Friday, December 28, 2012

The unsound mind in a sound body

     My mother passed away a couple of months ago.  She was advanced in years – 96 of them actually.  While sound of body, she was not sound of mind having been troubled with Alzheimer’s disease for a very long period.  My reckoning makes it almost 20 years.  This is a very long time to suffer from any disease.    This blog is not about the ravages of dementia, the lives it affects or the stress placed on the caregivers.  Instead it is about the end of life itself. 

     For Caroline Metzger Kulzer Sladek, the end itself was peaceful enough.  It was the getting there that troubles me still.  For the past two years, she smiled when spoken to.  She opened her mouth when food or drink was presented.  Sounds were omitted – words certainly but without context.  Some friends went so far as to say she was happy. 

     The  woman who was my mother was a private person.  To know that she was the subject of such conjecture would have been anathema to her.  The woman who was my mother actually passed from this world into another one years before her body died.  And yet, allowing that body to join her spirit, electrical energy, soul, whatever you are happy to call our mental essence, was difficult. 

     Her physical care for about 3 years was tended to by a nursing facility.  Able, caring and even loving people worked there.  It was always clean and smelling as fresh as is possible in such surroundings.  As far as such places go, this was top of the list.  And yet, with life functions dwindling there was persistence, almost insistence that food and drink be administered, that blood tests be conducted, medication administered and that a trip to a hospital might be a good thing.  At all costs, the body alone should remain alive seemed to be the message.  When I asked why, they simply smiled and said that she was such a lovely patient.  End of life care was never mentioned even though the end of her life was imminent.

     Previously created documents concerning end of life care were produced.  But she’s such a lovely patient, shouldn’t we administer oxygen, antibiotics, x-rays or whatever was the reply.  No, let’s let her go as softly as possible.  But she’s such a lovely patient.  Enter the doctor who agreed that it was indeed the beginning of the end, wrote some things on a paper and left.  Food and medication arrived and something in my head said hospice.

     A hospice organization was selected and within only minutes the administrator arrived to take down details, review papers, and assess the situation.  Within minutes, my mother was in the hands of people who understood that the end of life is as much a part of living as being born.  Thank you for allowing her to glide gently from our presence and to continue her existence in our hearts and memories.

     The services offered by the many hospice organizations in place today are there for the survivors as much and maybe even more than for those who pass on.  They are a loving family, helping where and how they can, well-trained, practical and forthright.  They offered help with paperwork – that bane of our daily lives.  They offered spiritual aid.  They offered succor and council for those who grieve.  Asking for help can be difficult and for some, like me, almost impossible.   I learned that not asking for help does not mean you are stronger than Samson or smarter than Solomon.  It means you didn’t ask – nothing more – nothing less.  If your loved one is truly nearing the end, seek the help being offered by hospice.  If you wish that such a loving family were there for you in such circumstances, write it down – now.  How you get here is not up to you, but how you leave can and should be your decision.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


     Last Sunday night, the 16th, I went to the theatre – live and in person, not motion pictures.  It was a small theatre, under 99 seats.  The evening was devoted to the singing of…well his name isn’t really relevant only to say he is very popular with those of us in a certain age group.  You know the group.  If you go to the legitimate theatre and stand either in the balcony or in the back row, you’ll notice most of us making the entire room look like a box of Q-Tips.  All the heads are white and fuzzy. 
     Intermission came.  All but two people in the audience needed rest rooms.  I watched my fellow theatre goers grab hold of one seat arm and the back of the seat in front of them so they could begin the pulling struggle to their feet.  Some switched their grip, others asked for assistance from the somewhat more abled bodied person sitting next to them.  I swore quietly under my breath that I would simply rise and I did.  The fitness class work I’m doing under the guidance of Los Angeles Turners’ Fitness and Health Director, Mesfin Felleke, paid off.  I know that my not being done with living has something to do with my determination.  I know that aiding in the rejuvenation of Turners here, there and everywhere helps keep my enthusiasm for fitness high.  But I also know that having someone encourage me makes a whopping difference.  Hmmm, sounds like Turnerism to me!
     This coming Saturday, September 22, 2012, is officially National Falls Prevention Awareness Day.  What has this got to do with listening to a lounge singer and Q-Tips?  Lots.  If those of us in that certain age group actually wait until we fall to start doing something for ourselves, we’ve lost.  If we live by those 10 wrong, but easy to swallow rules about falling – we’ve fallen for sure.  And I don't mean "falling in love again" as the singer intoned.

OK, think about this:
1.      Falling won’t happen to me – I’m careful.  The truth is that 1 in 3 older adults—about 12 million—fall every year in the U.S.   

2.      Falling is something normal that happens as you get older.  Wrong again and wrong big-time.Falling is not a normal part of aging.  Do some strength and balance exercises, manage your medications, have your vision checked and make your living environment safer are all steps you can take to prevent a fall.

3.      If I limit my activity, I won't fall.   The reality is that performing physical activities will actually help you stay independent, as your strength and range of motion benefit from remaining active. Social activities are also good for your overall health.

4.      As long as I stay at home, I can avoid falling.  Not true.  Over half of all falls take place at home. Inspect your home for fall risks. Fix simple but serious hazards such as clutter, throw rugs, and poor lighting. Make simple home modifications, such as adding grab bars in the bathroom, a second handrail on stairs, and non-slip paint on outdoor steps.

5.      Muscle strength and flexibility can't be regained.  Again, not true.  While we do lose muscle as we age, exercise can partially restore strength and flexibility. It’s never too late to start an exercise program. Even if you've been a "couch potato" your whole life, becoming active now will benefit you in many ways—including protection from falls.

Visit to read 5 more rules about getting older and keeping fit.  Remember that keeping the body sound will help keep your mind sound too. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Exercise: the new wonder drug?

“What if there was a pill that could lower your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol? What if this same pill gave you more energy and made you feel less depressed? And if that weren’t enough, what if this pill could dramatically cut your risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others?

Would you ask your doctor to prescribe it? Would you make sure to take it every day? It is hard to imagine anyone would say no to such a wonder drug. I’m here to tell you it already exists: Exercise.

Studies going back hundreds of years have proven physical activity’s value to our health. It’s easy to do and comes in multiple formulations, so you can find the brand that suits you best. And the best part? You can get this wonder drug for free!

You don’t have to take a lot of the exercise pill to get great benefits. The dosage prescribed by Kaiser is 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise.  This can include brisk walking as well as other forms of exercise that also enhance balance, agility and endurance.  So please, take this doctor’s advice and make sure you take your exercise pill!” 

The best place to fill your prescription? we’ve been advocating fitness as a component of A SOUND MIND IN A SOUND BODY since 1871.


Monday, July 30, 2012

German immigration, the Civil War and today

     The 150th anniversary of the Civil War in this country is passing without much notice in Southern California.  Events detailing, analyzing and eulogizing 4 years of horrific warfare were and are being featured “back east.”  Some will continue for the next 3 years.  These events are and will occur mostly in those states where the fighting occurred.  Herbert M. Hart, USMC (retired) is the Executive Director of the Council on America's Military Past and written some interesting words in his The Civil War in the West(1)  stating that the war in the west was fought undercover.
     While actual names and numbers of Germans from California have not revealed themselves during a first search, we know there were a California Battalion and a California 100 plus others who joined militias in many eastern states.  Statistics do state that about 216,000 German immigrants did join the fight, predominantly for the Union.  Of that number, an estimated 177,000 were Forty-Eighters(2) who had left various German states after the defeat of the attempted 1848 revolutions.   Some of those Forty-Eighters came to California and Turnverein Germania was established in Los Angeles around 1851. As we know that a vast number of the Forty-Eighters were German Turners a conclusion can be made that some of them went to war for the Union from Turnverein Germania.  Much is available on the famous and near famous soldiers (Turners), some of whom went on to political importance.   

     But that’s not what this blog is all about.  It’s about the Los Angeles Turners.  So far our historical record only tells me that in 1871 Turnverein Germania dissolved and the Los Angeles Turners emerged.  The Charter written begins with a striking list of beliefs and directives.3)  Why was this written?  Why was it necessary to write it?  Didn’t Turnverein Germania believe these principles?

      I think that this weekend a clue to the Charter’s creation became visible.  C-SPAN, the cable station dedicated to public service, ran some Civil War Features.  Among these is one entitled German Immigrants in the Civil War.(4)    Speaking from his book, We are the Revolutionists(5) the author and research fellow at the German Historical Institute, Mischa Honek explored the Turners’ participation from a perspective not entirely altruistic or complimentary.  He concluded that the Forty-Eighters (i.e. Turners) immigrated with a feeling of defeat and viewed the Civil War as a way to prove that German manhood was brave, strong and on the side of the good.  It was a way to prove that they deserved citizenship in America.  It caused them to have strong feelings about those who did not join in the fighting (cowards and profiteers) and then against those that imposed conscription into military service (indentured servitude).  

     At the War’s conclusion, political infighting was rampant, solutions to labor challenges overwhelming and socialization back into civilian society difficult.  Turnverein Germania may have lost members in the fighting and those that returned probably did so with strong ideas and ideals – possibly entirely different from those belonging to the men that stayed behind. 

     My overactive imagination has fantasized a sort of Germanic Continental Congress composed of men with tattered blue uniforms arguing with big bellied men with large mustaches.  At the conclusion of my dream, the old version of A Sound Mind in a Sound Body was removed replaced with a new version - sort of like the Los Angeles Turners are doing today.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Special in more ways than one

     Special Olympics Southern California is a nonprofit organization that empowers individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. It is one of 52 Chapters within the United States and part of Special Olympics, Inc., which serves 3 million athletes in 180 countries worldwide.

     The Summer Games held this past month at California State University Long Beach showcased more than 5,000 Southern Californians in a myriad of Olympic Events.  On Saturday, June 30th, I was honored to embrace one of those Olympians, Brittany Carlson.  Brittany medaled in 4 events, taking gold in 400 M run and the 4 by 100 relay and silver in the 200 and 1500 M runs. 

     Perfecting a physical skill does many things.  It creates new synapse making the brain more powerful.  It trains muscles to improve the body's ability to function better.  It gives confidence to the individual who has just proven "I can do this!" 

     Judging by the smile on Brittany's face when she displayed her medals, I am certain she had that eureka moment.  I know that placing a Turner pin on her blouse made me happy and once again certain that the Los Angeles Turners motto, A Sound Mind in a Sound Body, does not describe one single perfection, but perfection to the maximum of ones abilities.

    Thanks, Brittany, for giving me that smile.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


     Keeping true to the original mission established by Turnvater Jahn, A Sound Mind in a Sound Body, we here in Los Angeles understand that this mission covers all ages, not just youth. To go forward with that mission we recently opened the doors and of our beautiful new home for the 2012 Mayfest for Older Americans. Service agencies covering assisted living, money management, and health care joined the Los Angeles city Department of Aging, the California DMV Department for Older Drivers, The Alzheimer's Association and many others in presenting their services to the almost 100 Westchester residents who responded to the invitation.

I got to MC and briefly introduce ourselves to neighbors who had not yet visited us. Turn Lehrer Mesfin Felleke followed with a discussion about why oldsters should exercise - even debunking the 5 great myths about why we shouldn't. My favorite debunked myth was "we're old-what difference does it make?" Mesfin then got us all up and we followed along remembering his instruction to "do this only to the extent of your ability." Some even did as much as they could while remaining seated.

     Panelists that followed included Department of Aging and the DMV. A Factoid: Many accidents involving seniors as well as those close encounters titled "what's the matter with that old (expletive deleted)-can't he/she see where they’re going" could be eliminated by simply fitting your car better. Yes, that's right. Think about it. As we age we change shape for many reasons. That car we bought several years ago was lovely, we had good visibility, no bad blind spots and we could reach the pedals easily. Today, with less butt, bad posture, loss of bone mass, impaired neck movement as well as other obnoxious perks of aging, the car no longer fits. DMV has an ap for that! Many adjustments can be made - sit on a pillow, reposition the seat, move the mirrors. We all learned many things.

     The last speaker was Bill Rosendahl, Los Angeles City Councilman from our 11th District,. His personal comments about age and illness were exceptionally meaningful and very poignant.  He even joked about removable teeth. Getting more serious, the panelists were acknowledged and given recognition for their continuing support for our growing older adult community. Mesfin Felleke was honored with a Citation for his contribution in keeping us mobile.

     Then, the Los Angeles Turners - a fixture here in Los Angeles since 1871 - were recognized for our contribution in making Los Angeles a better place in which to live. It was difficult for me to hold back tears as I accepted the document on behalf of members present and past. Thank you - we hope to continue in the meaningful mission established so long ago and more important today than ever before.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How sound a mind? How sound a body?

Research proves that learning new skills, multi-tasking and keeping active builds new synapse or pathways in the brain.  Sort of a reverse on “teaching old dogs new tricks.”  Research also proves that physical activity including cardio and strength work outs helps us keep our balance, improve bone density and keeps us healthier longer.  Of course we can quote Rita Ruder who said that the word aerobics came about when the gym instructors got together and said, "If we're going to charge $10 an hour, we can't call it jumping up and down.“

Writing this blog is part of my new skills regime.  Coming up with readable language on subjects relative to the Los Angeles Turners and with some interest to others requires reaching into my ethnic depths and exploring lexiconic heights. 

My work out regimen, while progressing beyond the ouch stage, now produces those feel-good endorphins, but is not yet something I have budgeted time for.  While it’s making me feel taller by the day, it’s still hard to do it as regularly as I should.        

All this leads up to how sound a mind in a sound body do I really need?  Am I doing too much or not enough?  Is sitting down to read for an hour or watch TV a waste of time?  Is spreading myself across several non-profit boards excessive?  I’m sleeping perfectly, my diet is quite healthy.  Am I becoming obsessive?  Is sounding my mind and body becoming addictive?  Of course not, it’s all part of being retired – not enough time in the day.

Why then, did I actually pour water into the toaster instead of the coffee pot?