Vicky Collins Online

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10 Things I’ve Learned Being Friends With Elderly Women

When I was in my 20’s I had an elderly friend down the street in West Hartford, Connecticut named Eleanor. She loved me and adored my dog, Buddy. She also enjoyed drinking and when I got home from work around 11:30 p.m. she was always waiting up for me. We would have a nightcap and talk. She also watched Buddy for me when I went out of town. She was a neighbor and a special friend. When I moved away I eventually lost touch with El and then I learned she passed. That first friendship led to others. They started as mitzvahs (a meritorious or charitable act) then developed into so much more. I got to know Esther by delivering Meals on Wheels for Jewish Family Services. I got to know Ursula by volunteering at the nearby assisted living facility. Over the years I have learned many things from these women friends. These are my top 10.

1) They don’t want to be referred to as little old lady friends. They don’t want to be reminded that they are growing old. They just want to be called friends. This really is the deepest compliment.

2) Their pictures tell stories and they are eager to share them. The days before they grew old were full of family and accomplishments. They were not always infirm. They enjoy sharing their histories with you. They’ve had lives, sometimes hard lives. They are wise and engaging and I love our conversations.

3) They still want to look attractive. Every day Ursula puts on her makeup. She enjoys showing off her new outfits and bragging about how inexpensive they are. Even though she can move only one arm she is always dressed up. Esther was a shut in but she always looked nice. Every older woman I know takes pride in her appearance and wants to age gracefully.

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4) Even as their world becomes smaller they yearn to learn and socialize. Ursula threw a small party in her room at the assisted living facility on New Year’s Day. She bought food, beer and wine for whoever dropped by. Visits light up her life. She likes to shop and go to movies and during warm weather months we go to the nearby bar and have a beer. She still wants to eat good food. Her body is broken but her mind is clear. My elderly friends enjoy people bringing the world into their lives. They want to know what you do and meet your family. They want you to meet theirs too. They may be older, but they don’t want to be boring.

5) Sometimes they get cranky and they don’t want people to tell them to cheer up. Spending days as a shut in or in a nursing home is difficult. Like most of us they have hard days. But like most of us, it passes and they get positive again.

6) They want to have some things they can control. They are often at the mercy of institutions and their children. Having a say in their lives is important.

7) They want their children to be honest with them. They want their children to visit and be patient with them. They want to be able to reach them on the phone. They tell me about the ways their family doesn’t make them feel important.

8) They like to sit in the sun. Being inside all day can be dark and lonely. Going outside, even for a short time, is an automatic mood enhancer.

9) Even in their 80’s, elderly women still have things they want to accomplish. Supporting them in these dreams makes them feel things are possible.

10) The greatest gift you can give is to help someone die with dignity. When Esther was moved from her home she lost her will to live. Once in assisted living she stopped eating and drinking. No one could talk her out of it and she willed herself to die. In three weeks she was gone. My Nana had an accident and no longer could speak or feed herself. She did the same thing. Being there for them without judgment during their exit is a tremendous blessing to them.

Having close friendships with elderly women has helped me get a good look at what it’s like to age. It has taught me to be more vigilant about my health. I have also learned how limited the options are for the infirm and how frightfully expensive it is to be in assisted living. I have deepened my compassion for them and for my friends who are coping with elderly parents, especially those with dementia. Finally, it has taught me the blessings of wellness and the importance of accepting what comes your way with grace. And I have been extremely grateful to be considered extended family to those with so much love yet to give.

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How to Live Forever

Want to live to be a thousand years old? It’s not far fetched at all if you ask theoretician and geneticist Aubrey de Grey. He believes within the next 25 years there is a 50/50 chance we’ll have the technologies to extend human life indefinitely. I learned of Aubrey and his ideas in 2005 and immediately pitched the story to NBC’s Today Show. They were intrigued. With the help of correspondent Kerry Sanders and the London bureau, we went out and interviewed Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge. When we finished the story we sent it in to the show. It was promptly killed. Too out there for a mainstream audience. Plus it didn’t help that Aubrey looked like Methuselah.

Aubrey de Grey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, CA.

Fast forward to 2011 and there Aubrey was in the news again.  This time I pitched the story to HDNet’s World Report. The program is always looking for stories that deal with interesting issues and are not widely told. This time correspondent Willem Marx met up with Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge and also went punting with him on the Thames River. For my part, I finally got to meet Aubrey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, California. He is tall and wiry and moves like someone with no time to lose.  He lovingly strokes the beard which hangs almost to his waist. I asked him if his distinctive look helped or hurt him as he went out in the world trying to win over scientists and venture capitalists to support his work. He said it helped because people looked at him and saw a guy who is not materialistic in the least. It’s very clear to them that he is not doing this to get rich.

Through his SENS Foundation non-profit, Aubrey and the scientists who work with him are creating an intersection between research on the biology of aging and regenerative medicine. By doing experiments with the building blocks of cells they hope to someday develop treatments that repair the damage caused by aging, and restore people to a state where they are biologically younger than they were when they started. In other words, people could live out their entire lives as healthy as young adults. Five years ago, the scientific community considered his ideas kind of kooky but now the research is catching up with his theories and Aubrey is gaining credibility. “This is not science fiction anymore, this is science forseeable,” Aubrey proclaims.

Of course the implications are mind boggling but Aubrey brushes them off. “People always say hang on. If we stop the problem of aging we’re going to have a whole lot of other problems. We’re going to have overpopulation or dictators who live forever, or how will we have the pensions, or won’t it be boring. If I want to be flippant, I say those are problems I’d like to have, thank you very much. Ultimately I don’t see people who want to get cancer or Alzheimer’s disease or cardiovascular disease or Type 2 Diabetes or any of these things we are going to prevent by curing aging. I don’t meet people who want any of those things so I find it frustrating when people take the view we’re going to create the problems and refuse to adopt any sense of proportion about this and accept the problem we have today is a big one, a problem that kills 100,000 people every day, most of them after a long period of ill health and disease and debilitation and dependence and decrepitude. It’s pretty clear that the problem we would solve is quite a big one, and yes, the transition to a post aging world is going to be a big one, and the more forward planning we do to make it less turbulent the better, but the transition to the industrial revolution was pretty turbulent too, yet there aren’t many people who believe the industrial revolution was a mistake.”

If you want to learn more about Aubrey de Grey and his work and vision tune in to HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, May 17th at 9 p.m. ET/7 p.m. MT.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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On Turning 50

During a recent gathering of neighbors at the local pool my friend Nancy whipped out a spice cake and began to sing “Happy Birthday.”  I was confused.  Whose birthday was it?  Surely not mine.  I was born in August.  She announced to all my friends that we were celebrating the occasion early since I would be working in China when it rolled around.  And then she told everyone that I was turning 50.  I was mortified.  My head fell into my hands.  I felt like I had been outted.   

 

I have been running from this birthday.  In fact, running as far away as I can.  On my birthday I’ll be so busy working at the Olympics in Beijing I won’t even have time to think about it.  That’s by design.  I don’t want to acknowledge the occasion or be around others who will.  I am in denial.  But why all this angst about turning the page?  I don’t look 50.  I don’t feel or act 50 (but then again what does 50 look or feel or act like?)  Why then is it so hard for me to admit this milestone to myself and others?  Will I be somehow diminished personally and professionally?  Will obstacles get in my way?    

 

I notice friends dance around the subject.  “Are you celebrating a zero birthday,” Nick said.  Scott gingerly asked me how old I was but couldn’t bring himself to say the “F” word.  I finally said it for him.  Heather, my best friend of 35 years, and I moan about this repeatedly.  Not so long ago we were kids.  How did this happen?  Where did the time go?  When my mother turned 50 I was producing a live television show in Wichita, Kansas.  We called her on the air.  She was stunned.  I wonder if she had the same feeling of being outted that I did.  I’m not sure she ever forgave me.  I guess it’s true what goes around comes around. 

 

So now that my secret is out, how do I make the best of this?  By being forced to confront it, all of a sudden I am seeing the amazing accomplishments of people my age and beyond.  I am inspired by women like Madonna and Caroline Kennedy who also turn 50 this year.  How about Hillary Clinton?  It’s impossible to ignore what she managed to achieve at age 60.  I see vigorous people who are relevant and worldly and  constantly re-inventing themselves.  They are not aging quietly.  They are exuberant in causes and politics and bring years of experience and wisdom to their families and tasks.  They burst with creativity and energy and laugh heartily.  There is a certain self assuredness when one has loved and lost and lived to tell about it.  The women that I’m meeting and discovering are enlightened and spiritual and forward thinking.   

 

For the last few years, as I’ve navigated the waters of mid-life, I have been looking back.  It is time to look forward.  There are many opportunities and adventures ahead.  Of course, I need to be realistic.  There will be challenges.  There were no guarantees in the last 50 years and there certainly aren’t any in the next 50 years but it’s time to come out of the closet and embrace this passage.  Sophia Loren said “there is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”  It took a push to find clarity, so thanks for the birthday gift, Nancy.  

For more information about Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com