Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Disconnected Mind

One of the things we fear most as we grow old is the decline of our cognitive faculties, and the possible slide into some form of dementia. In the email group of elder women to which I belong, we sometimes share stories of our 'senior moments', of our failure to do joined-up thinking and the stupid situations in which we find ourselves as a result. We share the stories and we share the laughter, because we are a close-knit group all living through the same experience. But even as we enjoy the joke, I am willing to bet that most of us are inwardly fearful. How can we know if we are crossing over the line from 'benign senile forgetfulness', into something more sinister.

Some 800,000 people in the UK, are currently diagnosed with severe cognitive decline, and this figure is projected to double in the next 20 years. But there is hope, if not for my generation, perhaps for the next. Here in the UK an organisation called Research into Ageing, which is run within the charity Help the Aged, is working on a research project called The Disconnected Mind. The project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of older people by unlocking the causes of age-related mental decline:

"In 1947, 70,000 Scottish children took the same intelligence test. The Scottish Mental Survey was the most comprehensive study of its kind ever undertaken and provided a unique and invaluable set of recorded data about the mental ability of an entire cross section of society.

"In 1997 Professor Ian Deary, who is Professor of Differential Psychology at Edinburgh University, began a groundbreaking project to retest this group in older age, in an effort to provide the crucial missing scientific component for research into age-related cognitive decline, and to generate the life indicators which could allow us all to live a healthy active old age. "

But time is running out, as the children who did the tests in 1947 are now in their 70s, and if they are to continue to take part in this research, it must not be held up for lack of funds. The Disconnected Mind has its own website where it is possible to donate on line, and where you can read more about the project and watch some videos. I have been supporting Research Into Ageing for some years, but I have made a special donation to this project.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keeping warm

I started off the year by having cavity wall insulation done on my house. Here in the UK (well England, anyway) the Government pays grants to the over 70s so they can get it done free. The money goes to the company who does it, not direct to the customer. You can also get loft insulation done too, including having it topped up if it does not reach today's recommended level.

I was having the bonded bead system, which "utilises two basic components, a specially manufactured grade of closed cell polystyrene FRA thermal bead, which is coated with an air drying adhesive during the injection process". When the cavity is completely filled, the adhesive sets into a homogeneous mass, which means that if you later decide to have your windows replaced, the little tiny beads - (only 2-5 mm in diameter) -will not come cascading out of the cavity! It's hard to believe, but the whole of that van is filled with beads, apart from the shallow area at the back containing the ladders, the generator, the drill, the container of adhesive, the hoses, a bag of mortar, a bucket etc.

Holes are drilled at regular intervals of about two feet in three or four rows in the side of the house. I had been warned that there would be considerable vibration, and that I should remove pictures and ornaments from at least the external walls. I expected to find the noise very intrusive but it really was not. The holes are drilled at the junction of three bricks where it is mostly mortar, and very little actual brick is lost. As you can see they are pretty neat.


For a semi detached house, unless the neighbour is being done at the same time, which is a good idea if you can arrange it, some sort of barrier has to be inserted between the two houses. This is done with a continuous length of flexible bottlebrush (blue in the picture). I missed the fun bit here, but it had been attached to a chain which had somehow been drawn into one hole and out through another, and was supposed to drag the brush after it. However, the chain had jammed, possibly on a metal wall tie, and would not pull through. Ithad to be cut and left in the wall, to act as a barrier in place of the brush. "Does this happen often?" I asked. He pulled a wry face and said "Ooh yes! Pretty often!"

Then comes the filling and the plugging, which is done as a combine operation. The hose is stuck in a hole, and loads the beads and the adhesive, which have mixed together in the nozzle. The hose is then placed in the next hole - (NOT left on the ground, where an accidental kick may move the release lever and cause sticky beads to cascade all over your garden!) - and the hole which has just been filled is plugged with previously mixed matching mortar, which is what you see in the next picture.

The job was done and dusted - well not entirely dusted, as there was a good deal of brick dust still lying at the bottom of my walls - but it was done in two and a half hours. It would probably have taken less if I hadn't asked so many questions, and if he hadn't told me about his dogs, and the special conservatory he has built for their comfort. He had two cups of coffee too, and rolled himself a fag to smoke with these. But that's the way I like to have a job done for me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Discovered in a book ...

... this lovely delicate little bookmark, obviously made lovingly for my grandmother Ellen Dora, known as Nell or Nellie. The book, which I was about to dispose of, is The Poetical Works of Longfellow, and it was inscribed Nellie D Bragge, Oct 15/91 - that's 1891 of course, when she was 24 and still unmarried. The giver has also inscribed his or her initials, which sadly, I am unable to interpret. But I think, given the evidence of the bookmark, it must have been a sister, cousin or girl friend.

The shape and the colouring are so delicate that at first I thought it might be a real butterfly preserved in some magical way. But I don't really think it can be. It seems more likely that someone has painted it and cut it out so beautifully that it looks real. The pictures are worth enlarging to appreciate the delicacy of the colouring and the texture of the painting: oils? gouache?

The butterfly, together with a rose petal, was still folded into a piece of paper, which is of some interest in its own right. I don't think it is bed linen which is referred to, but, it seems, a copying service onto rather classy writing paper.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hit counters

Well, having got over that hurdle, I can now do my New Year review of hit counters.

I have three in my sidebar: a simple number counter, which does not differentiate between my own visits and those of others (currently not appearing for some reason); a Sitemeter, which does distinguish, (and also gives lots of other interesting information), and a Neocounter, the one with all the pretty flags continuously scrolling upwards.

I started the Sitemeter at the same number that my Hit Counter had reached, so that I could compare them. What this revealed was that nineteen days after starting neck and neck on 5th December, the Hit Counter was reading 29115, and the Sitemeter only 28832. This means that in that short time I had made 283 hits myself, in the process of composing and editing my posts. It scarcely seems possible. That is far more than I would have imagined. That cuts the vanity in this counting business somewhat!

I installed the Neocounter on 25th September, because I thought it would be fun to know how many different countries visited my blog. It is quite exciting to look each day and see the numbers rise, and to see strange countries popping up that you hardly knew existed. But it is equally infuriating, because the flags scroll so slowly, and you have to wait and wait till it comes round to the top again. I decided to leave it running for three months and then see what it had shown me. After that I would take it down again. So on Christmas Eve I sat down and managed to list all the countries as they scrolled by - by dint of taking screen prints and saving them in Word. This is what came up:

The total for the three months was 2197 visits from 79 countries.
UK headed the list with 908 visits .
US came next with 657.
Australia third with 117.
Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, India and the Netherlands, in descending order were between 65 and 21 visits.
Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Philippines, Spain, Indonesia and New Zealand came in at 17 down to 12. The rest of the countries ranged from 9 down to 1, with 26 of them showing 1 hit only.

I decided to leave the Neocounter in my sidebar until it clocked a total of 80 countries, which it did before the New Year. Today it has reached 82. Shall I list all the countries for your edification? Perhaps not. But I bet you'd have a job to think up 82 countries off the cuff, without a prompt!

Blogging for health

I think it is probably a mistake to take a break from blogging - if you lose the momentum, you may find it difficult to get going again. That's what has happened to me anyway. "Back after Christmas" I said, and here we are 10th of January already. Every day I sit at my computer and deal with emails, or surf other people's blogs; I may leave a comment or two but that's it. When I say to myself "time to blog or your friends will lose interest" ..... I can't do it. I'm not in the mood, I haven't the heart for it. In fact I'm feeling kind of sulky and reclusive, sort of "what's the point"-ish. "Is this depression?" I ask myself.
Not surprising with the weather we have been having. I always tend to be rather down in the winter but this year it's worse than ever. And even when the sun shines it is too cold for me to walk, as the very cold air in my lungs makes me breathless and I can't walk fast enough to keep warm. So I stay indoors and stew in my own juice, nibbling constantly just to have something comforting in my day. Oh sod it! It's a bugger being old!
So why am I telling you all about it? Not really my style. But then on the other hand I started this blog with the idea of "telling it how it is" - and this is how it is for me at the moment. What decided me to write about it here was an article in The Mail on Sunday written by Jane Alexander yesterday, (and drawn to my attention by the Digital Unite blog). It seems that blogging about her problems and her "black dog" is her preferred form of therapy. So why not give it a try?
When I talked to my GP about feeling depressed she gave me an assessment form to fill in. You know the sort of thing:

Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been feeling Down, Depressed, or Hopeless?

Not at all :: Several days :: More than half the days :: Nearly every day.

Silly question to start with, as each of the three is different in my view, if only in degree. I would say "Nearly every day" for Down; "Several days" or "More than half" for Depressed; but "Not at all" for Hopeless. Reassuringly, I was also able to write "Not at all" for "Feeling you would be better off dead, or Thoughts of hurting yourself in some way".
So, first off I wanted to rewrite the questions. Then I wanted an additional column to tick, as the four given didn't cover the full range of my experience. Then for one question I was on the borderline, and couldn't decide which way to go, so opted for giving myself a higher score. The GP wouldn't tell me in advance how the scoring was done, and I was quite surprised to find that my score did qualify me for treatment. She couldn't really believe it - she keeps telling me I always strike her as very "together". But together or not, I know that the quality of what I am feeling is different from previous winters.
Nevertheless, I suddenly found we were both agreeing that many of the symptoms occur in old age anyway, like feeling tired, low energy and trouble sleeping. But so what? Does that mean I am not feeling depressed, but simply feeling old? No, I'm feeling depressed because I am old. Does that mean my depression is inevitable, or should be disregarded? Does that lower my score and make treatment unnecessary, or does it just reinforce the view that one of the big problems of health in old age is depression, which can be treated?
Anyway, I didn't really want another lot of pills to take with all the others I have to keep track of , and take at the right time, and order more of every other week it seems. So I decided not to have a prescription this time, though I know she will give me one if I go back again and ask. She was not unsympathetic (despite being a bit disbelieving), and seemed to think as poorly of the form as I did. And I think at least she respects me for being someone who is knowledgeable, articulate, and in charge of my own health.
Well, that's my whinge for today - or was it a rant? I wouldn't be sure. I certainly feel a lot better for it. And I've just had another happy thought: there was a time 14 years ago when I felt a whole lot worse than I do now. Just to remind my self, here is a poem I wrote at the time.

Nights of panic
Days of gloom
Trapped alone
Within the room

Endless fevers
Strength that wanes
Thoughts that fester
Fears and pains

Guilt and self-blame
Haunt the mind
No solution
Can I find

Wandering blindfold
In a maze
No way out
To better days

Normal life’s
A long-gone dream
In my head
An endless scream

What is happening?
How and why?
Must I simply
Wait to die?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Frozen bubbles !!!

Yes, this is a frozen bubble, picture copyright by JAlbum & Chameleon For their brilliant series of pictures go here.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Big freeze on Lake Geneva 1956

Wishing everyone a wonderful year 2009!

[Note: there is a fabulous collection of photographs here of a similar ice storm in Geneva which happened in 2005. The pictures are understandably a lot better. They were taken by Jean-Pierre Scherrer.]