Report from U.T. Seniors Expo, 2012

February 12, 2012 This is the final of a three part series. The first two originally posted on Dailykos.com, focused on my "heroically" taking on the "forces of evil", a right wing radio personality and a powerful developer who was quietly expanding his control of the media in this great city. First diary, Second

The full title of the exposition is "Successful Aging Expo of 2012, Sponsored by the San Diego Union Tribune" The right wing hate radio monster, was a funny, comedic libertarian a 27 year old who unlike other speakers with M.D.s and Ph.Ds, just barely got his B.A., who handled dealing with these people in the audience, the "Depends" and "Ensure" crowd by imagining we were his Nana, who loves him dearly so there was nothing to be nervous about-that's exactly what his Nana told him to do.

My talk radio monster, Mike Slater, turned out to be absolutely unhateable. When I confronted him for not giving my full name when he satirized my critical blog on this site, citing fairness, he said "Sure, Hi Al," and said that he would provide the info on it Monday on his show. (I wrote him to forget about it, since this is now old news). On the rogues list of hate mongers, Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, etc. he would be the jester, the one who fires one liners that don't demand getting out your gun, but to have another beer- and buy the services of his sponsors- and boy does he have them. This kid is a success.

So, in spite of the title that brought in the Tea Party crowd, "Obamacare, Liberty and the future of Healthcare" he never even mentioned our president, much less blame him for anything. Actually, there was very little substance, more like a Seinfeld opening monologue where he riffs, "How about those doctor bills that we never even know how much they are......"

But the day was meaningful for me in many ways. The alternate title of this expo could of been, "We are getting older, closer to death if we are lucky-- and a long period of Alzheimer's if we aren't." So, the only other talk I attended was one that Slater had used to illustrate the expertise that he lacked, James Brewer M.D., Ph.D on MRI imaging for Dementia Prognosis, saying that his authority comes from being a radio host, which means, "I can talk about anything I want."

I knew Brewer's work well, (and because he was speaking I first found out about Mike Slater's presentation) and when I wrote to him after seeing his lecture on TV, he responded in detail, not boilerplate, perhaps because of the readership I had from a dailykos diary. Yes, a recommended diary on this site allows the writer to get the attention of public figures, as you become an opinion leader for the moment, someone who can advance or retard their own goals. A diary with a few comments they can ignore, hundreds of them and they pay attention.

It was the first time I actually met him, and my respect for him grows. But, that the subject for another essay, an important one, since he is aware of the new Eli Lilli product, "Florbetapir", about to get FDA approval that will cause they very type of emotional devastation that we had been talking about. Here's a description of the evaluation by the FDA. No hint of the defects are in this report that is thinly disguised P.R. piece showing how this will be marketed to Physicians and the public. How this was approved, what forces of mendacity and ignorance conspired to unleash this on the frightened elderly is a story that will someday be told. Stay tuned to this station.

I have taken the screening test at the UCSD research project that Brewer is involved with, but didn't put the narrative on this site for various reasons, but it's available here. Look folks, Dementia is a bitch, we hate and fear it, and are pretty pissed off at the messenger who gives bad news. But That's life, and Brewer represents the kind of responsible science that minimizes the suffering, but he can't make it go away. One of the people I met at the Expo was a man who is diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. He had two careers, a Navy officer and after retiring became a C.P.A. financial officer of a major trade association in D.C. He's taking Aricept, hoping it will make it go away. They are our friends, and he always smiles, and thinks I'm really smart so I like him a lot, but his wife was not enjoying the show, more like trying to get something important out of it, grasping for some answers to her husband's problem.

It turned out that the Union Tribune did have someone who was seriously addressing the political issues of healthcare who actually was a student of this subject, Mario D. Garrett, who is the chair of the Department of Gerontology of San Diego State University. I only caught the last few minutes of his Q and A, after leaving Mike Slater's talk, but the tone was palpably different. They were addressing real questions, not simplistic platitudes. I just wrote a long email to him that since his is on the board of the Alzheimer's Association, he can make a correction in their website that they should never have made. (He followed through by forwarding my suggestion)

There were over a hundred booths providing products and services to this older crowd, and like always, I interacted, challenged some like the man who could get me 6% interest on a five year security that is "safer than FDIC insured CD" And I found out that those reverse mortgages that banks offer to those over 62, have no risk to the financial institution as the Federal Government actually makes the loan, and the banks get the commission. But the Government does not mandate that they do genuine financial counseling to the people who pay a pretty high rate for a secured loan--another sweetheart deal to the rich and powerful.

One exhibit had a powerful impact for a very personal reason. My Aunt Lena is a month away from her 109th birthday, which is not a cause for celebration, because she told me a few years ago, and I have a video of the conversation, that she would never want to live in the state that she is now in. She has no children, and my sister and I are her closest family, and my sister living near her on the east coast was made her guardian when she went into assisted living five years ago. We used to talk every week on the phone, as I'm in California, and I could always cheer her up, give her a laugh, and connect. But she was declining, her conversation got shorter and more repetitious, and she sometimes couldn't understand what I was saying.

Then about six months ago my sister called and  told me that she had gone deaf.  We had a disagreement, then an argument that echoed the tension we had gone through twenty years ago, when my mother was in the last stages of Alzheimers.

At the expo this booth had a set up where they showed the wax in your ear canal on the TV monitor. I described Lena's condition, and the technician told me that if there is impacted wax, the loss of hearing of up to 50 dbs, combined with the decrease in cognitive processing capacity could cause what seems like deafness. When I asked, she told me that if this were the case wax, even if impacted, could be softened and removed....in all cases in her experience.

I haven't spoken to my sister in months, as I don't want to deal with what is happening. At my suggestion she was associated with a hospice service, which according to my sister is limited to a nurse's aid visiting a few times a week, and charging an exorbitant fee--yet, in all likelihood no physician has ever looked into the ear canal of my aunt to determine what her problem is. Hospice does not require a doctor's visit, and my sister, having her own difficulties, is not of a mind to insist on anything.

I have to control my anger, and realize that there's not much that I can do, and perhaps not much that anyone can do. And if I were to assert myself, arrange an examination, without the cooperation of my sister and the nurse in charge, it would have a tone of conflict, something that would disturb Aunt Lena. Would recovery of hearing given her state of dementia now even matter. So, this experience at the aging expo has been partly a preview of things to come, of the future of not the golden years but the declining years, where the worst fears are beyond anyone's control.

Well, this was an interesting two weeks, from the time I first leaned of this expo, contacting Mike Slater, connecting with James Brewer and writing about it here. As I write this I'm listening to Slater's show, getting a full dose of the other culture that we ridicule on this site. It is a different world, and there is very little cross communication. Our leftist concept, we call it progressive, is a communal perspective that views accumulation of private wealth as dependent on a society based on both private enterprise and the essential functions of government. Unlike "extremists for liberty" such as Slater and his co radio hosts, who see taxes, the essential funding mechanism for government, as organized theft.

The selective exaggeration of complex laws, simple truisms such as Democrats being socialists, and this inevitably  leading to fascism" are endlessly repeated. The certainty of the dire results of Obama's second term, repeated constantly by different voices, as humor, as camp, as erudition but always without meaningful rebuttal.  In the few hours that I listened to Slater, as he was directly addressing my blog by name, I caught the contagion, felt it in my bones, and have a new understanding of the potency of such a drumbeat of tribal fear, and a call to action to prevent it.

I did impact Slater's presentation at the expo, moderating his usual preaching to the choir since he didn't know how many in the audience would be like me, and actually challenge his assumptions. As he acknowledged in his radio program, he has no knowledge of aging or of medical policy, needing nothing more than libertarian simplifications.. So, in his world all medical advances have come from private enterprise, ignoring the great achievements such as the Salk polio vaccine that was created with public funding and given without royalties to the people of the world.

It's been challenging and rewarding following my interests wherever they lead. I would never have listened to the Mike Slater Show, or any of his colleagues on 760AM, and learn how powerful are the forces of indoctrination, how his friendly voice is part of the station's family who always have the last word when they take an opposing call. I did stand up and demand an apology for his excerpting my essay without a full reference for listeners to read it completely at that hall at the convention yesterday, and did give out my statement, that I wrote and printed that morning.

Although a only small impact, it was something.  Perhaps, it meant more to Slater's true believers that it was one man, one individual rather than an organized group who was challenging him. It's the power of conviction, that is self sustaining, intellectually challenging, and at times fun.  We will see how far this goes. 

Al Rodbell





Successful Aging Expo 2012- Handout to visitors

Living through Amazing Times

​Al Rodbel​l

I'm one of you- we who are attending the Successful Aging Expo who are looking for answers as we face what is called our Golden Years. We, most born between 1920 and 1950 have seen social changes unprecedented in any country in the absence of a violent revolution. Computers, hardly existing when we were children, are now squeezed into something the size of a pack of cigarettes (remember those) with more capacities than we ever dreamed of. Since time seems to go faster for us, just as soon as we've learned how to use one type of computer a whole new set of devices comes along, apps replace programs, and we have to adjust or fall further behind.

So, we feel our brain is starting to go, since we can't keep up with the hundreds of new apps for our new smart phones, and can't make the damn thing work as easily as they show on the television ads. And we fear that this is the first stage of something that is worse than death itself, Alzheimer's disease. We become confused by the daily barrage of articles of new research that promises to cure this disease, since it worked so well in mice (who don't have to learn new apps for their iphones) We wait for more news about this latest magic bullet, but it never comes; and we don't hear how it didn't have any effect on humans except making them sick. But not to worry, there are five more articles this week about new ways shown to ward off this disease.

As Bette Davis famously said, "Getting old is not for sissies" and she is right. It's not for chumps either. We have a right to be suspicious of all of those nice young people here who want to help us, to provide us with supplements to keep our joints and brains young, to help us navigate the legal complexities of transfer of assets, to turn our small retirement fund into a flow of income that we can live well on, to make our lives better in every way.

And then there's Politics.

I'm distributing this at the presentation by Mike Slater on his subject, "Obamacare Liberty and Healthcare." He is a self described "Extremist for Liberty" which has a specific meaning in his world, and those of his associates Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. "Liberty" among this group means freedom from programs such as Medicare and Social Security that make you slaves to "Government" which also has a special meaning, which is all things bad. On his program Friday, he talked about this problem, and Joked, "Maybe I'll tell them (us, the older people) that they are stealing from their grandchildren with their Medicare and Social Security." He laughed and said, "I can't say that or Ill never make it back to my car." The problem is that this is what he believes, this is what his admired Republicans in the House of Representatives believe, who voted to end Medicare as we know it almost unanimously. (Don't worry, it was only one house of Congress and it was never even taken up by the Senate)

Note After watching his speech.

Mike did address the need to deal with Medicare, and put in the context of caring for the audience's grand children's well being. He avoided evaluating specific partisan positions during the entire speech, mostly criticizing lack of portability, excessive mandates of coverage, and the inherent increase in costs when the individual does not pay for services. These deficiencies are well known, and "Obamacare" is an attempt to deal with them within our political constraints. His lack of specificity makes it difficult to evaluate his own answers to the problems he raised.


Back to Alzheimer's, the fear and the prognosis.

I will also be giving this out at Dr. James Brewer's presentation of his research on advanced MRI scans to evaluate possible dementia. First of all, he's a great guy, who possesses the rare combination of smarts and personality that allows him to reach we who are so fearful of this dreaded disease. His research is only one part of a network of federally funded facilities (Government = Bad ?, remember) that is trying to find a way to prevent this disease, actually an array of different conditions that can cause pathological memory loss. Here's my concern, that while medical treatment of this complex chain of cellular dysfunction may be long in coming, dealing with the universal fear of this condition must be addressed now. I have suggested to him that in his enthusiasm to find a cure, he may inadvertently be contributing to this exaggerated fear among we older folks. I even took his program's memory assessment to better understand their process, which I write about on my blog.

The highly respected Alzheimer's Association illustrates this subtle distortion. In the section "Myths" on their website they assert that the reality of normal decline of memory with aging is an "open question," meaning that it could be that if dementia, the disease, is cured, we would retain our youthful memories until we die of old age. This is false, as shown in hundreds of studies of populations and examination of healthy older brains upon autopsy. It's different than that of younger people, just as every other part of our bodies, inside and out, is different. Some may call it better, with a deeper richness like fine wine, but different nevertheless. We have to ask why this respected organization maintains this fiction, and what function other than creating both fear and desperation does this promote. Who will work towards achieving a way to age, including all that this means, in the most satisfying way without distortion of the reality of the process? While Government can be "bad" as Slater espouses, he is wrong that it is always such, as there are positive changes that can only be achieved by concerted national policy, otherwise known as Government.

Let's see if there's something we can do together, not as clients who need help, but as people who have accumulated a richness of experiences and insights that deserve to be a major part of our national conversation. I'll start by coordinating this at my website, ALRODBELL.BLOGSPOT.COM.