Delicious Ham and Potato Soup

“This is a delicious recipe for ham and potato soup that a friend gave to me. It is very easy and the great thing about it is that you can add additional ingredients, more ham, potatoes, etc and it still turns out great.”


  • 3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
  • 1/3 cup diced celery
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup diced cooked ham
  • 3 1/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk


  1. Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper.
  2. In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot, and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately.

Printed From 12/15/2017

Boomers are Skipping Needed Vaccinations


Boomers are Skipping Needed Vaccinations

(Two-thirds of 65-plus haven’t had shingles show, feds say)


Americans over age 60 are often not getting needed immunizations, and that is creating a growing risk to the health care system, say federal disease-prevention experts.

About two-thirds of those who are 65 and older have never had the shingles vaccine, and more than 4 in 10 haven’t had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  As for the pneumococcal vaccine, nearly a third of older people haven’t had this immunization.

Older Americans do better about getting flu shots.  But nearly 1 in 3 between ages 65 and 74 skipped the shot during the last flu season.

The data is worrisome because older adults are at increased risk of complications that can be prevented by vaccines, the CDC says.

And, adults age 65-plus who skip immunizations drive up health care costs when they get sick—to the tune of $4.8 billion a year, according to researchers’ estimates.

Most people should get a flu shot annually, get a tetanus booster every 10 years and keep their pneumococcal and shingles vaccines current, say federal health officicals and leading medical experts.

The most neglected inoculation, the singles vaccine, reduces the risk of getting a viral disease that can cause skin to become painful and blistered, plus fever, headache, fatigue and sensitivity to light, according to the Mayo Clinic website.  The vaccine is recommended for adults 60 and older.  That includes those who have already had shingles.


(As printed in the AARP Bulletin, September 2017)


Active Senior Living For Active Seniors

You now have the time to do what you always wanted to do. What was that again? Hiking the Appalachian Trail? Volunteering at the Humane Society? Working part-time at a ski resort? Mentoring a child?

Active Living Options
First things first: if you’re healthy and active, you may just choose to live in the home you retired in—until it becomes more than you want or are able to handle. It’s a tough decision to leave the home you raised your family in, the neighborhood you’re used to and familiar with. 

But maybe your home is just too big and requires too much upkeep. Or maybe you’d rather live with other active seniors. Maybe you just want a change. If so, you have plenty of options.

Independent living communities are designed for the active and healthy senior who is able to live on their own. You can live in a home, condo, townhouse, apartment complex, motor home or mobile home.

They are the same as a traditional neighborhood but with age restrictions—usually 55 and older. And they provide amenities like clubhouses, gyms, yard maintenance, housekeeping and security. Most communities also typically offer transportation, laundry service, group meals, and social and cultural activities.

Before we look at what kind of community is right for you, let’s look at some senior statistics.

Seniors by the Numbers
In a 2010 report by The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics called “Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being,” we found the following statistics that may interest you:

  • People who reach age 65 will live another 18.5 years v. just 4 years longer in 1960.
  • From 2006 to 2008, 74.5% of those 65 and older reported being in good to excellent health.
  • About 22% of seniors reported regular physical activity.
  • Seniors 65 to 74 report doing 7 hours of daily leisure activities; watching TV account for 4 hours.
  • The housing burden cost for seniors increased from 30% to 37% between 1985 and 2007.
  • Forty percent of seniors in 2007 had one or more of the following housing issues: “housing cost burden, physically inadequate housing, and/or crowded housing.”
  • What’s Right for Me?
    This is a big question for many seniors and worth careful consideration. The answer may take weeks, months and even years of thought. To start, take an inventory of your life now that you’re retired. Here are some basic questions to ask:
  • Are you happy in your home and neighborhood? Do you dread doing yard work in the summer heat? Are the four bedrooms too much to clean? Do you live close enough to family? Do your friends still live near you? Would you rather live close to the water, mountains, in the country or in a city?
  • Financially, are you secure in your present home? Or do you need to downsize? Are property taxes too much?
  • Would you rather live with other active seniors? Or do you enjoy living in a mixed-age neighborhood?

These are just a few of the challenges one must think about before making a move into any kind of housing for the future.     


Stay tuned for the next blog to get other information on Bailey Park and how to make the best possible decision for your life…….





      (Now approved by the FDA, a DIY test can shed light on your health.  But is it better not to know?)

    Are you at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease? Or late-onset Alzheimer’s? For about $200 and a vial full of saliva, you can find out via a mail-in testing kit.

    After a new ruling from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers can bypass doctors for the first time to learn if they have a genetic risk for 10 diseases.

    Genetic testing has been in the news for years, often as part of criminal trials or paternity suits.  Doctors and medical researchers have long used genetic testing to diagnose ailments and assess disease risks.  But the FDA had been wary of allowing consumers to take matters into their own hands.  Does the science support consistent links between certain genetic variants and diseases? And could consumers understand the key concepts in the test reports they get back?

    To receive FDA approval for its direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical testing, the California company 23andMe, which previously had been limited to ancestry testing, supplied peer-reviewed studies that demonstrated links between specific genetic variants and 10 diseases, as well as data that showed a consumer comprehension rate higher than 90 percent, says Stacey Detweiler, medical affairs associate at 23andMe.

    Reasons to be cautious remain.  A test that shows a risk potential for a disease doesn’t mean the patient will develop that condition, says Scott R. Diehl, professor of oral biology and health informatics at Rutgers Biomedical Health Sciences in Newark, NJ. “Most diseases have a complex causality, which means that it’s often not a single gene that results in illness, but the complicated interaction between an individual’s genetic makeup and his or her environment, diet, even tobacco use.”

    Knowing your genetic predisposition does allow you to make changes—diet, exercise, preventive medical testing and care.  “DTC tests seem to intrigue people, teach people, even motivate them to improve their health,” says Robert C. Green, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

    Erica Ramos, president-elect of the National society of Genetic Counselors, recommends seeking out a professional if you have a concern about a condition that may run in the family.  Ask your doctor for a recommendation, or check out  These discussions may be covered by insurance.

    AARP Bulletin Executive Editor Michael Hedges took the 23andMe test and found it gave him peace of mind.  “I’m relieved to know I am free of the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s genetic variants,” he says.

    The other conditions tested are:  celiac disease; alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which raises the risk of lung and liver disease; early-onset primary dystonia, a movement disorder; factor XI deficiency, a blood-clotting disorder; Gaucher disease type 1, an organ and tissue disorder; glucose-6-phospate dehydrogenase deficiency, a red blood cell condition; hereditary hemochromatosis, an iron disorder; and hereditary thrombophilia, a blood clot disorder.

    One more caveat involves privacy.  U.S. laws protect consumers from being denied health insurance based on genetic tests, but “there are currently no protections in place for long-term care, disability and life insurance,” Ramos says.  In some states, a life insurance application can ask if you’ve had genetic testing. “You may want to think about if you want to make changes to any policies you have before you get your test results back,” she says.





What it tests:  The ancestry test helps you discover your origins. The health test determines info such as your carrier status (whether you carry a specific copy of a mutated gene) for 40-plus conditions, as well as your risk of developing 10 diseases based on genetic markers.

How it’s administered:  A saliva sample, which you mail to the lab.  In about six to eight weeks, you get an online report.

Price:  Ancestry test, $99; health and ancestry, $199



What it tests:  Provides in-depth DNA analysis of your family roots.

How it’s administered:  A cheek swab, mailed to the lab.  Results are shared with you online.

Price:  Ranges from $89 to $556, depending on the complexity of the testing.


Pathway Genomics  (

What it tests:  The company offers two direct-consumer tests, including one (FiT iQ) that provides insight into how your DNA influences your body’s response to diet and exercise.

How it’s administered:  A saliva sample, mailed to the lab.  A downloadable report includes information on whether you’re built for endurance or strength workouts and diet guidelines that reveal your ideal ratio of calories from carbs, fats and proteins.  Pathway Genomics also offers a 50-minute consultation with a registered dietitian for $99.

Price: $124


(written by Michele Shapiro for AARP Bulletin, September 2017)


Older adults can get past fear of going to the gym

Older adults can get past fear of going to the gym

Regular exercise and a nutritious diet are two of the best things seniors can do to maintain their health.  Exercise can delay or prevent many of the health problems associated with aging, including weak bones and feelings of fatigue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a person age 65 or older who is generally fit with no limiting health conditions should try to get two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, while also including weight training and muscle-strengthening activities in their routines on two or more days a week.  

Individuals often find that gyms have the array of fitness equipment they need to tay healthy.  But many people, including older men and women who have not exercised in some time, may be hesitant to join a gym for fear of intimidation.  Some seniors may avoid machines and classes believing they will use the apparatus properly, or that they will be judged by other gym members.  Some seniors may feel like gyms do not cater to their older clientele, creating an atmosphere that is dominated by younger members and loud music.   

Such misconceptions are often unfounded, as many gyms welcome older members with open arms.  But even if seniors find gyms intimidating, they should still sign up for memberships.  In such situations, the following tips can help seniors shed their fears and adapt to their new gyms.

START THE PROCESS SLOWLY.  Shop around for a gym that makes you feel comfortable.  Get fully informed about which classes are offered, and the benefits, if any afforded to older members.

GET A DOCTOR’S GO-AHEAD.  Make sure to clear exercise and gym membership with your doctor prior to purchasing a membership.  He or she also may have a list of gyms where fellow senior patients have memberships.

BUILD UP GRADUALLY.  Begin with exercises you feel comfortable performing.  Spend time walking on the treadmill while observing other gym members.  Tour the circuit of machines and other equipment.  Find out if you can sample a class to see if it might be a good fit.

FIND A GYM BUDDY.  Working out with a partner in your age group may encourage you to keep going to the gym and increase your comfort level.  You each can offer support and enjoy a good laugh through the learning process.

DON’T GET DISCOURAGED.  Anyone working out for the first time, regardless of age, will feel somewhat out of place until exercise becomes part of a routine.  Give it some time before throwing in the towel.  Once you catch on, you may discover you enjoy working out.

CHOOSE A SENIOR-FRIENDLY GYM.  Some gyms cater to senior members.  They may offer “SilverSneakers” classes at their facility.  Other niche gyms may only accept members of a certain age group.  Investigate these gyms if working out with a younger crowd is proving too great a deterrent.  

Fitness is important for healthy seniors.  It can prolong life, help seniors maintain healthy weights and reduce their risk of injury.


(Courtesy of Metro Creative Graphics as a special to the Press Enterprise 8/18/17)


Cochlear Implants – Life Beyond Hearing Aids

Feeling frustrated and sometimes even exhausted from listening?  Whether it happens suddenly or gradually, hearing loss can affect you physically and emotionally.  Being unable to hear impacts your ability to communicate with your loved ones, hear in noisy environments, talk on the phone, and may force you to become more reliant on your family members to interpret for you.

Cochlear implants work differently than hearing aids.  Rather than amplifying sound, they use sophisticated software and state-of-the-art electronic components to provide access to the sounds you’ve been missing.

  1.  How do implants differ from hearing aids?  Hearing aids help many people by making the sounds they hear louder.  Unfortunately as hearing loss progresses, sounds need not only to be made louder, but clearer.  Cochlear implants can help give you that clarity, especially in noisy environments.  Hearing aids are typically worn before a cochlear implant solution is considered.  
  2.  Are cochlear implants covered by Medicare?  Yes, Medicare and most private insurance plans routinely cover cochlear implants.
  3.  How do I know a cochlear implant will work?  The technology is very reliable.  In fact, it has been around for over 30 years and has helped change the lives of over 450,000 people worldwide.  For the majority of people, cochlear implants are better than hearing aids in noisy environments.
  4.  What does a cochlear implant system look like?  There are two primary components of the Cochlear Nucleus System – the implant that is surgically placed underneath the skin and the external sound processor.  Cochlear offers two wearing options for the sound processor.  One is worn behind the ear similar to a hearing aid.  The other, the new Kanso Sound Processor, is a discreet, off-the-ear hearing solution that’s easy to use.  The Cochlear Nucleus System advanced technology is designed to help you hear and understand conversations better.

To Find a Hearing Implant Specialist Call: 1-800-912-6204 or visit


(As reported in the November 2017

                                                                                             by Jacques Herzog, M.D., Cochlear Medical Advisor)




How to Make It

Step 1

Heat the broth, celery, onion and apples in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables and apples are tender.

Step 2

Add the sausage and stuffing and stir lightly to coat.


  • 1 ¾ cups Swanson® Chicken Broth or Swanson® Certified Organic Chicken Broth  orSwanson® Natural Goodness® Chicken Broth
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • ½ Red Delicious apple, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • ½ Granny Smith apple, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • ½ pound bulk pork sausage, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 cups Pepperidge Farm® Herb Seasoned Stuffing
  • 2 cups Pepperidge Farm® Cornbread Stuffing

Take Along

    Visits to a physician are just one step people make in an effort to improve their well-being.  While it’s important that everyone visit their physicians at least once a year for a checkup, seniors may need to see their physicians more frequently than other age groups.

    When visiting the doctor, it is easy for anyone to miss important components of what the doctor is saying, and it’s just as easy to misunderstand certain instructions or medication information.  Seniors who bring companions along to appointments with their physicians can reduce the risk of misunderstanding advice or diagnoses given by their doctors.

    Data from US News and World Report states that about one-third of seniors still living on their own take a companion with them to their routine doctor’s office visits.  Companions are typically spouses, but they can include children or other family members as well.

    Patients may find there are many advantages to bringing someone along to an appointment.  And companions may want to learn more about patients’ goals at each appointment prior to going along so they can prepare and know how to help during the appointment.

    LISTEN.  People tend to forget at least half of what they hear in the doctor’s office, says the Archives of Internal Medicine.  This tendency may be increased when patients are nervous about the potential outcome of their visits.  Bringing a companion along means that both people are actively listening.  Together, the information they’ve heard can combine to provide a full account of the visit.

    TAKING NOTES.  Companions can jot down important notes about the appointment, such as dates and times for follow-up visits, medication advice and any other instructions that may be forgotten once the patient leaves the office.  Companions can later translate the jargon-heavy language of a physician into an understandable language the patient can fully understand.

    MEDICAL HISTORY.  Sometimes a companion can be a useful resource, calling a doctor’s attention to a patient’s prior hospitalizations and illnesses.  Companions can even call attention to any medications the patient is currently taking.

    SERVING AS ADVOCATE.  Very often a companion can operate as a patient advocate, clarifying questions or getting further information out of a doctor if the patient is hesitant to ask.  If the information isn’t clear, the companion can raise red flags or ask to have the instructions put in a different light.

    TRANSLATION.  Sometimes patients need companions who speak their native languages when their physicians do not.  

    People are learning that bringing a family member or friend along to doctors’ appointments can be a smart way to make the most of doctor/patient interactions.


(Courtesy of Metro Creative Graphics as a special to the Press Enterprise 8/18/17)

Don’t let a pretty face fool you….

    One of us lacked trust and the other patience.  We met in mid-November, when after being “dog deficient” for three months I couldn’t take it any longer.  Never mind the outpouring that I was too busy and always on the go and didn’t need a dog.  I fought back, stating I had a dog since the day I was born.  My thoughts were I’d adopt a dog…save a life.  OK, I was selfish and wanted a dog already house broken and knew how to use the lawn for a toilet and not the carpet.

    I fell in love with Mr. Snow, a Great Pyrenees, from the moment I saw his face.  Saw him, had to meet him, and then had to have him.  A quick background on Mr. Snow finds he must have a hidden past.  He was found wandering in Tennessee last July and went from shelter to shelter and became a ward of Big Fluffy Dog Rescue.  From there, he took the long trip to Bloomsburg to his foster home.  Tennessee to Pennsylvania should have been my first clue.

    Upon his arrival to his new permanent home, Mr. Snow leaped out of his personal vehicle and onto the porch.  He politely sat down and refused to move.  Nothing would get him to move.  He just stared at me with those big brown eyes.  So, with doors open, I raised his butt and assisted him into the house, where he stood, turned his head, stared at me and then relieved himself.  Clue number two.

    I quickly found he hated quick movements near him, sirens and garbage trucks.  While I was told to crate him, I found he could open his crate with his paw.  Seriously?  His first walk in his new “hood” was his best walk.  After that, it was dragging me where he wanted to go, and I don’t like chasing cars.

    Mr. Snow taught me not to leave a kitchen cupboard door open or a bag of flour will appear on the floor all chewed up, not good when you come home from a night out.  He taught me that a 65-inch plasma TV really does explode when an object hits it.  Love my new wall mount.

   Mr. Snow initially was not one to show affection.  He just stared at me.  Any sudden movement found him defensive.  People told me to get rid of him and to give him back.  I’m not a quitter; I learned to react in Snow time.  Snow, in the meantime, became calmer.  We learned to work together.

    Nine months later, we have adjusted to one another.  Who says an old gal can’t learn patience?  Who says a giant dog can’t learn trust?  Together, we can do anything.  Thank you doggie Prozac!


                   (Written by Kathy Lynn, the director of the Columbia/Montour Aging Office Inc.)


1) EYE CHECK…..If you want to know a man’s soul, look him in the eye.  If you want to know your own body, go ahead and look yourself in the eye.

What you want to see:  firm eyelids, even lashes and no swelling or redness

If you see….The red, irritated surface of the inner lid, this can lead to corneal damage & should be treated

If you see….A bump on your eyelid and missing eyelashes:  A persistent bump that’s gotten bigger, darker and thicker could be cancer and needs to be looked at.  With cancers, you often lose your eyelashes, too, so that’s another sign to watch for.


2)  SKIN CHECK…..Run your eyes and your fingertips over your skin, and ask a family member to check your back.  Make sure you use your sense of touch as well as sight.

What you want to see and feel:  An even texture across individual body parts and no noticeable changes in your skin’s appearance.  Pay particular attention to your face, ears, scalp, neck and back.

If you see or feel….A small, sandpapery patch of skin:  you may have actinic keratosis.  Have it checked out; 10 percent develop into skin cancer.

*A shiny pink or brown bump:  If it has a raised, rolled border, and it wasn’t there the last time your looked, have it checked for basal cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer.

*A new mole or one that’s changed shape or color:  Any skin growth that’s asymmetrical, has uneven borders or coloring, or is larger than a pencil eraser should be checked for melanoma.

3)  BALANCE CHECK….Stand on a flat, nonslip surface, with your arms folded across your chest. While standing on your preferred leg, raise the other foot of the floor a few inches, making sure the foot remains parallel to the floor and isn’t resting against the standing leg.  Time how long you can keep the leg raised before it touches the floor as you lose your balance (or after 30 seconds).  Do the test twice, once with your eyes open and once with them closed.

*What you want to see….The ability to hold your balance with your eyes closed.  Science suggests that those who could perform this task had lower rates or mortality from all causes than those who could not.

*If you see….That you can’t hold the position at all with your eyes closed:  consider talking to your doctor about doing a deeper dive into your overall health and fitness.  In a study of 53-year-old men and women conducted at University College London, those who could balance on one leg with their eyes closed for more than 10 seconds were more likely to survive over the next 13 years of the study.

4)  HAIR CHECK….Sure, it would be great to feel those long tresses blowin’ in the wind once again, but if your hair has become as sparse, as say, hit songs by Bob Dylan, don’t get too concerned.  Most people’s hair gets thinner after 50, and it’s usually a result of genetics and hormonal changes rather than poor nutrition or some other factor.  But sometimes our hair can indicate that something larger is at play.

*What you want to see….Little if any sudden change.  If you are under stress, had major surgery, experienced sudden weight loss or started a new medication (for high blood pressure or arthritis and more), these may increase hair thinning.

*If you see….Extra hair on your brush or in the sink:  If your locks lose density quickly, say over three to six months, you may have an underlying condition such as anemia, iron loss or thyroid disease.  “You’ll notice more hair in your brush, in the shower drain and on your pillow.


5)  HEART CHECK…..Place two fingers on the side of your windpipe.  Count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four to get your beats per minute (bpm).

*What you want to feel….A heart rate of 60 to 100 bpm.  (Very fit people may have rates below 60 bpm).

*If you feel….A rate of more than 100 bpm:  consult your doctor.  A rapid heart rate, or tachycardia, may be caused by a number of factors, including alcohol, anxiety or cardiac issues.

*Your heart rate rising at work or when you think about work:  You might want to consider whether your stress levels are too high.  Studies have linked work stress to diabetes, obesity and heart disease.


(written by Kate Lawler and Stephen Perrine for AARP The Magazine, August/September 2017)

Teach the Children Well

(Money lessons for the grandkids)

Among the vivid memories I have of my grandfather is staring up at the ticker tape at the Bache & Co. brokerage firm in Philadelphia, where he’d go to “watch” his tiny portfolio of (usually underperforming) stocks.  Sitting there with my Pop-Pop was my first exposure to the market and the idea that someday I might be able to own pieces of big companies, too.

Grandparents can give invaluable money lessons to their grandchildren.  “There are messages and values they hear and accept from grandparents in a way they don’t from parents,” says Joline Godfrey, founder of Independent Means, a financial-education firm.

But never undermine the children’s parents in your quest to do a familial good deed.  Beth Kobliner, author of the best-selling Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not), says she hears complaints about grandparents breaking family money rules.  It’s better to discuss with the parents the values, knowledge and money history they want to share.  Then offer up your pearls of financial wisdom, such as:

Start a homegrown 401(k)…..Children may get frustrated that it can take so long for a small allowance to grow into a large pot.  Help foster the savings habit by matching savings deposits dollar for dollar.  Or, offer incentives for other behaviors you and their parents want to encourage (exercise, reading, cleaning).  Paying your grandchildren to do jobs you’d pay strangers to do is a great option as long as you demand they do them well.

Teach mental accounting…..Adults are more successful in achieving financial goals when they create separate savings pools for particular aims.  Start that practice early with grandchildren.  For example, divide a $15 gift into three envelopes, labeled “Saving,” “Spending” and “Giving”.  Or—as the kids get older—break it into four chunks and add in “Investing”.

Give Stock…..You can buy single shares through companies like or open an account at, for instance, TD Ameritrade or Ally Invest, which have no minimum balance requirement.  Or your can gift shares you already own.  One caveat:  Grandkids sometimes become emotionally attached to stocks that beloved grandparents give them.  Make sure they know you want them to sell when the time is right.

Give cash, not gift cards…..Research shows that cash feels more valuable than plastic.  Big bills, by the way, carry more weight than small ones.  Your grandkids will think twice about breaking a valuable $20 bill.

Or write a check…..Then take the child to a bank or credit union, open a checking account and show how to deposit the check or cash.  (My children had their first debit cards at 12.)  Do this only with the parents’ permission, though, as you are also committing them to the arrangement.


(Written by Jean Chatzky for AARP Magazine, August/September 2017)

Your Brain Behaving Badly

Your Brain Behaving Badly


Ever done something not at all like you and not at all good—such as lashing out in anger over a small irritation?  After the dust settles and the damage is done, it can sometimes be hard to recall why you acted so badly.

According to Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, our most impulsive actions aren’t always determined by the moments when they happen.  In his new book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Sapolsky argues that rash decisions result not only from temperament and upbringing, but from what happens to a person’s body in the moments, hours, weeks, months and even years beforehand.

Sapolsky talked with AARP about how biology can influence our behavior, for better and worse:

Q: How does long-term stress affect a person’s behavior?

A: Chronic stress does lousy things to people’s frontal cortices. We make ridiculous, stupid decisions during times of stress that seem brilliant at the time, and then we regret these for decades after. Judgment, impulse control and emotional regulation go out the tubes during times of stress because of the effect on the frontal cortex.  If you’re chronically stressed, it becomes easier for you to learn to be afraid.  You’re also not going to be at your sharpest cognitively.  But probably the most recent finding is that when we’re stressed, we become less empathic, less compassionate, less capable of taking somebody else’s perspective.  It’s really good for people to get stress under control because there will be fewer cases of hypertension or diabetes. But ultimately, the most important reason is because people will be nicer to one another.

Q:  Why do some people feel more stress than others?

A:  We now have a huge body of literature that shows you’re more likely to feel stress if you feel you have no control over what’s going on and if you have no predictive information about when it’s coming, how bad it’s going to be, and how long it’s going to last.  It’s even worse when you lack outlets for frustration and you lack social support.  If you could manipulate any one of those variables—control, predictability, social support, outlets for frustration—far and away the most powerful one is social support.

Q:  So you need a lot of friends?

A:  We spend an awful lot of time mistaking acquaintances for friends, and in times of crisis, we’re often deeply disappointed when the acquaintances turn out to be just acquaintances.  People who do best are those who are more selective about whom they affiliate with.  They’ve gotten rid of the acquaintances and the coworkers who turned out to have zero lasting power.  You don’t need a lot of friends; you just need a few very good ones.


(By Gabrielle deGroot Redford for AARP Magazine)