Tag Archives: aging

“We’re Still Here”: an Exhibition on Age and Loneliness

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Laurie says:
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I went to the Museum of Art and History (MAH) in Santa Cruz to see the exhibition “We’re Still Here”.  My daughter, choreographer Cid Pearlman, was one of the artists whose work was featured.

The show was based on the experience of what social isolation feels like. The exhibition was created in collaboration with 186 seniors and advocates in their community. It will be open til January 12th of 2020 and then travel to other venues.

I was there for the opening and the combination of the installation, the video “Moving through Loneliness”, and the dance were powerful and impressive. They expressed the empathy and the loneliness of people with deep respect for them. The interweaving of the three very different expressions creates a layered, complex, and deeply moving experience of loneliness and aging for the viewer. It’s rare that you see three art forms so perfectly and coherently blended.

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Cid said “The senior cohort created a deep pool of material to draw from, material rooted in the body and lived experience.”

She asked seniors to describe what social isolation looked like to them. Inspired by their imagery, she created three rooms. A bedroom, a kitchen, and a “room of the mind.” During this exhibition, dancers will be activating these rooms with movement.

Cid was working on this project with installation designer Kate Edmunds, filmmaker Mara Milam, and composer Jonathan Segel.
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This is some of her writing about it:

1.     I am interested in how dance engages with issues of accessibility, inclusion, and equity, moving out of traditional performance venues, meeting audiences in unexpected ways. This project threads together a number themes that permeate my choreographic practice: intergenerational collaboration, the resilience and fragility of the human body,  and immersive installation that creates micro-worlds where we can explore the body’s capacity for meaning making and empathy.

2.     Hearing peoples’ stories has been very compelling and often emotional.  The richness of the input from the senior cohort has created a deep pool of material for us to draw from, material that is rooted in the body and lived experience. Sharing my artistic practice and process in the monthly meetings has brought a clarity and articulation to this project, making a clear map for me to follow.

3.     One concept quote for each room:

a.     Bedroom
A bed, a dresser, a clothes rack, a mirror, pill bottles, photos. An intimate space, a place of comfort/discomfort, (lost) sensuality. An address book with all the name crossed out.

b.     Kitchen
A table, four chairs, a refrigerator, a clock, pill bottles, a calendar. Once a social space, now a place of solitude. Two table settings, one person – eating alone.

c.     Mindroom
Tunnel vision, muffled sound, a wrapped body –  a place where time slows down and speeds up. Recording memories on a cassette tape because there’s no left one to hear them.

There is excellent work by the other commissioned artists and by the seniors. It’s a very special exhibition dealing with subjects that are not frequently expressed and are frequently avoided. See it if you can.

Pap Smears Come with an Expiration Date: Who Knew?

Debbie says:

medical cross-section of female reproductive system

I was completely surprised to learn a couple of weeks ago that virtually all medical experts suggest that most women stop getting pap smears (vaginal tests for cervical cancer) at age 65. I had one last week at age 64, and it’s probably my last one.

The basic reason for the recommendation to stop is that very few women over 65  develop cervical, ovarian, or uterine cancer.  A review of several studies concluded that the risk is quite small:

According to this review, fewer than 1 in 1000 (and possibly as few as 2 in 10,000) women aged >60 years with a history of a normal baseline Pap smear will develop cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) 3 or cancer. By comparison, women being screened for the first time had rates of CIN 3 or cancer at 2.3 per 1000 for ages 50 to 64 years, and 1.7 per 1000 for women aged 65 years.

Because this is a literature review, all of the studies had different methodologies and participants, but it seems likely that the participants were not screened for level of sexual activity, because that would probably be called out if it had happened. Since I can’t find any studies that specifically did screen for sexual activity, each of us has to make our own decision without much data.

As I’ve dug further into this, I’ve been interested both in what I can find out, and what I can’t find out, which pretty much reflects what has been studied and published, and what has not.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

Cervical cancer specifically is caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). Ovarian and uterine cancers, which also become less frequent as women age, are not HPV-related. All three of these are slow-growing cancers, which means that if one begins to be detectable in your middle 60s, it may not become any kind of a problem until you are 80 or older, at which point many people decide against aggressive cancer treatment.

Some reputable groups and clinics specifically recommend stopping testing regardless of sexual activity. Some recommend continued testing only if you have new or multiple partners. In a New York Times story from 2011, a gynecologist relates a delightful anecdote:

Dr. Feldman was surprised to see an abnormal Pap result in an 80-year-old patient who had been a devoted caregiver for her husband of 55 years, who had dementia. “It seemed like an odd finding,” Dr. Feldman said, until she learned her patient was having an affair with a young man she had met at Starbucks.

You have to pause for a moment to be happy for her; what a way to balance a life with a demented husband! What’s more, both the article and the rest of the literature make it clear that an “abnormal result” is not a cancer diagnosis, though we don’t know what happened to this particular woman.

But back to pap smears. For myself, with no family history of gynecological cancers, and no abnormal pap smears, I’m just done. I can stop putting my heels in the stirrups and scooting my ass down to the edge of the table. And the evidence regarding sexual activity isn’t conclusive enough for me to change this if I suddenly find new partners.  Other women may, of course, make different decisions.