AARP Develops A Tablet for The “Tech-Shy”

Although about 60 percent of the population between 50 and 65 is technologically savvy, and would rather lose their wallets than their cell phones…

…that leaves a significant number of the 35 million people 50+ who haven’t fully embraced modern communications developments, like tablet technology, to help them stay connected. Although they want to stay in touch with family and friends, browse the Internet, shop online, or read an e-book, they’re apprehensive about navigating the digital world.

Take a 69-year-old-man I know quite well, a stellar trial lawyer who thinks quick on his feet in front of a jury, but completely unravels when he’s holding his tablet and would like to access Showtime. Or a 53-year-old friend, who has never had the pleasure of using Google Docs because she doesn’t know how to set the program up in the first place.

Motivated to help people like this to get over their “technological shyness,” AARP has introduced RealPad, a tablet device powered by an Intel processor with “an easy-to-use software interface to make technology enjoyable and affordable,” according to the press release.

To get further AARP perspective on the relationship between boomers and technology, I interviewed Terry Bradwell, AARP EVP and CIO.

When did the AARP start bringing technology to its constituency?

About 18 months ago, we started a nationwide program called AARP TEK (Technology Education & Knowledge) to provide complimentary hands-on technology workshops, with customized curriculum for those who are apprehensive about using technology. The workshops help attendees learn how to use technology to connect with friends, family, employment opportunities, health information, entertainment, and more. We were blown away and humbled by the interest in the program and touched by the participants’ reactions when they saw what they could do digitally. We quickly realized the need to expand the program and look at other technology partnerships and products we could offer to aid digital literacy. Over 30 percent of the attendees in the program are between 50 and 60, and 70 percent are older, which is in line with Pew data. (Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research.)

What prevents some older people from being tech savvy?

Today’s technology is very sophisticated and isn’t always warm and welcoming, even for those who’ve had technology experience.

For example, I met a gentleman who retired as an engineer from IBM about 10 years ago, when he was in his early 50s, traveled a great deal but lost touch with today’s technology. Even though he was technologically savvy in his era, and thought the new technology would be easy for him, he discovered the way we think and process information these days has changed and he needed to get across a mental learning curve.

Our attitude towards technology relates to how we’re conditioned. I’ve been in IT for almost 30 years and I remember when we started to move away from green computer screens to point and click. It was amazing to see the amount of discomfort created in the workplace when something called “a mouse” was placed on everyone’s desk. It took several years to really adapt to it because we weren’t used to that type of interaction, holding a mouse and then predicting where the cursor was going to go on the screen. It now sounds like an easy, mundane thing, but we had to have mouse-training classes back then. Now we have gesture clicks that the computer recognizes as specific commands, without a lot of process behind them, but you still have to remember and know intuitively where to go for help if you’re stuck.

For those who have been communicating one way for a very long time, and using certain tools, it presents a really steep learning curve when society starts using a brand new way of interfacing and communicating, with new tools.

It has nothing to do with how smart you are or with your lifetime of learning.. You can use the same logic with kids who can pick up new languages much more quickly than an adult who has been using one language for the last four decades. Younger people embrace technology because it’s part of their societal norm, of their daily living.

Why is the RealPad easier to use than other tablets?

Essentially, an amazing, simplified interface is built on top of an Android operating system (dominant in the mobile industry), that doesn’t rely on the user’s intuitive knowledge.

The most common things that you want to do are right there, available for you, and you don’t have to search for them. This includes sharing photos, video chatting, playing games, learning resources and enjoying entertainment.

We also have a feature called Real Quick Fix, (our Beta testers dubbed it One-Click Wonder) for solving common problems, such as a lost WiFi connection or conserving power when your battery is running low and you don’t have access to a plug. One click and you restore your WiFi; another click and you conserve your battery. It eliminates a lot of the frustration trying to figure things out. Even if you have rogue aps that somehow appear on your device, RealPad allows you to easily delete them.

Wrapped on top of that, we have 20 tutorial videos and this halo of 24/7 support that no one else offers for the life of a device. All day, every day, someone will walk you through your problems and stay on the phone as long as needed; there are no maximum call times. Tech enthusiasts have had some really warm and kind words to say about the product. They love the Quick Fix button. We hope a lot of manufacturers will pick up on these kinds of things.

Why haven’t other big-name brands done what you’ve done?

The industry has not paid attention to the tech-shy market, while it continually introduces products for tech-savvy consumers. We have this huge technology market, the best in the world, but it’s failing much of our constituency and we want to plug the gap.

How does someone in her 70s or 80s learn how to use RealPad?

That halo of support I mentioned will guide you through. Plus, we’re rolling out on and offline workshops in 25 major markets during the next two years, which are free to attend whether or not you’re an AARP member. So if you have any kind of ambivalence, challenge or difficulty about technology, we want you to know there is always a resource that wants to and can help you. The workshops are about all the technology of today, about Androids, smart phones and mobile devices. We’re device agnostic. These workshops don’t market any products, but we’ll also have workshops on RealPad and other products.

RealPad also comes with 20 built-in video tutorials to help people who are new to digital technology to learn how to use their tablets quickly and increase their confidence and comfort levels with technology. Tutorials include subjects such as downloading apps, touchscreen basics, accessing and browsing the Internet, and setting up video calling and email accounts.

Where does someone find out the workshop schedule?

You can go to AARPTEK.org.

Besides the workshops, how will you market the RealPad?

AARP members will hear about it through our magazine, bulletins, as well as through other traditional methods, such as TV and radio.

Where is it sold?

The Real Pad is sold exclusively through Wal-Mart across the country and at Sam’s Club; you can also order it at AARPRealPad.org. Even five years ago, technology was nice to have. Today it’s an imperative. Traditional brick and mortar stores are going away. When was the last time you went around the corner to rent a movie? Our content, our services and our shopping are continuing to go digital. Mobility is our future and we don’t want anyone in our constituency to be left behind.

We will continue to look for other opportunities that can fill gaps, if the market isn’t serving the part of the population that we serve. AARP is committed to helping Americans 50+ live their lives to the fullest…

How To Rewire Your Mind

How many times have we heard or read this advice from someone who is ill:

Stop and smell the roses,” tell our loved ones how much we care, appreciate every single day, no matter how much it tests your mental endurance? No doubt, we’ve all heard it many times. Yet, how many of us really take the advice to heart, beyond maybe a few hours, a day or even a week? We fall right back into our routines, often getting frustrated, disheartened, depressed, or even downright mad at someone or something. Here are a few scenarios to which we can all relate:

  • Our Time-Warner cable goes out at least once a week, and we are forced to do without the Internet for long periods. We call the customer service number, have to hold on and listen to irritating music for 33 minutes and then get someone who is absolutely useless to help us or explain the problem.
  • We take a few minutes from our hectic day to call a friend just to say “hi” and she moans, “Sorry, but I’m just too busy to talk right now!”
  • We read an article on the Internet about a really dumb subject, like whether Beyoncé and Jay-Z are divorcing, and we write an insulting comment about them.
  • We can’t wait to get back from a vacation or business trip. We get to the airport and the plane is delayed for hours.

Most often, we have absolutely no control to change the situations or people that
are driving us wild.

Still, we can continue to let them raise our blood pressure, elicit our ill will and anger and divert our positive energy from doing something productive—not to mention cause us to waste massive amounts of time—or we can figure out how and where to seek another path.

But how, you ask? You swear you don’t want to think all these unpleasant, jealous, maddening thoughts, but you can’t seem to turn them off. A online community called rewireme.com says you can, and aims to do precisely what its name says: Help us to disconnect the ‘faulty wires’ in our brains that short-circuit to obstruct, inhibit and hinder us, and to connect the wires that can turn on our power to happily move ahead in our lives.

Launched in 2013 by Rose Caiola, a New York City real estate businesswoman, the rewireme.com mission statement says it wants to help us “learn, grow, and transform into our best selves by understanding emotions; making conscious decisions to acknowledge and experience rather than bury our feelings; expressing what we feel and communicating our understanding with one another; sharing our stories and receiving wisdom from one another.”

When we listen to what other people are going through, we can empathize and often see in them what we usually have a hard time seeing in ourselves,
the website says.

“The more we share, the deeper we’ll be able to go—to embrace growth. As we push the boundaries of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves, we’ll find ways to move from like to love, from status quo to passion. It’s exhilarating to conquer our fear of change together.”

I confess that I’m not typically inclined to be a fan of any single person who ‘preaches’ to the masses how he or she will help us to “be healthier, happier, wiser, more balanced” etc., if we will just listen to their expert advice, on anything from aging to eating; intimacy to motherhood. Yet, what I like about rewire.me is how it makes its community part of the whole learning process. Visitors are encouraged to share their stories of “discovery and change”; advice on the site often is based on scientific fact, such as the 11-minute, clever and entertaining video that explores the causes and cures for stress; and engaging activities promise to give us enjoyment while we learn.

So please take a few minutes to tool around rewireme.com and next time the cable company puts you on hold, your plane is endlessly delayed, or the Internet goes down, you’ll let it roll right off your back and move on.

Meet My New 90-Year-Old “Boyfriend!”

Meet my new 90-year-old “boyfriend!”

While I was enjoying a pedicure yesterday, a preppy, handsome older man was led to the chair at the other end of the row. Slight, and no more than 5’6″, he had gray-silver hair and was somewhat balding. He was wearing loafers, a polo shirt, and khakis. “Bet I’m the oldest person who has ever been in here,” he declared to the woman preparing his foot bath. “I’m 90.”

Without missing a beat, he asked if anyone knew that Chelsea Clinton just gave birth and whether she had a boy or a girl.

“Who is that man?” I asked Angela, my long-time manicurist. I had a hunch he was someone I wanted to meet. “I think he’s a professor,” she answered, although she doesn’t always get things like this terribly accurate. Turns out, he’s a regular at the salon.

“Davy,” Angela projected, to get the man’s attention across the row of pedicure chairs. “Where do you teach?”

“I don’t teach” he answered. “I run a nonprofit organization that works with public school students in poor communities.”

“What is it called?” I chimed in, this being the perfect opportunity to find out more about “Davy.”

Find out I did. Turns out that “Davy” is David Caplan, vice board chair and dean of City Year New York.

Founded in 1988 by two Harvard Law School roommates, City Year’s mission is to fight the national dropout crisis by bridging the gap in high-poverty communities between the support that students actually need, and what their schools can provide. It invites young Americans, age 17 to 24, to “Give a Year. Change the World.” Those selected for the program agree to do 10 months of national service working full-time as tutors and mentors at high-need public schools. City Year operates from over 20 cities nationally.

Along with thousands of other non-profit organizations, City Year is a member of the AmeriCorps network. As a matter of fact, it was the driving force behind President Bill Clinton’s decision, in 1993, to establish AmeriCorps as a means for Americans to serve the needs of communities in education, the environment, public safety, health and homeland security. David told me the Clinton Foundation is one of City Year’s largest benefactors. Ah, I thought to myself, no wonder he mentioned Chelsea Clinton earlier.

No typical nonagenarian, David told me he goes to work every day, traveling by subway from the upper east side of Manhattan to City Year’s offices downtown. “David’s passion and enthusiasm for the work of City Year go way beyond being a board member. He consistently strives to be a resource to corps members and often makes the time to volunteer alongside them. His outstanding commitment and energy have earned him the title of ‘Dean of City Year New York,’ the organization’s website related.

“My wife Barbara is not thrilled with the fact that I spend 50 hours a week at City Year and get paid $1 a year,” David chuckled. Barbara was a partner for Yankelovich Partners, Inc., (the leading U.S. marketing research and consulting firm), he told me. (When I Googled her later, I learned she’s a prominent expert on consumer trends and one of America’s foremost authorities on the food, retail, fashion, housing and personal care industries.)

Married over 60 years, the Caplans have five children and happen to live directly across the street from me.

A former Navy pilot during World War II, David graduated from Notre Dame and received a graduate degree in marketing from Harvard University. Before starting his community service career in 2003, he was in the garment industry, where he headed up Evan Picone, one of the hottest women’s apparel brands when I was in my twenties and thirties. As a former editor on Women’s Wear Daily, once the “bible” of the apparel business, I knew many of the same people David did, so we did a little reminiscing.

His pedicure complete, David prepared to leave. As we exchanged business cards, I mentioned how fortunate he was to be in such good shape. “I’m scared to death of Alzheimer’s,” I said. “I know,” David responded, a note of melancholy in his voice. “So many of my friends have gotten it, some you’d never expect would.”

“I do have a problem with my eyes,” he went on, “macular degeneration, like my father had. I got it two years ago.” Damaging the retina, the disease took the sight from David’s left eye, and left him with less than 20 percent vision in his right. Still, he doesn’t even use a cane. “I’ve discovered all kinds of little tricks to get around,” he explained, picking up an illuminating device he uses to read.

No doubt a man with his track record would come up with ways to solve problems, I smiled to myself.

“Since we live across the street from each other, perhaps you and your wife can come for lunch,” I said.

“Oh no, never mind my wife. I’ll come alone,” David answered, his eyes looking ever-so-slightly mischievous.

“You’re so handsome at 90. You must have been a devil when you were younger,” I laughed. (What am I saying, I thought, he’s a devil now.)

“I loved talking to you. You’re so much fun,” David responded.

“Why, thank you,” I said, thinking how much fun it is for me to meet inspiring people like David.

You’ll Be Fed Up In 95 Minutes!

An alarming documentary I watched last weekend, called Fed Up, prompted me to text my daughter, who has an 18-month old son:

“Don’t ever give Primo any cold cereals or other supermarket foods that have tons of sugar, even if the boxes say low fat or no fat. It’s scary what’s happening with children’s health in America because the food industry is producing such crap.”

I challenge anyone to watch this 95-minute documentary without having a similar reaction. Even if you’re smart enough to keep yourself and your family far, far away from processed foods, you’ll be shocked to learn just how much they’ve contributed to the snowballing childhood obesity epidemic, the likes of which the world has never before seen.

First consider these two ridiculous, well-known facts:

  • American auto companies freely manufacture (and sometimes even surreptitiously sell) defective cars that can kill us
  • American tobacco companies knowingly produce cancer-causing cigarettes

Here’s a third equally ridiculous fact, that isn’t as well known; as a matter of fact, it’s one of America’s best-kept, dirty-little secrets: The mammoth American food companies knowingly make cereals, cookies, frozen breakfasts, lunches and dinners—hundreds of thousands of processed foods—that are creating a “tsunami of sugar” sweeping up our children and putting them at precipitously high risks for developing cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

And nothing is stopping these companies from continuing this despicable practice

Not Michelle Obama (although she’s tried with her Let’s Move campaign). Not our schools, 80 percent of which have deals with companies, including Coke and Pepsi, to serve junk food and beverages to our children and grandchildren. Not parents, who succumb to the lures of food marketing, on TV, on the internet and around practically every corner they turn. And certainly not our children.

Yep, that’s right. One in five children today is obese, compared to one in 20 in the past. Obesity isn’t just unattractive and sloppy. It leads to chronic illness. Imagine an eight-year-old giving himself insulin shots. You don’t have to imagine. It’s happening. It really is. Once limited to adults, Type 2 diabetes has become a childhood disease.

The amount of added sugar in the 600,000 processed foods currently manufactured in America is horrifying. Sugar isn’t just in cookies and desserts; 80 percent of our processed foods have added sugar. Our kids are becoming sugar addicts. The American Heart Association recommends a daily sugar intake for women of 6 to 9 teaspoons, but our daily intake is actually 41 teaspoons.

If we keep traveling down this sugar-paved road, it’s estimated that 95 percent of all Americans will be obese in the next two decades.

The seeds of the epidemic actually were planted in 1977, after a government committee on nutrition and human needs heard expert testimony that obesity was the #1 form of malnutrition in the US, caused by a diet overly rich in saturated fats, rich in sugar, rich in fatty meats and rich in cholesterol. When the committee report recommended the creation of dietary “goals” for Americans—that we reduce our intake of fat-rich, caloric food—the egg, dairy, beef and sugar associations united, rejected it and demanded a rewrite.

If Americans reduced their intake of fat-rich, caloric food, that would translate into less business, the food industry correctly reasoned. Can’t have that, manufacturers thought, so they started getting creative, and devious: They re-engineered their food with less fat and fewer calories, but began dumping in more sugar to make it taste better. Otherwise, the food would have tasted like cardboard. That’s when the marketing gurus stepped in and designed labels that made bold statements, such as: “Now with half the fat and one-third fewer calories.” What the labels didn’t say was that the re-engineered food contained twice the sugar. The upshot? Americans doubled their daily intake of sugar from 1977 to 2000.

Remember when the heads of the tobacco companies “lied through their teeth” about the dangers of smoking, the film asks? Everyone watching the lineup of tobacco execs seated before Congress knew they were calculating clowns, but we let them get away with it. Until we didn’t. And when the government, media and the public finally took on the tobacco companies, in the mid 90s, changes were swift and effective. Smoking ads were banned on TV; smoking was banned in planes, in the workplace, in restaurants. Labels on cigarette packs were honest. The fact is, we should ban smoking entirely, but the tobacco lobby is too strong, so we’re settling for second best. The good news is that half as many high school students are smoking now than they did 20 years ago.

Well, my dear FOFriends, the documentary claims that the food companies have been lying through their teeth for the last 30 plus years about the damage that sugar is causing to the health and well being of our children. And we will have to “demonize the food industry, like we demonized the tobacco industry,” if we are going to cure obesity, the documentary emphatically states.

I’m ready. Are you?

Here are 19 other crucial facts and statistics I gleaned from Fed Up about the obesity epidemic and the effect of sugar on our children’s (and, of course, our) health.

(more…)

Come On, Suck It Up!

I don’t like to load or unload the dishwasher. I’m not crazy about cleaning the stove. And if I never did another load of laundry again, I wouldn’t weep. But, I LOVE to vacuum. Yes, you read that right. Ever since my mother tasked me, in the early sixties, with “carpet sweeping” (a mechanical device that basically lifted the top layer of dust from carpets), I have enjoyed the process of sucking up dirt, lint and other small particles of whatnot from wall-to-wall carpeting, area rugs, and floors.

Believe it or not, I also wrote about the “floor care” business, when I was the editor and publisher of an influential home furnishings trade newspaper. I toured vacuum cleaner manufacturing plants; I dined with the presidents of Hoover and Eureka; I even knew how many vacuums Sears sold every year. And I could write a thesis on the relative merits of one style versus another.

As you’d suspect by now, I’ve owned all kinds of vacuums in my time, good, bad and horrible.

Heavy uprights that looked like they could suck up small trees, but could barely lift a twig; canisters with unwieldy cords and clunky bodies that knocked into every wall on their travels from room to room and were daring me to trip over them; handheld vacs that made lots of noise but labored trying to lift sand from the back seat of the car and ran out of charge quicker than the original iPhone. The vacuum I now own is a pre-owned European import that normally costs an arm and a leg. It looks a lot better than it performs.

Of course, I was game when Dyson asked if I’d try out their new cordless vac, the Dyson Digital Slim™ DC59 Motorhead. That’s like asking an 8-year-old if he wants to try a shiny new bicycle!

Dyson claims that DC59 Motorhead “Out-cleans the top 5 best-selling full-size vacuums across carpets and hard floors. Without the hassle of a cord.” Naturally, I was skeptical.

Turns out, they were right.

  • It’s light: Under five pounds, and its small motor is located in the handle, making it a cinch to lift—with one hand—for overhead cleaning and to carry around the apartment.
  • It’s powerful and versatile: It sucked out every bit of the dirt deep in the seams of our often-used living room chairs; picked up pieces of packing material off the hardwood floor in seconds; dusted in places I haven’t touched in ages, including the tippy top of the kitchen cabinets, and perked up the little silk rug in our bedroom.
  • It’s convertible: The light aluminum wand can be removed to convert the unit into a powerful handheld vacuum for cleaning car interiors, upholstery, and more.
  • It’s flexible: The cleanerhead maneuvers with a flick of the wrist to easily reach hard-to-reach places.
  • It’s compact: It can be hung, with its docking station, on a wall or inside a closet without taking much space.

I used the unit for about 15 minutes and the suction remained as forceful as it was when fully charged. The battery charge reportedly gives you 24 minutes of cleaning time with full power.

Whether you need a new vac, want to buy one for your daughter’s new apartment, or think it would make a great gift for an approaching bridal shower, I strongly recommend you buy this one.

To enter to win the Dyson Digital Slim™ DC59 Motorhead ($549.99 value), fill out the form below!

This contest is now closed.

This post is sponsored by Dyson. Thanks for supporting FabOverFifty!

1 FOF will win. (See official rules, here.) Contest closes September 30, 2014 at midnight E.S.T. Contest limited to residents of the continental U.S.

Let’s Start A National Movement To Ban The “S” Word

I hereby declare the start of a movement to banish the word “senior” from the English language,
as in “senior citizen.”

And, while we’re at it, let’s say bye-bye to the phrases “golden years” and “old age.”

I didn’t think of myself as a “child” when I was 8, a “teenager” when I was 15; a “young adult” when I was 24, or a middle-aged woman” when I was 45. And I surely didn’t start thinking of my myself as a “senior” at the tender age of 50, when the depressing, AARP organization sent me a membership application. I don’t feel any different, at 67. What’s more, If I’m lucky enough to live into my 80s or 90s, don’t call me “elderly.”

I realize it’s convenient for demographers, sociologists, academics and psychologists to label people populations, but boomers refuse to get “old,” even if 60 is a bigger number than 20 and it takes us a little longer to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Consider what Harry Moody, 69, former director of academic affairs for AARP, told a New York Times writer a couple of years ago: “What’s going on is we have a problem with the subject itself. Everyone wants to live longer, but no one wants to be old. Personally, I tend to use the term ‘older people’ because it’s the least problematic. Everyone is older than someone else.

“Much of the time, it’s completely unnecessary to use age as an identifier at all. People don’t like it. That’s why you see organizations changing their names. Elderhostel got rid of ‘elder’ and became Road Scholar. AARP shortened its name, which now doesn’t mention age or retirement,” Moody said.

I also think women who refuse to disclose their ages—even if they’re clearly over 50—are doing us all a disservice. Aren’t they actually capitulating to those who think we’re useless and elderly after 50? If I have more energy, passion, drive and creativity than many people half my age, why should I hide the fact I’m 67? I can hear all my 30-something friends lovingly calling me “a pain in the neck,” “stubborn,” and “opinionated,” but I don’t think they’d pin the label “senior citizen” on my new jean overalls.

Press releases with the “S” word continually pop up in my email, such as one with this headline:

CELEBRATE NATIONAL GRANDPARENTS DAY WITH SENIOR-FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES ON SEPTEMBER 7th 2014.

Don’t you just love the term “senior-friendly”? The release was sprinkled with other endearing words, like “the elderly”, and gave us spectacularly uncreative advice, including taking “the elderly” on “fun” activities like picnics. My mother died a few years ago, one month shy of 87. I never referred to her as elderly a single day of her life. And her “fun” activities included going to the Shakespeare class at the Y and playing bridge.

I decided to ask the “junior” PR person, who sent the release, to explain how her company defined “senior.” She responded: “Someone who is at least 60.”

AARGH!!!!!

Why I Decided To End The Life of My 14-Year-Old Cat

We euthanized Remy, our 14-year-old cat, this past weekend.

I met Remy in late 2001, maybe a few weeks after 9/11. Lauren (my first employee when I launched my own business in 1998, and still a dear friend) and I were walking near our office on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, when we passed a young woman cuddling a cute kitten in her arms (are kittens ever anything but cute?) We stopped to ooh and aah, and learned the kitty was up for adoption since her owner discovered she had a cat allergy.

A few hours later, I went to pick up “Remy” at the dance studio run by her now-allergic owner. That was the name I was going to give my first child, if I had a girl. I had a boy, but still loved the name. Remy was about a year old, her unofficial-looking papers reported.

She was a wonderful cat from that day forward. I remember hearing her cute faint meows for months after I brought her home, as she pitter-pattered next to my bed in the middle of the night. She eventually slept most of the night, but usually made her way to the pillows of houseguests at some point before morning. Whenever she decided to sleep between me and David, on a pillow, her purring was more soothing than any sound machine in Brookstone.

When the vet first examined Remy, he said she must have had an accident because her jaw was misshapen. It didn’t affect her ability to eat. As a matter of fact, she weighed in at 12 pounds as an adult, and Dr. Johnson advised me to put her a diet (she took after me, I guess.)

Aside from two pelvic fractures (one, the result of getting tangled up with a lightweight metal sculpture, which came crashing to the floor with her when she tried to extricate herself from it; the other, from a totally mysterious cause), Remy was healthy, content and extremely independent. She’d go about her business without fussing, and she only meowed when she wanted something she couldn’t get by herself (e.g. jumping over the high bathtub, in later years, to drink from the faucet, or opening up the door to our tiny outdoor space, where she’d bask in the sun and intently survey everything around her, as cats do so well.)

Not a cat who demanded or gave much affection, Remy would sidle up to certain people when she was in the rare mood to be held, stroked or kissed. She loved my nephew, Brian; his mother, my sister Shelley; my aunt Sylvia, and Douglas, my former husband.

Interesting, she appealed most to people who were not cat lovers.

“She was a wonderful cat, the first animal I ever cared about,” Shelley emailed me Sunday, when I told her Remy was gone. And David, who had disliked cats, bonded with Remy as soon as he met her, around 12 years ago. He couldn’t leave the apartment without knowing where she was and that she was safe and sound. Remy was a champ at bringing out his caring side.

We brought five-month-old Rigby, a Norfolk terrier, home when Remy was about 6 years old. When he wanted to be her friend, he’d gingerly approach her to nuzzle, but Remy was not in the least bit interested. She’d hiss at him to get away. Other times, Rigby would quietly watch her approaching from the other end of the hallway, and, as she got closer, he’d suddenly turn to chase her. He’d bark loudly as he began his pursuit, and Remy would let out a wild scream and head for the hills. Rigby always backed off.

Remy stopped looking and acting like herself about two months ago, when she suddenly started to meow a great deal, first mainly at night and then quite a bit throughout the day, and lost the sparkle in her pretty green eyes. At one point, I decided she was once my father, who had similarly colored eyes, but I changed my mind and thought she was a kinder, gentler Edgar, because she had the same piercing look. For those of you who don’t “know” Edgar, he was the Mississippi (snake) charmer with whom I spent 12 years.

When we took Remy to the vet for an exam, she was down to 8 pounds, from around 11 last year. Weight loss and excessive meowing are often symptoms of hypertension and diabetes in older cats, the vet told us. Her blood workup ruled those out, but did reveal a UTI (urinary tract infection). The doctor put her on meds. The infection cleared up and the meowing subsided, but Remy’s appetite was diminishing.

Subsequent blood tests showed she most likely had a type of leukemia that, fortunately, is treatable. Although the diagnosis wasn’t fully confirmed, Dr. Cavanaugh started treatment anyway and prescribed an appetite stimulant. He also noticed that Remy had a loose tooth, which looked like it was infected, so he injected antibiotics and told us to return in 10 days to have it removed.

But something more was wrong, I thought last week, as I noticed Remy’s mouth looking more and more misshapen every day. She’d start eating but would stop within a minute. She’d approach the water bowl, but turned away. Her meowing intensified again. Perhaps the antibiotics didn’t work and the infection had worsened. At least she’d have the tooth removed on Sunday.

The moment Dr. Cavanaugh looked at Remy’s mouth Sunday morning, he knew something more was indeed wrong. Turning to me and David, he told us that Remy had an “aggressive malignant tumor” on her jawbone and began to explain our options. He’d recommend an oncologist, who would probably take xrays and a biopsy. Depending on the results, part of her jawbone could be removed, along with the tumor. However, it was likely the tumor would return in short order. “Is she in pain?” I asked, of course knowing the answer because she was trying to tell us she was in distress ever since she started meowing a couple of months ago. “Yes,” Dr. Cavanaugh answered. “But we could give her pain medication.”

At that moment, my decision was made. We needed to stop Remy’s pain, but not
with pain drugs.

David would have prefered to take her home to prepare himself, but I couldn’t deal with that so I emailed my son, who also has a 14-year-old cat, and asked his advice. He agreed with my decision, and David also came to terms with it.

Dr. Cavanaugh gave Remy a sedative around 10:45 am Sunday, then inserted a catheter into her leg that carried the drugs to peacefully end her life. I couldn’t bear to be in the room. David told me she looked liked she was asleep. He cried, something that I’ve seen him do only once since we met, when Remy was around 2 years old.

All I could think of Sunday was Remy’s meowing during the last two months, as she tried to tell us she was in pain a great deal worse than any of us suspected. I am upset at the thought that we weren’t doing anything to help her, despite the antibiotics, appetite stimulant, leukemia drug. Although her mouth didn’t show any outward signs of cancer until last week (except, in hindsight, the loose tooth), the tumor obviously was causing her great suffering. I now realize that when she’d sit completely still, on the top of the sofa back, facing the wall, it was probably the only time she felt less pain.

My heart aches picturing her in that position and imagining what she was feeling.

Rigby, in the meantime, seems a bit lost since David and I returned to the apartment Sunday, absent Remy. He sniffed around her carrier and watched me empty the litter box and gather up her belongings. Crazy as it sounds, I think Rigby and Remy must have derived some comfort from one another, even when they fought like cats and dogs, and that they probably socialized when we weren’t home.

I wish Rigby and I could tell each other how we feel.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I’m always intrigued by women who reject the ideas of coloring their gray hair or having plastic surgery, because they want to “grow old gracefully.”

I never thought there was anything graceless about having my hair colored when I was 35 and I still don’t, at 67. My mother-in-law colored her hair until she died, at almost 90, and she was the most graceful woman I have ever met.

As for plastic surgery, I guess you could say turkey necks and jowls are graceful (on turkeys), but I wouldn’t apply that adjective to a turkey neck and jowls on a woman. Sure, it’s “natural” to have gray hair and sagging skin when you age, and if you want to keep them, I say “knock yourself out.” As the French philosopher, Voltaire, said: “I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Yet, I was amazed by the response to the first question on a poll that we posted on FabOverFifty last week:

You notice your hair is thinning and your scalp is showing. You:

  • Try to rearrange your hair to disguise the bald spot (69%, 331 votes)
  • Invest in a quality hairpiece or wig (14%, 68 votes)
  • Do nothing (12%, 56 votes)
  • Buy scarf and hat wardrobes to stylishly cover it up (5%, 23 votes)

“Huh?” I thought, when I saw the numbers. Have all of you who chose the first answer taken leave of your senses? Are you certain that you’d actually emulate Donald Trump, even when you know it’s virtually impossible to disguise a bald spot by arranging neighboring hair over it. What are you thinking?!? Would it embarrass you to wear a well-made hairpiece or wig? Would you worry that others would discover your “secret”? Do you think thinning hair, plus a combover, really truly look better?

If you’re going to try and rearrange your hair to cover an obvious bald spot, it seems to me that you aren’t too excited about seeing scalp in the first place. On the other hand, if you don’t give a hoot whether your scalp shows, you wouldn’t bother doing a thing and you’d have selected the third response on the list. As you can tell, I don’t think much of combovers. They’re bad enough on men; they’re horrible looking on women. I’d rather shave my head. It makes a more dramatic statement then oddly positioning a thin cluster of hair over a shiny bald spot.

A full head of hair acts like a frame around your face and is integral to looking fresh and more youthful. Really. It is.

Thinning hair is one of the most obvious signs of aging. No matter how thick your hair was at 30, it’s just not going to be quite as thick when you’re 50 and 60. If the thinning is unnoticeable, you’re a lucky lady. If it’s obvious, and you see patches of scalp right smack in the front of your head, like I did, you’re less fortunate. But make no mistake about it: A combover is definitely not a substitute for a full head of hair.

When I accepted that my once thick, curly hair had become thin, dry and resembled straw—and there was no turning back—I decided to check out custom hairpieces. I remembered seeing ads for years from a New York company, called LeMetric, and when I discovered it was still in business, I made an appointment to meet with the owner, Elline Surianello. After examining my thinning tresses, she explained that she could create a hand-made piece, made of genuine hair, that could be sewn into my own hair or attached with clips (there are pros and cons to either method); washed with regular shampoo, and dried and styled with a blow dryer. Elline and I discussed the most flattering length, texture and style; the cost, and how frequently I’d need to return to her salon to have the piece adjusted if I chose the sewn-in method, since it would loosen as my own hair grew.

That was about three years ago, and not a day has gone by
when I haven’t worn a hairpiece.

My first piece was fairly straight; the new one, which is about two months old, is curly and pretty much resembles the way my natural hair used to look. Getting a piece was one of the best beauty decisions I’ve ever made. I feel good wearing it and get compliments on my hair all the time, to which I usually respond, “Thank you, but it’s not my own hair.” People are flabbergasted. Even a salon owner in my neighborhood couldn’t tell I was wearing a hairpiece.

Then again, I think, IT IS my own hair. After all, I own it. It’s really no different than my silk-wrapped nails, jewelry, makeup, shoes and clothes. It all helps me look the best I can. But don’t trust me. I’m biased.

Just take a look at these two photos, and tell me, which Geri Brin do YOU prefer?

P.S. A custom, hand-made hairpiece isn’t cheap, but Elline also sells synthetic wigs and pieces that cost substantially less and will make you look great. BTW, Elline has become one of my dearest friends and she did not pay me a penny to write this blog. You can email her at elline@lemetric.com to discuss your options, even if you live outside of New York. Or call her at 212.986.5620

Do You Keep Your Vulnerabilities To Yourself?

If you openly admit that it’s impossible for you to get through a day without a glass (or three or four) of wine, do you think everyone will suspect you’re an alcoholic?

If you tell your boss that you don’t understand her instructions about executing a project, do you suppose she’ll think you’re stupid?

If you acknowledge to your sister that your husband often flies off the handle and slaps you, but you don’t react, do you expect she’ll tell you to leave him immediately?

Why do many of us think that the act of admitting we feel defenseless makes us look weak, when, in fact, it can be a sign of strength?

If you seek advice and guidance from a friend, a therapist, your husband—rather than letting a problem eat at you and possibly destroy your sense of wellbeing—aren’t you actually respecting yourself? I say it’s smarter to solve a problem than to pretend it doesn’t exist , or to anxiously mull it over and over, with no resolution in sight.

When I first went to a psychiatrist, at 17, my parents didn’t tell a soul. My father and I would surreptitiously leave the house when my mother was playing mahjong with her friends. I wonder where the ladies thought my dad and I were going at 8 PM on a Tuesday night. My parents couldn’t have the neighbors think they had a crazy daughter. How did that make them look?

Thank goodness, many more people today seek help, whether from therapists, their church, support groups like AA, their family or their friends. Yes, help often fails. It’s consistently reported, for example, that over 85 percent of those who go through drug or alcohol rehab fail and return to their addictions. But, without help, where would the 15 percent be?

Even when our vulnerabilities involve issues other than drugs or alcohol, say intense insecurity about our relationships or career, there’s really no shame in discussing it. I know someone who privately thinks he’s a failure because his girlfriend earns a great deal more than he does, and he’s developed a bitter attitude about almost everything and towards almost everyone. If only he’d recognize that his feelings of defeat have nothing to do with his girlfriend’s earnings and try to move on. His girlfriend, in the meantime, constantly coddles him because she can’t stand to see him depressed.

This begs the questions: What is our role when we see someone we love being consumed
by his or her own vulnerability?

Do we start by quietly offering advice? Do we stage an intervention? Do we walk away from her because she is harming, not only herself, but her friends and family? Do we ignore it completely?

When I heard about the death of Robin Williams, I couldn’t help but ask myself why those physically and emotionally closest to him—his wife and manager, for example—couldn’t see impending disaster. And, if they did, why did they leave him alone for even a minute? But I know these questions are naïve. Although Robin Williams admitted his vulnerabilities, for years, to millions of us, and sought treatment on more than one occasion, his brilliant, crazy, funny, distracted mind apparently spun completely out of whack. The only way he could control it was to permanently turn it off. No one could stop him.

Is There A God (Oops! Doctor) In The House?

A little joke used to circulate among my generation: A woman dies and goes to heaven. Waiting on a long cafeteria line to pick up lunch, she sees a man in hospital scrubs, with a stethoscope around his neck, boldly step right to the front of the line. “Who does that doctor think he is?” she indignantly asks the man standing in back of her. “Oh, that’s God. He just thinks he’s a doctor,” the man explains.

We used to think
that was pretty funny, because we grew up thinking doctors
were Gods.

Our mothers revered them and hung on their every word when we were sick. If someone in our family was a DOCTOR, he was considered a rich relative. Of course, it would be a great accomplishment if we married a doctor. (A dentist was the next best thing.)

We automatically became part of the doctor cult when we became mothers. I instinctively called the pediatrician for guidance and reassurance every time my baby boy had a temperature spike, unfamiliar cough or uncommon bowel movement. It goes without saying that we, too, unreservedly trusted our doctors about our own health.

Until we didn’t. Somewhere during the last couple of decades, the ‘boomer’ generation (of women, especially) started taking charge of our own bodies, just as we’ve taken charge of our careers, our lifestyles, our finances, and a whole lot more.

Doctors misdiagnosed my dad’s advanced melanoma in 1988, claiming it was “salmonella.” A dermatologist told me the rash on my stomach looked like “syphilis,” when I was 23 and had never slept with anyone but my 23-year-old husband, who surely didn’t have syphilis. My son’s godly pediatrician turned ungodly when he adamantly and repeatedly claimed four-year-old Colby had a “bad cold,” which, in fact, was pneumonia. And we only discovered this when I insisted Dr. S do a chest X-ray on my coughing and feverish little boy. Antibiotics cured the pneumonia in days and the experience started curing my case of Doctor Worship.

Of course, the internet is jam packed with medical information, and while much of it is general, filled with inaccuracies, or just plain hogwash, it at least can prompt us to question our doctors, literally and figuratively.

Most doctors do not like that, including
the old timers who have been Gods for so long, as
well as many boomer doctors, who grew up thinking they’d become Gods when they received their MDs.
(Ironic that boomer doctors don’t get it!)

Personal case in point: I started seeing a cardiologist within the last few years, who specializes in women and heart disease. She’s especially interested in teaching women how to protect their heart health. The visit wasn’t prompted by bothersome symptoms, but I believe it’s important for women to have their hearts checked properly, since heart disease is our Number One killer.

My blood workup indicated my “bad cholesterol” increased beyond the “normal range,” although it wasn’t out of sight. My “good cholesterol” and triglyceride levels remained excellent. Dr. G immediately told me I “needed” to take a statin drug, which would make my bad cholesterol less bad and lower my risk for heart disease. Although I filled the prescription and started taking the medication, the more I read about statins, the less I wanted to take them.

Without getting into a diatribe about statins, one of their lovely side effects can be diabetes. Since my mom had diabetes, I have a predisposition to it. When I told the doctor my concerns, she said: “We actually prescribe statins for people with diabetes.” I didn’t quite understand what that had to do with me, and I didn’t question her further. I simply decided to stop taking statins.

Since then, I’ve interviewed a top Chicago woman’s heart specialist for FabOverFifty, who introduced me to an online test that determines a patient’s risk for developing heart disease or suffering a stroke. After plugging in my blood pressure (normal), good cholesterol and triglyceride levels (excellent), and a few other numbers, I clicked the button and anxiously waited a few seconds for the results. Good news! I’m highly unlikely to get heart disease, based on my profile, and I’m NOT A CANDIDATE FOR STATINS, EVEN FOR A MILD DOSE. I double-checked with the Chicago doctor, who confirmed my results. Interestingly, the test doesn’t even ask for LDL levels, because it’s the HDL that keeps plaque from forming in our arteries.

When I emailed my doctor about the test, she responded that “it’s not valid for people over 59.”

“Incorrect,” I emailed back. “If you’re over 59, it will only assess your 10-year risk versus your lifetime risk. At 67, I’ll take the 10-year-risk.”

She never responded.

I’m not interested in one-upping someone who went to four years of medical school, internship, residency and other grueling training she needed to become a heart specialist. All I’d like is for her to recognize that she shares something very important with her patients. She, too, is a human being.

And human beings do make mistakes, even when they have M.D. in back of their names.