Reflecting on a Loved One’s Life Time of Achievements

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 29, 2019

A few weeks ago, my sister Nancy called to give me the bad news that my brother-in-law, Justin Aurbach, was diagnosed with an aggressive and deadly cancer known as glioblastoma, or more commonly referred to as GBM. This 77 year old Dallas-based endodontist who I knew as relatively healthy, a believer in vitamins and physically active most of his adult life, was now house-bound receiving 24 hour a day care by home health caregivers, along with his daughters Stephanie and Allison, and his partner Ruth who were now all part of a revolving schedule of care.

I booked a quick trip to Dallas to sit with him and show my support and concern. It had been a few years since I had been there and I wondered what the conversation might entail, knowing that our 53-year old relationship could cover a lot of ground. Justin and my sister were always collectors of art, and I soon found myself sitting at a kitchen table, surrounded by colorfully carved images of watermelons, where he and I reminisced as the time flew by.

Justin reminded me that we first met in 1967 when he came to pick-up my older sister Mickie, taking her to dine at Campisi’s Restaurant, a local pizza hangout. Even though it took place over five decades ago, he clearly remembered first meeting my mother as she greeted him from the couch, sitting with her thick soled shoes propped up on the ottoman, smoking a cigarette and wearing her trademark leopard print blouse. He recalls her holding Tony, the family’s three-legged Toy Poodle.

A year later, Mickie and Justin would recruit my twin brother, Jim and me to be ushers at their wedding in 1968. Through the ebb and flow of their life together, from raising children, grandchildren and building a successful dental practice, he reflected on their 41 year marriage, noting ‘how it flew by’ before Mickie passed in 2008.

Justin reminded me of the sage advice he gave me before I entered my freshman year at the University of Oklahoma. “Drink in moderation and put studies before chugging pitchers of beer,” he said. It is funny the things you tend to remember, I thought.

As our conversation became more focused on his health, Justin thought that the symptoms of the tumor might first have appeared over five years ago, when he became dizzy while taking a bike ride. Last August, the symptoms returned while riding again, and a Cat Scan would ultimately reveal his tumor.

Turning 60

In 2003, I had the opportunity to interview Justin about turning age 60 for my weekly senior commentary in the Pawtucket Times. He shared the following thoughts about being at the peak of his career professionally, while only five years shy of reaching retirement age.

In my commentary, Justin said, “It’s great [moving into your 60s], however, far too much [cultural] negativity has been directed at this chronological age.”

At that time, my brother-in-law was in relatively good physical shape. While he would acknowledge that he could not run a four-minute mile, he joked that he never could anyway. As he approached his sixth decade, he admitted that he played a little golf like many of his friends, walked and jogged, and even took time to lift weights.

Dr. Justin E. Aurbach, DDS, had accomplished much in his career by the age of 60. As the first endodontist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he was the first in the region to perform endodontic microsurgery, when at that time there were only 78 endodontists in the nation performing such surgery. He is past president of the DFW Endodontic Society, The Southwest Society of Endodontics, and the Dallas County Dental Society. He served as general chairman of the Southwest Dental Conference.

Justin believed strongly that he would still be ‘at the top of his professional game, improving with age’, as he proudly boasted. During my interview with him, he said, “not only am I technically better, but my years of life experience have made me wiser in respect to knowing what can and cannot be done in my life.”

The endodontist attributed much of his success to his wife, children and the many supportive family and friends that were part of his large extended family.

By age 60, his philosophy of looking at the “glass half-full rather than half empty” allowed him to cope with life’s difficulties. This life stage was also a time of excitement and learning for him, while he glided into the years he referred to as “best time of your life.”

Getting to the Big “70”

Ten years later, we would speak again about his approaching the age 70 milestone. He reflected on how so much time had passed, which he noted flew by in “the blink of an eye.” During my 2013 interview with him published in my weekly commentary in this paper, he told me that he would “certainly keep forging ahead at a break-neck pace,” promising that new goals would replace those that were accomplished.

He recalled having attended dozens of funerals, said final goodbyes to his wife, father, father-in-law, mother-in-law, along with many close friends and colleagues. Justin noted that “reading the Dallas Morning News obituary page and constantly attending funerals made him aware of the need to accomplish his set goals with the limited time he had left -” but life goes on,” Justin told me. A year after his wife’s death in 2008, the aging widower again found love and began to date Ruth.

Looking ahead into his 70’s, Justin had no plans to retire. Though financially secure, he aspired to maintain a very full practice until his eighty-fifth birthday. He found added fulfillment teaching endodontic residents at Texas AM Baylor School of Dentistry, a job that he hoped would continue into his 70s, while also staying active in the medical group.

Justin has been an avid bike rider for over 30 years, and despite being 70, he would continue to sneak in a ride when possible, even with his busy schedule. He enjoyed the City of Dallas’s fine restaurants, loved to cook for family and friends, and looked forward to a good play or chamber music performance from time to time. His mantra may well be “Live your life to the fullest, don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.”

Looking Ahead

Justin says, since the diagnosis of his terminal illness, his house has been flooded with family, friends, referring doctors and even former dental students. “I have made a lot of friends and accept that I have impacted people in a very positive way,” he said, as he cites as an upside of his illness.

As we concluded our talk, he says, “Don’t wait to do things. You never know what the future has in store for you,” adding that he learned this lesson from Ruth.
“Simple things in life are your best bet to living a good life,” Justin tells me, stressing that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to enjoy your life.”

Justin acknowledges that he may live another two to six months with the GBM tumor, but remains optimistic, for there are those who have lived for another 14 years. In his remaining time, he hopes to maintain a “quality of life” that allows him to continue to attend musicals and plays, or perhaps even take short trips.

Final Thoughts

As you reach your 60s and into your 70s, research tells us that exercise, eating a healthy diet, developing a strong social network of family and friends, and continuing to learn and seek out new knowledge all become important in enhancing the quality of your life and increasing your longevity in your later years. However, in our twilight years life can become of full of tough challenges and we may face difficult times.

Ultimately, like Justin, reflecting on personal and professional accomplishments can give you the inner resources necessary to meet the challenges in the final stages of your life.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Jenkins: Working Senior’s Priming the Nation’s Economic Engine

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 22, 2019

In recent years, Senate Majority Leader Mich McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have warned that the growing number of seniors is fast becoming an economic drag to the nation’s economic growth, citing the spiraling costs of Social Security and Medicare. As the 2020 presidential election looms, GOP candidates are calling for reining in the skyrocketing federal budget deficit by slashing these popular domestic programs.

In 2015, President Donald Trump declared that he would not touch Social Security and Medicare. But now some GOP insiders are saying he may cut these programs during his second term, if he wins.

But after you read the newly released AARP report, The Longevity Economy Outlook, you may just want to consider these comments about seniors being a drain on the economy as false and misleading claims, just “fake news.”

AARP’s Longevity Economy Outlook report pulls from national data detailing how much people age 50 and older spend, earn working and pay in taxes.

Just days ago, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins penned a blog article on the Washington, DC-based aging group’s website highlighting the findings of this major report. AARP’s top senior executive strongly disputes the myth that people age 50 and over are an economic drain on society. Rather the report’s findings indicate that older workers, who are getting a monthly Social Security check and receiving Medicare benefits, are priming the nation’s economic engine, she says.

“As the number of people over 50 grows, this cohort group is transforming America’s economic markets and sparking fresh ideas, and the demand for new products and services across our economy,” says Jenkins.

Jenkins notes that when older workers delay their retirement they continue to impact the economy by earning a paycheck, purchasing goods and services, and generating tax revenues for local, state and federal government.

“The economic activity of people 50-plus supports 88.6 million jobs in the U.S. generates $5.7 trillion in wages and salaries, and accounts for $2.1 trillion in combined taxes,” says Jenkins.

AARP’s economic impact study, released on Dec. 19, reports that people age 50 and older contribute a whopping $8.3 trillion to the U.S. economy, putting this age group just behind the U.S. (20.5 trillion) and China (13.4 trillion) when measured by gross domestic product. They also create an additional $745 billion in value through being unpaid family caregivers (see my commentary in the November 17/18 issues of the Woonsocket Call and Pawtucket Times).

Jenkins says, AARP ’s major report also projects the economic impact of older works to continue in the coming decades, tripling to more than $28 trillion by 2050 as younger generations (millennials and Generation Z) turn age 50 in 2031 and 2047, respectively.

With the graying of the nation’s population (predicted to be 157 million by 2050), the AARP report predicts that older persons will have more collective spending power, too, says Jenkins. “Fifty-six cents of every dollar spent in the United States in 2018 came from someone 50 or older,” she says, adding that by 2050 this amount is expected to jump to 61 cents of every dollar.

For over six years, AARP has been tracking the economic impact of older adults on the nation’s economy, Jenkins’ penned in her recently published blog article. It’s growing steadily over these years, she says.

“When AARP began researching the economic power of people 50 and older in 2013, we found that they generated $7.1 trillion in economic activity,” says Jenkins, noting that three years later it had grown to 7.5 trillion. “The 2019 report reflects an 11 percent growth in economic impact, a 6 percent growth in jobs created and a 12 percent growth in wages and salaries over the most recent three-year period,” adds Jenkins.

Older Rhode Islanders and the State’s Economy

By virtue of Rhode Island being one of the oldest states per capita in the country we have long been aware of the contribution and buying power older people contribute to the state’s economy,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “When you add in those 50-64 it becomes a big and powerful percentage of the population,” she says.

Over the years, Connell has observed more engagement with AARP in the younger end of the demographic spectrum because people in their 50s have justifiable concerns about their future. They wonder: “Will they outspend their savings? Will Social Security change in ways that will reduce their benefits? Will out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses sink the savings they hope to put away for retirement?,” she says.

“Waiting for retirement to think about these issues could well be too late,” warns Connell. “This is creating greater interest in government and politics and magnifies the importance of their vote,” she adds.

“At the same time, as older Rhode Islanders remain the workforce longer, they are keep paying taxes – a sizable plus for the state’s economy,” observes Connell. “With their extensive experience, many continue to be movers and shakers, innovators and professionals lending guidance that helps fuel economic growth,” she states.

Connell adds: “Outside the workplace, they are connected in new ways via technology and social media. The great thing is that across the range of 50 and older workers it can be said that more people are sharing the workplace adding to our cultural development and participating in civic engagement more than ever before.”

Wake Up Call to Businesses, Congress

AARP’s report should be a “wake-up call” to businesses and federal and state policymakers to rethink their attitudes, warns Jenkins in the concluding of her blog article. She calls on business leaders to “build strategies for marketing their products and services to older Americans and to embrace a multi-generational workforce.” Jenkins also urges Congress and state law makers to develop policies to support the growing number of uncompensated caregivers.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase “Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly,” a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Local Legislators Attentive, but Not Presidential Hopefuls

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 1, 2017

As 2017 approaches, it is a time one naturally reflects on the year that has past, the people we have lost, and look towards what the incoming year will hold. Newspapers also look back of the interesting stories that shaped the news, too. This “aging beat” columnist reflected on his coverage of aging, health care and medical issues. During 2016, 47 weekly commentaries appeared in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call, some even were printed by Golocalprov.com, the Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald. A myriad of issues were covered in this weekly commentary throughout the year.

During the very heated 2016 presidential I called on both Democratic and GOP candidates in the primary and election to give us the specifics about their policy positions on Social Security and Medicare. But, we saw aging issues mostly ignored in the more than two dozen debates that took place in this election cycle (21 primary debates and four general election debates). With Donald Trump taking the White House from the Democrats and his party controlling both chambers of Congress another commentary sounded the alarm about the GOP’s impending assault next session on Social Security and Medicare, America’s most popular domestic programs. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, other commentaries covered legislative initiatives on Smith Hill. One looked at Sen. Louis P. DiPalma’s call for increased wages for the state’s direct care workers. These workers deserve this pay raise. Another covered Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian’s successful efforts to mandate holocaust and genocide studies in educational curriculum for all middle and high school studies. With anti-Semitic incidents increasing throughout the Ocean State we “must never forget.”

Of course, throughout last year my commentaries also addressed caregiving issues, making readers aware of scams and to educate them as to how they could protect themselves. One even shared my personal experience of putting down Abby, my 11-year-old chocolate Labrador, to end her suffering. Pet owners throughout the Ocean State have gone through this universal, painful experience and could identify with my painful decision.

Readers also learned about the very interesting details of a Near Death Experience of Tommy Rosa, a Bronx-born plumber, who came back to life with a spiritual knowledge of health and healing. Rosa’s chance meeting at a conference with Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist and psychotherapist, seen on “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors,” would lead to the publishing of a 247-page book, “Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth.” This book is a great read for those seeking spiritual insight into maintaining good health.

Finally, in 2016 one item was scratched off my bucket list. Readers learned about my first book, “Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly,” being published in August. The 313-page book is a compilation of 79 of my weekly commentaries and is chocked full of researched stories and insightful stories with experts and everyday people who shared their personal observations about growing older and aging gracefully. Go to http://www.herbweiss.com for more details.

Below is a sampling of articles from 2016 that will allow you to see the breath and depth of my commentaries (over 200 of these previously published commentaries can be found on my blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com.) Enjoy.

“Older Americans Impacting the Economy,” published in the September 25, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the September 26, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

Everyone has heard this comment one time or another during their life — older people are a drain on the economy. But, in 2016 a newly released AARP report shatters this myth once and for all by detailing a rise in spending and workforce contributions of aging baby boomers.

AARP’s 28 page report, The Longevity Economy: How People Over 50 Are Driving Economic and Social Value in the US, takes a hard look at how our nation’s population of 111 million 50-plus consumers impacts the economy.

According to this report, released on September 20, the 50-plus age groups generates a whopping $7.6 trillion in economic activity (a $500 billion increase from 2013), including $5 trillion in consumer spending by people 50-plus. The researchers say the increases reflects the nation’s shifting demographic and spending patterns of this group due to longer life spans and prolonged employment.

“Does Exercised Aid Brain Heath: The Debate’s Yet to be Determined,” published in the August 31, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the September 1, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

According to AARP’s latest health aging survey findings released last year, age 40 and over respondents who regularly exercise rate their brain health significantly higher than non-exercisers. They also cite improvements in their memory, ability to: learn new things, managing stress, and even making decisions. On the other hand, the findings reveal an overwhelming majority of these respondents. see the benefits of exercise, but only 34 percent are meeting the Global Council on Brain Health’s (GCBH) recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.

These findings in the 37-page Survey on Physical Activity report, note that having willpower, enjoying exercise, identification as an “exerciser,” lack of enjoyment and feeling like you have the energy to exercise or lack money to exercise are the key factors that differentiate exercisers from non-exercisers.
Although health care experts applaud the benefits of exercise and its positive impact on organs in your body, but the findings on improving brain heath are self-reported at best, not empirically derived.

“AARP Exec Seeks to Change America’s Perception of Growing Old,” published in the March 7, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the March 8, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

In 2016, AARP/CEO Jo Ann Jenkins released her new 272-page book, “Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age.” AARP’s top official suggested it is time to redefine what it means to grow old in America. Throughout its pages the Northern Virginia resident encourages readers to re-think the negative stories they consistently tell themselves and others, urging them to come together to change both the conversation about aging and its reality. While sharing these ideas with others, and meeting fearless people working to change what it means to age in America, Jo Ann was inspired to write her book.
In Disrupt Aging, Jenkins focuses on three core areas—health, wealth, and self—to show people how to embrace opportunities and change the way society looks at getting older. Here, she chronicles her own journey and that of others who are making their mark as disruptors to show readers how we can be active, healthy, and happy as we get older. Through engaging narrative, she touches on all the important issues facing people over age 50 today, from caregiving and mindful living to building age-friendly communities and making our money last.

“Experienced Workers to Seek Greener Pastures in 2016,” published in the January 25, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the January 26, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

In 2016, an AARP survey found that with an improving economy older experienced workers were seeking new employment, making “more money” was the key motivator.
The “Experience in Work” survey (with its findings detailed in a 47-page report) reported that of the approximately 4 in ten inclined to seek new work this year, 23% are either extremely or very likely to try to find a new job this year, and another 16% say that they are somewhat likely to job-seek during that period.
Researchers say that respondents, ages 35 to 64, cite career growth potential (21%), better work flexibility (25%), more enjoyable work (30%), as well as better health benefits (28%) as reasons they plan to seek new employment this year.

Meanwhile, experienced workers are willing to take the leap outside of their job sector. A quarter (24%) of those likely to switch companies say that they do not expect to remain in the same industry. An even larger percentage (42%) do not even know what type of business they will end up in.
Responding to AARP’s survey findings Ed Mazze, a widely acclaimed Rhode Island economist says that retaining employees is quite simple. “To build a good workforce, the company must make work interesting, recognize the accomplishments of its employees, provide good working conditions, have a competitive compensation system and an opportunity for the employee to be promoted and continue to learn,” he says.
Throughout 2017 I look forward to penning weekly commentaries that will shed light on aging issues, most importantly providing you tips on how to age gracefully.