Lazy Able-Bodied People Could Live Here

Life is good. We have been in our certified Lifelong Housing, age-friendly home for over six weeks and our often-stated comment to one another is how “easy” it is to live in a home like this. One of us says that almost every day—smiling as we do.

The no-step entrances assure convenient access from the outdoors or from the large patio in the back of the house. There are 36-inch windowed-doors (with in-built privacy blinds) that lead from the patio to an office or to the great room with its remote-controlled fireplace –or our large master bedroom with its no-door, roll-in shower.

The curving, slightly-elevated and beveled-concrete sidewalk to the front door of this house is actually a ramp– but no one ever realizes that—they instead comment on what a gracious entry we have designed for our home. Anyone could ring the well-positioned doorbell and independently maneuver their wheelchair or walker inside our home without assistance. That was important to us–we have friends who are wheelchair-users and the idea that someone has to carry their chairs with them in the chair (or physically lift them out of the chair —because the chair itself does not fit through a too-narrow door) was definitely not how we wanted to welcome dinner guests.  The living area is spacious and well-lit. We have a drop-down counter that allows a person in a wheelchair (or a small child ) to help the host cook a meal if they choose. (Those helpers are my personally-favorite kind of guests.)

Yes–this is a home that acknowledges and respects that some of us have, or will have, mobility issues. But it is also a home a young family with a baby in a stroller could roll in and out of —with no difficulties. It is the kind of home where a teenager could put his soiled football jersey right through a chute in the closet wall to a basket in the laundry room where an easy-access raised washer and dryer might even prompt him to actually wash those dirty clothes. (Well, that’s probably asking too much…).

People who visit us usually know we went through a process to get our newly-built home certified to a specific standard and say upon entering for the first time–”Oh my gosh, I thought it would look institutional! The more typical comment is “This is really quite beautiful.” Thank you very much.

I often say it’s a home for “lazy able-bodied people.” Our guests laugh at that. It might be funny– but it is also true.

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Don’t Fall For This

I have probably written about this before but it bears repeating.  Falling is a killer for older adults.  I would guess that if you were to ask 10 people over age 65 “Have you or a loved one experienced a debilitating fall?” the answer over 80 percent of the time would be “yes.”   According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the rate of severe falls has been increasing for Americans over the age of 65.  Researchers note that one reason for the increase in falls may be the link to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.  The CDC adds that in some cases, the medication to treat the disease can increase the risk of falling.

While Americans became frantic recently over one death from Ebola in this country you don’t hear much concern about the number of people over 65 who died after a fall.  Would you believe 24,000 in 2012?   That, according to the CDC is almost double the number reported 10 years earlier.  In addition, more than 2.4 million people over 65 were treated in emergency departments for injuries from falls in 2012 alone.  Falls, according to the CDC, are the leading cause of injury-related death for those over 65.

Now, one more scary statistic to make you take notice.  Currently 10,000 people turn 65 every day in this country and that trend will continue for the next 19 years!  Baby Boomers are not immune.  There is no vaccine for falls.

As most people who read the blogs Sharon and I have been posting know we designed and built an “age-friendly” home in Central Point that has been certified to the Rogue Valley Council of Governments “Lifelong Housing” standard.  This home has no step entry, wider doors and a host of other features…including some to help us avoid falls.

Lighting is critically important for older adults, not just for reading, but for navigating.  We have a a lot of light in our house and even in the dead of night it is possible to see our way to the bathroom without turning on a light.  Also, in the bathroom the light in the toilet has a motion sensor so it comes on automatically.  In our guest bathroom we have grab bars in the bathtub and around the toilet.  In our shower we also have a grab bar.  Some would say since we are healthy adults why do we need grab bars?  To me grab bars are like seat belts… don’t need them until you need them and then they are lifesavers.  Think about installing grab bars in your bathroom before it is too late.

Another simple step to preventing falls is to get ride of scatter rugs.  They may look attractive but can be lethal to slow moving folks that shuffle their feet when they walk.  Exercise can also improve one’s balance and I have been told (but haven’t verified) that Tai Chi can improve one’s stability.

While Sharon and I have been vigilant in trying to prevent falls in our home we have one hazard that remains.  Out new little puppy Lucy is often underfoot and Sharon has bought a lot of little toys for her that often get under foot.  If you come to visit watch your step.


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If Your Horse Drops Dead…Get Off

The November 4, 2014 election “red-tide sweep” suggests Republican agendas will be front and center in the near future. So be it.

I am somewhat divided on how to feel about all this, but I just listened to a television interview with Alan Simpson, the long-retired curmudgeon legislator from Wyoming, advising his colleagues and the President about how to proceed in this new climate. Hope they take his counsel. At least most of it. His statements seem to meet the test of common sense and suggest how Congress could and should make-something-happen in this highly contentious political environment we all find ourselves.

Simpson also spoke about health care reform (Obamacare) but quite differently. When asked if Republicans should keep hammering about repealing it, he said “”If Your Horse Drops Dead, Get Off.”

In my way of interpreting that statement, Simpson saw recent health care changes as good ones and thought the American public was embracing and benefiting from an emphasis on prevention and the promise of increasing access to health practitioners. He seemed to be saying improved health care availability is worth having and Republicans should stop ranting about it. Period.

I loved the dead horse statement. And I think it applies in a lot of other areas. As illustration, if you’ve been on a personal rant about something and it has gotten you absolutely no where–in fact, the only thing it seems to do is irritate family and friends. Stop doing that. A few examples might resonate with you. Maybe you have been repetitiously complaining about pain in your knee but have been unwilling to have the recommended surgery or perhaps you have a big family conflict and you have stood your ground to the degree that it has alienated people you love–big time. Or this might be what is going on for you–you know your home is not going to be liveable if you fracture a hip and need a wheel chair  or walker. You know your bathroom needs a comfort height toilet and grab bars in the shower but you just have not done anything about that. At your peril.

My suggestion is step back–take stock, self-reflect and then move in another direction completely. Make it a positive one.

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Finding My Roots

Today’s Mail Tribune had an article in the TV Tempo section that was promoting a PBS program called “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.”  Gates is the director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard and his show features high-profile guests finding their roots.   This article follows a series of features on CNN following various staff of that channel tracing their own ancestry.  In addition, as we are still unpacking from our recent move to Twin Creeks I was reminded of the boxes and boxes of genealogical materials I had accumulated about 30 years ago in pursuit of my own roots.

When I first began my ancestor tracking journey I had little information to go by.   There was no internet and research involved going to a local genealogical library to pour through endless reels of microfilm or writing to state offices for death certificates.  Slowly piece-by-pieces I was able to fill in many missing parts of my family history.
This blog is not so much about reaching a destination, such as finding a famous ancestor (none so far) or tracing your family back to the middle ages (I’m around 1623).   For me genealogy brings to life two passions I have had for all my adult life; notably travel and history.  I had always planned to take all the information I had gathered, documents, newspaper clippings, visits to cemeteries in five states and four countries and write the great family history after I retired.

Well, I have been “retired” for about two years and the history is still not written.   What I now realize is that the journey was the real story.  Standing on a steep hillside above a Norwegian fjord on the soil my great grandfather farmed or visiting a small village in the Rheingau area of Germany only to discover a distant relative who had heard the story of two brothers coming to America in the 1850′s.  Finding a handwritten will from my great grandfather in the basement of a courthouse in Wisconsin or taping my now departed grandmother singing a nursery rhyme in German.  One time I knocked on a farm house door in Western Minnesota and introduced to the family living there that my great grandfather had homesteaded the property.  They were thrilled to learn what I knew and had some stories to share with me about the homestead farm.  I left with square nails from the original barn my great grandfather John Johnson had built and I have a framed copy of his homestead patent dated 1890.

It’s never too late to begin a search for your roots but I would encourage anyone who can afford it to visit the places where their ancestors lived and loved, worked and died.   Try and put their life into the context of the time.  In many of us with European ancestors often as not wars played a major role in relocation or, as in the case of John Johnson, lack of farming opportunity because he was not the eldest son.   Or Franz Jahnke who was a shepherd in Prussia but wanted something better for his family.  Take the journey.

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My New Best Selling Book

I have this great idea for a new diet book.  The title is “How I lost 50 pounds in two years after turning 70.”   The sub-title will be “If I can do it so can you.”  Want to buy it?   There’s just one problem with my book; it’s a bit thin.  As a matter of fact my “secret” diet can be summed up thusly:  eat less, exercise more.  It really is that simple.

When I retired at the end of 2012 (having just turned 70) I was determined to shed weight.  For years I had travelled the world spending countless hours on international flights eating and drinking with abandon.  I was lucky enough to fly business class in many cases and who could resist the free wine and heated nuts.  To say nothing of the desert cart!

My “diet” regimen consisted of setting a daily calorie goal and then keeping a daily food and drink diary to track what (and how many calories) I was taking in.  The calorie goal was set so that if I did nothing else but stay at that caloric level I would gradually loose weight.  However, if I exercised (walking, cycling, etc.) I could increase my food intake accordingly.  I used a smartphone app called Fitbit but there are many such apps and programs out there.

After about three months I no longer kept the daily food diary as I knew what not to eat (little or no bread, cereal and pasta and no French fries).  I tried to exercise for about 40 minutes at least three or four days a week.   At first the weight loss seemed painfully slow but once my metabolism was moving in the right direction the weight came off and my waistline shrunk.

Recently I saw an article titled “Exercise helps aging brains” by Leah Cannon (  The article reported on a recent study that compared healthy participants 60-85 years old who did 60 minutes of high intensity exercise train or low intensity exercises three times a week for eight weeks.  Both groups had the same improvement in working memory and cognitive ability in a test where they had to think up random numbers and say one number each second for 100 seconds.   Leah Cannon wrote “it was previously thought that aerobic exercise improves cognition by increasing oxygen uptake and potential energy in the body.  This study shows that it not the way that exercise improves cognition.  So more gentle exercise plans that target flexibility, balance and relaxation might offer similar brain benefits to high intensity exercise.”

See, I told you, eating less, exercise more….it’s a no-brainer.

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He said he hoped to die at age 75? He said that!

This blog is drawn directly from another blog site ( which is worth subscribing to if you do not already. A recent post on that site references a September 17, 2014 article in the Atlantic magazine ( titled. “Why I Hope to Die at Age 75” by Ezekiel Emmanuel, who is a 57 year old medical doctor in exceptionally good physical and mental health— with a loving family.

The Atlantic article is unsettling. It will engender an immediate visceral reaction in most people. I suspect Dr. Bill Thomas, a well-regarded national expert on aging and a Changing Aging champion nearly went apoplectic when he read it. As illustration, he calls the Emmanuel article an “epically tone-deaf essay.”

The opposing blog post written by Dr. Thomas goes something like this: Emmanuel “like millions of other people his age (and younger) has difficulty imagining any future self that is not simply a continuation of his current self. Because he cannot see or feel what it is really like to be an elder, he substitutes our culture’s blatant ageism for foresight and declares— defeat.”
Dr. Thomas goes on to underscore this article as “yet more evidence we need to change the way our society thinks about aging. Imagine if we lived in a society that envisioned aging as a sophisticated form of human growth, one that takes a lifetime of learning before one can handle it responsibly. What if he had been taught, from a young age, that the later decades of life are meant to be savored for the slower, deeper and more connected ways of living that they make possible?”

And finally, “not only is there life after 75, there is compelling evidence that some of the sweetest, most poignant of life’s passages are available only to those who have passed that milestone. The time has come for a new story about life, living and aging and it should help us embrace growth and change from our first breath to our last.”
And may I just add… Hallelujah.

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Lucy-Part 2

As I post this blog, our sweet and oh-so-busy new pup –Lucy– who Howard wrote about recently in his blog– lays on my lap. Seems the sound of tapping keys on the computer has lulled her to sleep. Thankfully. She has displayed a somewhat destructive bent in the last few days. A partially shredded sock and a ravaged chair leg are evidence of that. And yes, dear, I was watching her–I just got a little distracted for a minute. And yes, it was your white sports sock and the tooth-marked leg belongs to a chair in your office. No worries. It sounds worse than it is. But that sock is definitely history. Maybe I will just give her the other one to play with and you won’t even miss them.

I went on-line for chew toys this morning and Amazon has quite an array. Before I knew it I had ordered $30 worth of dog toys. And, in case you’re wondering–that was exactly the time when the gnawing-of-the leg incident took place, The sock issue happened while I was in the shower and thought she was snuggled on her blanket. That would be the blanket she never chews on at all. That blanket.

The”Bully Sticks” the breeder supplied to help deal with Lucy’s chewing tendencies worked well for the first week to address her ‘teething’ issues– but then she stopped liking them. Apparently gnawing on dried bull penis (yes, really, that is what they are made of…) can entertain you for only so long.

A friend told me yesterday-” If you have a puppy and you don’t know exactly what that dog is doing, it’s definitely making trouble somewhere.” She was prescient.

Wait–did this just happen? Did Lucy raise her furry little head off my hair- covered lap and wink at me?  Is that possible?  Oh. My. Gosh.

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I Love Lucy

No, not the zany 50′s TV star Lucille Ball, but our new little 11 week Cavalier King Charles puppy Lucy.  For Sharon and I Lucy is a wonderful little companion.  She has arrived just as we have moved into our new “age-friendly” home in the Twin Creeks development in Central Point and befitting her regal status we had a dog door installed in our bedroom that opens into our compact fenced in backyard.  Lucy has already figured out how to use the door!  Awesome.

Lucy has many excellent features not the least of which are her desire to please, her quick learning and, most importantly, her love of laps, mine or Sharon’s.  Small dogs like Lucy are ideal companions for older adults.  They are less active than many breeds and thus don’t require extensive exercise (but a little walk is always welcome and our neighborhood is well suited for that).  Thus far she doesn’t seem to be a “barker” and sleeps about 12 hours a day (either in her custom crate or little bed).   During the day Lucy is perfectly comfortable being in our home office.

Small dogs still require maintenance including feeding, bathing and various preventive medications.  The cost can be a factor for some on fixed incomes but the health benefits for the owners may well offset the added expenses.   While we purchased Lucy from a well-regarded breeder in Washington State, the local Humane Society also has small dogs available most of the time.  When choosing a shelter dog it is wise to make certain the pet you select has the proper temperament for your style of living.

A web site I found, has a discussion regarding the benefits to older adults of small dog ownership.  The site references “studies” which, while not identified, sound reasonable.  They include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Encourage activity in older adults
  • Offer a sense of security and safety
  • Enhanced social activities
  • Offer affection and unconditional love
  • East the loss of a loved one
  • Offer fun and entertainment
  • Decrease feelings of isolation
  • Offer a sense of feeling needed and wanted

This Saturday Lucy will make her Age-Friendly Innovators debut this Saturday (October 4) at the first annual Jacksonville Health Fair on the Jacksonville Courthouse lawn from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  She will be demonstrating her soothing nature.


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Well…Is It?

A recent article in Forbes magazine was titled “Is Aging in Place a Pipe Dream? It began with a story told by former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros about “having to” place his 90-year old mother in a long-term care facility despite her heart-felt desire to remain in the home she had lived in since becoming a bride in her early 20’s. She was reportedly miserable in this facility. He indicated visiting her there was wrenching and noted he had been very reluctant to place her in a structured residential setting but felt he had no choice.

This was the same Henry Cisneros who had co-authored a book a few years ago titled “Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America.” In it he had touted the fact that his mother was continuing to live independently. There were even pictures.

Now, I do not know Secretary Cisneros nor am I acquainted with his mother. But I do know we always have choices. If we start with the premise that we all want to live in our own homes until the end of our days and ask the “What Will It Take?” question, we can sometimes come up with highly innovative and personally satisfying answers. There are five things that make “staying at home” much easier. The five key features for an accessible home are: a no-step entry, single floor living, wide doorways, accessible electric switches and outlets, lever-style door handles and faucets. Reportedly, according to studies done by the AARP Foundation and the Harvard joint Center for Housing Studies, only 21% of houses have at least three of these features.

So, it will clearly “take” some renovation and retro-fit of our decades-old housing stock in order to assure our mothers and grandmothers–and we ourselves–can remain in our own homes as long as we wish to do so. We may have to do this one house at a time; so we better get started now.  Answering the “what will it take” question will also involve some creative thinking that examines enhanced social support and shared care–something I call “nested neighborhoods.” In my way of looking at the world, this means assuring there are communities and neighborhoods where people look out for and “look after” one another.

Let’s do that. Let’s start now—one neighborhood at a time.

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A Fish Tale

There was a nice article in the New York Times a few weeks ago by noted science and nutrition writer Jane Brody titled “Lots of Reasons to Eat Fish.”   I don’t want to paraphrase her entire piece but suffice to say she strongly advocates the health benefits of seafood in our diet.   The scientific evidence in support of seafood consumption is well documented and goes back many years.   My personal contribution to this body of evidence can be found in The New England Journal of Medicine, May 9, 1985 page 1216.  The study had the tongue twisting title “Reduction of Plasma Lipids, Lipoproteins, and Apoproteins by Dietary Fish Oils in Patients with Hypertriglyceridemia.”   Bottom line, a diet rich in fish oil can reduce blood plasma cholesterol and triglycerides.  As this research was beginning I was contacted and asked if my company would contribute fresh salmon that would be served to test subjects.   We did that for a year and I forgot about the research until my name popped up in the Journal article.   One person called me and asked if we sold salmon oil by the barrel!

I recognize that not everyone likes seafood for any number of reasons.  Sharon and I love seafood.  We love to cook it and we love to eat it.  All kinds of seafood.  Our favorites include salmon, shrimp, petrale sole, halibut, black cod, mussels and the list goes on.  We firmly believe our good health reflects our passion for seafood. The sheer variety of seafood is an adventure in itself.  Despite some negative publicity in the past I believe farmed seafood is not only safe to eat but is now produced in large measure using environmentally compatible methods.

Having been in the seafood industry for over 40 years, and an industry consultant for 30 plus years, I am often asked questions about seafood issues.  Over the past ten years I have become a strong advocate for sustainable seafood, meaning our fishing practices and regulations are such that we are not depleting resources needed to reproduce future populations.   Attention must also be paid to destructive fishing practices that damage the environment.   In my earlier days I confess I once went out with a group of Asian fishermen who were using explosives to stun fish then scoop them up with a net.  Very destructive (and dangerous).

A fish story that is good news to those of us in the Northwest that love seafood; Marine scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently upgraded their rating of 21 species of coastal bottom fish (rockfish, lingcod, sole and flounder) to “good” or “best” from the previous rating of “avoid.”  Many of the species upgraded were deemed by the federal government on the mid-1990s and early 2000s as seriously overfished and at risk of extinction.  Dramatic cuts in fishing quotas and changes in regulations ultimately resulted in these fisheries recovering.

Bottom line seafood is good for you.  Eat it with a clear conscience and a healthy heart.

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  • About This Blog

    Sharon and Howard Johnson are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) with the National Association of Home Builders who have launched a nonprofit organization, Age Friendly Innovators Inc. (
    They are passionate about the importance of older adults aging in place in a home of your own and have practical and provocative ideas about how to make that happen. Sharon is a retired Oregon State University educator who has developed dozens of award-winning programs about health and aging. She has written a weekly column for the Mail Tribune for over ten years.
    Howard is semi-retired from his international work in marine conservation. In 2010 he was named a Purpose Prize Fellow by as a "social innovator."
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