  Was mercy shown? Please send your comments.
Susanne Paul for Global Action on Aging



Friday, January 25, 2013

Hiding HIV/AIDS in Liberia

January 25, 2013

Dear Global Action on Aging Friend,

More than half of new HIV cases in Liberia go untreated today.  Why?  According to, "stigma, discrimination and difficulty in reaching health clinics" prevented over 15,000 persons with the disease from getting treatment.  Social issues undercut treatment.  How?  AIDS Program managers explain that when someone gets AIDS, their community, family and even employers will "isolate" them.  And how many Liberians are facing this stigma?  A recent health survey pointed out that "1.5% of Liberia's 3.5 million people are HIV-positive, with 60% being women and girls."  We can be certain that older persons figure among the victims of this dread disease. 

What can be done to turn this situaiton around?  Surely the upcoming meeting of the Commission on that Status of Women at the United Naitons should discuss this issue and develop strategies for addressing this growing epidemic.  Please comment. 

Susanne Paul
Global Action on Aging

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Japanese Minister says Old Citizens cost too much!

Dear Global Action on Aging Friends,

The UK Guardian newspaper reports on Taro Aso, the new Japanese finance minister, who says that elder Japanese citizes are draining the country's finances (January 22, 2013).  He's quoted as saying, "The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die."  Aso also refers to people who receive end of life care as "tube" people who use up the country's resources.

The Japanese government recently reduced its welfare expenditure, a measure that will go into effect in April.  Japan is home to many old people, about 40% are over 65 years old.  (Many would consider this a success story for the nation.)  However, many elders live and die alone.

Is caring for elders a social obligation . . . or are older people excess human "baggage" for the society?  What do you think?  Please send in your comments.

Have a good day! 

Susanne Paul for Global Action on Aging

Monday, January 21, 2013

Age Discrimination in the Netherlands? Read on!

Dear GAA Friend,  Our long-time aging activist friend, Marya Pijl, describes how the Dutch government is taking actions that will hurt its older citizens. A decade ago, many of us looked to the Netherlands as a leader, encouraging citizen involvement in designing and instituting progressive aging policies. Here's what Marya has to say about the present situation:

I wish there were demonstrations here, but my guess is that most older people don’t have the slightest idea what is coming over them. They will only find out when it is too late. The government does not inform us until after the laws, introducing the changes, are passed and the unions of older people and patients only write polite policy papers and publish them on their website, and then think they are doing a great job.
My latest discovery has been that the national government actively practices age discrimination. The premium we still have to pay for the long-term care insurance (AWBZ) in 2013 has risen to 12.65% of one’s income up to the amount of € 33.363 for those who were born after 1945 and up to the amount of € 33.555 for those who were born before that date. The difference is not much, but the principle is entirely wrong. Now that this principle seems to be accepted, the difference in premium for the two age groups can, probably without much opposition, be further extended and it is easily imaginable that this will happen. It is uncertain what will happen to the premiums for the AWBZ after the insurance has been changed to become a provision for the poor, but it seems that the government has no concrete plans to abolish the premiums together with the insurance. Maybe it will just be turned into a tax measure.
I am really so upset about what our government (now with the Labour Party in it, imagine!!) is doing and I don’t know how this can be stopped."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How much exercise is "enough" for us Seniors?

Dear GAA Friend,

Do you wonder exactly what you should be doing to "stay fit" as you -- and I -- get older day by day?  I thought I was doing enough by going to the local gym about three times a week.  "To do what?" you might ask.  Well, I do a few stretches and un-kink my back on a foam roller. . . and
glance around to see what the young folks are doing. . . . Some, like "Spaghetti Man," surely could make a living in the circus: he is flexible beyond belief, rolling himself up in a knot and then standing on his head. Impossible!  I take myself to the treadmill, set the pace at about 3 miles per hour and start walking for 30 minutes.  If everything goes right, I log 90 minutes per week.  But is this enough to stay fit?  I consulted this excellent article from the World Health Organization to find out the facts.  Check it out--

Please share your ideas and practice about exercising and have a good week,  Susanne Paul for Global Action on Aging

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Must Read Booklet on HIV and Older Persons

Dear GAA Friend,

ACRIA stands for the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America.  This organization has produced a widely read resource that helps older persons understand the risks of HIV AIDs in situations of unprotected sex.  If you are older, read this straight-talking helpful article about sex in old age. 

Here's the link:

Please write to GAA about your reactions.  Did it make sense?  Would you follow ACRIA's suggestions?

In the meantime, have a good weekend!

Best, Susanne Paul at Global Action on Aging

Friday, January 4, 2013

My discussion with long time survivors

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting at the New York Association on HIV over 50. Its members are men and women over the age 50 who are living with HIV or AIDS. Some are considered long time survivors. At the meeting we talked about how different the face of HIV was back in the 1980's compared to today. Some members recalled how they lost so many friends, lovers and partners to HIV/AIDS at such a fast pace. Often death was drawn out and very painful. They are still sad that most of the worlds’ advances came too late for their friends and lovers.

It was clear to me that witnessing this has left a huge impact on a lot of them and the concern everyone seemed to have was that HIV has vanished from the spotlight, “people are still dying, and to think that doesn't happen anymore and isn't newsworthy is a problem. “Kids aren't getting the message today that we got many years ago that this is a fatal disease and it's not to be taken lightly.” Someone mentioned a magazine  advertisement  that upset him. The pharmaceutical company that produced the ad said that today all you need is one pill per day to stay healthy if you get diagnosed with HIV. My friend questioned what kind of message this tactic is sending out to the uninfected people. He strongly believes it gives people a false message:  The advertisement is suggesting that it's not a “big deal” if you get infected by HIV.

It's a fact that new HIV infections are slowly diminishing. But even today, every 9.5 minutes someone in the US is infected with HIV producing around 50 000 new infections every year. A large number are young people; The most severely affected are gay and bisexual men. They account for 61 percent of all the new infections. Why is that?

Could it be that the young people end up thinking HIV is not a problem anymore/  Today HIV positive people look healthy. And, today, fewer people die from HIV/AIDS as each year passes. Should pharmaceutical companies change the way they promote their new medications? Unlike the long time survivors, today’s younger persons have not seen the horrors the virus wrought decades ago. They have not lost their friends, lovers and partners to AIDS. In the 80's the virus was real and it was constantly up in your face. Everyone I spoke to at the meeting told me that once they understood that HIV/AIDS was an epidemic, they made sure to practice safe sex.

How can older persons with HIV and their supporters reach out to change the attitude younger people have about HIV?

A solution to this problem could be a more inter-generational approach. We need an ongoing dialogue between generations. What if long-time survivors got the message about HIV prevention across to the younger generation. The stories from the past must still be told. We need a more visual message.  Perhaps we need to scare people into practicing safe sex. We need to reach the uninfected; our campaigns needs to target everyone, not just one group. People need to know that HIV is still here and it's still killing people.

Sanna Klemetti

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"One Pill A Day" Is it a Dangerous way to market HIV Meds?

In July, 1981, the New York Times reported on a rare form of cancer among gay men in New York and California. This “gay cancer” was later identified as Kaposi's Sarcoma, a disease that later became known as HIV/AIDS. At the same time NYC hospitals started to see more and more young, seemingly healthy, men with fevers, flu – like symptoms, and a rare pneumonia called Pneumocystis. This was the beginning of what has become the biggest health care concern in modern history. Getting diagnosed with HIV in the 80's was equal to a death sentence. A long time survivor was someone who lived 12 months, and most people were dead in six months. Today the story is different. Thanks to research a long time survivor is someone who has lived with the virus for maybe 30 years.  This is possible thanks to the progress scientists have made in HIV/AIDS medical research. Research has even shown that new drugs can help prevent people from being infected with the virus (if practiced with safe sex).

Unfortunately there aren't' that many longtime survivors left.

HIV Medication Through History
The first HIV medication arrived in 1987. The drug was called Retrovir (AZT, Zidovudine). Retrovir was the first big step in the battle against HIV/AIDS. In 1992 combination therapy was introduced, AZT could now be combined with another drug called Hivid. In 1996 new “triple therapies' gave patients and doctors new hope in the battle against the virus. Around this time scientist discovered that HIV/AIDS hides in the resevoirs in the body, making total elimination of the virus virtually impossible. Truvada and Epzicom, as well as two protease inhibitors arrived in 2004. These drugs showed a great improvement from what previously was available. In 2012 a few interesting things happened in HIV/AIDS research. Truvada was approved by the FDA as the first HIV prevention pill on the market and the pharmaceutical company Gilead introduced a 'once a day pill' called Stribild, which was approved by the FDA in August 2012. What makes this drug special is that it contains four different HIV medications. In studies run by the company 88 – 90 percent of patients taking the medicine had undetectable levels of HIV in their blood after 48 weeks. On the other hand, Stribild is very expensive.  The cost hovers around $28.500 per patient per year. And the New York State Health Department declared that Stribild is not covered by NY Medicaid.

Research has brought survival odds very far when it comes to developing HIV/AIDS drugs. Stribild and Truvada offer lot of hope when it comes to the battle against HIV/AIDS. This should be celebrated,.  But should the pharmaceutical companies take responsibility on how they choose to market these drugs? Could the message “a pill once a day” give people a false message about HIV/AIDS?  And, what is the profit margin for the companies?  How much profit should they extract from infected individuals or from the general public through Medicaid?

Sanna Klemetti