Bruce Frankel

Author of the new book "What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life."

LIVE SMART AFTER 50!  The Experts’ Guide to Life Planning for Uncertain Times   Live Smart AFter 50

December 20, 2012

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Oldest Peace Corps Volunteer, 83, Teaches Respect — In Any Language

November 17, 2012

As the oldest Peace Corps volunteer in service, Emily Dewhirst of Knoxville, Tenn.,  couldn’t imagine of a better way to celebrate her 83rd birthday this week than as she did — serving her third assignment as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Baltz, Moldova.

“I’m using my talents where they are needed and wanted. People look at me and appreciate the expertise and experience I bring,” says Dewhirst, whose latest assignment is improving English language education for teachers and students.

Chatting via Skype on Nov. 12, the day before her birthday, she laughed ruefully when I asked how her experience as a working older adult in the Eastern European countries where she has served compared with the experience of age at home, in the U.S.

photo supplied by the Peace Corps

“Age is revered in these countries,” she says. “They treat me like gold here.”

“At home, I’m likely to get elbowed by the young. Here, they bow. They believe I can share meaningful ways of doing things,” she says. “It’s great. I love teaching.”

Dewhirst is hardly alone as an older Peace Corps volunteer. Today,  more than 7 percent of the corps’  8,073 volunteers are 50 and older. They serve in 61 posts worldwide. More than 40 are aged 70 and over.

Emily Dewhirst in Armenia

Volunteers often say they are motivated by the rewards of public service, cultural exchange and sacrifice — the same values that have motivated Peace Corps volunteers since President John F. Kennedy established the organization to promote world peace and friendship in 1961.

The Peace Corps Response Program is uniquely suited for her, Dewhirst says. Its assignments are high-impact and short-term, lasting between three months and one year, though they can be extended if necessary. “Id rather be working than doing anything else,” she says.

There are other benefits beyond allowing Dewhirst to realize her full potential at work in her 80s. The travel for the Peace Corps has helped her continue to fulfill her lifelong itch to travel.

It began when she was a young woman, in Minneapolis, MN. When her father, a Plymouth-Chrysler car dealer, told her, “Know what you really want in life ... and go do it,” she did.

She studied French at the Sorbonne, in Paris, bicycled across Europe, and worked as a stewardess for Pan American World Airways in the 1950s, flying routes to Europe and Africa. She also indulged her passion for riding camels. Then she married an FBI agent and began raising four children.


She taught French in various towns for more than 30 years as she was pulled along by her husband’s itinerant career. They settled in Tennesee in the 1970s. The marriage ended in 1993.  “And as soon as it did,” she says, “I took off again.”

Not, however, for aimless travel.

At 63, in 1994, Dewhirst was launched on her first Peace Corps assignment. She served in Kazakhstan for two years, teaching English and working with English teachers to improve and modernize their skills. Conditions there, shortly after the end of the Soviet Union, were difficult. Food was scarce. Her accommodations were rough, without central heating or a bathroom. But she was in heaven.

“I worked 12-14 hour days, and I loved everything about it. It was the most meaningful time of my entire life. It was a wonderful time of sharing,” she recalls. “I am still the best of friends with the people I worked with.”

After she finished that assignment, she spent periods of time teaching English in South Korea and Bolivia (not for the Peace Corps). Her return to the corps in 2010 was something of a miracle.

In 2000, she had returned to Knoxville and bought an old warehouse on Market Square that she planned to renovated into her home. The day before demolition rafters, she fell through its rafters and down 18 feet onto a concrete floor. She was practically given up for dead.

Lying unconscious on the ground, the paramedics who responded thought she looked homeless. Does she know how to read or write, they asked her son, David, a Knoxville developer. “In five languages,” he said. When the doctors told him that if she survived, she would never walk again, he said, “You don’t know my mother.”

Indeed, Emily Dewhirst is nothing if not determined and adventurous.

At 79, using eHarmony online dating, she met Carlos Luria, a lecturer, writer and former CIA agent. The pair began sharing their lives, spending part of the year in Knoxville and part at Luria’s home in South Carolina. Two years later, in 2010, when she received an offer from the Peace Corps to help English teachers in Armenia, Luria persuaded her to take it.

She was exhilarated by her work there with the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) and by writing a curriculum for teaching English now widely used in Armenia.

Emily Dewhirst in Armenia

Dewhirst, who left for her current assignment in October, says her work in Moldova has been challenging because the old Soviet education style — characterized by memorization, inflexibility, and lack of curiosity — still dominates education and because ethnic groups, including Romanians, Russians, Turks and a sizable gypsy population have competing interests.

She encourages older Americans to consider a role in the Peace Corps, where they can use past experience — that young volunteers can’t match — in health, education, ecology or business. “There are all kinds of jobs,” she says, and the Peace Corps trains its volunteers before sending them abroad.

Of course, The Peace Corps — with its motto, “The toughest job you’ll ever love” — isn’t for everyone, especially in later life. “It’s great if you really and truly want to do something and see the world. If not, don’t do it. It takes gumption,” Dewhirst says, who has little patience for those who give in to idle lives. “I think it’s a crime to waste half your life, sitting around.”

When she leaves Moldova, she plans to return to Knoxville and life with Carlos. She believes it will be her last trip for the Peace Corps. But then again, she says, “If I get the itch, I’ve got to go someplace.”

* More information about the Peace Corps can be found at Its toll-free recruitment number is 855-855-1916

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Have Baby Boomers Still Got That Givin’ Feelin’ Or Is It Gone, Gone, Gone?

August 2, 2012

Baby boomers have long aspired to being the most generous of generations. Recently, asked me to take a look to see how boomers are measuring up. While the Great Recession temporarily dampened giving, boomer generosity is already resurgent.

Here’s the story:

Just a few years ago, there was mounting talk that baby boomers — secure in their wealth and self-proclaimed benevolence — were on the cusp of once again changing the world and redefining themselves in the process.
This time, some maintained, they would erase the “Me Generation” label to become “Generation Give.” Boomers would transform American society with an onslaught of unprecedented charitable giving and volunteerism.
Then reality set in.
Although boomers gave an average of $2,606 per household to charity in 2007, the U.S. financial meltdown of 2008 dealt a sharp blow to their generosity.
In 2009 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), the average boomer household made charitable contributions of just $2,160, a decline of 17 percent from 2007.

Christine Letts

“Everyone thought they were going to keep making more money,” says Christine W. Letts, the Rita E. Hauser senior lecturer in the Practice of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership Harvard Kennedy School. “The recession really caused people to pause.”
Older and younger households trimmed their charitable giving by much less than the boomers, cutting back by roughly 5 percent, according to Paul G. Schervish and John J. Havens of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. (Older households’ contributions slid from $2,909 to $2,755, while donations from younger ones dropped to $928, on average, from $964.)
But it would be wrong to call the boomers Scrooge-like. Far from it.
Boomers give more total dollars to charity than any other generation, roughly $47 billion a year, according to The Next Generation of American Giving report by nonprofit consultants Convio and Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research, a market research firm. Although boomers head up 38 percent of U.S. households, they’re responsible for 50.3 percent of all charitable contributions.

Philanthropic experts expect this generation’s capacity for giving to increase over time, partly because of an estimated $27 trillion in inheritances they and their offspring could see over the next four decades, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Boomers will receive the greatest wealth transfer in history, but a substantially larger transfer of wealth will be given by them than was given to them,” says Schervish. “I’m optimistic.”

Paul Schervish

The number of boomers who volunteer also declined in recent years, sparking concern at nonprofits.
About 22 million boomers — 28.8 percent of the generation — volunteered in 2010. In 2003, roughly a third of boomers (33.5 percent) volunteered, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
Experts attribute some of the drop-off to a natural shift from one life stage to the next. Now in their mid-60s, the oldest boomers are well past the peak ages for volunteering: the mid-30s and 40s.
But the Great Recession also had a dampening effect. As experts point out, people are least likely to volunteer when they are unemployed.
Fortunately, as the economy has recovered a bit, so has boomer volunteerism. Last year, 30.6 percent of people ages 45 to 54 — and 28.1 percent of those 55 to 64 — did volunteer work. That’s up slightly from 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To attract more volunteers in this age group, “nonprofits need to consider how they are engaging them and providing purpose for their passions,” says Dr. Erwin Tan, director of senior corps at CNCS. “They need to look at this generation as a growing national resource with the skills, intelligence and experience to make a difference.”
Put simply, boomers don’t want to just lick stamps and stuff envelopes.
“They want to give back, but they also want to play a discernible role and they want to make a difference,” says Mary Bleiberg, director of ReServe, a nonprofit that matches professionals ages 55 and older with service opportunities at nonprofits and public institutions in Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee, Newark and New York City.
“The level of interest for giving back remains strong” among boomers, says Jim Emerman, executive vice president at, a nonprofit think tank on boomers, work and social progress. (You can read articles about encore careers on Next Avenue.)
That said, time will tell whether this generation will ultimately be game-changers for charitable giving and volunteering.
“If they are, there could be massive benefits for society,” says Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “Everyone’s sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting to see.”

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52-year-old Custodian Completes Educational Odyssey to Graduate Columbia University With Honors

May 12, 2012

Instead of picking up garbage in the hallways, Yugoslavian-born Gac Filipaj, 52, will collecting his diploma at Columbia University in New York today when he graduates with honors after working on his bachelor’s degree for 12 years.


“I am extremely pleased and happy to see the results of my efforts pay off after all of this time,” the classics major told ABC News.

Filipaj fled to the United States from war-torn Yugoslavia in 1992, leaving behind his parents and siblings on a family farm in Montenegro.

He spoke virtually no English when he arrived in New York, but he had a passion to finish the education he began as a part-time student at Law College in Belgrade. He settled in Bronx, started taking English classes at Theodore Roosevelt High School and, after he was told by a friend that Columbia University was the best school in the city, took a job there as a custodian.

After studying English for six years, he was proficient enough to begin taking classes there part-time. He attended class in the mornings and worked an eight-hour shift in the afternoon before commuting home at night to the Bronx to study.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

The university provides tuition exemption for employees for a number of courses per semester. But there are no exemptions from the school’s demanding requirements.

“They’re in class with all of the other highly talented undergraduates,” Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies, told “Students with untraditional backgrounds add significantly to intellectual discourse.”

Awn has been a longtime admirer of Filipaj’s work ethic and positive attitude.

“You meet him and even when he’s working, you get a big smile and you can just see this sense of pride in what he’s doing here at Columbia,” Awn said. “He’s one of those people that believe that if you work hard at anything, be that his custodial responsibilities or his academic responsibilities, you can create that sense of accomplishment and value.”

Filipaj’s only regret is that his father died three weeks ago.  He now plans to earn a master’s degree or PhD in classics, languages or philosophy.

“I would say that I have fulfilled half of my dream—going to graduate school would complete it,” Filipaj said. Awn has little doubt Filipaj will succeed.

“I’m sure I’m going to see him in a classroom, at some point, on the other side of the desk,” he said with a laugh.

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Hearts of Gold: Barbara and Ira Smith, Named Decade’s Top Volunteers

April 22, 2012

I’m delighted to congratulate Barbara and Ira Smith, two of the subjects of my book, on winning the Gold Honoree of the Decade in the Community Champion category of the 2012 Older Volunteers Enrich America Awards!


Barbara, 80, and Ira, 81, started Household Goods Recyling of Massachusetts, which has become one of the largest household assistance providers in New England, in Acton, MA in 1990 when they were 60.

An account of their inspiring effort to help others by collecting used household goods and providing them to people recovering from homelessness, drug addition, domestic violence, mental illness, and financial failures to restart their lives in homes furnished, is featured in What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Life.
Hundreds of social agencies, from the American Red Cross to the Veterans Administration, have grown dependent on their charitable, all-volunteer enterprise since then. Each year, more than 3,000 individuals and families from more than 60 surroundings communities re-furnish their homes for free at the organization’s massive warehouse.

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) and the MetLife Foundation this week celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Older Volunteers Enrich America Awards by honoring the top volunteers from the last decade with lifetime achievement awards.

For the first 10 years of their effort, Ira, a retired electrical engineer, and Barbara, worked largely by themselves out of their house, filling up the carport with donated goods, transporting furniture, mattresses, stoves and refrigerators, in their bright yellow pick up truck, before their non-profit charity set up shop at a nearby church.

“From then on the volunteers flooded in to help us,” says Ira. “Last year, we had 600 volunteers. They’re professionals who have retired, so we have many talented people who can help out with any kind of problem.”

The reach and effect of HGRM—and the personal satisfaction the Smiths have gotten out of it—has outstripped anything the couple, who met in college in upstate New York, could have imagined. Ira once told me that after years of suffering workplace depression, “These have been the best years of my life.”  and the Lowell Sun:

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Author Marsha Lucas Reveals How Meditation Rewires The Brain For Love

February 2, 2012

Author Marsha Lucas talked to me recently about her new book and how mindfulness meditation rewires the brain for relationships, love and even sex.

In Rewire Your Brain For Love, the Washington-based neuropsychologist weaves together research and practical examples from her own psychotherapy practice, with humor, to explain the genesis of the relationship wiring of our brains. She contends that we can improve our emotional responses, insight, resilience, sex, and ability to handle fear at any age using mindfulness meditation. Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview published by


SA: How does meditation help rewire the brain for love and relationships?
ML: Better neural pathways mean better relationships. If your brain is not integrated, you might over-rely on one part of your brain. For example, you may be living in a literal, logical, linear world. When your spouse comes to you upset, you may respond with logic. Then she feels as if you don’t understand what she’s saying, and then there’s that disconnect. Practicing mindfulness gives you a chance, in the moment, to bring more pathways online and turn dirt roads into information highways.

SA: What does meditation cause the brain to do differently?
ML: Repeated meditation practice seems to develop a richer, thicker pathway from the body up to the limbic system—the key player in your emotional life—and through something called the insula to the “top” of your brain. A plumper insula seems to send information in a less knee-jerk way. So your limbic brain doesn’t get to run the show.

When I asked Lucas if mindfulness mediation could really change the structure of our brains in midlife or beyond, she noted that in the U.S., we imagine that with age everything shrivels. As a result, we expect dementia and attentional deficits. But in one captivating study, “researchers found that cortical areas (of the brain) were thicker in older meditators than younger nonmeditators.” Moreover, you don’t have to devote hours to meditation practice.
Patients often tell her, “I don’t have 10 or 20 minutes to meditate.”

“I say, ‘Okay, have you got two?” You can practice for six seconds—each time the phone rings. The brain loves micro-practicing. The more you practice, the more real estate your brain devotes.”

SA: How can mindfulness meditation improve our sex lives, even as we age?
ML: Parts of our bodies may not work the way they once did. But if we’re able to experience more of our body and all of the wonderful sensations, and get more connected to our partner so that we’re also getting all of that juicy emotional stuff, then we’ve got 10,000 times more input than with just our genitals. Sex really can be a much richer, bigger experience.

For the complete interview go to


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Perry’s Memory Malfunction: Anxiety Not Age Likely Key, Experts Say

November 11, 2011

Admit it, Rick Perry’s 54-second brain freeze in Wednesday night’s GOP debate was riveting TV. Not because it was the death knell of the Texas governor’s presidential campaign as pundits predict, but because drawing a blank is a nightmarishly familiar experience.


Watching Perry, 61, search fruitlessly for the name of the third federal department that he declared he would abolish might even have caused opponents to feel a twinge of sympathy. After all, experts say that that, on average, people report one memory meltdown a week.

Still, it’s hard not to wonder how the governor of the nation’s biggest energy-producing state could forget a staple of his stump speech. That is, along with U.S. departments of commerce and education, he would put the Department of Energy out of business.  His “oops!” didn’t quite cover his jaw-dropping lapse. He worked the talk show circuit on Thursday trying to improve on his explanation and save his candidacy.

Rick Perry Explains Flub

Here’s what some of the nation’s leading experts on memory say about the mental mishap:

Perry suffered from “blocking,” a temporary inability to retrieve information that is available in memory, according to Harvard psychologist Daniel L. Schacter, the author of The Seven Sins of Memory. “Interestingly, blocking occurs most commonly for proper names, as was the case here.” Blocking can be increased by stress and by aging, he added, “although we can’t know for sure whether either one was a factor in this instance.”

Oddly enough, blocking tends to occur for information that is familiar, but has not been retrieved frequently or recently, he says.

Psychologist Bennett Schwartz considers Perry’s memory malfunction a genuine “tip of the tongue” state. A main characteristic of the state is that we are confident we know something, but can’t access it at the moment. “He knows he has retrieved the item before,” so that failing to retrieve it from memory only heightens the stress, says Schwartz, a professor at Florida International University and the author of Tip of the Tongue States. The cause for the memory failure, he adds, is that two competing systems are at work: one is spreading activation, or searching, across the brain while another, stress, is causing interference.

Numerous studies have shown, additionally, that recalling items within a category becomes more difficult as we progress through a list. In effect, the items we recall earlier make it harder for us to recall the ones we are still trying to retrieve.

What made Perry’s gaffe odd, says Ira Hyman, a professor of psychology at Western Washington University, is that “you would expect that something that is part of a stump speech would be easily accessed.”

Of course, even psychology professors like himself, Hyman says, commonly experience tip of the tongue states when they run into a student they know well as they walk across campus but at the instant can’t recall the student’s name. Fifteen minutes later, when the stress of remembering subsides, the name is recalled.

“It’s unfortunate for Perry” that his forgetfulness seemed to corroborate a growing perception that he is limited cognitively, says Hyman. “If Mitt Romney did it, the moment would be laughed off.”

“It’s obvious that he has a lot on his mind and is distracted,” says Elizabeth Loftus, a fellow of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and a professor at the University of Washington. She discounted age as a factor in the gaffe.

However, she did not rule out a lack of self-efficacy, or confidence, which is known to interfere with memory and could have come into play as a result of Perry’s previous poor debate performances. “Anxiety and preoccupation are not good for performance,” she adds. “I don’t like a lot of Perry’s policies, but I would rather see people go after him for his politics and plans than for this.”

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What Motivates Fauja Singh, 100-year-old Marathon Man?

October 22, 2011

Looking for motivation for your run? Fauja Singh, the 100-year-old runner who this week became the world’s oldest person to complete a full-length marathon, might supply some.


“Anything worth doing is going to be difficult,” says Singh, of Ilford, England, whose 3,850th place finish at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront marathon, in eight hours, 25 minutes and 16 seconds, qualified him for the Guiness Book of Records.

Sometimes called “The Turbaned Tornado,” the slender 5’8”, 125-pound white-bearded and turbaned figure, found his motivation for the run in the record set in 1976 by the 98-year-old Greek runner, Dimitrion Yordanidis. “I just wanted to break that bloody record,” Singh said, explaining to a reporter why, worried he and his trainer might not finish the marathon, didn’t tell relatives he was running it.

“I lost my speed in this race,” says Singh, “but it was the thought of that old man that pushed me through the last four miles. That and God.”
Singh, who speaks Punjabi, says running has given him purpose and a sense of peace. “Why worry about these small, small things? I don’t stress. You never hear of anyone dying of happiness.”

Having moved from India to England in 1995, after the deaths of his wife and son, Singh lives with family in east London, and leads what he says is “a very simple life”.
He took up serious running when he was 89 after a neighbor happened to introduce him to ex-professional runner Harmander Singh, his trainer and friend. “I train him for free,” says Harmander. “It’s an honour for me.”

Health tests done last year showed that Singh “has the bones of a 35-year-old,” says his trainer. The centenarian runner claims never to drink milk. “I’m scared of building up phlegm,” says Singh. “Punjabi people know eating and drinking is important, but I just eat the minimum of what I need: some daal and roti, gobi and chai – I’d probably be dead if I was full all the time.”
Singh’s late-life career as a runner first brought him celebrity six years ago when, at at 94, Adidas signed him for an its very cool Nothing Is Impossible campaign, along with soccer heroes David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson.

“I’m not really interested in all the rupees, I give it to charity,” he says of his sponsorship deal. “Money can be saved and spent and lost and made. At my age it’s nice just to do this. Come on, who wants to talk to this old man? Everyone now! And it’s because of the running that all these people keep showing me so much love. Look how blessed I am. What’s not to be happy about?”

Fauja Singh reflects on healthy living:

Fauja Singh reflects on healthy living

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At 61, Vietnam Vet Kicks His Way Into College Football History

October 21, 2011

Talk about dreams deferred! Consider 61-year-old placekicker Alan Moore, a laid-off construction worker who has become the oldest college football player to score points on the gridiron.


Forty-two years after Vietnam War interrupted his athletic and academic career and out of work, Moore returned to college to study for his bachelor’s degree and to play football again, cheered by fans and teammates at Faulkner University, a small Christian college in Montgomery, Alabama.

He was spurred to return to football after watching a game at another small college while visiting his grandchildren in Mississippi. “Their kicker wasn’t doing well that night, and I just joked to some people that I thought I could kick for them the next year,” he told the Associated Press.

He had, after all, been pretty good in his day. In 1968, as a freshman at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss., Moore’s placekicking helped his team clinch a national championship. But with the Vietnam War beginning, he quit college and enlisted. After his discharge, he returned home, went to work, was twice married and had three children.

Five decades after leaving college, he approached officials at Jones about returning to play football. The school wasn’t interested. But at Holmes Community College, coach Danny Robertson was intrigued and offered Moore a try out.  “He did a good job,” Robertson told the Birmingham News. “I told him we only had one kicker coming back, and if he wanted to earn a spot with us, we would welcome him to two-a-days. He showed up here, and things have worked out for him.”

This year, Moore transferred to Faulkner (a four-year institution) and on Sept. 10, wearing the Faulkner Eagles’ cobalt-blue home uniform, he made history when he calmly split the uprights with a kick for an extra point after a touchdown, boosting the Eagles to a 25-0 advantage over visiting Ave Maria University. (The Eagles won the game 41-19.)

The College Hall of Fame has since requested a football signed by Moore for display. But questioned about his accomplishment, a smiling Moore demurs. “It’s not about me, and it’s not about being old,” says Moore, whose teammates jokingly call him Moses, Old School and Grandpa. “It’s about the team.” The lesson, he says, is simple. “Never, ever, give up.”

And the kick is…
Moore’s extra point

Interview with Moore:
61-year-old place kicker

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Scientists Say They Have Physical Proof Bilingualism Delays Onset of Alzheimer’s

October 16, 2011

When an editor at a major celebrity magazine proposed a profile of an educator teaching two-year-olds to speak second languages a few years ago, the editor in chief scoffed: “For what, so they can order their food in French?’ An embarrassed silence filled the air.

Now, a Canadian study has given a stunning retort:

People who speak more than one language suffer twice as much brain damage as those who speak only one language before they exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The study provides the first physical evidence that bilingualism delays the onset of the disease. Prior studies have suggested that bilingualism retards by four to five years the onset of the cognitive issues of Alzheimer’s.

“No drug can come close, and now we have the evidence to prove this at the neuroanatomical level,” said Dr. Tom Schweizer, a neuroscientist who headed the research at St. Michael’s


Schweizer’s team studied CT scans of patients who had been diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s disease and who had similar levels of education and cognitive skills, such as attention, memory, planning and organization. Half were bilingual and able to speak at least two languages fluently; the other half spoke only one language.

Despite performing equivalently on all measures of cognitive performance, bilingual patients showed twice as much atrophy in areas of the brain known to be affected by Alzheimer’s.

Schweizer theorized that said speaking two languages exercises the brain and helps develop additional neural networks, adding to what neuroscientists call cognitive reserve. That is, despite damage from the disease, the brain is able to recruit help from enhanced neural networks in undamaged regions of the brain and better compensate for damage the disease causes.

Here’s a video of an interview with Schweizer:

bilingualism and Alzheimer’s

The findings have been published on-line in the journal Cortex.

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Thinking of Grace

August 31, 2011


Few people ever so embodied joy or so freely shared themselves as the writer Grace Paley, who died at 84 in 2007. She was known for her slim, compelling stories fueled not by plot but by pitch-perfect, tragic-comic New York dialogue. But tonight, thinking of her and her impish eyes and corona of white curls, I turned to one of her later poems:

When I am old
I will not be surprised as
Leon Trotsky said I would
I will not be surprised
for I have built my
Ship of Death as D.H. Lawrence
said I should

Therefore I can right now
as Barbara Deming cried
come dance with all your might
then I will live though I die old
in passion like a fool as
William Butler Yeats thought
would be right

Now I have learned in politics and
dream from William Blake
and that beloved Prince Kropotkin
whom I’ve read
with Robert Nichols in
the parlor and in bed
before we loved and sometimes afterwards
because the summer moon stands low
to glare on shadowed fields and in
this window makes such light   it is
the natural law as any child
would know of moon and love and night

Here’s a glimpse of Grace from a documentary about her by Lilly Rivlin:

Grace Paley

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Puzzling Out Retirement Together: 10 Must-Have Conversations

June 20, 2011

Conversations couples face as they transition to the second half of life — money, roles, sex, and death among them — can be knotty, complex, and fraught with unsettling conflict. Differing goals, values and dreams that daily life obscured, press for answers.

Sometimes threateningly.

As in those knee-buckling words, “Honey, we need to talk.”

image  image 
Authors Dorian Mintzer (left) and Roberta Taylor

To help, psychotherapists and life coaches Dorian Mintzer and Roberta Taylor have written The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversation for Transitioning to the Second Half of Life ($17.95, Lincoln Street Press), a warm, practical, no-nonsense, and user-friendly guide to navigating and defusing potentially hazardous dialogues.


“What you are retiring to is more important than what you are retiring from,” they write. But figuring out how two people, confronted by a cascade of questions, can communicate effectively and puzzle out a map and route to a mutual destination — or shared vision — without falling prey to banked-up fears, secrets, differences and resentments is tricky stuff.

Do we want to retire? Can we afford to retire? How will we spend our time? What’s important? Do we have to spend all our time together? What if he wants to move to Key West and she wants to stay near the grandchildren in Pittsburgh? What if health concerns plague one and not the other? And what if there’s not enough money to retire? What if the long-awaited for chance for intimacy is around the corner, but the ways of it remain as elusive as ever?

The authors put to work experience and insights gathered from extensive careers treating individuals and couples struggling to talk together about difficult things. And in addressing the issue of transitioning to retirement, they frame taboo topics and coach the reader on how to have productive conversations.

Reassuringly, they share their own real-life experiences with challenging issues with their own spouses as well.

Mintzer, a Ph.D. psychologist who became a first-time mother at fifty, is still ramping up her career as her older physician-husband curtails his professional life. Taylor, a couples coach who found true love with her first sweetheart after two failed marriages, faces the difficult balancing act less than a decade after her dream marriage began. The strategy works. The reader sees that no one is exempt from struggle.

But along with the challenges of the second half of life, comes the great opportunity to reassess outdated roles, to let go of what no longer works, and to open new possibilities. “It takes courage, commitment, and compromise,” the authors write. But when couples think ahead, communicate, and plan together, good things happen.

Mintzer (also the founder of Boomers and Beyond, a national special interest group of interdisciplinary professionals) and Taylor don’t offer revolutionary advice.

Rather, they give readers a solid, accessible, positive template. They remind, too, that the nature of retirement is changing before our eyes. Instead of a future of withdrawal and decline, as dominated expectations in the past, possibilities for the second half of life are now as varied as the 78 million baby boomers entering it. That is particularly true for the many who can expect to live two to three decades beyond the “traditional” age of retirement.

As a result, couples that avoid the difficult conversations, do so at their own peril.

In the transition to retirement or new careers and undertakings in later life, partners may have to redefine roles that have become their identities. To understand how and why and to receive help and support, the conversation starters and aids this book offers may help. Mintzer and Taylor also warn couples to watch out for some myths about retirement, such as ‘everything will be fine.’ It may not be.

But the authors promise something better than myth for couples when acceptance, the willingness to “agree to disagree” and true communication occur.

The chance, that is, to see unexpected possibilities, new perspectives, individual growth, a more intimate relationship, and a mutually-created future which both partners enter with enthusiasm and shared, informed expectation.

As helpful as this companionable book will be to those facing the transition to retirement or to new, unexpected lives in the second half of life, it’s also a worthy wedding gift to newlyweds just starting out. The timetable may not be precisely the same, but most of the issues aren’t radically different and the need to communicate effectively and listen well are just as critical.


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Picturing Harry Bernstein: Italian Novelist Ugo Barbara’s Bittersweet Goodbye

June 12, 2011

Last December, I received emails from Italian journalist and novelist Ugo Barbara, asking if I might put him in touch with author Harry Bernstein, whose life and work are profiled in What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Life?, and then from his 13-year-old daughter, who wrote: “Me and Dad decided to write to you ‘cause we really, really love Harry’s books and we are still surprised by the energy that such an old man can put in his work.”

“Dad reminded me that a couple of years ago he represented Harry in the final phase of one of the most important literary prizes in Italy: Bancarella. And while The Invisible Wall didn’t win, Mom told me that Daddy’s words about Harry’s work moved people to tears and were welcomed with 10 minutes of applause! I did my part too! For my summer homework I wrote a summary about The Invisible Wall and my teacher told to the class that she cried, too. There were no applause, but pretty good anyway, right?”


“At the moment I’m reading The Golden Willow and I’m looking forward to reading Rose’s adventures (in Harry’s next book), ‘cause I don’t know that much about her. Tell Harry to keep on writing, because I don’t want to feel as Holden says at the end of Catcher in the Rye: —“Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” And hug Harry for me: probably his most enthusiastic 13-year-old Italian fan!”

How could I resist? I put Barbara and his daughter in touch with Harrry immediately. A fast, sweet friendship, a publishing deal for Harry in Italy, and plans for a visit to New York ensued. Last week,  Barbara, wrote the following online post:

I hoped one day to publish a photo of a spry old man and me on the porch of a house in Brooklyn. Around us: my family and the man’s daughter, all of us smiling, happy to finally have this long-awaited moment of being together.

The old man at the center is more than a little old. By the time the picture would have been taken, Harry Bernstein would have already been 101 years old for a few months. Close to him, you would also see Adreanne, his daughter, and my children, who devoured his novel, The Invisible Wall.

I will never publish that picture because it will never be taken. Just days after celebrating his birthday and less than three months before I could keep a promise to visit him, Harry is gone. He died late at night on June 3rd.

Yet I have that picture. It is as clear in my mind as if I had framed and shot it myself.  In it, I am — or perhaps it’s a self-delusion —  smiling on the other side of the lens, one hand resting on Harry’s shoulder.

My son’s face has the same expression of joy he had in a photo taken in January on the Paris Metro. He was then constantly immersed in reading the Wall. And he took every opportunity to pull it out of his pack and get lost in its pages: on line for tickets to La Villette; on the train to Disneyland; just returned to the hotel and exhausted in the evening. The picture I took that day pleased Harry when I sent it to him: my son looking into the camera and smiling as if looking directly at Harry, his book clearly visible in my boy’s hands.


It was my daughter who first suggested reading the Wall. “It’s sad, so devastating,” she had said, “but you will like it.” Then she and I began hunting everywhere to find Harry. We were eager to tell him how much we had liked his books.

I had been the first to learn about Harry, when Piemme asked me to present an award to this 97-year-old literary newcomer. After Harry and his book touched me, he touched my wife who passed it on to her parents, then mine, then ...

There is no one in the family now who has not read - and loved - Harry Bernstein and his history. I will always be grateful to ... Harry for offering me his friendship, and for the chance to have had time enough to exchange emails and receive the funny and moving ones he sent to my children, in the spirit of un ultranonno — a great uncle — even more than that of a successful writer.


Ugo Barbara works for AGI news agency in Rome and has published five novels, based on Italian social and political life, including: Il CorruttoreLe Mani Sugli Occhi and In Terra Consacrata, which was short-listed for the prestigious Strega Prize. Edizioni Piemme is Barbara’s publisher; it is expected to bring out Harry Bernstein’s fictional memoir What Happened to Rose in 2012.

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Harry Bernstein, a Ruby of a Writer and Author of “The Invisible Wall,” Dies at 101

June 4, 2011

With great sadness, I report that author Harry Bernstein, a favorite subject of my book, whose heart-wrenching debut memoir, The Invisible Wall, was published in 2007, when he was 96, died Friday night in Brooklyn NY.

                  Photo by Robert Deutsch

Harry was 93 when he sat down to write about his bleak childhood, before World War I, on a cobblestone street in the Lancashire mill town of Stockport, England. He re-imagined his life as a working-class kid coming to terms with the grievous mysteries of that small universe where Christians and Jews cohabited uneasily, where he served as the go-between his sister and her Christian boyfriend, who lived across the street.

Critics praised the book for its evocation of a world of pain and prejudice in spare, restrained prose. His writing was compared D.H. Lawrence, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and most frequently to Frank McCourt’s writing in Angela’s Ashes.  “The reviews made my head swim,” he once told me “I never allowed myself to aspire to such literary heights. The praise meant a great deal to me after all those years.”

Harry had published short stories in the 1920s and 1930s in proletarian magazines, next to the likes of William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein and Nelson Algren. He wrote his first novel in 1930s at the request of the editor Clifton Fadiman, but after he submitted Hard Times and White Collars to Simon & Schuster, Fadiman decided it would not fit his list. Harry earned a living for many years as a script reader for MGM and later as an editor of a construction trade magazine. He wrote some 40 works, most of which he destroyed when they too were rejected.  At seventy, in 1981, he came close to publication. His novel, The Smile, was printed but its Boston publisher went broke before the book was distributed.

The loneliness he experienced following the death of his wife, Ruby, in 2002, after 67 years of marriage, drove Harry to sit down and write again. At first, The Invisible Wall  was also rejected by publishers in the United States. Then he sent it to Random House in England, where it sat in a slush pile for a year before Kate Elton, the publishing director of Arrow, a Random House imprint, read it in one day. She called Harry the following day and offered him a contract with a small advance. The book has since been published in the U.S., Finland, Sweden Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Brazil. In 2008, it earned Mr. Bernstein a Christopher Award and the Handelsman Prize for Jewish Nonfiction. He also became one of the oldest-ever recipients of Guggenheim Fellowship.

By the time the book was published in the United States, Harry had completed work on a sequel, The Dream, which was published in 2008.  It deals with his family’s move to Chicago when he was twelve, the continuing abuse of his family by his alcoholic father and the writer’s coming of age in New York City during the Great Depression.

In 2009, he published his third memoir, The Golden Willow, which centers on his married life and later years. The title refers to a tree in Central Park beneath which Harry and Ruby first consummated their love. A fourth book, What Happened to Rose, is scheduled for publication by the Italian publisher early next year.

“These have been the most productive years of my life,” he told me in 2008. “You live in a sort of dream most of your life. Your dreams are wishful thinking of what you want to be and want to have. It’s not until you face the harsh reality of yourself that you can do or say anything intelligent. Write what you know, they say. Well, it sure took me a long time to get that, didn’t it?”

He is survived by a daughter, Adraenne, with whom he was living in Brooklyn at the time of his death, and a son, Charles, of Lansdale, PA.

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“What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Life? wins 2011 Nautilus Book Awards Silver

May 16, 2011

“What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Life?” has won the 2011 Nautilus Book Awards Silver Medal in the category Aging Gracefully and Retirement.


The Nautilus Awards recognizes books, audio books, and e-books that promote spiritual growth, conscious living & positive social change,  while at the same time they stimulate the “imagination” and offer the reader “new possibilities” for a better life and a better world. 

Very cool! I’m delighted, proud and grateful that my book was selected for this honor.

Please visit their site for more information

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