Author Archives: Ray Copson

The Importance of Primary Care

This New Yorker article by Atul Gowande emphasizes how important it is — and how life-extending — to have a strong and lasting relationship with your primary care physician. Incremental care at the primary level can do more to promote health and well-being than heroic surgeries and other interventions by specialists after a problem has been neglected.

Unfortunately, the incentives in our health care system work against primary care. Surgeons and specialists earn twice as much as primary care physicians, discouraging medical students from pursuing primary care or elder care careers. Meanwhile,  deductibles and co-pays can discourage people from making regular doctor visits. Looming changes to the Affordable Care Act and Medicare may make the situation worse.

As usual with Gowande, the article is extremely well written, and chock full of interesting medical anecdotes.


High Tech Help for Aging in Place

If you are caring for a senior senior, or worried about how you’ll manage when you become one, you’ll be interested in this story from Marketplace.  It’s about a company based in Baltimore, Sentinel Care, that works nationwide with alarm companies, such as ADT, to put sensors around the home that can alert up to ten caregivers to problems. It all works through a cell phone app.

Has the loved one gotten out of bed this morning? Has the medicine cabinet been opened? How many times was the bathroom used last night? (Frequent visits could indicate a health issue.)  Is the kitchen being used at mealtimes? More basically, is there motion within the apartment, indicating that the loved one is at home and moving around?

Sounds intrusive, but many of us know of instances in which a senior has fallen and lain for hours unattended. Even if they have a panic button, they may have left it somewhere or not wanted to push it for fear of causing a fuss. We also know of folks who have wandered off outside due to dementia.

Here’s the website of Sentinel Care, also known as Concordia Systems. (Be careful when browsing. There seem to be a number of companies called Sentinel Care.)

This sort of high tech system may well make it possible for seniors, even those living alone, to remain at home into advanced age.

Family Memorabilia: To Keep or Not To Keep?

A bittersweet aspect of downsizing is sorting through family memorabilia. The task summons fond memories, and forces reflections on the lives of loved ones, now gone. That leads to reflections on the purpose and meaning of life in general. Then comes the practical decision on what to keep and what to throw away.

The other day I came across a group photo including my father at age 39, just over a year before I was born.

Raymond L. Copson

Raymond L. Copson

I’ve cropped him here from the photo, taken in March 1943 at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Nitrate Plant No. 2 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The plant was being honored at that point for its contributions to the war effort, and he was playing a key role in transforming civilian fertilizer manufacturing operations for the production of weapons. In the box with the photo was a letter from a friend, jokingly calling him the “handsomest chemical engineer in America.” You can see why.

After the war, he moved back to private industry and loved his 1950s job as director of research at a chemical plant in Baltimore. But then that plant was bought by the Allied Chemical behemoth, and he became a cog in a vast machine, which he didn’t much care for. Allied sent him to Syracuse, which he didn’t care for either — but that’s where I met Donna. Every cloud has a silver lining.

I think the last years of Pop’s career were a bit of a downer for him, but he picked himself up after retiring by volunteering for the International Executive Service Corps, which sent him to South Korea to teach chemical engineering, and then to Mexico to consult for a chromium chemical company. He and my mother treasured those experiences, just as they savored their retirement in Florida. (IESC still exists, incidentally, and is looking for both mid-career and retired volunteers.)

Am I keeping my father’s papers or throwing them away? A bit of both — and I’ve found a third way: donation. The University of North Alabama collects TVA-related materials and has been delighted to receive my fathers papers, photos, and professional articles from that part of his career. They are even calling it the Raymond L. Copson Collection. The Onondaga County Historical Society has taken a few things from the Syracuse period. Before sending these items off, I’ve scanned anything that might be of interest to the family in later years to a thumb drive. As for the rest, I’ve thrown out duplicates and some files that dealt with personnel matters, but most has gone back into the box.

We’ll still need some storage space for family history in our new place — especially since items related to my father’s career are just a part of what we have.

And now, back to work. What am I going to do with this snippet from grandmother’s wedding dress?

On Electroshock Therapy and Being Really Old

The January 1 New York Times had a couple of articles of interest to seniors.

One was about electroshock therapy to relieve depression. According to the article, electroshock  today is nothing like what you remember from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and in fact can be very helpful for the depressed. Kitty and Michael Dukakis (aged 80 and 83) are advocates because of all the treatment has done for her. The late Carrie Fisher reported positive experiences with the treatment, as has Dick Cavett.

The Times also published the latest in its series on how several of the “oldest old” in New York City are faring. Every day is a blessing, we often hear, and certainly these nonagenarians are still leading lives full of meaning and joy. But great age, the series underscores, brings great challenges.

Some Good News for Home Caregivers

We have several friends who at some point in their lives have become at-home caregivers for a parent, spouse, or other loved one. NPR has just broadcast a story on the dilemmas such caregivers face. One item of good news — thirty-three states now have legislation requiring hospitals to give caregivers training and instructions before a loved one is sent home from the hospital.

Hospitals have an incentive to do this anyway because of the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program created by the Affordable Care Act. They can be dinged by Medicare if too many patients have to be re-admitted after being sent home. Whether this program survives the Republican drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act remains to be seen.

Another bit of good news is that under Medicare, physicians can prescribe skilled nursing care at home. The visiting nurses provide care and treatment, as well as additional training for the home caregiver. This brochure lays out the terms and conditions Medicare’s home health care program. (Like Obamacare, Medicare may soon be on the chopping block.)

The NPR story made me recall some of the thinking that went into our decision to downsize and move to a more urban area. In our new home in Reston, Virginia, we’ll have access to several agencies providing home health care, should that become necessary one day. By downsizing to a single home, rather than the Finger Lakes house and the Reston condo we used to have, we’ll also be in a better position to afford an assisted living facility should we we come to the point at which home health care is no longer possible. There are several such facilities in and around Reston, and more are on the way.

Downsizing Progresses

We’re making some progress on our downsizing and relocation, though it’s a long, complicated process. We settled on our new townhouse in Reston, Virginia, last week.

img_2094Here’s a photo of our new home. It includes that one-car garage, which is a nice feature. Will we be able to cut back to one car? Only time will tell, but there is a bus stop on the corner.  You can just see a bit of the deck out back, which has a view into some woods — even a glimpse of a lake.

So many arrangements had to be made before this could happen. Here we are looking a little dazed after the settlement, which itself required weeks of preparation. That’s our friend and indefatigable real estate agent, Evelyn Flynn, with us.



We kept wondering whether we had forgotten something, but when we checked the place out we found that the electricity, gas, and water were on.

The next day, the furniture arrived. Our hardworking movers brought the piano through safely. img_2096


Then the cable guys came, putting us back in touch with the world.

All we have to do now is get our house back north ready for the market. We’ve made a lot of progress on that too, but there is still much to be done. We’ll keep you posted.

ps. There are lots of kids in our new neighborhood, We’ll have trick or treaters for sure next Halloween — something we missed at our house in the country.

Useful Links

The Washington Post does a good job of reporting on issues of interest to seniors. One recent article reported that rates of dementia seem to be declining and speculated on the reasons. It’s nice to have some good news!

This article on atrial fibrillation is also interesting. Since I had my episode on July 4, I’ve learned in talking with others that this problem is quite common — and difficult to learn to live with. My only problem with the article is that it makes no mention of helpful medications. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers can restore and maintain a normal heart rhythm for many sufferers. They are working for me, so far.


A Complicated Business

This business of downsizing and relocating is complicated. There are so many stages involving everything from finances to utilities being turned on or off, and so many decisions to be made. I’m glad we didn’t wait until we were older.

Yesterday, we had some furniture removed from our house in the Finger Lakes. We need to clear things out a bit, while leaving enough to make the house look like a home when we put it on the market in the spring.

img_2086A van almost as big as our house showed up.





img_2088The hardworking crew did the job in no time, despite the wintry weather.





img_2089There goes our piano.







We shall have music!

We shall have music!

So exciting to see it in mid-air.






The stuff is headed to our new home in Virginia, which we don’t quite own yet. The settlement date is November 30. The movers wanted our things now so they could be part of a large shipment headed south in early December. We hope our settlement goes smoothly — or our furniture will be homeless.

Leisure World Living

California’s Rossmoor 55+ community, where Lynne Kerwin lives, was once one of the Leisure World communities, developed by Ross Cortese, starting in the 1960s. The prevailing view at the time was that most seniors wanted to remain in the communities where they had always lived, close to family and friends. Many did, and many still do today, but Cortese realized that others would prefer to live among other active adults in communities with lots of amenities — pools, golf courses, restaurants and the like — and lots of things to do.

Ultimately, seven Leisure World communities were built. Today, they are independently operated, and some no longer use the Leisure World name, but this website gives links to them all. Each has its own website as well.

These are large communities — Laguna Woods Village in California claims 18,000 residents — but that means that there’s plenty going on. The list of clubs at Laguna Woods takes up several pages, starting with the American Association of University Women and ending with the Yoga Club.

The Leisure World and former Leisure World communities are not senior living centers with dining rooms and medical services. Residents are living just as they would in any other community, relying on the hospitals, doctors, supermarkets, services, and shopping centers around them. As a result, seniors don’t have to pay a large upfront entrance fee to get in, but simply buy their homes through a real estate agent.

Here’s a list of homes currently available at Lansdowne Woods, a former Leisure World in northern Virginia. Prices for condos range from about $180,000 to $675,000, with most somewhere in between. Monthly condo fees at Lansdowne vary with the price. On a two-bedroom, two bath at $219,000, you would be looking at $532.49 per month.

If you’re looking for an active life in a beautiful location, one of these communities might be just right for you.